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Tarot & Tea, Lemons & Books, Love & Whips, Oh My!

Posted by sirensays on February 8, 2011

Dearest loyal readers:

My apologies for not posting sooner. I had a great response to last Autumn’s posts – thank you, everyone. Autumn is so inspiring, it’s easy to find interesting people to profile. It is certainly the same during the holidays, but as I was focusing on other writing projects, I failed to entertain you with a Solstice/Christmas post and I offer my sincerest apologies. We also have a long-term guest at the house, one who is quite demanding of our time and attention and, unlike your blog host, never apologizes.

Stella Lounging About

She’s a pint-sized package of smarts, moxie and affection, so if you are interested in meeting this foster girl, please drop me a line!

Stella the Foster Dog

Here it is already February of the new year, so I decided to mention some things that you may find of interest.

Book Recommendations

As an avid reader who sometimes gets restless, I find myself looking for old childhood favorites as well as new literature, mysteries and non-fiction. I shop at Amazon, local booksellers Kepler’s and M is for Mystery (a total gem of a place in downtown San Mateo), used bookstores and of course, I keep my library card handy. Here are some you might enjoy:

-If Walls Could Talk, by Juliet Blackwell (yes, she of the author interview last autumn https://sirensays.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/juliet-blackwell-author-interivew-season-of-the-witch/).

This is the first of a new series called The Haunted Home Renovation series, set in San Francisco and Oakland. This is a paranormal mystery of the same genre as her witchcraft mystery series. But this features a non-witch, a woman named Mel who is running the family construction (or rather, reconstruction) company, specializing in renovating historic homes. It’s in this story that her ability to see and interact with ghosts manifests, resulting in her involvement in a recent murder, some old history, make new history, possibly rekindle a romance, remain surrounded by believable men, and still be passionate about her trade.

Cover for Juliet Blackwell's "If Walls Could Talk"

I was surprised at how easy it was to learn construction and remodeling lingo, and how exciting Blackwell makes it all. I really like this protagonist because she’s realistically quirky (as opposed to the trend in fake, bitchy & brittle heroines), imperfect but warm, intelligent, knowledgeable and a solid alpha female (it takes one to run a construction crew – I know this because I had a female friend who did so).

With an eccentric sense of style but a thoroughly pragmatic view on construction, Mel takes us not just through this mystery of the murdered man, but also on a tour of Bay Area renovation/used/antiquey/junk shops that I found both enthralling and believable. Do yourself a favor and get this book!

– Up a Road Slowly, by Irene Hunt This book is a classic, especially for girls. Written in the 1960s, it’s a timeless portrait of growing up, coming to understand the world around us and the people who inhabit our lives, including adults.

Young Julie is sent to live with a maiden aunt after her mother dies. Her Aunt Cordelia, a school teacher, lives out in the country. Her effect on young Julie’s life is profound albeit at times quite subtle, as we come to see in the following ten years of Julie’s life. It was this book that got me hooked on the beautiful poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Sara Teasdale, a love I have to this day and was able to share with my sister and girlfriends as a child. I’ve also come to understand that this book, while among many others, was predominant in its influence in how I viewed learning, independent women and the mysteries of autonomous women, a love for the arts and culture, the importance of siblings and family and life in a bygone era that is still relevant today.

If you have a daughter, a niece or any other young girls in your life, please consider this book for them – and don’t forget to consider it for yourself.

-No Flying in the House by Betty Brock A delightful childrens’ story about Annabel, a fairy child and her tiny dog/guardian, Gloria, who mysteriously appears on the terrace of Mrs. Vancourt. Who is this girl, and what’s up with that dog? A book that lent much magic to my childhood, it’s still available from Amazon if you can’t get it from your local library. Another one for the kids in your life, including you.

-Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader by Tanya Lester This is a quirky, fun read, a bit uneven because the author, by profession, is a gifted tea leaf reader, not a writer. But she brings to vivid life some of her sessions, clients and their stories, told against the backdrop of her personal story. Her intuitive abilities, genuine care for her clients and her adventures with this unusual but ancient practice make this book interesting and fun. For those interested in the metaphysical, I recommend it.

-Under Wraps, by Hannah Jayne is the first of a new series called The Underworld Detection Agency, set in San Francisco. The author, a friend of mine, has a wicked sense of humor, a great imagination and the ability to blend fantasy and reality in a manner that if not channeled into a novel, might grant her a stay on the whacko ward. But luckily, these are modern times, when a gal with Hannah’s talents can land a book contract, work her tush off and have a great new series to show for it. This book drops March 1, but I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy. It’s a fun, sassy, wry and witty read that combines mystery, lust and murder in a world where other beings exist but the majority of humans can’t see these beings in their true form. See that little person other there? Well, it may really be a troll.

The main character is a young, smart lady named Sophie Lawson and she is immune to magic, which is why she can see these beings in their true, and sometimes disgusting, unattractive, alluring or wicked form. She works at the Underworld Detectin Agency in San Francisco, a bureaucracy that can help everyone from banshee to zombie transition into normal, everyday San Francisco life. Sophie seems to know all there is to know about the these otherworldly creatures, be they bloodsuckers, the undead, the magical or the merely strange looking. Or does she? When there are gruesome murders, Sophie finds herself working with the handsome detective Parker Hayes. When Sophie discovers things – including some of these beings – aren’t what they seem, life and death get worse. So then what will a modern, monster-seeing girl do? I know what this non-monster-seeing girl will do – recommend this book! It’s a fun, witty and freaky trip through a San Francisco you haven’t yet experienced.

Okay, so that’s all for the current book recommendations. At the risk of sounding middle-aged, so far this year, I’ve enjoyed relaxing at a tea parlour with friends twice, gone to the local annual orchid show, searching for a local source of organic chicken eggs and become addicted to Downton Abbey (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/downtonabbey/index.html). Thankfully, there will be a second season, otherwise I don’t know how I’d get by. At least there are some newish episodes of Poirot to keep me occupied. Must keep using those “leetle grey cells!” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094525/

As impressed as I am by his grey cells and fussy habits, I love Poirot’s secretary, Miss Lemon. I adore her clothes, her demeanor and of course, her name. In fact, I am very focused on lemons right now.

I unconsciously zero in on a few different plants a year, incorporating them into uses both magical and mundane. Last year, it was fennel and borage, the year before that it was lavender, mugwort and mint.

While my current crush is on lemons, I have always loved lemons and other lemon-scented herbs – lemongrass, lemon balm – the aroma, the magical uses, the oils. I love the color of lemons, the waxy green leaves and the bright flavor the fruit imparts, from sparkling water to vinaigrette. We use it frequently on pasta, in salads, teas and other beverages. My Mister and I even made a big batch of limoncello http://www.slowtrav.com/italy/notes/food/dh_limoncello.htm. The cheerful, flexible lemon, using it as a physical and spiritual cleanser at home, in the bath and as an extra zing in my tea, is a food that I, the native Californian, no longer take for granted.

Now, we all know that Poirot loves his tea and accompanying delicacies, indicative of tradition in his rapidly changing times. Perhaps that is why so many of us in the 21st century are enamored of it and its requisite rituals, be they oriental or occidental. But what do tea and this blog have in common, besides me of course? Well, when one mentions tea parlor, my mind lights upon the delicacies of the sweets and savories, then focuses in on the idea of tarot and tasseomancy (tea leaf reading). No offense to Poirot, but these seem to be more the pursuit of ladies, blending (pun intended) the comforting culture of tea and snacks with the mysteries of intuition and the unknown. While not strictly the province of women, of course, in a land that doesn’t have high tea, a tea parlour teems with ladies relaxing, laughing and exclaiming over the pot of their choice. Oh, how I wish there was a local place which offered tarot, tasseomancy and tea!

A Man Manfully Enjoying His Tea

At least San Francisco locals hankering to learn about tarot can attend Second Saturday Tarot Workshops offered by the warm and knowledgeable Anastasia Haysler (http://tarotmediacompany.com/), who lucky for us, makes them affordable.

For those in the Oakland/Berkeley area, Leila Jo Crawford, proprietor of Crafting the Sacred, has a tarot class as well as does reading and creates lovely little magical crafts and other goodies: http://www.craftingthesacred.com/ Her deep intuitive sense is combined with a loving focus on your well-being; I highly recommend her.

The clairvoyant Dawn Swanson is also incredibly gifted. She is accurate, gentle, has a marvelous sense of humor and is the real deal. She doesn’t teach tarot, but uses cards in her readings, which are either in person or by phone. Dawn will often assist in healing what ails ya, and she has honed her craft into a practice which will enhance your life. She also teaches at Aesclepion in Marin County. Her website: http://www.readingsbydawn.com/

Well, on to other things, this being Valentine’s season.

The restaurants will offer specials, which is their justification for jacking up their prices, often prohibitively in these lean times. However, I was lucky enough to receive a coupon for Valentine’s dinner at Happi House fast Japanese food; two dinners for $10.99. How wonderfully unromantic! Perhaps Bucca di Beppo, where the insane noise level will drum any thought of romance out of your head?

Like so many, I both love and intensely dislike (how unseemly it would be to use the word “hate” when speaking of love!) Valentine’s Day. I do enjoy its more ancient roots, which involve nudity and whipping – always a winning combination for some. In ancient Rome, there was a festival called Lupercalia which featured young men using skin ships to slap the backside of young ladies to ensure their fertility. Ahhh, so good to know that the more things change, the more they remain the same. I hope that however you choose to celebrate – or not celebrate – Valentine’s Day – whip or whipless, that it’s pleasurable for you.

Please note these future blogposts and events:

-An interview with the lovely Elka Vera, Reiki practitioner, spiritual coach, artist and hypnotherapist. You can check her out here: http://elkavera.com/

-A Mystery Tea this spring, featuring authors mentioned above – Juliet Blackwell and Hannah Jayne, http://www.julietblackwell.net/ and http://crimespace.ning.com/profile/HannahJayne respectively. Details TBD.

-A review of some natural essences products, all a delight to the senses. Some of these products are for magical uses: powders, baths and oils, all high quality, made with attention and power; the same can be said for the natural perfumes, hand-crafted by a local perfumer. I am looking forward to doing this!

-PantheaCon is just around the corner and in Silicon Valley’s backyard at The Doubletree Hotel in San Jose: https://www.pantheacon.com/ Come for the magicalware shopping, stay for the workshops, parties and presentations. See you there!

Posted in Cooking, Dogs, Juliet Blackwell, Magic, Pop Culture, Reading, Tarot, Tasseography, Valentine's Day | 2 Comments »

Witch of the Week: Gypsy Witch Doreet

Posted by sirensays on October 31, 2010

Gypsy Witch Playing Cards

I’m doing a lot of interviews lately, because frankly, I think the women I’m interviewing are more interesting than posting my opinions about something. Of course, I’ll get back to opining, but here’s another interview with a fascinatingly magical woman, Doreet, whom we call Didi. I picked her as the Witch of the Week for Samhain because she’s a wise, mystical, creative, effervescent and loving person whose unique Gypsy Witch style results in a diva look minus, thankfully, the attitude. Didi is an incredible middle-eastern dancer, choreographer and performer. When she’s onstage, magic happens – for the other dancers and the audience. She performs often in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Didi also works at Serpent’s Kiss in Santa Cruz (http://serpents-kiss.com/), which is a Magickal Arts Shop and Botanica specializing in authentic, unique, hand-crafted, and one-of-a-kind ritual, healing tools and witch craft supplies. Many items are crafted by the owner and staff. Sit for a spell and read for yourself what makes this girl shimmy and shine and what her other magical gifts are.

Did in Her Beloved Forest

1. Can you give us a quick bio of you & your spiritual path?

My parents were from Israel, so I was raised in Judaism. My stepfather was a Cantor, so it was required of me to attend services at the synagogue. I didn’t feel I needed to go into a building in order connect with deity, I felt more comfortable out in nature.

I began studying Wicca as a solitary. I spent a lot of time at Uma’s Tools of Magick

Didi in Repose

in San Francisco. Uma was very kind to me, allowing me to sit and look at books, ask questions and hang out. I learned a great deal about candle magick and blending oils from her, and miss her dearly. As my studies grew, so did my desire to connect with others on the same path. I began studying and working with friends in the City. I studied with Anodea Judith (author of Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System and Waking the Global Heart: Humanity’s Rite of Passage from the Love of Power to the Power of Love) and became involved with Church of All Worlds. As much as I love working Magick with others, I am mostly a solitary practitioner.

Samhain Bat in charcoal by Jeff Ward

2. What brought you to Serpent’s Kiss & what has it been like there for you? What is your role there? What are your favorite aspects of working there?

I first came to Serpent’s Kiss shortly after Susan opened the first shop. I adored her instantly. I would stop by for supplies, books & jewelry!

Last year I was invited to teach Belly Dance in the shop and it’s been a great experience. While in the shop, I’m Priestess on Duty. I love the energy of the shop and I love being able to help people.

3. What is a typical day like there? can you sketch one for us with words?

There really isn’t a “typical” day at Serpent’s Kiss – each days brings a new surprise! My days start with lighting a prosperity candle, burning some incense and turning on some good music. I’m always happy to welcome our customers and answer their questions. I’m also creating Veve candles that are really beautiful and it’s my favorite project in the shop. We have a whole selection of clothing and belly dance costuming and I adore helping people pick out that perfect something that makes them feel fabulous.

Take a Dance on the Wild Side

4. What types of dancing do you do? How has dancing worked with your spiritual path?

I am a Tribal Fusion Belly Dancer, and founding member of Raks Hakohaveem. I am classically trained in Egyptian and folkloric dances of Northern Africa. Dancing strengthens my connection with Divine energy.

The Many Dances of Didi

5. How long have you been teaching dance & what do you like best about it?

I’ve been teaching Fusion Belly Dance for a little over a year. I love sharing my knowledge and passion with my students and watching them blossom into dancers. I adore my students. If you’re interested in class prices and schedule, contact Serpent’s Kiss at 831-423-KISS (5477).

6. What type of magical work do you excel at? Do you work on behalf of others? What work is your favorite & your least favorite?

I have an affinity with Candle Magick, and enjoy blending oils for ritual or intentional use. If requested, I will do work for others.

7. What have been some of your most successful workings, & some of your least successful?

I’ve had success in charging prosperity & stability candles in which the final outcome was gainful employment, and I’ve heard my lust candles do the trick too. 😉

9. What are the other ways that you express yourself as a witch?

I dress in a “witchy” manner and proudly wear my pentacle and triple moon pendants. My tattoos have Magickal significance to me. My home and garden are sacred space.


10. In pop culture, do you have favorite witchy characters, TV shows, books or movies?

Samantha Stevens on Bewitched was my role model as a child. At 11 I discovered Stevie Nicks, which explains a lot about my look. Anne Rice is one of my favorite authors, I’m enjoying a new book series called the House of Night by P.C & Kristen Cast. Practical Magic is one of my favorite movies, as is Bell Book & Candle.

Kim Novak and cat Pyewacket in Bell, Book and Candle

So that’s Didi in her magical nutshell. Of course, the real thing is better than this interview, but at least a slice of Didi is better than no Didi! Thank you for reading, and drop me an email if you have any ideas, questions or suggestions for this blog.

Have a blessed Samhain and make the most out of this time with your ancestors!

Posted in Autumn, Candle Magic, Magic | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Juliet Blackwell Author Interview: Season of the Witch

Posted by sirensays on October 26, 2010

Author Juliet Blackwell

Some years ago, I became enamored of The Art Lover’s Mysteries, which Juliet Blackwell co-authors with her sister, and their pen name is Hailey Lind. They can be found here: http://haileylind.com/ These fun, adventurous stories are set in the San Francisco Bay Area and feature reformed art forger Annie Kincaid, who gets caught up in exciting art-related mysteries. Juliet paints the covers of these books and the fourth just came out last month.

Then, I discovered her new series, The Witchcraft Mysteries, set in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. These cozy-with-an-edge mysteries feature a powerful witch named Lily Ivory, who has always been an outsider and an outcast. After wandering the globe for some time, she settles in quirky, foggy San Francisco, opens a vintage clothing store and begins to make friends. Along the way, she acquires a demon familiar shapeshifter, brews up some potent spells, flirts with some enticing men and helps those in distress. Drawing on the author’s own fascinating background, including a stint as an anthropologist, two of the mysteries have been published thus far and they are fun, intriguing reads.

Juliet, a Bay Area writer and artist who lives in a haunted house, has a new series coming out soon, too, but I’ll let her tell you all about that, some of the mystical people who have influenced her, and more.

1. First, let me congratulate you on your three different book series! This has been a busy year for you. Let me see if I can keep this straight: the second book in the Lily Ivory Witchcraft Series Mysteries came out in June, the fourth book in The Art Lover’s Mysteries that you write with your sister, Arsenic and Old Paint, is a lot of fun and just came out in September, and the Haunted Home Renovation Series, also set in the bay area, like the other two series, is coming out in December of this year. Is that right?

Yes, you got it right!  It was a busy year indeed, though last year, when I was writing all of them, was pretty busy too.  I feel so lucky to be in demand at the moment — it’s a tough business, and you never know when such opportunities will evaporate! — that I have a hard time saying “no”.  Besides, I have way too many ideas for books, so I want to write down as many as I possibly can.  Though I have to say, I think three series is about my physical and creative limit, especially as I’m also writing a non-mystery fiction book in all my spare time.

2. So this means that you are writing full time and often juggling multiple storylines, characters and phases of book development? How do you keep it all straight?

I usually only work on one book at a time.  My two magical series, the Witchcraft Mysteries and the new Haunted Home Renovation series, are with the same publisher and editor, so we make sure that the release dates make sense, about six months apart.  The Art Lover’s mystery series is a whole different animal, since I write that with my sister.  My other non-mystery fiction is such a distinct kind of book that I occasionally wander over and write a bit on that one even while I’m writing one of my series books, but for some reason that seems to inspire me even more to get back to my other storyline.

Secondhand Spirits, set in San Francisco, features witch Lily Ivory

But it IS a challenge to juggle storylines – my memory’s not that great, so I can only deal with one mystery at a time!  And I work hard to make sure my heroines are distinct, even while sharing geography and certain life issues, such as being single women in the San Francisco Bay Area. So once I’m rolling on a story and have my characters developing as I like, I try to stick with the story until I get at least a rough draft completed.  Often there are times when I have to write up synopses or outlines for other books during that time, and I *hate* that!  It definitely throws my creative energies off track, and it takes a while to get back into the story.

3. What can you tell us about your background in anthropology that informs your writing?

What doesn’t it inform?  Anthropology is the study of humanity, throughout history and around the globe.  That’s a pretty big subject area 😉  I was trained in the classical American system in which you learn about linguistics, archaeology, physical anthropology, and cultural anthropology, and though I went on to specialize in cultural anthro – how people live, and why – I find that even the arcane bits from human evolution, for instance, are still relevant in a lot of what we see around us everyday.

But specifically, my studies focused on Mexican immigrants and Vietnamese refugees coming into the US, how they managed the transitions and dealt with the cultural and socioeconomic shifts demanded of them.  A big part of this is the family’s physical and mental health, and though I didn’t set out to study it I wound up collecting a great deal of data on spiritual and health practices amongst both groups.  My fascination with the subject grew, and I paired up with a fellow graduate student, a former nurse, who was studying physical anthropology.  With her science background and my cultural information, we taught several successful college courses concerning the anthropology of health, medicine, and health care.

All of that, naturally, leads to a study of witchcraft, because in most parts of the world witches are also healers. Hence we hear the term “witch doctor”, by which I suppose we’re supposed to think they are somehow lesser doctors than the European medical healers.  But often, even today, witches are effective healers with an incredible working knowledge of botanicals, rituals, and anatomy—not to mention their own cultural psychology.

Turmeric, commonly used by Vietnamese healers

Vietnamese massage

Epazote, Mexican & Central American healing herb

Virgin of Guadalupe

4. I read an interview with you where you mentioned two women who had metaphysical talents that influenced you. The first was your aunt, a tarot card and tea leaf reader who stopped reading after she predicted the death of a friend. The second woman, your former mother-in-law, was from a small Nahautl village in Mexico who taught you about their traditions, botanicals, and spirits. Can you tell us more about how each of these women and their abilities influenced you?

I’ll start with my ex-mother in-law, since she fits in so well with what I was just saying above.  Abue, as we call her, comes from a small village, though she’s lived in California since she was twenty.  But she still speaks her native language, Nahuatl, in addition to Spanish and broken English.  Nahuatl is the language of the Aztecs, who called themselves Nahuas.  When the Spaniards came to Mexico they slaughtered huge numbers of the native peoples, as Europeans did here, but they didn’t manage to devastate the country in the same way.  Few Spaniards came to live, for example.  They wanted gold, not a new country.  So the Spaniards that did come to stay tended to have children with native women, producing a very mixed race.  Most Mexicans call themselves mestizos, which means mixed person.

But thousands of native villages also remained relatively unmixed, and maintain strong ties to their past.  Abue came from one of these towns, and she has an amazing knowledge of botanicals and folk remedies for everything from warts (onions in your shoes) to headaches (a rubber band around the tip of your middle finger, and a tonic she makes which includes willow bark).  She’s also a font of advice about your love life, so don’t ask a question without some time to spend listening respectfully 😉  Interestingly, Abue is also happy to tell you about evil, which she believes in thoroughly.  She has an entire philosophy regarding the evil inherent in snakes, for example, and has dozens of stories to illustrate her point.

Raven playing cards

A typical deck of playing cards

Tea leaf reading

My aunt Mem, my mother’s sister, couldn’t be more different.  She was raised in Houston, along with eleven brothers and sisters.  Her father, my grandfather, was literally dirt-poor from a small West Texas town, while my grandmother was one of the South’s faded aristocracy – she completed college in New Orleans, was extremely formal and wore a corset until the day she died.  I suppose it was a case of opposites attracting, since they went on to have eleven children 😉  Unfortunately, my grandfather died young.  Several of the children were farmed out to other family members, including Mem, who went to live with a cousin in New Orleans.  According to her, she was allowed to run somewhat wild – and she had the temperament for it.  She had been quite ill as a child, and cheated death several times.  So when she was a teenager in New Orleans, she had no time for being demure.  She learned how to read cards, though she read regular playing cards, not tarot.  But she was good; startlingly good. Tea leaves, too.  But then she also read the National Enquirer and had a hearty laugh (often aimed at herself), and cooked amazing gumbo and hushpuppies.  She was my second mother, and though she passed to the next dimension last year, she’s still with me.

National Enquirer, with one of its believable covers

5. Besides family connections, what, if any, was your background in magic and witchcraft before you started your two paranormal series, The Witchcraft Mysteries & The Haunted Home Renovation series? Has your magical/spiritual path changed now that you have these series?

As I mentioned above, I have a solid academic background in a lot of different magical ways and belief systems.  One of the things I most enjoy about my work on the books is that I get to explore these worlds even more.  I’ve met with witches and “ghost hunters,” interviewed skeptics and believers, attended coven meetings, and toured haunted houses.  Can you imagine?  I have so much fun!

Spooky Village by Claire Handy

In terms of changing my own path, I’d say that I’m far less academic about the subject than I used to be.  Though I still maintain a good deal of skepticism, the more I see, the more I believe in certain magical systems.  For example, there are people who know much more than they should, by looking at cards or crystal balls.  I have met very able psychics.  I know that part of healing, in both a physical and psychological sense, is magic.  The interesting thing is if you ask an MD or detective, they would probably tell you the same thing.  People who deal with this sort of thing on a daily basis are often hidden believers.  They don’t like to admit it, but they’ve witnessed too many miracles to turn away from the idea of faith, hope, and magic entirely.

Blackwell's 2nd Witchcraft Mystery, A Cast Off Coven, with witch Lily Ivory

The Sacred Well in Oakland, CA, a well known metaphysical store

6. What are the similarities between writing and magic that you experience, if any?

That’s an excellent question!  I often tell people that there’s a great deal of magic to writing, and to painting (which I also love).  There’s a place that you get to occasionally –not always, and not consistently, but erratically—wherein you almost leave your body and allow the words to come out with no conscious knowledge of directing them.  It can be almost frightening at times, when you “come to” an hour later and know that you wrote those pages, but realize that you weren’t totally in charge, as though you were channeling something.  It’s eerie, but so powerful.  Sort of like what a lot of people seek through drugs or meditation, a sense that you’re outside yourself.   It’s a real rush.  It’s when the magic becomes real, and it’s beautiful.

The magical practitioners who I’ve interviewed and watched while they conjure often describe “subsuming” themselves to sensations of the earth and beyond, and to the powers of their ancestors.  I think we can all attain that kind of incredible energy at moments of great love, great inspiration, and great creativity.

7. Ok, since this is the Season of the Witch, how about we focus more on Lily Ivory and the Witchcraft Mystery Series for the rest of this interview? Since Wicca is popular, was it tempting to make Lily Ivory, your protagonist of The Witchcraft Mysteries, a Wiccan?

No, it wasn’t.  Wicca is a religion –though since it’s not dogmatic, it’s not easy to categorize—whereas witchcraft is a practice.  Often the two coincide, but not always.  Though I know a lot of Wiccans and respect them immensely, I wanted to make Lily a natural-born witch who doesn’t really have an obvious belief system at first—that’s part of her journey, her character arc over the series.  The Wiccans I know are far too welcoming and friendly to be a loner like Lily.  I wanted my protagonist to have to struggle and make a conscious decision to become part of her new community, and to have to stand outside of it, still, because of her powers.

Classic Halloween witch, an image many Wiccans don't like

8. Have you ever felt yourself to be as much of an outsider as Lily, or have you always felt relatively enfranchised?

I was very lucky to have been raised by loving, caring, and relatively accepting parents.  I have been incredibly lucky my whole life, in fact, and have many dear, close friends and incredible community support.  But I have traveled and lived in a lot of different places, from a small Yu’pik settlement on the Bering Strait, to a refugee camp in the Philippines, to a small village in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. I’ve put myself in the role of outsider, and even though I was doing it on purpose, it’s always hard to be by oneself, without friends, unsure of the traditions and expectations.

And I think that we all–even those of us lucky to be loved and supported always– sometimes feel like square pegs in our own lives.  We all have dark moments of feeling alone and misunderstood.

Kim Novak plays witch Gillian Holroyd in Bell, Book & Candle, a character who felt left out of normal human life

9. Given the coincidence that Lily has Oscar, a demon familiar who shapeshifts in the books, and that you have a neighbor’s cat named Oscar who visits you regularly, has the cat become a familiar of sorts?

I say yes, only in that sense that I love having animals in my life.  My neighbor’s cat Oscar, pure black of course, set about winning me over shortly after my beloved dog passed away of old age.  I was heartbroken to lose my pup, and though I love all animals I had never been much of a cat person.  But after my dog passed on, the neighbors’ many cats started enjoying my big, overgrown yard (the dog had pretty much kept them out, previously.)  Out of all five cats, only Oscar started approaching me, demanding attention and interest.  I ignored him for some time, which only made him adore me more.  I find that cats are like that 😉

Now he visits every morning while I drink coffee, and often   sits on the ledge outside my office window while I write.  He runs up to greet me when he hears my car coming, or sees me walking down the street.  He’s demanding and funny and makes me stop and rub his belly and bump noses and love him, all of which reminds me to relish the moment.  So in that sense yes, he’s a bit of a familiar…or at least an artist’s muse 😉

10. How have your friends and family responded to the Witchcraft Mystery series? Do people in your life tease you about your subject matter, or are they supportive, or both?

I’d say both. Few of my friends abstain from teasing me about anything, so yes, I do get teased a bit.  But once I launch into the real history of witchcraft, and misogyny, and folk healing, they realize that there may be more to it then they thought.  Then they read it because they’re my friends, and I wind up convincing a lot of them.

By and large, though, my friends are extremely supportive of me as a writer.  I suppose if they weren’t, it would be hard to continue our friendships!  Writing is a demanding vocation, which requires attention and time and energy.  My friends often make me take some time to enjoy life a little, which I appreciate in the long run.

11. Have you sought the assistance of magical practitioners for research? If so, have they been helpful?

I have had my cards read, and a crystal ball.  One woman in particular seemed very gifted, and she intuited many things about my life, helping me through a difficult transition.  Also, I have visited a lot of alternative healers over the years for everything from a cold to bursitis, and they’ve always helped.

12. I really love that there’s a balance between the coziness of the stories and the darker aspects. Has it been difficult to balance those aspects without sacrificing one or the other?

I’d say that’s the most difficult aspect of the books.  Often when I’m in the midst of writing, it’s hard to make realistic assessments of how dark something is going, or whether I’m treating something too superficially.  I want to take the history seriously, and I do think that any discussion of witchcraft has to include a continuum of good and evil intent.  But I think my readers like to laugh a little, as well – Oscar’s usually good at bringing a little humor into a situation 😉

13. I also love that Lily is half Mexican and that some of the most important characters in the first book, “Secondhand Spirits” were Mexican, and that Graciela, the woman who raised Lily, is Mexican. Will Lily’s mixed heritage play a larger role in future books?

I would really love to bring Lily back to her hometown in Texas, where she needs to face her past.  That would allow her to reunite with her grandmother, which would be fabulous.  I should point out that though Lily calls Graciela “grandmother”, she was really more a step-grandmother.  In Mexico there’s a concept of the “ahijada”, someone who is made to be your child – not through official adoption, but just because the need was there.  I think it’s more common in Mexico, as it used to be in rural areas of the US, for this sort of thing to happen.

Herbs ready for brewing

Green herbs, ready for picking

A cauldron - so handy for brewing!

I love Mexico, and tend to have a strong affiliation to Mexicans.  I speak Spanish fluently and love the way so much of our cultures mingle and make one another stronger, especially in the Southwest of the country. So yes, I would like to continue bringing in some of those aspects into the story.

14. Was it difficult to decide what Lily’s magical abilities and attributes would be?

The biggest problem was to figure out how to write mysteries if Lily was such a powerful and talented witch – after all, couldn’t she just look into her crystal ball and figure it all out?  But then I decided to make that her weak spot, something she’s working on.  I also met with a number of people with such talents, and realized that the visions are rarely that clear.

I knew from the start that I wanted her to be talented in brewing, since that is so closely allied with healing, and I have a background and particular interest in herbs and botanicals.

Altar de la Curandera by Pola Lopez

15. Have you always had an appreciation for vintage clothing? Was there a strong learning curve involved when writing about how vintage clothing is purchased, cared for and sold?

I’ve always adored vintage clothing, yes.  But I did have to learn a lot about running a shop, and the conservancy of old cloth – there’s a whole world out there in textile science! Who knew?  So yes, it’s been a rather steep learning curve.  But one of my favorite things about writing is getting to learn about new things, so that’s always a plus.

16. What can you tell us about Lily’s intriguing love life? How is it  shaping up in book #3?

Hmm, can’t give too much away, can I?  This is another area that I need to balance – I don’t want these novels to be romances, since they’re really more about Lily and her own path.  But what’s a story without at least some romance — and sex?  One interest, Max, is a skeptic, and I got a little annoyed with him, to tell you the truth!  Lily isn’t the kind of woman who would cave in to a man just because she cared for him.  Max either needs to start supporting Lily as she is, or hit the road, in my opinion.  But what do I know – I’m just the author!  Sometimes these characters do what they like, without consulting me 😉

17. What else can you tell us about Lily and her world, that you’d like readers to know?

Skeleton key

St. Michael Prayer Card

I’m just excited that I had the chance to have Lily and her “gang” come alive.  It has been such fun doing so, and I look forward to exploring other worlds – that of the woodsfolk, and Rom (gypsies), and further into the traditions of hoodoo and Mexican folk healing.

Romany caravan

I’d also love to hear from readers about what they’d like to see.  Anyone who likes can visit my website, www.julietblackwell.net, and please join the mailing list and see me on Facebook and Twitter!

Posted in Author interview, Autumn, Juliet Blackwell, Magic | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

When Life Takes You Into Further Spiritual Transformation

Posted by sirensays on October 2, 2010

This interview is with a lovely woman I know, whose life has taken her in an interesting direction. It’s one thing when we make the big leap from the faith we grew up in to another one, perhaps nature-based, non-Christian or somewhat unconventional. That is often the norm for young people who are making their way in the word. But what happens when life takes you to a whole different place, when your spiritual practice no longer is right for you? When that happens, it doesn’t serve you, so how can you authentically keep your commitments or be in service? The answer: you can’t.

This is exactly what happened to the wonderful Lady-hearted Mojo, a smart, educated, thoughtful and insightful woman living in Texas. She left her Wiccan tradition behind recently, and not just due to theological reasons. After working very hard with a cohesive system, she has seen it implode, with chaotic, ridiculous results, such as a lack of accountability, make-it-up-as-you-go beliefs, constant cultural appropriation and teenagers who claim High Priest/ess status. Now studying Traditional English Witchcraft, she finds herself interested in Hoodoo as well. Please enjoy this interview where she shares her thoughtful, informed opinions based on experience and her strong desire to respectfully learn and grow.

1. Lady-hearted Mojo, what brings you joy in the world? What are your interests, what
feeds your soul & what do you value?

I value my relationships with others the most which brings me the greatest
amount of joy and sense of well-being. I’m a people-person so I feel
happiest when I’m interacting with others and helping them out even if it’s
just to lend them an ear. I think as we’ve progressed technologically we’ve
also become more isolated from each other on a scale that is, historically,
unprecedented so I make a point to physically spend time with family and
friends.

2. Can you please describe your spiritual practices as an adult and what led
you to them?

I was raised Lutheran, although, my father is Catholic so I have a
familiarity with that denomination as well. By the time I was out of high
school religion played almost no role in my life and this continued into my
late 20’s. At 32 I discovered Wicca and studied it on my own for several
years before finding the tradition I was initiated into; however, around
2008 I felt a growing dissatisfaction with it that I couldn’t reconcile and
in late 2009 I left the religion as well as my tradition.

I still maintain friendships with my former coveners, which is very nice. Since mid-2009 I’ve been studying Traditional English Witchcraft, which is not the same thing as Wicca, but I can’t say at this point that I am 100% a Traditional Crafter. I believe, wholeheartedly, in the Divine and often have “conversations” and seek guidance from above, but I can’t say that I have a specific religious path that I follow.

3. I was very intrigued when I learned from you that you had left
your Wiccan circle because Wicca no longer best reflected your beliefs and
perspective on life (let me know if I have this description wrong). Can you
talk about how this change in your developed and what your process was for
deciding to leave?

It’s hard to describe and my leaving wasn’t solely because my beliefs were
changing. When I first started to study Wicca back in 1996 the solitary “how
to” books were certainly out, but Wicca was still strongly coven-based in my
area so there was accountability and structured training and education,
which is so important even though the authors trying to sell these books
will tell the reader that covens aren’t necessary.

Since 1998, I’ve watched
Wicca go from a cohesive system with a core set of beliefs, theology, and
practices to a free-for-all, make-it-up-as-you-go-system with next-to-no
accountability that often doesn’t reflect Gardner’s original creation. When
something can become whatever a person wants it to be it ceases to be
anything at all as far as I’m concerned. I think this is why we see all
kinds of nonsense being described as Wicca, the mangling of concepts such as
the Wiccan Rede and the Three-fold Law beyond recognition, 15-yr-olds
calling themselves High Priestesses or High Priests, which is just
disturbing when you consider the responsibility a member of the clergy
carries, and depth of training that coven-trained clergy have to go through
to attain those titles. I left Wicca and my tradition as a High Priestess,
which took me nearly 8 years to attain and included training in lay
counseling, so I can speak from experience about the significance of this
role, and can tell you that no teenager or person trained only through
books is qualified to perform it.

Goya’s Caprichos #70 ” ‘Will you swear to obey and respect your masters and superiors, to   sweep the garrets, to spin tow, to ring bells, to howl, to yell, to fly, to cook, to grease, to suck, to bake, to fry, everything and whatever time you are ordered to?’ “I swear.’ ‘Well then, my girl, you are now a witch.’

I also grew tired of the anti-Christian rhetoric that still abounds amongst
Wiccans, the sloppily researched and written books, the pseudo-history that
still gets passed off as fact, the disrespectful and insensitive cultural
appropriation that is standard practice amongst many Wiccans, and the almost
constant whining about the impending return of the “Burning Times” or some
perceived persecution. I’m not saying that there hasn’t been a single Wiccan
who hasn’t experienced persecution based upon their religion, but when
you consider that the average Wiccan is a white, educated, middle-class
suburbanite, screaming persecution at every turn becomes laughable in more
cases than not.

Despite all of this, it was the fact that my spiritual beliefs were
changing. I’m simply no longer drawn to Goddess-worship and tend to view
deity as male. I also place more emphasis on having a strong relationship
with my ancestors, spirits of the land, and Otherworld spirits because they
are both figuratively, and literally, closer to me than Deity.

As I mentioned above, since mid-2009 I’ve been studying Traditional English
Witchcraft. When talking about English Withcraft as that term is understood
today, we are talking about the practices that existed originally amongst
the Anglo-Saxons. For these people Witchcraft was not a religion; it was a
set of practices, some of which could be described as spiritual in nature,
and most often consisted of “crossing the hedge” into the Otherworld and
interacting and learning from the spirits found there. The old Witchcraft
folklore of traveling astrally to the Venusburg or the Brocken and
interacting/learning from the Divine are reflected in these very old tales as
is the concept of the Wild Hunt. Crossing the hedge is an ecstatic practice
much like the techniques used by the indigeous shaman and medicine men to go
into the Spirit World to receive guidance or a cure for an illness. It is
not meditation or pathworking, and can be dangerous as not everything that
dwells in the Otherworld has our best interests at heart and will actively
seek to harm us so it’s not a practice to enter into lightly. It’s best if the
student has a teacher to learn it from so the hazards and pitfalls can be
avoided.

Goya’s Caprichos #68, “The broom is one of the most necessary implements for witches; for besides being great sweepers, as the stories tell, they may be able to change the broom into a fast mule and go with it where the Devil cannot reach them.”

After the Anglo-Saxon period ended with the Norman Invasion in 1066, both the magical practices as well as the healing practices seemed to have been picked up by the Cunningfolk and became part of the old Cunningcraft.
Originally, the Cunningfolk were Christians, although outsiders would refer
to them as “white witches” to distinguish them from the witches that were
thought to harm people. The Cunningcraft thrived from about the 12th century
to the early 20th century and died out because the services provided by the
Cunningmen were less-and-less required. There seems to be a resurgence in
Cunningcraft practice, but more often the practitioners are now Neo-Pagan.
At some point between the 17th century and the mid-18th century, religion
seems to have become attached to some forms of English Traditional
Witchcraft, although, for many it is still only a practice. However, unlike
Wicca, Traditional English Witchcraft doesn’t have the hang up with
Christianity and there are several traditions today that embrace elements
found in Gnostic Christianity, including the presence of the Gnostic Lucifer
as a form of the God as the Divine Light-bearer. These traditions are
generally described as Sabbatic Craft Traditions, the most famous being the
Cultus Sabbati. This is the form of ETW that I’m most interested in, but
it’s hard to find anything written about them.

4. How long has it now been since you left Wicca? How do you feel about your decision?

I formally resigned from my coven/tradition in January 2010 and I haven’t
regretted it; it was the right thing to do.

5. What practices, research, or organization are you currently engaged in that are a better representation of your beliefs?

Aside from being in the early stages of the practice of English Traditional
Witchcraft; I’m also a Hedge-rider having been trained by a fellow
hedge-rider, and I’m also practitioner of Hoodoo. I’ve been practicing
Hoodoo since 2006 and find it to be a very rewarding practice. There really
is no comparison between practicing an old tradition of American folk magic
and practicing the generic magic that can be found in so many books these days.

6. Do you have spiritual role models – authors, magical workers, friends or
family?

Yes, my spiritual role models have been His Holiness the Dalai Lama because
the wisdom he speaks transcends religion. I also admire English Traditional
authors such as Michael Howard, Nigel Pennick, Nigel Ashcroft-Jackson, RJ
Stewart, and Peter Paddon. Comparatively speaking, there are far fewer books
on TEW than there are Wiccan books, but they are much better researched and
written. My very first Hoodoo teacher was Catherine Yronwode, although, I’ve
have been blessed to have learn things from other teachers, some of whom
have come from families that have practiced Hoodoo for generations. I don’t
really learn Hoodoo from books, but some of my favorite authors are Cat.
Yronwode (her Hoodoo reference text is an outstanding one of a kind book),
Draja Mickaharic, Henri Gamache, Jim Haskins, Carolyn Morrow Long, Dr.
Jeffery Anderson, and Yvonne Chireau.

7. What do you see in the manifested realm of magic (such as books,
supplies, stores, groups) that bothers you?

Oh, that’s an easy one. The crap that is being published by so-called
Rootworkers who have watered down Rootwork so much that is barely resembles
the traditional Hoodoo I was trained in. My only guess is that since many of
these authors have already established a Pagan readership they want to
change things so that Rootwork feels more like Witchcraft and, therefore,
more comfy for these types of people and they sell more books, but they are
doing the tradition a huge disservice. In the end, despite the nonsense they
publish or how vehemently they may defend it, real Rootworkers are never
going to be fooled. We know what Hoodoo is and what it isn’t; what is used
and what isn’t, and how it can be used and how it can’t.
In some of these books I’ve seen some really bizarre things getting called
Rootworker/Hoodoo ie: godess symbols, Runes, circle-casting, calling in
elements/elementals, enough Blessed Be’s to choke a horse, dire-warnings of
karma, and hard-line ethics that are not a part of Hoodoo or have ever been.
These authors are trying to do to Hoodoo what has already been done to
Wicca. They want to remove the very things that give Hoodoo its identity and
turn it into a free-for-all in which anything goes, which is what Hoodoo is
definitely not.

As far as supplies, there have always been poorly made curios or curios sold
as something they aren’t so when it comes to this aspect of the tradition
one really has to practice the old “buyer beware”.  I always recommend that
people ask around about the reputation of a supplier or a given line of
products and/or only buy supplies that are made by other Rootworkers who are
known for their quality and authenticity. This doesn’t guarantee that a
person won’t get a badly made product, but it does reduce the chances. For
the record, stay away from Anna Riva, Indio/Wisdom, Dr. Pryor, and The Seven
Sisters of New Orleans. Anna Riva and Indio/Wisdom used to be very well
made, but the original owners sold off their business and the new owners
became more interested in profit than making an authentic product.

8. What have been the most successful workings you have done?

I do well with money drawing when it involves earned wages. I once did a
spell that resulted in an $8,000 project for my husband, who was
self-employed at the time. I call that spell my “$8,000 Money Spell”.
I’m also good at sweetening spells and protection.

I’ve done a successful mirror box spell when a young lady was severely harassing  my daughter to the extent that she was damaging her new car. It was harsh work, but it was necessary and justified and I don’t regret it. I didn’t hurt the young lady, but I did make her stop what she was doing.

9. Do you practice any forms of divination?

I practice some Geomancy and Numerology, but overall, I’m not good at
divination. I’ve tried learning Tarot and Runes, but I just don’t see
anything. I will usually have a friend, who is a fantastic Rune-reader, read
for me when I needed divination done.

10. What are you best at magically? What are you worst at?

I have absolutely no success with gambling work. As mentioned above, I do well with
money-drawing from earned wages as well as sweetening spells. Although, I’m
not proud of the fact I also do well when it comes to control, domination,
and revenge work. I think I have success in all these areas because I have
both my sun and moon in Capricorn, which is ruled by Saturn and Saturn rules
many of the areas I have the most success with, but who knows.

11. Given that you left your spiritual practice after many years and also
lost your job, do you think that there is deep work going on internally with
you, aside from the realities of the economy? In other words, is this an
opportunity to become more fully who you really are?

(I know that in  the U.S. we are big on reinvention, but I am not using that word on purpose,
choosing instead to call it “becoming more fully who we really are.” This is
because to me the word reinvention conjures up images of a quick change
life, something simplistic and not reflective of most of us.)

I’ve done some deep meditation on this and have also talked with spirits on
the Otherside about it as well. I think I’m coming to the end of a cycle. I
lost my spiritual path, last December we lost our beloved 12-yr-old German
Shepherd to cancer, I lost a relationship with a member of my family, I lost
my job, and my daughter will be moving out of state to attend nursing school
and live with her fiance, so my husband and I are going to be empty-nesters
soon…that’s a lot of loss in a little over a year and a half. I don’t think
this cycle has anything to do with those we find in New Age belief, ie
Saturn returns and what not, but it’s been indicated to me that this is
what’s happening. I’m a firm believer in things happening for a reason and
as hard as all these losses have been I know in my heart they are happening
for a reason.

12. Do you have an idea of how you want your life to be that’s in your grasp
& that you are working towards? If so, who are you partnered with to make
this happen – family and/or friends?

Right now my focus is on finding new employment. I’ve been earning my own
money since I was 13 so I’m used to working. Staying at home, waiting for
the phone to ring is not my idea of a good time, but I’m trying to make the
most of the free time I have. I’m reading a book called “Walking the
Twilight Path” by Michelle Belanger. Belanger is most closely associated
with the vampire-subculture and for writing The Vampire Codex, but this book
discusses death in both the literal form and in the form of the changes we
experience in life. She had two near-death experiences in childhood due to a
birth defect that was finally repaired with surgery, but she says that the
experiences have helped her understand death as a literal event and as a
series of deep changes we undergo in our lives. So far I like her
writing-style; she’s well-grounded, balanced and no fluffy bs, but I’m only
a chapter or two into it so I’m going to withhold judgment for the
time-being.

Throughout all these changes and losses my husband has been a rock, and I
don’t know what I would do without him. When I’m feeling depressed, anxious
or I’m “in my head” and dwelling on the negative too much he reminds me that
all of this is temporary and will pass. He is really a god-send.

13. Lady-hearted Mojo, do you have any wise words for other spiritual practitioners?

If you are learning primarily though books, question everything you read,
don’t accept it as factual or truthful just because it appears in a book.

I did this with Wicca and then had to relearn almost everything I thought I knew. If you are a member of a spiritual tradition group in Yahoogroups or the like, ask   those people who seem to know what they are talking about who the best authors are to read and whom should be avoided.

When it comes to Hoodoo, if anything you are reading feels like Paganism or
New Age, it’s not Hoodoo; simple as that. The only books published recently
in this genre that are worth anything have been studies by people like Dr.
Jeffrey Anderson. For the most part, there are only a few decent “how to”
books that have been published lately, but authors like Stephanie Rose Bird,
Denise Alvarado, and Dorothy Morrison’s Utterly Wicked should be avoided
like the plague.

Goya's Carprichos 73 "It is Better to be Lazy"

Siren’s note: Leady-hearted Mojo has found a new job and is busy working!


Posted in Autumn, Growing up, Hoodoo/Conjure, Magic, Reading | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Happy 4,360th Birthday, Enheduanna!

Posted by sirensays on April 17, 2010

Ancient temple of Ur, where Enheduanna was priestess

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted here. How wonderful to get back to writing this spring! How perfect that I had an inspired evening this gorgeous night with a newly waxing moon, the scent of jasmine outside and the cool, kind April air. I headed out to an event that I knew would be filled with fascinating, loving people and the opportunity I haven’t had before: to wish happy birthday to a long dead woman I admire, who lived approximately 4,360 years ago.

The world’s oldest known author whose works were written in cuneiform in Ur – ancient Sumer, Enheduanna was princess, poet and priestess of the beloved goddess Inanna. Her works most often exalted Inanna, expressing her love and devotion to this great deity.

Entering the party, I saw that the room was replete with a gorgeous altar, candlelight and a good-sized crowd. There was live music by Jennifer Berezan and Polly Wood and readings of original works by various women in a newly published book called “Talking to Goddess”, edited by D’vorah Grenn. It’s  a lovely compilation of writings by women from different spiritual traditions. The writers include the editor, D’vorah Grenn, well known leaders of women’s spirituality such as Luisah Teish and Vicki Noble, to lesser known but no less excellent writers such as Elka Eastly Vera, whose poem to Kali was incredibly powerful, and Xochipala Maes Valdes, a Yoruba priestess whose longer poem to the orisha Oshun was also powerful and thought-provoking. The insightful, lusty work by super smart sex worker Cosi Fabian was marvelous to listen to, as was the translated work by D’vora K’lilah. I enjoyed all the readings, finding them all moving, intelligent and well written. It was a marvelous way to honor Enheduanna, whose legacy of writing and priestessing seemed to have inspired all of us in attendance.

We eventually got around to singing Happy Birthday to Enheduanna, blew out her candles and enjoyed the delicious, richly decorated chocolate-on-chocolate cake. I was hugged by near strangers, who I joyfully hugged back. I was able to spend time with the beautiful, clever Elka, writer, painter, and creative force of nature. I learned a bit more about Enheduanna, whose work I have read and treasured. One of her scholars, Betty De Shong Meador, couldn’t there tonight, but her story was told and her books were introduced.

When it was time to head home, we walked outside to the spring breeze and the new crescent moon in the sky. It was a wonderful evening, a balm to the digital soul of Silicon Valley.

Inanna

Posted in Magic, Moon phase, Reading | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Interview With Pagan Author, Garden Witch Ellen Dugan!

Posted by sirensays on October 5, 2009

The lovely Ellen Dugan, author & garden witch

The lovely Ellen Dugan, author known as The Garden Witch photo by Micki Mueller

Prolific Neo-Pagan author, gardener, Priestess, mom and wife Ellen Dugan graciously took time out recently from her busy schedule to answer Siren Says’s questions and tell us about her writing.

SS blog: In a nutshell (pun intended) what do you like the best about Autumn, the Autumn Sabbats and Harvest Time?

ED:  The colors, the scents, and the enchanting feel in the air. It’s a season of change and abundance. The Fall is my favorite time of the year!

SS blog: Can you describe how you best like to celebrate this time of year?

The Element of Air photo by Kristina Hathaway

The Element of Air photo by Kristina Hathaway

ED: In quiet and profound ways. The family goes apple picking, I add fall flowers and spring bulbs into the garden… I decorate the mantle in the living room with seasonal items. I always cook a big meal to celebrate the day with my family.

SS blog: What was your first published book and what drove you to write it?

Element of Earth photo by Jenna Mahina

Element of Earth photo by Jenna Mahina

ED: Garden Witchery: Magick from the Ground Up was my first book. I wrote the book because I never found the exact kind of down-to-earth magickal book that I wanted to read so I decided, why not write one myself?

SS blog: What inspired you to write Autumn Equinox: The Enchantment of Mabon?

ED: I was approached by Llewellyn when I turned in the proposal for my fourth book, Cottage Witchery; Natural Magick for Hearth and Home. After they decided to contract it I was asked if I would be interested in writing one of the Sabbats books. I said yes, and ended up having 2 books contracted on the same day!

Pimpinks - Symbol of Fall photo by Elizabeth Crandall Whittom

Pumpkins - Symbol of Fall photo by Elizabeth Crandall Whittom

SS blog: What can you tell us about your latest book, coming out in October – Book of Witchery: Spells, Charms & Correspondences for Every Day of the Week?

ED: Here is the book description for Book of Witchery: “Witchery isn’t limited to the Sabbats and to the occasional full moon; magick happens every day. In this treasury of enchantments, spells and witchery, popular author Ellen Dugan presents her personal grimoire of magick essentials to keep you happily conjuring seven days a week! Formerly available as 7 Days of Magic, new and advanced material has more than doubled the witchy wisdom within these pages, yet it still fits into a busy Witch’s schedule. As you learn daily magickal correspondences and themes, you’ll build a solid foundation of knowledge and open up amazing possibilities for highly effective spellwork and witchery each and every day.”

SS blog: What are your plans to celebrate its publication?

ED: I have several author events scheduled from October 2009 through April 2010. To see my tour schedule please visit my website (www.ellendugan.com) and click on the “Tours” tab.

SS blog: How are your online classes being received? Do you have any more in the works?

ED: The online classes are really popular and have been very well received. At the moment I am offering three separate classes:

The Autumn Sabbats (Seasonal stand alone class available through November 3rd)

The Elements of Witchcraft (Witchery Class I)

Advanced Natural Magick (Witchery Class II)

Yes, I do have another class in the works for the winter months. I’ll put that up after the Autumn Sabbats Class comes down. For more information or to sign up for a class please visit my website and click on the “Online Classes” page.  Or sign up for my newsletter through my Café Press store.

The Element of Water, photo by Kristina Hathaway

The Element of Water, photo by Kristina Hathaway

SS blog: Your books seem to gracefully run the gamut from beginners to those well-versed in magic. Was that intentional, and/or does it reflect your own journey?

ED: It still shocks me to be working on my twelfth book. I never expected to write so many. In answer to your question, I think it’s a little of both. I was either compelled to write on the topic or it was pitched to me by Llewellyn. For example, Autumn Equinox, Herb Magic for Beginners and How to Enchant a Man were all pitched to me by Llewellyn and they seemed like fun so I ran with it.

SS blog: What do your readers say? Do you have many non-Wiccan readers?

ED: Yes, actually I’m the Crossover Kid. Many of my titles have successfully crossed over to mainstream markets. I do have many readers who are not Witches or Pagan.  I meet more every time I do an author event. The response to all of the books has been overwhelmingly positive.

SS blog: Can you share with us any upcoming projects or other books you want to write?

ED: At the moment I am working on my twelfth book for Llewellyn. It was just recently contracted and will be released in early 2011. I never announce the working title or the topic of the book until after it is finished and safely turned into the publishing company.

The Element of Fire (with Bast statue)

The Element of Fire (with Bast statue)

SS blog: Ellen, can you leave us with any witchy words of wisdom?

ED: May your harvest season be an enchanting one, blessed with abundance of the Autumn Equinox and the mysterious magick of the season. Hurray Autumn is here! The Season of the Witch has begun!

Blessed be, Ellen Dugan

Ellen can be vsited via Facebook, Myspace, her wbsite and her online store:

Ellen’s website: www.ellendugan.com

Ellen’s online store: www.cafepress.com/ellendugan

Myspace www.myspace.com/ellendugan

Word press blog: http://ellendugan.wordpress.com

I love Ellen’s blog and website, as well as her presence on MySpace with all the lovely garden and plant photos. I hope you surf on over to see what I’m talking about – this is a magical worker who really knows her way around plants, animals and the natural world. Eleen’s always encouraging people to get outdoors, get their hands in the dirt, plant some flowers and herbs, to learn about the natural world and experience its never ending magic. May your Autumn be full of outdoor magic!

Posted in Author interview, Autumn, Beauty, Gardening, harvest, Magic | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Magical Consultant Susan Diamond of Serpent’s Kiss

Posted by sirensays on September 14, 2009

Indeed they did bend over

Sometimes it makes more sense to hire someone to do magic for you than it does to do it alone or rely on friends – or even a coven.  I say this because a magical adept who acts as a hired gun may be able to see the whole picture more clearly than you and your friends and/or coven. A hired gun may be expert in different types of magic and magical habits that they can call upon.

I have found that having a hired magical gun is just like consulting with an expert in other areas, such as a dentist, plumber, attorney or pharmacist – but certainly more fun! It is very personal, of course, and might even feel initially strange if you are used to solo or group magic. I was very comfortable because the magical consultant I contracted with is a person I have known for years. She knew about the situation I wanted help with, she had a good working knowledge of my abilities and skills so that she could instruct me to work in tandem, and she also has a tremendous sense of justice that aids her greatly in her work. She is intelligent, tenacious, powerful and magically gifted.

Since my issue was a justice issue that affected not only me, but ultimately thousands of others, I wanted to work with someone who could just cut through all the potentially conflicting thoughts, ideas, fears and concerns of those involved, and work on the heart of the matter. In this case, the heart of the matter was corruption and greed, perpetrated by any number of illegal acts visited upon the working poor, disabled, lower income and underserved in my community. If this sounds like the backstory of a legal thriller, well, it is a legal thriller, just in non-fiction form. My intention was to address the foul rotting issues at the heart, turn the tables on the perpetrators and see if we could score winning first steps in a class action lawsuit. And that we did, we did indeed!

A Little About Susan Diamond

Susan is an east coast transplant whose beauty, grace and intelligence are great foils for her no-nonsense approach to working magic. A respectful, inclusive priestess in several traditions, Susan is well-versed with Neo-Paganism, Hoodoo/Rootwork, Palo Mayombe, Ifa, Shamanism, Astrology, divination and energy work.

Susan moved to the Santa Cruz area and opened the much needed Serpen’ts Kiss in downtown Santa Cruz. It’s a magical market that is intoxicating to those interested in magic, the exotic and that which just plain smells good! A sensual redhead, Susan dresses like a gorgeous gypsy and has a graceful, sensual and intelligent presence. She allows her brain and heart to dominate when you consult with her, using excellent listening skills, psychic and divination abilities to address your situation.

SKNew

As I’ve gotten to know Susan through the years, I have come to admire how she weaves her professional life with magic, humor and creativity, using her excellent sense of discernment to guide her business. She also creates several lines of her own products and I have found them powerful, lovely and compelling. However, in our work together, she didn’t try sell me a bunch of product. She trusted my abilities and the work was authentic, not a guise to sell me product. Frankly, if I had it my way, I’d visit her shop weekly to peruse the latest items. But I have been to places where everything was such a sales push, I felt that what I needed wasn’t relevant and of course, that’s a huge turnoff. You won’t find that attitude at Serpent’s Kiss. Susan and her staff care about clients, about delivering good customer service and about making sure people can buy what they need. The staff are also magically talented in their own right, teaching classes and offering divination and spiritual consulting services.

Serpent’s Kiss also has a workshop space called Community Crossroads. They have many renowned authors do workshops and they also offer their consulting services in this spacious, private area.

CrossroadsSK

So now that you all clearly know I am a big fan of Serpent’s Kiss, let’s get back to the main subject of this post – using a magical consultant. When I first contacted Susan about this legal issue, she listened carefully, talked to me about the outcome I wanted, how we could work together, how to go about it and she named a very reasonable price.

When the time came for the actual work, I sent her all the information I had, including an email outlining the relevant points that she could refer to, information on those on the oppposing side and the judge’s name. She also performed divination to determine the best course of action, instructed me as to what to do on my end and we both set to work. What I wasn’t expecting were all the powerful photos that her partner took of this working. The first photo in this post is one, and here are some others:

Court case magic at work

Court case magic at work

Honey Jar & Dressed Candle

Honey Jar & Dressed Candle

You Made Your Bed...

You Made Your Bed...

Justice - A Dish Best Served Hot

Justice - A Dish Best Served Hot

Firing Up Justice

Firing Up Justice

So as you can see, this was a powerful working. On my end, I did a spell which was very clear, powerful and well-directed. – and I am continuing it until the case is fully resolved, If it hits a snag, I know that I can work with Susan again to further our intent. I feel great about our magical partnership; frankly, it was fun, compelling and potent. Most of all, I am thrilled with the powerful results. It makes complete sense to me now to have the choice to work with a consultant.

If you want to contact Susan about divination, magical. shamanic or energy work, she can be reached at: 831.423.5477. The Serpent’s Kiss link is on my blogroll to the right of this post.

Posted in Court case, Hoodoo/Conjure, Justice, Magic | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Guide To Being A Good Magical Guest

Posted by sirensays on August 25, 2009

Etiquette

Do we really need a guide to good etiquette for circles, events, gatherings and celebrations? You betcha! Maybe it’s living in the San Francisco Bay Area where a lot of folks at magical gatherings seem cliqueish, smug and self-involved, but in the last few years, I have experienced this myself and have heard many complaints about unfriendly hosts and awkward social interactions at gatherings. This guide can be used for gatherings public or private, small or large, no matter what the magical practice is, in a class setting or more informal circle setting.

I’ve been thinking about the upcoming Neo-Pagan festivals of Mabon, Samhain and Yule, which around here are three of the biggies celebrated privately and publicly. Here are some suggestions that I have come up with, based on the input of others and on my experience as a participant, teacher and host of magical gatherings. My thanks to Darcey, Julie and Michael for their input.

It’s important to remember that besides showing respect, proper etiquette during a magical gathering also contributes to the overall protection of the group, so pay attention to the rules set out by your host.

Turn Off Your Cellphone!

I know this needn’t be gone into in-depth, as it’s quite easy. Turn it off, or at least to silent. Putting it on vibrate can still be disruptive.

Come Prepared

Are you supposed to bring something – food to share, altar items, craft supplies, notebook and pen, a donation? If so, do so!

Check Your Sense Of Entitlement At The Door

While we all deserve to be treated with respect, you may want to do a fast internal eval to check for hidden or unrealistic expectations before an event or class. Do you want this event or class to replace something else missing in your life? I notice this need for connection a lot more between October-January. Many magical folks crave a strong connection with others during the holidays, just like anyone else. We want to gather with others of like mind, only to be disappointed if it didn’t happen they way we wanted. Please remember we can’t be all things to all people and neither can the hosts or teachers, or even the Gods. Chances are your experience will be richer if your expectations are realistic and you have a regular spiritual practice that is fulfilling and will enhance whatever class or gathering you are attending.

Offer A Helping Hand

At some point, ask the organizers if you can assist with anything. They may have that all covered, but if you are willing to offer an extra set of hands, it is usually appreciated. Merely saying, “Please let me know if I help with anything ” is enough.

Space And Time For Each Person During Ritual Or Class Time

Please take time to spend in contemplation. Try not to crowd others and follow the lead of the hosts. This time is for you, in community, so treat yourself and others with respect.

Etiquette 2

Be Prepared To Share

As much as we need to give ourselves and each other space, we may be in cramped quarters and have to resources more than we otherwise would we others we might now know. Be understanding about this, be willing to share and use it as an opportunity to build the energy or create bonds with others.

HarvTiaDogbed

Reach Out To Others

This is where, in my experience, the rubber meets the road. So many magical folks these days are not good at introducing themselves to others. They stay to themselves or in little cliques. While that’s understandable for part of the event, it’s tiresome during the more social aspects of the gathering. I have seen this get worse in the last few years, but I have no idea why. It’s divisive to participate in a powerful ritual or learning situation which has awkward and cliqueish social aspects, as the result is lost cohesion and a watered down experience. I have seen a big difference at gatherings where people are more inclusive – the energy is different, the magic is more potent and deeper bonds are created.

Sometimes the hosts have too much going on to be social, depending upon the type of gathering, so please keep that in mind. Good basic manners can really grease the magical wheels. Some people are a bit shy, but I also think many just have mediocre manners. A lot of people, frankly, are attracted to magic because it makes them feel edgy, different and powerful. Those same people often have inadequate etiquette at social gatherings because of their status-seeking behavior. Be bigger than all of that by being friendly, easy going and polite. Focus less on impressing others and more on deriving pleasure and knowledge from a group event.

Generous Amounts Of Delicious Food

strawberry

You may not have the time or talent to cook a dish to share, but please be thoughtful and generous with whatever you bring. Is it seasonally appropriate? Is it something most people like? If the community labels food for those with allergies, please do so. If you can only afford a bag of chips and a jar of salsa, so be it – perhaps you can present them nicely, if only in disposable bowls and add a spoon to the salsa so people don’t have to reach into a bag or dip chips individually. When pressed for cash but you have the time, a dessert such as home baked brownies is a good choice, as they are inexpensive to make and most people love chocolate. Bringing something that is seasonal or just plain delicious is also a good way to meet others, by bonding over food.

Keep It Clean

Clean up after whatever activity you’re involved in. It doesn’t hurt to pick up after others as well. If you can’t stay long to do more, at least pick up after yourself.

Broom

Say Thank You

Sending a thank you note to the host is always a good idea, whether it was for a well-planned class, a public ritual or a private one. Whatever type of event, it took work, energy and focus, so a thank you will be appreciated. Some folks don’t feel a thank you note is necessary for a class or event that they paid for, believing that their payment is acknowledgement enough. I completely understand this perspective, which is why I suggest that for a class or workshop, send a thank you for an especially well-planned or powerful one. Teachers find it useful to receive polite feedback and if you want more of something, a thank you might get you more. Email is acceptable since you may not know the host’s address.

Thank you

I know that many of these suggestions seem so basic that they are rote. But if they were, I wouldn’t have written this.

I have included some other etiquette-related links on my blogroll to the right.

Posted in Etiquette, Holidays, Magic | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Magical Charm School: Do Your Own Thing. Better

Posted by sirensays on August 17, 2009

GeeksWhen I was growing up, I would have loved to have my own Fairy Godmother, or a magical Charm School to attend. You know, someone besides my mom and the nuns of my Catholic school to mentor me through the confusion of growing up.

Charm School

I had good manners. I knew that when you were invited to stay for dinner at a friend’s house, you never asked first what they were having. I kept my elbows off the table, no matter what dinner consisted of. I always said “please” and “thank you” and my friends were polite as well. I was caught in that conundrum many of us were, though – while I was busy being polite and kind, I saw other girls, pushier and lacking in manners, become popular. Well into high school, this dichotomy bothered me. My sister and I used to discuss at length the lure of the not-very-nice girl who was popular vs. us, who were well-mannered, nice, not catty and played by the rules.

As a young adult, when I began to study magic in earnest, I had some wonderful teachers and they taught magical etiquette and were Fairy Godmothers of sorts. For me, this time after college allowed me to let go of the rude girl/polite girl dichotomy and understand how important etiquette really was, magical and otherwise. Etiquette was an excellent way to express your most mannered self, a way of acting on your values in mundane life as well as magical.

Here in Silicon Valley, I watched employees with bad manners but enviable tech skills make their sloppy, ruder, more self-involved mark on the area. Yuck! Some of them identified as Techno-Pagans, with the accompanying bad manners and smug attitudes that indicated a strong sense of entitlement. It made me wonder: How do you achieve your goals, both magical and mundane, while still maintaining some grace, both spiritual and mundane.

GeeksSiliconValleyNerdSearch

I still longed for more mentoring, something more one on one that not only would address how to go about doing and achieving things, but the type of mentoring that went deeper than, but included, magical manners and went to the heart of who I am.

Fairy Godmother Wand

Two years ago, I met the woman who would become that sort of mentor/Fairy Godmother for me. She is Elka Vera, business and life coach, brand consultant, hypnotherapist and all-around mage.

Elka’s upbeat, realistic, educated, creative, inclusive and loving personal style was inviting, contagious and fun. After a few months of knowing her socially, I engaged her as a life coach. In half a year, my life was more magical, deeply satisfying, adventurous and fun. I found a more responsible, higher paying job, not only improved my romantic life but met my life partner, updated my self-image both internally and externally, my health improved, I let go of emotional baggage and my magical prowess increased dramatically. I became myself more fully, more deeply, priestessing my life with both deliberation and a sense of adventure.

Elka was on my side 100% and the investment in taking the time and energy to create a better life for myself was one of the most powerful, collaborative and loving works of magic I have ever conjured and the effects are still manifesting. I’ll post more on Elka in the future – an interview is in the works. You can visit her wonderful website here: http://elkavera.com/

I still wish Silicon Valley had better manners and more magic. But luckily, we have Elka Vera in our midst, offering affordable classes, coaching, and inviting us all to live more creative, fulfilling and loving lives with her motto: “Do your own thing. Better.”

Posted in Catholic, Growing up, Magic, Mentoring | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Summer: Harvesting Beauty, Harvesting Magic, Harvesting Health

Posted by sirensays on August 3, 2009

Summer’s bounty often gets eclipsed by end of the school year, back to school, vacations and weather conditions. I have always felt some trepidation as the reconstructionist Neo-Pagan first harvest holiday of Lughnasadh/Lammas approaches in early August, because it’s often very hot and unpleasant enough to not want to celebrate outdoors. This year, however, it’s been lovely – warm but breezy, cloudy in the morning and with bluer skies in the afternoon, ending with a lovely sunset. These weather conditions are very kind to most plants, especially those that flower or bear fruit.

I have always thought of Lughnasadh as having three main components:

  • Harvest of Beauty
  • Harvest of Magic
  • Harvest of Health

These three components are very powerful and lyrical, separately and together. This year, I meditated on them separately and then together. My meditations were both quiet and active, working with the symbols and elements of  beauty, magic and health.

The Harvest of Beauty

Harvesting BeautyHarvesting Beauty 2

The Harvest of Beauty is so pronounced this time of year, it can make your head spin with olfactory and visual giddy loveliness. Plants blooming, shooting, bearing fruit, berries and veggies are everywhere, from people’s yards to farmer’s markets, garden supply stores and window boxes. Gardens flourishing behind gates seem to invite us with their quiet riot of sultry, secret beauty. The mysteries of  the bees, bugs and birds are excitedly on display during the summer, their worlds colliding with ours via their calls, songs, bites, births and lively adventures.

Take an evening stroll to pick up the scents of what has bloomed that day, now closed up, and what is blooming during the evening. You may be able to pick up on traces of eucalyptus, bay, evergreen, magnolia and fruit-baring trees. Jasmines and honeysuckle abound, as do blackberries and strawberries. If you don’t have a garden handy, try a community garden, rich with many burgeoning plots of fuirts, veggies and flowers.

One of the richest aspects of enjoying summer’s beauty is that most of it is free. We may be feeling appreciation of this more poignantly this year. But most parks and community gardens have no entrance fee. If you don’t have the time, money or ability to grow your own garden, ask a friend if you can enjoy theirs, or take an inexpensive picnic to the park so that you can experience the richness of this season.

The Harvest of Magic

Harvest of Magic Second ChakraHarvesting Magic Fourth ChakraMagic is tangible by the beginning of August. We all know about the magic of Midsummer, which for us is actually the Summer Solstice, the beginning of summer. Many people consider the end of July/beginning of August to be Midsummer, when so many plants are peaking, vacations are taken, and work may even have slowed down. I drew the above pictures of my second and fourth chakra for a Priestessing assignment, which feel summer strongly by the time August rolls around. They are sunny and bright, earthy and watery, with movement – expansion and contraction, spinning and dancing.

Harvesting Magic

This is a wonderful time of year to study or practice magic. Whether you love herbal, candle, crystal, elemental or ritualistic magic, or some combination thereof, Lughnasadh is a marvelous time to incorporate flowers, berries, plants, and herbs. You can sit outside and meditate or create rich, complex incenses and oils indoors, build altars to nature to get inspired by sunny days to do solar magic with candles or bonfires. Trips to bodies of water make us more appreciative of the element, even if that stream, ocean, lake or pond is too cold to dive in. Cooking magic is fun this time of year, whether you are making a magical plum jam, having a BBQ or throwing together a salad because it’s too hot to cook. It’s important to note that sometimes all the magic we need is shared laughter and an appreciation for what sustains us.

The Harvest of Health

Harvesting HealthHarvest of Health HerbsPreparing for a healthy was crucial back in the day; sometimes that meant merely surviving. Nowadays, it means continuing to thrive.  Blessedly, these days, we can buy fresh produce year round. Summer health in our modern culture focuses so much on how we look in our bathing suit. But truly, it’s a great time to buy favorite fresh produce as well as experiment with lusciously ripe offerings we haven’t tried before. Many of us are lucky to benefit from the bounty of our own gardens and the harvests of friends and family members.

In my experience, this time of the year is a great time to slow down a bit, savor the freshness of the season, share its bounty and emphasize the healthier aspects of the season, including relaxation, communing with nature, spending time with loved ones and literally stopping to smell the roses…and the basil, the cucumbers, the melons, the mint and even the ever-bountiful zucchini.

If Lughnasadh, or its more Christian counterpart, Lammas, intrigues you, remember that you can honor what it brings from now through the Autumn Equinox, when we clebrate the second harvest. Given the difficulties many of us are experiencing with the current economy. appreciating the bounty we have may make sense to you. Please remember that whether our bounty is shared, prayed over, conjured, tasted, smelled or kept to ourselves, we will hopefully be able to do so ever year, for many years to come.

Posted in Beauty, Holidays, Magic, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »