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.

The Sacred Artist

Foundations

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ear Miracles: For too long we have been without a name, and though names are not everything, as many a faerie story tells us, they are also not nothing. The right name is magical. It can open doors, reveal treasure and say what is true.

Within our tribe and for all of our differences, there are many things we hold in common. We have an unwillingness to settle for what is “normal”, sanctioned, and approved of by governments, multi-national corporations, popular media, and religious zealots. We have a desire to see and speak of what is true, what lies beneath the ground and above in the aerial branches and cold mountaintops. We want to champion the healthful and vibrant aspects of our lineage while learning the lessons from past, taking heed of of our Ancestorserrors, returning–as best we can–to old, older, oldest ways of knowing, seeing, and being in the world to a place of honor, while at the same time creating new fresher spaces for what is newly born and yet to be known.

Others have given us names, oh yes, they have.

A catalogue is both helpful and hilarious:

New Ageirony of ironies because for so many of us what we know and do is grounded in practices that are quite old. Heretics -because our sense of the sacred does not sit comfortably in the sanctuary of orthodox religion. Occultists – coming from the word occult which means hidden,because we have hidden and we have been hidden in response to persecution and fear.

We are sometimes called Light Workers because too many of us continue to buy into the wrong belief that fear and threat only comes in darkness and because we have forgotten the nourishing power of Night. Pagan – springing from the Latin paganus, meaning among other things a country dweller, because many of us ourselves come from rural stock and given our colorful variety of devotion and styles of reverence, what else might we be called? Other names include Psychicit is usually said in a pejorative manner but we may claim it in good faith since our work does deal directly with the health and quality of the Soul or Psyche. Sorceress – because power, especially liminal power wielded by women, is still seen as dangerously unpredictable. Weird -because we do not conform to the rationalistic norms or live our lives the way the dominant modern secular culture says we often should (also interestingly tied to the other wyrd which of course means fate and destiny – concepts we are versed in). Bitch – because we do not see NO as a bad word (and maybe because many of us love dogs and other four legged creatures?). Whore – sometimes yes, we are still called whores, or ho, or harlot, because we affirm that our sensuality is sacred and acts of love and pleasure can be, should be, acts of touching the Divine. Tree Hugger is often applied to us because in fact, you may find us hugging trees.

We are called Witch – intended to be the deadliest insult of all, one that not so long ago promised a date with a pyre or gallows, one that many of us now embrace with enthusiasm because in its root and origin it points to what we care for and pursue above all else…wisdom. The wisdom of living a good life, cultivating right relationship, and honoring all that is whole, healthy, and holy.

A name is not everything, but a name is not nothing either. The right name, a true name, provides a point of reference: this is who I am and this is where I stand.  It reveals a little red door that opens upon the majesty of each of our unique and blessed inmost natures.  A name, the right name or the wrong one, determines a way of seeing and a way of being seen.

I say we have worn the names that others have thrust upon us for too long and enough is enough.

These names are tired and cramped like a pair of too worn and too small shoes. If, like so many of us, you too have wondered in the wilderness of No Name looking, looking, looking for the right words in every shadow, canyon crevice, and under every rock then I offer this to you:

Be a Sacred Artist – a creator and delight taker in all that is whole, holy, and sacred.

A name is not everything, but it is not nothing. The right name allows us to be seen as we truly are and one thing more–to decide how, where, and by what means we will make our presence known and do our work in the world. Claiming your name is the first step in doing your work – the work – you were placed here to do.

Postscript:

I began using the term Sacred Artist a couple of years ago and I have been delighted to watch more and more people claim the title for themselves. I wrote some preliminary thoughts on the history of the Sacred Arts and I was inspired with the term by my husband – a fine artist, who told me that yes, crafting ritual is an art form.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Many Branches–Setting Roots with Jen Holmes of Rue and Hyssop

Learning and Community

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ear Miracles: So you guys know by now that I seriously love every single one of the people I profile for Many Branches but Jen holds a special place in my heart. First of all, her gardener’s salve is truly amazing and my soft hands are the proof! Secondly, she is not only a dear friend and colleague, she is one of my students and she brings magic wherever she goes. Finally, she has one of the kindest, most down to earth voices, in the entire Pagan blogging community — not an easy feat for a bunch of dirt loving folks! Enter into her wild garden of delights–you will be sure to find a magical treat or two!

 

jen 2In her own words: Jen (Rue) Holmes is the lime daiquiri-wielding hostess of the blog Rue and Hyssop, a wandering little adventure in Paganism, gardening and herb-craft, folklore, silliness, and the joys and trials of trying to maintain some semblance of a daily practice. Jen believes firmly in sharing your harvests, daily laughter, and in wearing as many strange hats as you can find.

Jen can also be found at her shop, Three Cats And A Broom, where her gardens in the verdant valley hills bring you herbal goodies to delight your bath, body, and home.


 

Find Jen on the World Wide Web:

Rue and Hyssop www.rueandhyssop.blogspot.com

Three Cats And A Broom www.threecatsandabroom.etsy.com

 

 

Why Rue and Hyssop–do these plants hold special meaning for you and if so what is it?

Picking a name for my blog was no easy task. I was going to be writing about my journey and all that it entailed – the garden experiments, my travels, the ups and downs of my personal practices, and the things that were bubbling away in the cauldron. I didn’t want to mislead anyone. The blog was always about my adventures in Paganism, but it was important for me to present it through the lense of my real life, and not try to come off as someone I wasn’t. It had to be real. Although I don’t discuss my uber-personal stuff (who I’m dating, my familial issues, and other too-close-for-comfort tidbits), I do lay it all out when discussing my struggle with keeping up a spiritual practice, or how I’m working through other issues like fear or self-esteem. It’s the kind of thing I appreciate in other bloggers, so there was no chance that I wasn’t going to be genuine.

“Rue and Hyssop” was a perfect fit for me. It served a dual purpose – it was a play on my at-the-time public name (Rue) and highlighted my interest in herb-craft, as well as providing a bit of symbolism for me, a girl who came from a bible-based upbringing (hyssop being a prominent biblical herb) who grew into a woman on a magical-based path (rue being a beloved charm, most notably for the Strega). As for the herbs themselves, they are a cherished part of my garden. Even after working with them for years, I still find wisdom to glean from them.

 

I think you are one of the brightest voices in the Pagan blogging community –why did you start blogging? As a pagan blogger what would you like to see more of?

That’s a really generous compliment, Bri, and one I’d like to keep working at deserving. When I started blogging almost five years ago, there was not an easy-to-find Pagan community locally. Fortunately that has changed, but I could never regret that it sent me searching online for like-minded people who shared my love of getting dirty in the garden and the wilds, who were fascinated by folklore, and who embraced and celebrated the land and the seasons. I’m thrilled to have met so many wonderful people in the blogging and Pagan communities, and I’m beyond flattered when anyone stops by to read or comment at my little spot on the web. I’m especially surprised at the volume of readers I have that wouldn’t consider themselves Pagan, but who stop by because we share some interest or concern that brings our separate journeys closer together.

I’ve found that this year, the Pagan community seems to be struggling a great deal with divisiveness. This isn’t new, I know, but there seems to have been many opportunities for people to say “we don’t know everything, let’s explore this together,” that instead, have become derisive. The magical and spiritual communities whose boundaries we wander over and through boast some of the most learned, creative, generous, and gifted people on the planet. I truly believe that we can find better ways to express ourselves and our explorations of our chosen path than to knock someone else down to show that we can wield the verbal sword impressively. Having said that, I am often in awe of the strength, kindness, and wisdom of those I’ve met in the blogging community. I’m confident that the people with these traits will outshine the ones who prefer to squabble, and my hope is that we’ll see more bloggers, podcasters, authors, and magical businesspeople stepping out into the public eye and showing the world a diverse community that can work together.

 

You make wonderful herbal remedies that are both healing and magical–how did you get started in this work and what are your favorite things to make?

When I was ten, at the height of summer I walked through a field of clover barefoot. The bees gorging on clover-nectar took exception to my intrusion and I was stung. My grandmother immediately noted that a stinger remained in my foot and cut a potato in half and placed it on the wound. Within a short time, the sting lessened and the stinger fell out. To me, that was the most magical thing I’d ever experienced. Within the year I was weeding her gardens (very non-magical, if you had asked me) and I was forever bitten – or stung – by the garden bug.

After relying far too many years on over the counter drugs for common complaints such as colds, sleeplessness, or skin concerns, I turned to herbs to help combat these issues. I’d always grown veggies and culinary herbs, but medicinals were new to me. I grabbed a handful of books and found some organic seed companies and never looked back. My current passion is replacing the chemical-laden cleaning and beauty products in my home with my own organic herbal alternatives. And, of course, I grow a few plants specifically for magical use too.

My current favourite creations are the herbal-infused oil products. There’s just something about seeing those plants suspended in golden oils, releasing their invaluable treasure. I put together a herbal salve that is crazy-healing, as well as a massage oil, and I’m working on a facial oil that should be coming out soon. I’m testing it right now and I’m loving what it’s doing to my skin!

 

What projects are you working on in 2014? What would you like to learn more about?

I’ve been operating my business as a hobby for the past few years and it’s been fun. When I look to my future, I see myself growing and wild-harvesting plants and making herbal creations full time, so there are some big decisions to be made this year in as far as putting a plan into action to see that outcome.

My herbal studies are always ongoing – I was gifted with about a dozen herbal books this year and I’m enjoying working through them. I’m always playing with and testing new herbal creations. Some will make it to the shop and others may end up being more private runs. I made some sample scrubs for a local spa and they’ve ordered them for their permanent line now.

The thing about plants is that you can spend a lifetime studying them and still have only scratched the surface. The same thing applies to spirituality and magical work – there is always something to discover and experience. I’ll never be finished learning.

 

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

I’ve spoken of this often lately, but it’s because I’ve really been living it. Find one thing to be joyful about every day. We’d all like to win the lottery, or be a size 2, or hit it out of the park in the IQ department, but even if we are not feeling like our best selves, or life is not being generous with the “good stuff” we can still find something to be joyful about. Just one thing. Really dig it. Smile. Dive into that chocolate bliss. Become intoxicated by the scent of that flower. Giggle mercilessly at your crazy cat. There’s always something to squeal about. It will keep you young, I promise. And people will wonder why you are always smirking.

And be kind. It’s not that difficult.

 

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Many Branches–Beth Owl’s Daughter

Learning and Community

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ear Miracles: So one of the things that I really do love about the web is how it has allowed me to connect to people that I would not have encountered otherwise and Beth Owl’s Daughter falls into that category. I LOVE her! We have been in some of the same social circles because we are both tarot readers but we really hit it off when I wrote an article about the Sylvia Brown episode and Beth graciously posted it at her very popular blog. From then on I knew I had found a kindred spirit in Beth Owl’s Daughter-even though we live far apart, and even though our busy schedules do not allow us to connect that often, we wave to each other through social media and I know that she stands with several other gifted intuitives as an example of what our field can be if we are willing to work with honesty and integrity! 

 

4ee07fca3aa7c5e5aa372f40ed6a2bea_400x400In her own words: 

For over four decades, Beth Owl’s Daughter has been a mystic, seer, and spiritual guide in the non-ordinary realms.  A trained Priestess and intuitive, she devotes her life to sharing her gifts with thousands of clients worldwide. Her lifelong passion has been working with the Tarot–an art she has been practicing since 1972.

Beth is…

* a master level Tarotist. She is a member of several organizations that promote and set guidelines for ethical Tarot practice.

* an internationally respected reader, teacher, writer, and leader in the professional Tarot community.  She has published hundreds of articles, reviews, and columns about the Tarot both in print and online. She has been featured in many radio interviews and podcasts and  her blog and newsletter have received numerous awards.

* a former officer on the Board of Directors for Cherry Hill Seminary, the world’s first and only graduate-level educational institution for Pagan clergy.

* the founder and organizer of one of the world’s largest, oldest, and most successful Tarot social groups (the Triangle Tarot and Friends Meetup).

Beth Owl’s Daughter is also an ordained interdenominational minister, an Usui Reiki healer, and she practices the Craft with deep roots in the Reclaiming and Faery traditions.  She lives in a little cottage in the woods of northern Durham County, NC with her husband John, their cat, and countless spirit allies.

These days, having completed her second Saturn return, she is deepening her magical practice, and doing more teaching and writing.

 

You can find Beth on the World Wide Web at the following hot spots!

Her awesome website!

Twitter

 

1.) So, everyone probably asks you about your name, and I was reading about your name on your site. One of the features pointed out about owls is that they form a “Link between the dark, unseen world and the world of light” and I LOVE this idea. How does this resonate with your own work–do you form a link yourself, do you illuminate links that are already there?

Oh, what a fun, insightful question!  Thank you!

What this means to me is also expressed beautifully by the founder of analytical psychology, Carl Jung, when he said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

Mainly, I think I am a seer of patterns, which is why I love the Tarot, since it is a symbolic pattern language.  With Tarot, and my other ways of knowing, I can see how patterns of behavior, thought, and habits act like engines in the subterranean realms in our consciousness. They can drive unhappy choices, self-sabotage, and other distortions that bring suffering.  Until they are recognized, they can seem like forces beyond our control or even understanding.

I do feel that at times, I am just helping show what is already there.  Other times, I experience that healing and transformation moves through me coming straight from Mystery.  So I guess the answer to your question is I am honored to do both.

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2.) Your tagline is: practical wisdom for extraordinary living–can you talk a little bit about how arts like tarot reading and magic can lead to practical wisdom? 

I don’t know if I can talk a little about this. I can, however, talk on, and on, and on about it!

But attempting to be brief, I think that Tarot has gotten a bad rap as being only for gullible cloud cuckoo-land woo-woos.  While I do use the cards in mystical and esoteric ways, I also see Tarot as an instant, intimate kind of personal Google.

The Tarot can be an instant, truth-telling tool any time you need help on your creative projects, understanding relationships, working through life passages, when you need support for healing – just about anything.  It can especially help us get clarity and perspective when making choices, even in the most everyday situations.

For instance, I love to consult the cards when I am writing and get stuck.

The first time I tried this was about thirty years ago.  I was writing a short story and couldn’t decide which way the plot ought to go. I got the bright idea of doing a reading to ask.

Surprise!  I got everything I needed and more!  The court cards told me about the dynamics of the characters in ways I had not considered; a couple of Major Arcana cards revealed huge insights about their motivations; and the pips offered a much better story arc than the one I’d planned.

Looking back, it seems so obvious, but at the time, it was jaw-dropping to me. Since then, of course, my fabulous Tarot colleague, Corrine Kenner, has written the ultimate book about using the Tarot as a writer’s tool, Tarot for Writers.

After that epiphany, I began exploring the most mundane questions about my work projects, vacation plans, and so on. I don’t recommend becoming dependent on the Tarot for every single decision in your life, but I also think that we have only just begun to discover the many pragmatic ways it can help us live on a bigger, more empowered, and joyful level.


3.) You are a tarot reader like myself — what is one thing about the work of tarot reading you wish more people understood or were exposed to?

Please don’t ask me to tell you what will happen.  “Will he ask me to marry him?” “Will I get the job?” “Will my house sell? And when?”  “How soon before my daughter moves out?”

These are typical questions and I absolutely do understand our very human desire to wish we knew all the answers in advance. But that is not how the Tarot works, because that is not how life works.

Tarot tells the truth. And the truth is, there is not some immutable destination called “the future,” that we are all just passively riding towards.  This is not a movie and we are not following a preordained script.

Yes, there are some readers who offer predictive readings, but even they will remind you (if they are ethical readers, that is), nothing is carved in stone – your free will to choose is always an option.

Other than our mortality, we can change just about anything. I just can’t buy that we are stuck on some conveyor belt of time heading into one fated event after another.

So my approach is to encourage questions that bring us clarity and understanding about the underlying relationships, perspectives, assumptions, and choices that are currently at work in our lives. The better we can see those, the better we can anticipate and shape the experiences that we actually want.

The closest thing to any correct answer about what will happen is another question: “What do you want to have happen?”

Knowing and naming your heart’s desire is true north and the Tarot is a compass.

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4.) Tell me about the Tarot Boutiques–they sound amazing!

Oh Bri – they really are! We are having so much fun with these!

As you may know, I have been teaching introductory Tarot classes for many years and also leading our Raleigh-Durham Meetup, where we’ve had lots of study programs taught by myself and our other members.

But I have wanted to offer something more advanced, intimate, and even experimental.  My home is the ideal place, because it has a very peaceful, magical vibe that I love to share.

Since January, once a month, I have been facilitating tiny “boutique” workshops that appeal to the “discerning Tarot connoisseur.” Each workshop is designed to focus on one specialty topic that can add sparkle to your personal or professional practice.

We have played dress-up, embodying the Tarot Soul Cards; we have gone on guided meditations; we have investigated how to create spreads and how to ask questions, and much more. And all with tasty snacks, lol!

Upcoming classes include working with Valerie Sim’s “Comp Tarot” method of comparing answers from different decks; creating and using a Tarot journal to boost your knowledge; Tarot as Muse (for writers, yes, but all kinds of creative pursuits); the use of herbal magic in association with the Tarot; and a mini-series about going pro.

Really, the possibilities are infinite, especially with my participants also adding their suggestions.  One afternoon a month, geeking out on Tarot in a kaleidoscope of ways – what could be better?

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

I believe we are living in a time when it is crucial for every one of us to find our gifts and get involved. We no longer have the luxury of playing small, or hiding out behind our petty dramas. Find your vast underground pool of courage and step up!

Each person reading this has powerful intuitive wisdom, and has the ability to make vastly important changes in a world that is in desperate need. Those changes may look small, but we never know which small action will be the tipping point that makes all the difference in the end.

Whether it is the Tarot, or runes, or healing, or simply cultivating more enlightenment and love – now is the time we were born for.  Keep asking questions, dare to peek behind the curtain of consensual reality.  You are so much more powerful than you might have thought, and our world is far more mysterious, aware, and divine than we’ve been led to believe.

 

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.

Sylvia’s Mistake and what it means for Professional Intuitives

Divination and Dreams

D

ear Miracles: By now everyone knows about the three women who had been abducted and found in Ohio — and many of my friends and colleagues also know about the Sylvia Browne scandal that was brought up in the wake of discovering that one of the women, whom Browne had quite publicly announced was dead, was actually quite alive. For those who don’t know about the story, Jason Pitzl-Walters of the Wild Hunt wrote about it here.

Jason ended his excellent article with the following question:

 

“I have no doubt that most Pagans engaging in psychic work are sincere, which calls me to ask how responsible they feel they are regarding life-or-death predictions, and what recourse do they engage in should a prediction turn tragic? Rather than become defensive, and work to distance ourselves from the hucksterisms of Browne, I think this is a call to introspection. How do we prevent ourselves from becoming the things that Browne now embodies to an outraged public?”

 

I think this is a really good question and after perusing the comments tied to the article I felt that it deserved a full response from someone who works as both a professional intuitive and ritualist, and who advocates for the building of sustainable and profitable businesses in the field of Sacred Arts.

 

WARNING: This is a long article y’all. If you are familiar with the Wild Hunt piece and the comments that accompanied it then the first two sections will be of interest, otherwise scroll down to the final section titled, The Sylvia Situation. (I won’t judge, I read the end of novels first all the time).

 

 

Why should Pagans be concerned about Sylvia?

The first issue that needs to be addressed is relevancy. Why should we be concerned about Sylvia Browne’s “mistake”? The fact of the matter is that in the general public’s opinion working as a tarot reader, practicing any sacred art, or billing oneself as a “psychic” often equates to being Pagan — whether sacred art practitioners identify as Pagan or not. This stems from a lack of understanding of both the sacrred arts as well as Paganism but the association is present and it is strong.

In addition, while its true that not all professional intuitives are Pagan and not all Pagans practice an intuitive art (like cartomancy, tasseomany, palmistry, scrying, etc) it is true that many Pagans do have an interest in developing these skills for both personal and religious reasons.

The third reason I believe Pagans should be concerned about this issue is that both professional intuitives and modern day Pagans share a similar position in society — we are often misrepresented, misunderstood, mocked, marginalized and have to be especially assiduous in asserting and protecting our civil rights. Because the two groups are closely related in popular imagination, because there are many people who do belong to both groups, and because we experience many of the same social and political challenges, it is vital that we take an interest in each others welfare — especially if we do not want characters like Sylvia Browne to write our stories for us and the general public.

 

The Business of Intuitive Professionals and Sacred Artists:

Another thread of comments attached to the article that I found very disturbing were those voicing the opinion that anyone who asks for money in return for using their intuitive gifts is de facto a charlatan. This is something that I know some of my Pagan brothers and sisters have had to deal with as well, when wanting to be paid for ritual services for instance — I label it the “Spiritual Gifts Should be Free Syndrome.

The idea that all tarot readers are con artists out to make a quick buck belies a lineage of predictive readings and oracle casting that goes back to the beginnings of human culture. Traditionally those who possessed the art of seeing were paid, and paid quite well — perhaps not in money, but food, gifts, and other offerings were made in return for their predictive powers.

It is true that in the world of “magic for hire” there are many scams and unethical people taking advantage of ill formed superstitions and clients who are often desperate, afraid, and have nowhere else to turn. But it is equally true that there are many top of the line professional intuitives who have assisted people in getting out of abusive relationships, finding gainful employment, asking for (and receiving) raises, starting new romantic relationships, having happy and peaceful marriages, and fostering better relationships with children and step children (just to name a few of the situations that I often read for).

These people do their work because they feel Spirit — called, because they have actual talent, and because they want to be of service. They often work in places that are hostile to sacred arts of all kinds and take on potential danger to themselves and their families (not to say anything of the day to day shame many feel when asked “what they do for a living?”) Nevertheless they do the work because they are committed, they care, and as Jason said, they are sincere.

Deciding that someone is a scam artist because they ask to be paid for a skill they are employing to your benefit is both foolish and unkind and its reveals a massive double standard that we have in the general population when it comes to those working in the Sacred Arts. Doctors are not right 100% of the time and often the medications they prescribe can cause terrible side effects that patients were not sufficiently warned about — and in many situations patients are misdiagnosed completely — yet a doctor still must be paid. The positive effect that a therapist exerts over a situation may or may not be obvious — yet we pay for the time we spend with them regardless of results. A lawyer cannot ever guarantee to win your legal case — yet they too have fees that must be paid, win or lose. An investment banker requires you to entrust them with a large sum of money on the promise that they may be able to make that money increase for you — they are paid — with both the initial investment and often with concurrent fees. In all four cases the general public does not question the professional’s right to earn a living by their skill.

Why is it then that in the case of a professional intuitive asking to be paid for our services we are seen as suspect at best and charlatans at worst? Is it because the work we engage in is too “fringe”, resistant to measurement, or subjective? What then of the artist who paints or  the writer who tells stories? Their work is much harder to measure, some indeed might think it strange, and art of course is quite subjective — but most of us would agree that the artist or the author also have a right to earn a living from their work.

I believe that we should be supporting those working in the Sacred Arts field with everything we’ve got. I champion the rights of my friends and colleagues to charge for their work and to earn a damn good living from it — I believe that their services are of value and make my community, my town, my state and my country better. I also champion an increased level of professionalism within the Sacred Arts communities — and that includes a critique of why Sylvia Browne’s approach to this work is problematic.

 

The Sylvia Situation:

I did not know Sylvia Browne, although I have my personal opinions, I cannot say what motivated her publicly or privately. Unlike others, I don’t necessarily take issue with her (or any professional intuitive) desiring favorable publicity for their work. One of the reasons why our field has been rife with scams and cons is because it has remained in the shadows and when it is mentioned in a broader context it is usually couched in either sensationalism, criticism, or both. A lack of transparency can breed corruption and part of being transparent is being publicly seen and available. I think that professional intuitives who seek to make their work better known and understood by the general public have the potential to do the field as a whole much good.

With that said, I do find that the biggest mistake Browne (or her handlers) made was in the approach they took in this particular case. To use the above examples, when a doctor is interviewed on a daytime talk show they are not asked to make diagnoses. A therapist is not expected to deliver a radical insight infront of a large studio audience. When a trial lawyer is interviewed they are not asked to demonstrate their courtroom acumen. An investment banker would never be expected to make money appear during the hour between 10am and 11. Why an intuitive professional is asked to “prove” their skill set and/or why they would agree to such ridiculous terms (given the setting) is beyond me, and this, is where Ms. Browne made her mistake. In his article Jason asked two questions of his readers:

 

–How responsible do Pagans who also practice a predictive art feel when making a life or death prediction?

 

–what recourse do they engage in if the prediction turns tragic?

 

The Pagans that I know who practice an intuitive art and the professional intuitives I know (who may or may not identify as Pagan) feel an incredible weight of responsibility anytime we sit with a querant. If you want to cut through the small talk and get to the issues that are really weighing on someone’s heart and mind then become a tarot reader. People trust us with information that they have not told to anyone else-it’s a privilege and a deep responsibility and not something to be taken lightly — ever.

 

In Ms. Browne’s case she was asked whether a specific individual who was missing was still living.

 

Who was asking the question?

The missing woman’s mother.

 

And what was the setting?

A nationally televised talk show.

 

Many of the professional intuitives I know would not read on this question at all — too much rides on the answer and seeing clearly and with objectivity is difficult to begin with — our work is about nothing if not clarity. To answer the question though for the missing woman’s mother is a different thing entirely — in that case the woman’s own hopes and fears would weigh so heavily on the reading that no matter its outcome I would question its veracity.

Finally, the setting is wrong. Publicity for one’s work is well and good, but attempting to deliver an intuitive reading — an occasion that should be a personal and private exploration of a meaningful question between two people on daytime T.V. sets one up for failure — if Sylvia Browne truly thought that given these parameters she could deliver an authentic intuitive reading then I have to question her skills as well as her motives.

Generally speaking as I wrote earlier, most of my colleagues would not read on this type of a question at all — and those that would usually come out of spiritual traditions that have a very specific approach and ritual parameters for what can be asked, who might ask it, and what type of information might be conveyed back to the querant.

The second question is one that all intuitives should ask themselves: what recourse do we engage in if a prediction turns tragic? I believe we should all ask ourselves this question because as we meet and encounter people throughout the years we will brush up against terrible events. Predictions, once uttered, can turn tragic as many a Greek Tragedy warns us, and intuitives need to consider what options are available to us professionally to deal with these events. Here are a few I have found helpful:

 

  • Be honest and admit it if you have made a mistake.
  • Do not make guarantees. I train my clients, prospective clients, and students to be wary of anyone who works in the intuitive or magical fields and makes 100% satisfaction or your money back guarantees. Serious practitioners know that when it comes to intuition and magic mystery is part of the process and no one can say exactly how a situation will turn out. Even if a client does not want to work with me I steer them clear of people offering such guarantees-its part of my educational outreach.
  • Associate with ethical professionals in your field. This is vital for so many reasons. When you are associated with ethical people who work in the same or similar field you can refer clients to them (when you are unable or unwilling to work with them) and you can also discuss issues (like this one) with them and get other points of view that are trustworthy.
  • Be clear in your terms. How do you work? What do you do? What are your rates? What happens if a client is not satisfied? What can you be held accountable for? What can you not be held accountable for? Being clear about these terms in your literature and on your website cuts through a lot of potential confusion.
  • Call in reinforcements. Are you working with someone who needs to see a medical doctor, who requires legal advice or who needs to undergo psychological evaluation? If so, as an intuitive professional it is your duty to tell the client this and to work with them on the understanding (and in some cases with actual proof) that they are receiving the help they need from other experts.
  • Know when to stop. There are people who will seek out reading after reading because they aren’t getting the answers they want or there are those who seek intuitive services for life altering decisions that require more input than your neighborhood tarot reader can possibly provide. Know when a client needs to stop seeking out readings and do not be afraid to tell them-with kindness and firmness.
  • Know who you can help and who you can’t. My experience of the intuitive field is that its full of people who genuinely want to help. But we cannot help everyone. Develop an understanding of what you do well and what you are not as gifted at — serve the people you are meant to serve and if someone comes to you wanting something that you cannot provide-be honest about that.

As in any other field, tragedies can and do happen. Ms. Browne made a series of decisions that has now led to a loss of face and to the knowledge that she has caused a family who has already gone through hell, even more deep pain. It is my sincere hope that those of us working in the intuitive field can learn from this and allow the event to shine light on our practices and our professionalism.

magic, miracles: receive my lunar letters

ARRIVING on full moons each month.