The Best Fairy Tale Resources

Divination and Dreams

Midsummer's Eve by Edward Robert Hughes

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ear Miracles: It is no secret that I love fairy tales and folk stories. I grew up on a steady diet of magical tales and mythic art, and my love affair with fairy tales has only grown deeper and more comprehensive over time.

Why do I love fairy tales? I love them because they take on the biggest questions and the most difficult conflicts in simple and accessible language. I love them because they are portable – you can take them with you anywhere! – and you can tell them and re-tell them again and again. And I love fairy tales because they reveal worlds that are just as real and vibrant as our own.

Myth and fairy tales give shape to the magic that is all around us, not only in the rocks and wind, in streams and trees, but also in the places we would least expect to find it: in urban landscapes, in the broken and forgotten and hectic places. When my students ask me what book I would recommend to get a deeper understanding of this or that aspect of the sacred arts, nine times out of ten I refer them to a fairy tale or piece of mythic art, and so teaching through fairy tales has become a mainstay of my work.

Given all of that, there are many resources out there for people who would like to learn more about the stories they grew up with and perhaps in the process learn new stories too!

 

Websites and Blogs

Terri Windling ~ one of my favorite sites and blogs period, Terri Windling is a writer, artist, and book editor. Her blog Myth and Moor is frequently updated and features gorgeous art and wonderful articles dealing with a wide variety of mythic art topics. She is also just a really lovely person!

Midori Snyder ~ another daily go-to for me, Midori Snyder’s blog In the Labyrinth features great book reviews, mythic art, and tales of her own creative work. Midori’s writing is so beautiful, I always learn something new when I visit her online home, and like Terri, she is just a delight!

Endicott Studio ~ featuring the Journal of Mythic Arts. While no longer active, the JoMA site hosts hundreds of great articles of fairytales, myth, and folklore, penned by some of the best authors and artists working in the fields today.

Sur La Lune ~ An online compendium of fairytales from around the world, cross-referenced, and featuring art from many of the stories. Invaluable resource

The Interstitial Arts Foundation ~ they are dedicated to featuring and serving artists without borders, what we call in the sacred arts tradition working in the liminal.

These are but a smattering of the sites out there with fabulous information, most of them have links to other sites, which I encourage you to explore for yourself.

 

Books ~ there are hundreds of fabulous collections of fairy tales and books written about fairy tales and folk lore too, but for the beginner, here are a few of my favorites.

The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition translated by Jack Zipes

The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm All-New Third EditionTranslated by Jack Zipes

The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales edited by Maria Tartar

American Indian Myths and Legends edited by Richard Erodes and Alfonos Ortiz

African Folktales edited by Roger Abrahams

Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

Beauty – retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley

Briar Rose – Jane Yolen

The Wood Wife – by Terri Windling

The Innamorati – by Midori Snyder

Coyote Speaks – by Ari Berk and Carolyn Dunn

Faeries – by Brian Froud and Alan Lee

Good Faeries/Bad Faeries – by Brian Froud

Brian Froud’s World of Faerie – by Brian Froud

 

And no list would be complete without a mention of Baba Studio’s Fairy Tale Tarot (out of stock, but beautiful nonetheless).

There is also Goblinfruit, an online poetry ‘zine that is simply breathtaking.

And finally, two magazine recommendations for you: Faerie Magazine and Fairy Tale Review

What are your favorite fairy tale resources?

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

What the Goat Knows

Lunar Letter

profile of female goat in black and white by photographer Kevin Horan
Xantippe by photgrapher Kevin Horan

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ear Miracles,

Earlier this week I was perusing Terri’s wonderful blog and came across a recent post on the folklore of goats. Ever since visiting our local zoo when I was a little girl and finding one goat in particular who loved eating my ponytail, I have been a fan. I was especially taken with one fact that her article presented: goats are one of the earliest animals domesticated by humans but they are also happy to return to a feral state whenever an opportunity presents itself.

Tomorrow the New Moon in Capricorn, a sign traditionally represented by the goat, arcs across the heavens and the sun returns for another year of shining light. In our Sacred Arts community much is made of the ideas of “being wild”, “going wild”, “embracing the wild”. I don’t think it is too much to say that many of us find our ethics defined, honed, and in debt to all that is wild. And as we know from mythos, the goat, often is emblematic of all that is wild, natural, sensual, and feral, but I think more than that, the goat is a great lover of paradox.

When we turn to classical Western astrology to understand the goat-marked sign of Capricorn much of what we discover does not, at first blush, speak to the wild. Capricorn is a sign that is often attributed leadership skills, it is affiliated with the 10th house which is the house of career and prosperity building. Discipline, seriousness, steadfastness, and incredible endurance are the most common qualities associated with this cardinal earth sign. Interestingly, those same qualities are often the very ones that farmers and ranchers look for in various domesticated breeds they raise.

What does it mean that the stellar constellation most affiliated with the goat is one that seems to find definition against the common perception of what the goat represents in art, culture, and religion? Could it mean that domestic and wild are in a more complicated relationship than we commonly think? Is this what the goat knows?

To be domesticated is not a bad thing. To be domestic is to be of the home, a complicated world in itself that forms the basis of all economies and all political systems (the word econoimos in Ancient Greek literally means home). Domesticated is not synonymous with being tame, and in fact if you speak to farmers and ranchers who actually know and appreciate their craft, they will drive this home again and again — no animal is truly tame, ever. So it is with us. We are not ever tame, never wholly domesticated, we are always capable of spontaneity and surprise, always. Most importantly, domestication assumes wildness; quite simply domestication cannot happen anywhere except where something, someone, is wild.

I have found that we feel, keenly and deeply, loss when we speak about wild places, even those of us who are the most urban city slickers dream better at night knowing that there are places where it is truly dark, and quiet, and alive. And we forget, so easily and so frequently that what is wild is not only outside and away from us, locked away in a national park or held aloof and apart in a refuge. What is wild lives within us, underneath the skin, between each heartbeat and rush of blood.

The goat reminds us not to forget, never to forget, that we can slip the collar, break the fence, run the field and then return…to what is known and loved and domestic in the best possible way. On this point there is no choice to make; we carry both the wild and domestic within us.

Tonight as you sit in the darkness of the New Moon ask yourself this:

  • Where am I wild?
  • Where am I domestic?
  • What does right relationship with both look like?

 

 

The picture in this post is part of a series of goat and sheep portraits shot by Kevin Horan. A wonderful article with many more pictures may be found here: http://huff.to/1zO4RXJ

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Snaps of Spring

Divination and Dreams

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ear Miracles: It is Springtime–one of my favorite seasons which makes sense because in the Western Esoteric traditions the season of Spring is of course attuned to the Element of Air and being a Libran, I’m an airy — faerie kinda gal! Spring means more time outside and less time inside. That has been especially true this year because the weather has been, in a word, INCREDIBLE. We had a cool and moist April and Beltane dawned crisp and glorious. Since I am in South Central Texas we always need more water but thus far the plants are thriving and delighting in the cooler than usual winds.

A basket full of herbs straight from the garden–for medicine, magic, and cooking alchemy. Lavender for love and peace, Rosemary for clarity of mind and purpose, Oregano for prosperity blessings and sensuality, roses for beauty, and lemon balm for zest! Some of these green goodies will be worked with as I make my own florida water for spiritual cleaning. Part of the Rosemary was tinctured for a respiratory health elixir, part of it was baked into bread, and a bunch of it was dried for ritual work I create around academic success.


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And more roses because really, can we ever get enough? These petals are from two antique varieties–Le Vesuve and Dame de Coeur. Roses did not make the top twenty list of magical herbs that live in your kitchen, but they make my personal short list of plant allies I always need to have on hand. My mother is somewhat of an antique rose expert–in Texas we call them Rose Rustlers, no joke, and she has over 200 varieties–so yeah, I guess you could say it runs in the family.

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Our Faerie light and grapevine chandelier hangs over our bed and blesses all it sheds sparkly light upon.

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And there has been a lot of bread making! (Note how the geese measuring cups look on with serenity).

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I hope everyone’s spring has been as delicious as ours has been!

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Many Branches–Something Witchy this way comes with Sarah Anne Lawless

Learning and Community

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ear Miracles: Many of those in my audience already know our latest guest in the Many Branches series–Sarah Anne Lawless. She is an occult author, witch, herbalist, and artist living in the Pacific Northwest. Her blog is well known in the Pagan community and beyond. Her knack for crafting a brilliant flying ointment is one that I can personally attest to, and her devotion to her Gods is inspiring. Please give her a warm welcome!

bio-pic-2In her own words: A professional artist, writer, and herbalist, Sarah’s work has been published in various books, magazines, and online in The CauldronHex MagazineWitches & PagansWitchvox, Serpent Songs, and Hoofprints in the Wildwood. She is a carver, painter, and illustrator working in the mediums of bone, wood, ink, and paint creating original artwork, talismans, and ritual tools. Sarah is an animist, initiated witch, and wortcunner with a love of otherworldly beauty, folklore, mythology, poisonous plants, wildcrafting, wild places, and bones.

Find Sarah on the web at:

her website: sarahannelawless.com

Facebook: Black Arts Foundry

Twitter: @forestwitch

 

In the occult and magical community you are known for making excellent spiritual products, your writing, and your fine artwork, but you are also one of the few voices out there talking about working with animals and zoological talismans in an ethical and sustainable manner. This subject is a bit controversial but one that I think the magical community needs more familiarity with. What led you to begin working with animals and animal parts in a ritual setting?

For me it started with collecting feathers and escalated from there and I’ve found that others who consider themselves bone collectors often say the same thing. Taking home a feather you found on a forest walk isn’t really so far off from taking home a sea-washed bone or a small skull picked clean by scavengers. Once people find out you’re a bone collector they will suddenly start calling you about bones, feathers, or dead animals they found and ask what to do with them. Then people will start showing up on your door step with boxes of bones and any friends that hunt for food will start giving you bird feet, wings, and sometimes even organs that they don’t want to waste. Often people don’t want to use or give me the animals they find, they just want to know how to bury it safely and give it a respectful send off to the spirit world. A bone collector can find themselves taking on the role of an animal funeral director.

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I think the reason why many find my use of animal parts in magic controversial is because, though the use of zoological remains is still common in modern rootwork and the magical traditions of Central and South America, it is not common in modern witchcraft despite all the documented historical links and traditions. Many people are so far removed from nature, husbandry, and dirty hands-on folk magic that they find the use of zoological remains to be appalling and unethical without trying to first understand the context and history. Many assume that bone collectors such as myself are actually killing animals to use their parts in magic when this is very much not the case. You can find hearts, tongues, and feet at the butcher and you can find bones, skulls, teeth, claws, and hides from taxidermists, tanners, farmers, or hunters who don’t like to waste any part of an animal that’s been hunted or raised for food.

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Another reason I think this practice is controversial is because many people assume you are using a dead animal’s parts solely for cursing and other black magics, when again this is simply not the reality. Indigenous cultures who’ve held onto their animistic beliefs and traditions use animal parts in a sacred manner – they are used to better connect with animal spirits and the whole of nature itself. Feathers are often used to fly prayers to the spirits so they may hear them. Teeth and claws are used for protection against harm and to give one strength. Organs are more often used for healing and offerings than anything else – anyone with a grandmother who still buries dead fish in the garden for the fertility of the plants may best understand this. In rural areas of North America you can still find farmers hanging deer antlers or bull horns over their barn door. They may have forgotten why, but once upon a time it was the belief that doing so would protect your livestock and also ensure their health and fertility.

Modern butchery and hunting practices are wasteful and unethical for treating animals as soulless resources. By doing this work and using animal remains in a sacred manner in our spiritual traditions, we make those animals sacred. By showing them respect even in death, we make their lives have the same value as our own.

 

You are well known for crafting various flying ointments, often using ancient recipes. Why flying ointments and when did your love affair with them begin?

I first took notice when nightshades I had not planted started to grow in my garden plots and containers. Instead of weeding them, I researched them and became fascinated. This led me to growing other varieties like henbane, belladonna, datura, and brugmansia. I had a lot of fresh plant material on hand and at the same time I realized that no one I could find was making and using flying ointments today. Considering that flying ointments were one of the very few genuine direct links to the ancestral magical practices of preChristian Europeans, it puzzled me greatly that modern witches and pagans weren’t using them. Later I discovered this was largely due to fear of the plants as governments had been churning out frightening propaganda against them for centuries and our modern governments continue to spread the fear through misinformation. Tales of wild hallucinations and near death experiences come mainly from youths not seeking a spiritual experience, but who simply wanted to get high and who used these plants without research, proper preparation, and with no regard for dosage. They were using these sacred plants at a toxic level instead of in the much safer ways our ancestors would have and have consequently given these plants a much maligned reputation.

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I mainly work with plants in the solanaceae (or nightshade) family. Though many would believe we no longer use them today, the constituents of these plants, such as atropine, are actually considered “core” medicines on the World Health Organizations “Essential Drug List.” Aside from the nightshades’ long history with witchcraft, they are also some of the oldest and most potent medicines used by humanity. How could an herbalist fascinated with ethnobotany not fall in love with plants that were both powerful spiritual allies and incredibly potent medicines? Though my original intent was to use the solanaceae and artemisias for spiritual purposes, the more I worked with these plants, the more I found people came to me for their medicinal uses as well.

And so, after A LOT of research and careful testing, I started to make ointments with the plants I grew along with dried European mandrake roots. I found them to be very useful in aiding in dream work, spirit work, and trance work along with being excellent topical pain killers for relieving migraines, sore backs, and other muscle and joint pain. I started making them for shamanic and pagan groups who wanted to use them for rituals and ceremonies and I started bringing them to my own rituals and teaching workshops on these plants. With all my experience, I learned that much of the fear and propaganda surrounding nightshades and flying ointments is simply not true and that those of us who have learned their history and proper preparations should pass on our knowledge so it is not lost to future generations as it has been to generations past.

 

A lot of folks in the magical community struggle with that to call themselves. You have referred to yourself as an animist, witch, and spirit worker. What do those words mean to you and what is your advice for someone who has not figured out what the right title is for their work and beliefs?

When I call myself an animist, I am referring to my religious philosophy just as others would call themselves a polytheist or a monotheist. I do not worship gods, but instead see all things, all of nature, as being imbued with spirit, anima, life force. Interacting with and honouring the local animals, plants, rivers, lakes, mountains, forests, and larger land features is what matters most to me in my spirituality – the local spirits, great and small. Within animism there is also room for ancestor reverence and so I also honour those who have come before me, both my own blood ancestors as well as those who lived upon this land long before I was born. Animism is believed to be one of the oldest forms of spirituality in human history and still permeates surviving forms of folk magic, folk religion, and common superstitions.

When I call myself a witch I am referring to the practice of witchcraft, not a religious path. It is the folk magic I do, the early modern witchcraft lore I study, and the rituals I put into practice.

When I use the term spirit worker, it is to reference my work with spirits, both is in this world and the other worlds of folklore. It is my dream work, trance work, and the rituals I perform to interact with spirits – usually plants, animals, or ancestors.

I don’t personally believe in putting too much stock in labels and finding the right one as everyone has their own definition of a term, some using the archaic meaning and some using a modern derivative. It is far too easy to waste a lot of time trying to find a label that fits all we believe and do, when we could instead spend that time actively practicing and developing our own beliefs to suit our individual spiritual needs. I think it is a better use of our time instead of trying to fit into a role someone else has defined and be constantly fretting over it.

I wrote a whole article tackling this subject last winter as it comes up over and over again in spiritual communities: “Ducking Pigeonholing.”

 

You art is gorgeous, tell us a bit about how you got started and what your current favorite artistic project is?

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Thank you! I got started in art at a young age. I was always drawing and painting. I took art classes in every year of school because it was something I always enjoyed. I had a lot of support from family who kept me well supplied with paper, ink, and paints. I even used to illustrate stories I wrote and bound them into little homemade books. Today I’m lucky enough to be in a position to get paid for my art and to illustrate the writings of others as well as my own. Falling more under the umbrella of a folk artist, I’ve been able to explore just about any medium I’m interested in – woodcarving, bone carving, pyrography, textiles, calligraphy, and jewelry to name several.

Right now I have a bit of an obvious obsession with drawing plants and skulls. I hope to do more pieces with plants and animals native to my beloved Pacific Northwest in the near future.

 

If you could give one piece of wisdom to my readers today, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid to chase your dreams and passions so you can live your life in joy and wonder, but at the same time be honest with yourself about how you’re going to pull it off in a practical manner.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Many Branches–Plant Love with Kiva Ringtail Rose

Learning and Community

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ear Miracles: I first heard Kiva Rose’s name mentioned years ago when my mother and I were reading one of Loba’s columns in Sage Woman magazine. The Anima school and sanctuary sounded wild and wonderful and so very needed. Then years later I came across her work again in Plant Healer Magazine–and it wasn’t long before I wrote a couple of articles for that most excellent periodical. Kiva is a busy woman and I was delighted when she agreed to take some time and speak with me about plant magic and all that is wild. 

In her own words: Herbalist, author, and wild creature, Kiva Rose lives in a canyon botanical sanctuary within the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico. She is also the co-director of the HerbFolk Gathering, held each September in the mountain Southwest, is co-editor of Plant Healer Magazine, and maintains an herbal blog, The Medicine Woman’s Roots.

Find Kiva on the World Wide Web:

Plant Healer and The HerbFolk Gathering
The Medicine Woman’s Roots Herbal Blog

 

 

 

Who/What is a Plant Healer? Why this term instead of a term like Herbalist?

A Plant Healer is anyone who works with the plants for the purpose of healing. We chose this term in part because of its simplicity and because of the way it keeps the focus on the plants themselves. I am an herbalist because I love the plants, and feel called to matchmake between plants and people, hopefully facilitating new and deeper relationships among humans and herbs that brings healing for us, as well as inspiring us to take better care of the earth in the process.

 

One of the many contributions you have made to the plant loving community is a return to the notion of “folk herbalism”. How is folk herbalism different from what might be considered more “mainstream herbalism”, what are folk herbalists bringing to the table that has been missing in the community?

Basically, folk herbalism is technically defined as herbalism being practiced by non-professionals or lay people, often utilizing regional or handed down knowledge and perspectives. However, given the wide range of practitioners that currently identify as folk herbalists, I think it makes sense to broaden the definition to include professionals and non-professionals alike who practice an herbalism not currently accepted as valid by the Western biomedical industry and our culture in general.

Folk herbalism has always been here, and has long been represented by an incredible spectrum of practitioners. I personally use the terminology because I value both inclusivity and diversity within the healing community. I especially like the fact that folk herbalism embraces such a wide range of ideas and practices without insisting upon a false or forced homogeny.

 

You run a clinical practice, care for a beautiful wilderness area in Southern New Mexico, teach, write, publish some of the finest books and magazines on the plant path, and organize festive conferences and weekends of education for plant healers, you are also a mom and devoted partner…how do you do it all and what are your personal favorite herbal allies?

Thank you, Bri! I’ve found that it’s my nature to cycle through focusing on what most interests me at the time, and I find that working on so many projects allows me to move from seeing folks to creating art to writing to land restoration to teaching to solitary and family time in a way that allows me to feel both fulfilled and to keep many projects going at once. Also, my wonderful partner, Jesse Wolf Hardin, does an enormous amount and keeps everything on track and on schedule!

Many of my absolute favorite plants are from the genus Salvia, I adore all that I’ve met thus far! I’m very blessed to have two native species growing right here in the canyon where I live and many more nearby. Working with the less well known Sawtooth Sage, Salvia subincisa, was a profound experience in my early herbal studies. While I don’t know of anyone else working with this plant, it is a profound relaxant nervine that is specifically indicated when tremors are present with anxiety. It’s also a wonderful ally for those who have such sensitive nervous systems that even Lemon Balm can seem too stimulating. Back when I was first studying and practicing herbalism, I was also recovering from many years of insomnia, addiction, and abuse and dealing with a very fried and overstimulated nervous system. The Sawtooth Sage helped to heal my nervous system and allowed me to sleep and relax in ways I hadn’t experienced in decades. I especially like it combined with our local Skullcap for tension, anxiety, and insomnia.

 

In 2013 you launched the Bramble and Rose–a wonderful shop where folks can order perfumes, elixirs, balms, and oils, tell us about the Bramble and Rose and what inspired it?

Originally, The Bramble & The Rose was created as an outlet for my passion for creating botanical perfumes and body products, and my desire to share the medicine of aromatics with a wider audience. As time has passed, I’ve slowly been expanding it into a more complete woodland apothecary that includes elixirs, bio-regional incense, bitters blends, and certain single herbs abundant in my area. I’d been asked for many years to make more of my herbal preparations for sale, so I’m happy to fulfill this desire from the community while sharing many of my favorite plant allies!

Part of the profits from The Bramble & The Rose go to paying for the materials used to create the herbal formulas I provide to local clients in my tiny mountain village at little or no charge.

 

If you could give one piece of wisdom to my readers today, what would it be?

To keep your work at its foundation, and to focus on not straying from the source that ignited your passion to begin with. To work as healers of any kind we need to avoid being drained by what we do, and a bit part of that is being able to receive vital nourishment from the earth and work at a roots level. I know that, for me, it’s very easy to get caught up in what needs to be done, and to neglect the simple, sensual delights that first drew me to herbalism. By remembering to play with the plants, experiment with new remedies, and spending wordless time on wild land, I am sustained and replenished in a circle of healing I am honored to be included in.

 

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

New Year Prosperity: tips and tricks to spruce up your pocketbook

Alchemy and Magic

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ear Miracles: We are still in January and for many of us there is still a strong drive to create lasting prosperity in this New Year. The trick, of course, is knowing how one might best go about creating that prosperity. Here are some of my favorite tricks and tips to feather your nest and, maybe, if you are lucky, discover a golden egg!

1.) New Year=New Wallet. If last year’s cash flow was not all it could have been, why don’t you spend some money on getting a brand new wallet? Your wallet or billfold is the home where your money lives — you want it to be a home fitting for lots of cash, right?

Choose a color that is traditionally associated with prosperity and abundance like green (for money cash and growth), red (for power and authority in the world of personal finance and beyond), royal blue (the planetary color associated with abundance creating Jupiter), or yellow/gold (for um, more gold!)

2.) Dress 3 $100 bills with a prosperity enhancing sachet powder and place them in your wallet. When we carry larger bills like Benjamins or even $50’s, we are less likely to break them which translates to less likely to spend on frivolous items.

3.) If possible, get a wallet that has a change purse and use your change frequently — leave it as tips, hand it out to panhandlers — moving change in and out of your wallet keeps the current of money moving in your life.

4.) Take all non essential cards, especially credit cards out of your wallet for daily use. If you don’t have access to your cards you can’t use them. Bam!

5.) Put a tiny lodestone in your wallet to attract and draw more money.

6.) Put a tiny piece of iron pyrite in your wallet OR a piece of real gold. Even a gold earring will work because like attracts like.

7.) Sprinkle sassafras and cinquefoil (five finger grass) in the area where your paper money goes–a pinch works great. Sassafras has long been worked with to make each dollar stretch and cinquefoil is believed not only to bless all that your five fingers do but also to encourage others to favor you.

8.) Choose one area to work on when it comes to financial health. Do you need to draw more in the way of income or lower existing debt? Make a plan of action that includes PRACTICAL steps for you to do. Dedicate a section of your home to this work and only this work.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Of Glass and Fire: How to work with Devotional Candles

Alchemy and Magic

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ear Miracles: A version of this article was first published in the Summer 2013 issue of Witches and Pagans magazine which is available for purchase here.

If you have ever wandered into a Botanica or latin american grocery store you may have found yourself staring down an aisle or wall filled with brightly colored glass candles–some with silk screened images on the glass, some topped with foil or Saran wrap, and others that are plain and unmarked. These are glass novena candles, also called vigil candles, vigil lights, sanctuary lights, or devotional candles, and while they often go unmentioned in the classic pagan books, they have been used in candle and fire magic for years with great success.

Glass novena candles were first used in Catholic religious devotions known as “novenas”–9 day prayer rituals with the intention of seeking the aid and building a relationship with a specific saint usually for a specific purpose. The novena ritual does not come out of Christian scripture but is derived from ancient Greek and Roman pre-Christian rites around honoring the dead. The devotional candles sanctioned by the Catholic Church were originally 100% beeswax and poured so that they would burn for 9 days–they were sometimes affixed with a paper prayer card of the petitioned Saint which in turn gave way to large paper illustrations of particular Saints on the front of the candle and prayers for the saint on the back of the candle.

In Catholic families and communities the novena could at times take on a party atmosphere-with friends coming over to sit in vigil, feasts shared, and group prayers performed or they could be quiet and intensely private affairs. Through them all the glass encased devotional candle would be burning. Folk magic traditions grew up around novena rituals and their glass encased candles and then in the early 1940’s these devotional candles started getting advertised in spiritual supply catalogs as “religious” goods.

Candle shops that catered to African Americans and stocked supplies for those working in the Hoodoo and Conjure traditions bought from these spiritual supply catalogues and thus the glass encased vigil candle found its way into Southern Conjure. Meanwhile specialty shops known as Botanicas began to spring up as immigrants from Mexico, South, and Central America came into the United States in the 60’s and 70’s. Pharmacies and grocery stores in Latin American neighborhoods also began dedicating an aisle or two to commonly used spiritual products-often with a focal point of glass encased devotional candles-which by this point in time were no longer composed of beeswax but petroleum derived paraffin. Silkscreen printing on glass became popular at this time as well and the devotional candles began to branch out into more mainstream culture-with candles no longer being set only to Our Lady of Guadalupe or Saint Martha for love magic-but instead also getting labeled with more generic petitions like “Love Me” or in some cases maintaining a Biblical connection with a formula like “Adam and Eve.”

By the late 70’s glass encased candles were available in straight up magical supply shops as well as religious supply stores and they are now used by a variety of practitioners for both religious and magical purposes. Pagans who were raised in or around Catholic tradition, specifically Italian or Mexican, Central, and/or South American strains of Catholicism are usually familiar with the glass novena candle already and may find the tradition of blessing and dressing a candle to be second nature. Those who do not may find that working with the magic of a devotional candle is something that appeals to them and opens new windows for the philosophy of fire, as Henri Gamache so poetically puts it.

In modern day candle magic there are several steps involved in preparing your devotional candle. These are: write a petition, “fixing” the candle, setting the candle, reading the candle, and ritually disposing of the candle.

 

Writing a petition for devotional candles

In a traditional novena the devotional candle represents a way to honor a specific saint but it also gives light, energy, and the magic of fire to the devotees’ petition or prayer. So it is in our own magic making-we begin with our petition, our intention, or the desire that we wish to manifest. Looking at devotional candles now we often find that when the candles have paper images in the front and prayers in the back there are sometimes lines underneath the prayers for you to write your own petition. When working with plain devotional candles that do not have any papers or labels affixed to their sides a petition may be written on a small piece of paper and taped to the bottom of the candle or in some cases affixed to the sides of the candle. I have also seen candle shop and botanic owners use a sharpie to inscribe a client’s petition directly onto the glass side of the candle. Another popular way to include the petition is to write it into the wax at the top of the candle-using a screwdriver, icepick, or blade to inscribe. If using paper for your petition you may anoint the paper with ritual anointing oil, pass it through ritual incense, anoint it with your own bodily fluids if appropriate, and/or in the case of affixing a piece of paper to the bottom of the candle enclose small bits of personal concerns within the paper, fold, and then tape it to the candle.

 

Dressing & Blessing or “fixing” devotional candles

Once the petition has been created it is time to bless, dress, or “fix” the devotional candles. The top of the candle may be poked with holes or inscribed with a sigil, name, or short petition-it may also be left alone. Next a pinch of dried herbs or a dried herb mix is sprinkled on top of the candle. Years of burning candles for myself and clients has taught me that the finer the herb mix the better-a spice grinder is ideal for this-and keeping the herbs relatively far from the candle wick is a good practice. The herbs should of course be ritually appropriate to whatever situation it is that you wish to magically address. Thus if you are working to cleanse and purify you may wish to use a pinch of sage, to bring about love work with red rose petals, to increase protection use ginger, to increase academic success consider deers tongue leaf, etc.

After the herbs are added you may desire to include a slightly larger curio (in Conjure the addition of lodestone grit, small pieces of pyrite, and High John the Conqueror root chips is often seen, while in Latin inspired botanicas I have been given devotional candles studded with quartz crystal tips-very pretty!, pennies, and even large horseshoe confetti. Non-toxic, fine, glitter may also be added for extra sparkle and shine.

So far all of the dry ingredients have been added-now its time to add our wet ingredient-a ritual, essential, anointing, or pantry oil. Some essential oils are flammable so it’s important to do your research if you are using a straight essential oil. A more traditional method is to use a ritual anointing oil-these are also usually available at candle shops and Botanicas or you can make your own. I will say that many of the mass market available ritual oils begin with a base of mineral oil-due to its cheapness and personally I steer clear of those. You may make your own ritual anointing oil by gathering dried herbs that are appropriate for your situation and soaking them in almond oil for several weeks or you may simply use olive oil out of your kitchen pantry! The important thing to remember is not to drown your herbs or the candle wick-for doing so will leave you with a weak or dirty burning candle and that will have an impact on how you read the candle. A few drops and you are good to go!

Now the candle has been dressed with herbs, oil, and perhaps some sparkle. And if you notice you also have represented three of the four elements-Earth is invoked by the dried herbs, air is invoked by the scent of the herbs and oil, and water is invoked by the liquid oil. All that is missing is fire! It is time to bless the candle. I have been taught many ways to bless a candle but my favorite way is to hold the candle up at my heart level and speak into it. Sometimes when I do this I go into a bit of a trance and sometimes I will ask my guides for a specific, physical sign during the course of the candle burn to let me know if the magic is manifesting. In some traditions practitioners will set the candle down and clap over it one or three times to seal it, tap the bottom of the candle on the table three times (this is referred to as “knocking” the candle) or using one hand to cover the top of the candle and then lightly tapping that hand with your other hand.

When preparing many candles at the same time I have been taught to take a towel or sheet, place it over them and tap it in the center-all of these are various ways to seal the candle and to let the spirits know that you are ready for them to help you in your magical endeavors! When devotional candles are prepared at a shop for clients they are often blessed and dressed and then covered with tin foil or saran wrap so that the client may carry them home and set them.

 

 Setting devotional candles

Once your candle has been dressed, blessed, and fixed its time to set it! The best practice when working with glass devotional candles is to set them up in a place where they can burn continuously without interruption. Unfortunately this simple instruction can cause a lot of confusion and worry.

Fire safety is important when dealing with candles of all kinds. If you are away from home for most of the day, have a cat, dog, or small children that are sometimes left unattended then working with glass encased devotional candles may not be the best choice for you unless you can place them somewhere out of reach. It is possible to snuff out devotional candles but I strongly prefer to work with taper or figural candles if I am going to be snuffing a candle out repeatedly. I will say from my own experience of burning thousands of candles that if a glass devotional candle tips over it is most likely simply going to go out-its very hard for a fire to start from one of these lights-but of course caution is always advised.

A devotional candle should really be allowed to sit and burn. I have seen these candles placed in a large aluminum stock pot, in glass casserole dishes filled with water, sand, or lovely rocks, in the kitchen sink, in a bathtub, shower, and fire place. When I lived in a one room apartment and lit candles for clients I placed them in the kitchen sink and bathtub whenever I went out, when I moved into my house I had a local blacksmith make two metal candle houses for me after going to a local Catholic grotto and seeing a design there that I was able to altar for my needs. If you are setting more than one devotional candle do be aware of putting them too close to one another-especially in a closed area like a stock pot-they will increase one another’s heat, melting will happen faster-especially with the paraffin candles-and the glass around the wax can break or scorch.

I like to light my devotional candles with wooden matches. You may light them and say a charm or prayer over them or you may light them in silence. You have now added the 4th element-fire to your magical candle-may it burn brightly!

 

Divination with devotional candles

One of the nicest aspects of working with glass devotional candles is that after they have finished burning you may perform a simple divinatory reading of the glass and candle to determine whether your work is on its way to manifesting or needs to be repeated or refined in some way and you can also pick up other important signs and symbols that may have specific meaning to you and your situation. When reading a glass candle there are three main parts I look at: the glass itself, remaining wax and debris from the candle, and if the candle has a paper petition or label attached to it the paper. On the glass of the candle we may see black soot, discreet scorch marks, a gray fog or haze, or the glass may be completely clean and clear. I have found over the years that performing divination with glass candles is a very personal and subjective art but in most cases a clean and clear glass casing indicates that your road is open and the petition has been heard “loud and clear!” Black soot indicates resistance or obstacles while gray haze or fog can indicate a lack of clarity or a scattered intention. Discreet scorch marks may indicate that the work will manifest in many ways but there may be one specific challenge that is first addressed.

Some people read the candle from bottom to top-meaning that the base of the candle is considered to represent the “present” while the further up along the candle we travel represents the near future and future. Others, including myself, read the opposite way-the top of the candle indicates the present situation and as we move down the candle towards the base we may forecast future events. When considering the wax and debris inside of the candle we may notice that some of the wax has not melted completely, that there is wax-often is specific shapes-along the sides of the candle, and that debris from our herbs and such may also adhere to the inside of the glass-again, often in specific shapes. There are many good books out there that can assist you in decoding the meaning of specific shapes and symbols-books on Tasseomancy and Bone Reading are particularly useful in this respect I find. However, the more you work with these candles the more you will discover your own unique language of symbols-for those of us that come to magic from inherited traditions we often find that a symbol that has deep meaning for us also has meaning for someone else in our family! Sometimes rings of wax will form on the candles and these may indicate the numbers of days/weeks/months you will need to wait before your work full manifests. Often when there is residual wax at the bottom of the candle it may indicate that a similar candle should be lit again for the same purpose.

Paper labels and petitions are usually not effected during a candle’s burn-but every now and then a candle becomes so hot that the paper will singe, scorch and in rare cases catch fire. The specific meanings of these events must be considered within the context of the candle’s intention and the purpose of the papers in the first place.

 

Devotional Candles as part of ritual

So far I have written about devotional candles as a spell in and of themselves-you have a specific need or request, you create a petition, dress your candle, light it and let the magic spiral out into manifestation. But devotional candles may also be used in more elaborate altar rituals as part of the altar set up or as “magical back ups” to your main ritual work.  In these cases one would usually fix and set the devotional candle first so that they are burning and then turn to the more intricate ritual components. Candles worked with in this way may be read in the manner I describe above and they are often read in conjunction with other aspects of the completed ritual.

 

Tricky burns and other situations

Often when we first start working with devotional candles we will encounter the candle that refuses to light, the wick that continues to drown, the herb that catches on fire, floating wicks (especially in paraffin candle  and other similarly trick situations. Schools of thought diverge on what the best methods for dealing with these candles are. On the one hand some practitioners believe that messing with the candle at all destroys the ability to get an accurate read from the candle. For those of us who light candles for clients professionally this is especially difficult because often part of the candle service includes a report wherein the candle is read. Others, like myself, believe the physical manipulation of the candle to ensure that it stays lit and burns as best it can without interruption is part of the service and caretaking of the candles. When a candle has to be physically altered in some manner a note is made and this is considered when the finished candle is read for signs.

 

Ritually disposing of devotional candles — environmental concerns:

Devotional candles have a long history of use in religion, magic, and American folk magic but as we progress into the 21st century I feel some remarks about their environmental impact should be considered. Many old spells call fur burial of candle remains and some practitioners have taken this to mean the remains of glass candles as well. For ecological reasons it is preferable to recycle glass candle casings or better yet-reuse them! The majority of glass encased devotional and novena candles today are made of dyed paraffin. Paraffin is a petroleum by-product and the wax is whipped with air to create a softer, malleable product that can be easily poured into glass containers. Whereas these candles were originally for novenas or 9 day rituals, today’s candles last an average of 4-5 days if there are no difficult burn situations. Parrafin has a specific scent and burning it does release toxins into the air, including the assortment of chemicals that is found in diesel fuel. Some paraffin glass devotional candles also contain lead in their wicks so you have the added worry of burning lead. On the other hand, many people love these classic candles because they grew up with them and they are also very inexpensive. Pull out paraffin candles are available at many spiritual supply stores so that once your original candle has burned out you may clean out the glass casing and insert a new candle in.

For those who do not wish to burn paraffin for whatever reason (I stopped burning paraffin candles myself several years ago due to health concerns and because I had birds that could not tolerate paraffin) there are alternatives. You may buy empty novena style glass containers or any other style of glass container and read your candle, you may also order beeswax glass devotional candles from several suppliers. Whereas paraffin has many negative properties, sustainably harvested beeswax has wonderful properties-including color, scent, texture, the release of negative ions into the air, and the added magical properties of bees and honey! Last time I compared a beeswax novena candle when burned alongside a paraffin novena candle-outlasted the paraffin candle by 4 to 5 days. The downside of beeswax is that it is considerably more costly-but as far as I’m concerned that’s a great motivation to get to know and support your local beekeepers!

The presence of fire through a prism of glass has a magical allure all its own. Glass encased devotional candles are considered a standard magical necessity by some and exotic tools by others–but their ability to function as both spell and divination reading makes them one of the more versatile magical tools and allows for one more way in which our lives might be blessed by the power of fire!

 

Sources:

Cunningham, Scott. Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. Llewelyn. 1985.

Dey, Charmaine. The Magic Candle. Original Publications, 1982.

Gamache, Henri. Masterbook of Candle Burning. Original Publications, 1985.

yronwode, catherine. Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic. Lucky Mojo Curio Company, 2002.

 

 

 

 

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.