Sunday, November 14, 2010

Homebrewed Mead: Traditional Yule

After adding everything together, and before the cloth on top!
My apprentice and I just made mead, and it wasn't nearly that much of a trial as some authors seemed to imply.  I personally think it's easier than canning, which frankly makes me nervous. You almost can't screw up making mead, and it's one of the most sacred and magical tasks we do here in the Medieval Still Room that connects us to our ancestors.  My husband pronounced it as the best concoction to come out of the brewing room yet!

Mead is possibly one of the first alcoholic beverages and has achieved legendary status among many pagans and historical re-enactors as the traditional guest drink of Northern Europe - the beverage of Beowulf, the Viking Norse and the Halls of Valhalla. Druids and Odinists alike embrace it as a extant example of traditional lifestyle and tech, as well as a communion with the culture of the ancestors. Yule, the Norse sacred holiday of Solstice, is not the same without this divine gift of the Gods. Since our modern pagan and Christian traditions were largely lifted wholesale from Yule, in our household, especially as pagans of North European descent, our down home Holly Days cannot be complete without a fine flowing of mead.

Mead is mostly honey based, of course. The yeast can't as easily digest the honey as it can some other sources of sugar, like dextrose or sucrose, so in modern times, either another type of sugar or a chemical nutriment is added to help feed the yeast. We wanted to be a bit more purist, so we added a fruit to our mead, making it technically a melomel rather than a pure mead. The apple tree produced more than enough apples this year, so our fruit component was an easy choice. To help access the nutrients, a bit of acid is recommended, usually lemon, so we included that as well.

Like country wines, many recipes suggest bread yeast for mead.  However, since the alcohol component for mead is higher due to the sugars, we chose the recommended champagne yeast. "Beer or bread yeast may essentially be paralyzed when the alcohol concentration reaches 6% to 8% alcohol. Wine yeast can normally tolerate at least 12% to 14% alcohol, and the hardier varieties (with a little help) will get to 18% or so." 1 We do use bread yeast in our country wines and vinegars, which is selected to act quicker but can leave a slightly bread tasty flavour, mostly because it's darn cheap and readily available. However, bread yeast would simply not be able to continue brewing in the mead environment. We also use filtered or reverse osmosis water in all our brewing, mostly to keep out the chlorine. Not only is it detectable to my palette, chlorine is included to inhibit bacteria growth, not exactly what we are going for here...

With that in mind, it was really such a simple process. We melted the unpasteurized honey, fresh and cheap from our local Farmer's Market, and some of the water in a pot. While it cooled, we washed and prepared the apples by cutting them up into fairly big pieces and cutting off all the nasty bits that might ruin the brewing process. We didn't bother to peel them, and I think we even used windfall! We popped those into a big glass gallon jar, like one of those restaurant pickle jars, and once the honey water was reasonably cool, we poured it in with a bit of lemon, the yeast, and enough water to fill it nearly to the top, and did a gentle but thorough stirring. Don't forget to leave enough space at the top to ensure that the brew doesn't gurgle over the edge in it's enthusiasm! We then covered our mixture with a clean rag tightened with an elastic band, which we took off once per day in order to stir the brew.

After the bubbling was noticeably halted, we got out our big funnel, stuffed it with a bit of cheesecloth to filter, and poured the brew into a cider jug. The gravity method, as in letting the apples sit for a bit in the funnel, got out nearly all of the apple bits and other detritus. I suppose we could have used those now alcohol soaked apples for something, like some decadent dessert, but they just went into the compost. Bunging up our remaining liquid with an airlock, we just left the poor neglected thing on the shelf until it cleared up, the yeast fell mostly to the bottom, and the bubbling went down to only two per minute. And it still took about a month!

For bottling, though it's not as traditional, we decided that we wanted sparkling mead, so when we siphoned and re-filtered, we just used old pop bottles that we still had the caps for. I didn't want to dilute our brew, so we plopped in carbonation drops into each bottle rather than use more sugared water to carbonate. We did taste some of the bit on the bottom of the jar, of course, and it was truly sublime. The darn things should be magnificent by Yule, and they are the perfect beverage to bring out for something very special. Even better than our handmade cider! Although it might compare to the applejack I'm making from that...

It really is a snap. Each part of the process only takes about an hour, and you can make as small or as large a batch as you have the equipment and patience for. We didn't even bother to boil the water or honey! Though we did sanitize every bit of equipment before we used it... Helps keep down the chance of souring...

For those of you who want to try this sacred and ancient beverage at home, here's the recipe we used.

3 lbs honey
3 cups water

Heated until it melted in a stainless steel pot. (Though glass or enamel are always more recommended, to reduce the chance of reactions with your brew, especially if you use herbs or spices in your blend!)

6 - 10 apples
lemon juice or concentrate
champagne yeast
enough filtered water to fill jar

Wash, cut, and groom apples, though peeling is not necessary. Fill a layer or two on the bottom of your glass gallon container with apples. Pour in cooled water/honey mixture. Add 2 Tbsp. of lemon concentrate (we used certified organic), one package of champagne yeast, and fill up the remainder of your container almost to the top with water. Leave some amount at the top for bubbling, or it will overflow. Cover with a clean, not too thick cloth, and tighten with a rubber band.

Stir every day. After about a week or two, the bubbling will appear to be gone. Filter into another glass container that you can stopper with an airlock. Let sit for another month, checking the bubbling occasionally. When it's down to about one bubble a minute, bottle it by siphoning the brew out of it's container until just before it hits the crud on the bottom. If you choose not to sparkle it, it will have no grouts on the bottom of the bottles, and you can drink as is, without concerning yourself with the type of jars you need. Masons will do, though not terribly classy...

If you wish your mead to be sparkling, like we did, it's only slightly more complicated. Adding more honey water or sugar water stimulates the yeast back into action, and creates more bubbling. As it does so, just like homebrewed beer, it will generate more grouts on the bottom of the bottle, so be careful when pouring it out. Only use bottles designed to handle the pressure, like beer or pop bottles, and make sure you do your calculations right, or your bottles may explode! Carbonation drops take out the guesswork of making up a sugar water addition, but they are highly processed sugary drops. I didn't want a water dilution, so we opted for those.

Because honey is harder for the yeast to digest than sugar, it does take far longer for mead to brew than beer or wine.  We suspect that without nutrient or fruit added, ancient mead makers may have just put it in a barrel or pot and forgotten about it for a year or so.  We just opened one of the bottles from the batch we started in September, and it only just began to get bubbly!  But it was sooo amazingly good... So be patient with your mead, and to keep yourself from cracking it open, try a new recipe in your gallon jar almost as soon as you bottle up the last one.  This time we have apples and fresh ginger!  It already smell like ambrosia...

Even after it's done, remember:  the longer you leave your mead to sit in the secondary fermentor with the air lock, or in the bottles, the better it will taste!  So by all means drink as much as you can for the holidays, but save a bottle or two for Imbolc or Midsummer.  As one of the mead makers for your gatherings, you will always be one of the popular guests! 

I find it even easier to brew mead than beer.  Even for those who haven't tried making home brewed beer or wine yet, mead is truly inspiring beverage that has loosened the tongues of Gods, and giving the bardic gift to mortals for centuries.  Lift up your glasses!  Got Yul!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Etsy Finds!

Organic Mulling Spices

I was featured on Etsy Finds this month!

If anyone knows how to show off this whole thing in the blog, I'd love to learn how...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Curses! And the Magical Mechanics Thereof...

The Last Unicorn
 I'm not above quoting fantasy books myself if they say it well. "The most professional curse ever snarled or croaked or thundered can have no effect on a pure heart." -- The Last Unicorn. This is essentially true.

Curses work the same way other magic works. A Contact spell, for example, sends out feelers across the chaotic systems. A lot like a computer match up. If the potential person/s you are interested in meeting is also interested, as some of your energy is going along with it, you both work together to pull the chaos strings so that you will both meet up in an appropriate location and time for you to pursue an acquaintance. Rather like "your people" and "their people" calling a meeting. It is a two way street.

Curses are much the same. It is a two way street between the curser and cursed. The curser has decided that someone really need a kick in the ass for something, and sends out feelers. Their energies comes in contact, and if the ‘cursee's’ own guilt, that is, their own inner Goddess of Vengeance, decides that they must be punished, both humans use that energy to create the curse effect. Rather like a karmic string tied around one's finger to remind one of this guilt, which might not have remembered otherwise, or not gotten to it as quickly. Which is why someone must go to the trouble of cursing another in the first place, and why a curse has no effect on a pure heart. No self-need for punishment, no curse.

I believe we should most definitely treat others by the Golden Rule. There is indeed a version of that in every major tradition. But that's almost entirely for our own benefit. We cannot become enlightened and self fulfilled without it. With neophytes terrified to practice spellcraft on their own without the aid of their 'teacher', the Three Fold or Karmic Laws has become an enslaving chain left over from our reClaiming days that should be abandoned as quickly as possible.

The 3 fold, ten fold, or even 11 'Law' is a MYTH, told to keep newbies in line.
I'm sorry I'm breaking the conspiracy of some of the Adepts in disabusing you of this notion. There are many reasons for it, but I break from much of the crowd and teach like a heritage. I believe we must always and only discuss the true metaphysics of witchcraft to prove ourselves a mature spirituality and not a mystery cult.

Spewing the pat fluffy Threefold or Karmic Law is such an oversimplification of the complexity of the Universe that it is an obscenity to the dignity of seekers of Enlightenment and those who assist them. How does witchcraft compare as a viable path for those of intelligence and wisdom with such an obvious disprovable flaw as it's main tenant? It's deeply embarrassing for a spirituality of maturity and strength.

That doesn't mean that the Universe doesn't slap you if you choose to be an ass. You often do get what's coming to you. But that is most definitely NOT the same performing so-called 'black magic' (which sounds abominably racist) and expecting to be punished for it.

Cursing, for example, is simply a form of dispensing justice where you believe it required, same as you would protect someone from getting beat up. You should get punished for NOT redressing a serious imbalance, in my opinion, same as you would for not getting stopping someone being physically victimized.

No. It's simply that the 'Rule' or 'Law' or whatever that many teachers tell newbies when they are first starting out is merely fantasy. There are numerous reasons for this, but it is designed to scare them, control them, and ensure that they don't go trying spellcraft on their own.  Oh, sure. If you feel that what you are doing is wrong, say that you deserve to be punished for something more than your victim does, than YOU get the curse, not the person whom you are trying to punish. And it will recoil depending on the level of your guilt. In that, it's inherantly self limiting.

The truth is really much harder. The Universe does pay people back, but certainly not in such a lovely symmetry like three or any other number. It is ridiculous to assume that a quantitative quality can be put on someone trying to harm another, and take into account whether it was deliberate, or only slightly, or not at all, and 'repay' that back in some sort of mathematical formula. Like some suffering or blessing of mine can even compare to someone else's in sensitivity, or life disruption, or level of joy, or some other feeling or quality in the first place.

If you are nasty to others, they will be nasty to you. Most times. Sometimes you can be nice to everyone, and you will be assassinated. Sometimes bad guys really do win. Totally and completely. The Universe is not so cut and dried as the 'Law' makes it out to be. It is not fair. And it certainly doesn't balance. And even if it could, it is so vast that we would never be able to see it, with our limited shells.

But that's where we come in, as Her representatives. We can see what's in front of us and report back, so to speak, to draw Her attention to something that we would like to see remedied right now, and we specify a manner that we can comprehend. That's one of the functions of spellcraft, particularly blessings, curses, and healings.  In the old view of witches as representatives of the Goddess, we must mete out punishment and benefit to those that deserve them. Like a Mother training her Children - rewarding them for good behavior and punishing those that have not behaved well. That's one of our duties, I believe, as well as protecting her and all that is a part of her.

All people are intelligent and sensitive to some degree and deserve to be treated like seekers of truth and self-fulfillment. We do them and ourselves a great disservice when we do not teach the metaphysics and theology of witchcraft correctly from the start. In all it's complexity.

My curses are extremely good. They can take up to two years to manifest, and they attack whatever it was that caused the person to be cursed in the first place. Completely. The Goddess always has a much better idea of how people should be punished than I do.  If they didn't feel guilty, it wouldn't work at all, and they are punished often by what they consider to be thier greatest strengths.  And, due to my style of asking the Goddess to take care of it Herself without my suggestions or too much interference, they manifest in a far more creative and complete manner than I ever could have imagined, exactly matching the infraction with the punishment. So I never worry about justice for infractions against me, though it would be nice to have the wisdom to avoid them in the first place...

And as aggressive as I am, curses come far more naturally than Blessings. Perhaps that's where my real challenge lies. I find that I can much more easily wrap my brain around the metaphysics of a balancing of injustice that curses provide. I have yet to truly understand viscerally what blessings are all about...

Adapted from my article on Witchvox.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Increasing Female Fertility with Traditional Medicine - Listen to the Old Wives #1

As one of the only creatures on the planet with full-time sexuality, increasing or decreasing fertility is something that women have done as soon as we became conscious. Conventional medicine in general is still so very far behind us in fertility awareness. To be fair, though, we have thousands of years more experience than they do, and they only started about a century ago. They have a great deal of 'catch up' to play before they can start to match us, especially since they generally insist on starting from scratch, rather than respect and build on our previous work.

As has often been noted in traditional medicine; foods, personal habits, and other alterable factors play a huge role in female fertility.  In one study, a more than 70% increase in fertility was recorded just by changing diet!  "Among the most common causes of unexplained infertility in women is "ovulatory dysfunction" -- an umbrella term encompassing problems with ovulation. Though a number of factors can be responsible, many doctors now believe diet is key. In a study of some 17,000 women conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, researchers were able to define a group of "fertility foods" able to improve conception odds. Which dietary tenets were key to increasing fertility?
  • Eating more monounsaturated fats (like olive oil) and less trans fats (like the kind found in many baked goods or fast foods).
  • Increasing intake of vegetable protein (like soy), while reducing animal protein (like red meat).
  • Eating more high fiber, low-glycemic foods -- like whole grains, vegetables, and some fruits, while reducing the intake of refined carbohydrates and sugars.
  • Consuming moderate amounts of high-fat dairy products -- like ice cream, whole milk, and cheese.
Jorge Chavarro, MD, a researcher in the study, believes diet made a difference because the majority of women experiencing ovulatory dysfunction were also suffering from undiagnosed or subclinical PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), a condition related to insulin resistance that also affects ovulation. "It responds well to diet, so that could be one of the reasons these foods were so helpful," says Chavarro, who translated his medical study findings into a book called The Fertility Diet. Pollack believes it's worth giving the diet a try but says, "You should not depend on it alone -- make it just one part of your overall efforts to conceive."

Now if you choose to increase your healthy fat with dairy, it should be organic, since the extra chemicals and anti-bacs from conventional factory farms have been shown to accumulate in your breast and other fat tissue.  So-called stress reduction is another key factor, for so many reasons.  "If you're tempted to handle your stress by smoking or drinking alcohol, experts say don't. Numerous studies have shown that smoking contributes to both male and female infertility and can even impair the outcome of fertility treatments. Excessive alcohol consumption can impair ovulation in women and sperm production in men. "  And caffeine, naturally.  Caffeine increases a body's nervous state, as well as robbing it of precious vitamins and minerals.

Most women are not nearly as familar with thier own bodies and cycles as they should be, and traditionally have been in the past.  If you wish to get pregnant, and are having difficulty, it is even more vital that you make use of the best of tradtional and modern techniques.  The current favorites for ease and effectiveness are and Fertility Awareness.



When most women think of altering fertility with traditional techniques, they think of herbs.  The book Sister Moon Lodge lists a bunch. So does Susan Weed's The Childbearing Year. Jeannie Parvati has Hygeia, a Woman's Herbal.

All of these herbs come in raw form, which can be made into an infusion, decoction, cream, syrup, etc. It can be simply ground up, in capsule pill form, which is either just ground up or concentrated, and tablet, which is always concentrated. The price goes up with each process.

One of the cheats of CAM is to put the ground herbs in your espresso maker or your French press coffee machine to ingest. (It's a professional secret. I currently have Ginseng and Cascara in my special blend. If you come to my house for coffee, ask for regular grind.) It doesn't work so well in the drip kinds, of course. A regular daily serving of Saw Palmetto or Wild Yam in your morning coffee or tea helps you keep it as part of your regular routine without changing your lifestyle pattern at all.

Saw palmetto berries helps cure prostate in men but in women, Saw Palmetto pseudo-estrogen phyto enzymes help increase your fertility, with the added bonus of increasing your breast size and 'womanly attributes'. (Pseudo-estrogen phyto enzymes are usually referred to as simply 'estrogen' in CAM.)  Saw palmetto will increase the chance of girl children, while taking excess bioavailable zinc before fertilization increases the chances of a boy. Licorice and black and blue cohosh are also estrogen-like. Blach Cohosh is considered a uterine tonic. If you are concerned about breast cancer, Red Raspberry leaf is recommended over the phytoestrogen herbs like Licorice or Black Cohosh. Dong Quai is an excellent female hormone balancer, and highly recommended for women's complaints. Wild Yam is progesterone and dirt cheap in raw herb form. When it is taken internally, most of the beneficial hormones are destroyed by the liver. Wild Yam creams are promoted as the answer to be absorbed through the skin. However, they are very expensive, require the area of contact to be changed frequently, and really don't work much better than taking more raw Yam internally. Vitex, or chaste tree berry, is one of the ultimate womb toners. It must be taken every day for six months at least to be effective, but it has helped cure everything from endo to laser burnt womb tissue.

(I sell most of these on-line in the raw form and can find almost anything else you need.  Please see my shop for individual herb listings for more detailed information on each one. )

Individual breakdowns:

Dong Quai is an excellent female hormone balancer, and highly recommended for women's complaints.

Wild Yam.

Black Cohosh treats hot flashes and other symptoms, as well as a uterine toner.

Saw Palmetto. "Doctors now use saw palmetto to normalize sex hormones; they found that it increases sex drive in women and revitalizes their reproductive organs. ...Oddly, it's prescribed both for those who crave sex too much and for those with no sexual appetite at all. I rely on saw palmetto in my clinical practice. I find that my patients turn up looking sleek and well and feeling, shall we say, fully operational. "

Licorice root. "Many women's herbal formulas include licorice for its estrogenic properties as an aid to normalize and regulate hormone levels during menopause."

Red Raspberry leaf. If you are concerned about breast cancer, this one is recommended over the phytoestrogen herbs like Licorice or Black Cohosh.

Vitex, or chaste tree berry. "Chasteberry works primarily through the pituitary gland to help indirectly regulate the production of sex hormones. Chasteberry also contains estrogen and progesterone-like compounds that are thought to alter the secretions of other sex hormones."

HRT links:

So how are these different from the hormone fertility treatments in the clinics?  Other than the obvious cost, that is...  Hormones control most of your bodies functions. Messing with them in the chemical form will inevitably start your body systems to break down. Although they can be found naturally in plants and used to promote good health, synthetic derivatives have to slightly altered from the originals to be patented by the drug companies. Synthetics and natural hormones are not the same, but because the synthetics can fool your receptors, they mimic your body's natural chemicals and can wreak havoc on it. 

Another vital issue is the solubility of the hormones. Ingested hormones normally largely break down in the liver. To ensure that they do not, the manufacturers of artifical hormones make them relatively insoluble. Just another one of the ways that the chemical stuff is different from the ones found in nature. The bulk of these created hormones then pass through the body largely unchanged, and end up in the excretions of the animals that have ingested them (including humans and livestock), which ultimately makes it into our water table. There have been numerous studies linking synthetic hormone production with mutated sexless fish, and increasingly with the lower sperm count and general increase in infertility of human males. As well as the startling increase in female and male cancers. I found many links on this part of the issue, especially in the livestock articles. People seem less reluctant to quote the stats and draw conclusions from animals than humans.  But that is not the focus of this particular article...

If you wish to get pregnant, are pregnant, or have children and are having problems with the conventional medical system, regardless of the issues involved (and we ALL have some issue or other), seek out your local midwife. She is your greatest source of pregnancy, motherhood and child related info imaginable. My midwife has a huge library, a meeting with other mothers every month with kids up to three years old, lactation consultant services, and all the safety, comfort, and support I could ever want. I found a diaper service, birth photographer, and many other eco and safe products just from looking on her bulletin board.

Since I'm currently in Alberta, Canada, here's the ones ones I know, and they should help with keywords or links to find what you need where you are.

Find a midwife or doula by province.

Midwifery in Alberta and in Canada.

The Old Wives, or Wisewomen and midwives, that used to give this advice have been much maligned by the newcomer of 'modern' medicine.  Thousands of years of tradition is not primitive, ineffective superstition.  It is empirical treatment of the most experienced and tested kind, and with real human results, not merely tested on other animals.  Dismissing such profound and deeply investigated knowledge has only decreased our collective hertitage and skills.  Before you consider risker and less proven treatments, consider the advice of the Old Wives.  There is a reason they were given those respected titles.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

"Irish Witches" by John Hurley (Unabridged)

This is one of my favourite articles on the topic. It's now very hard to find on the 'net, and so it is with the greatest respect to the author that I host it here so that it will not be lost to the public. It is essential reading for all those practioners of the Celtic inclination as an overview of Irish culture and Druidic practices including how it relates to witchcraft, magic and paganism.  I have included the complete bibliography and Gaelic words. If the copyright holders object, please let me know!

Looking up witch-and-seeress names in Irish, found this page in Kuno Meyer's old Contributions to Irish Lexicography. He shows three different phrases for a band of women: ban-graig; ban-lorg, and ban-trocht or -tracht. From Suppressed History Archives

Irish Witches

"One of the problems facing many modern "neo-pagans" is their inability to successfully describe their own personal spiritual paths to people outside their path. Finding terms that are readily understood by others not of the same path is often difficult, so many pagans settle for recently coined or popularly understood terms, such as "witch", "wiccan", "druid", "shaman", etc. Many pagans know that these broad terms do not fully express their own path, and many add ethnic or cultural adjectives to add to the meaning of the word chosen. They are "Celtic Witches", "Native American Shamans", "Family Trad. Druids", etc.

These terms certainly help the outsider get a feel for where the particular practitioner in question is coming from, however, more and more pagans are searching for better terms from within their own traditions. Many pagans feel that using archaic terms or terms from a non-English language to describe their paths is too exclusionary and simply alienates others from their paths. Charlatans can, all too often, find easy refuge behind impressive sounding, archaic terminology. But there comes a time when watering down one's path - even if only in name and even if only to make it more palatable to others - weakens that path, making it somewhat bland and conformist.

In this article I will discuss some terms that can be used in one of the more frequently used paths, popularly known as "Irish Witchcraft", or "Celtic Witchcraft".

Now before we get to the word "witch", let's discuss the terms "Celtic" and "Irish".

The term Celtic is used to describe the civilization, peoples and language family, of certain peoples who dominated Western Europe north of the Alps for about 1000 years before the rise of the Roman Empire. Celtic civilization continued on through the rise of Rome, and today there are six Celtic Nations, each with their own unique but related, language and culture.

Linguists place Celtic in its own language family, distinct from other European languages, but stemming from the same theorized "Proto-Indo-European Mother Tongue". The Celtic languages are divided into two branches, generally called "q-celtic" and "p-celtic" or Goedelic and Brythonic respectively. Goedelic, q-celtic, is comprised of the Gaelic languages of Irish, Scottish-Gaelic, and Manx. Brythonic, p-celtic, is comprised of Welsh, Breton and Cornish. (Both Manx and Cornish are now considered dead languages). Goedelic, q-celtic is considered the older of the two branches, and is characterized by a harder consonant sounds with regard to the letters c/k/ch/q. In q-celtic, the word for "son of", "mac" is pronounced with a hard "q" sound, "maq". In p-celtic, the same word is spelt and pronounced "map".

The term "Irish" is of Norse origin, as is the word "Ireland", the Native Irish words being "Erinnach" and "Erin" respectively.

The ancient Irish, were composed of what they considered to be many different races; some Celtic, some not. But just as today's Americans have various ethnic backgrounds and are all, at the end of the day, Americans, so the Irish eventually came to see themselves and their tribes as a unique Irish Nation in the modern sense of the word. The modern Irish people are a racial mixture of Celtic Gaels, Norse; Danes, Welsho-Normans, and Saxons. However, the tradition in Ireland has always been that the dominant and original Gaelic culture - the touchstone of Irish Civilization - absorbed all newcomers to the Island. The Norse, Danes and Welsho-Normans who came to Ireland all adopted Gaelic Irish language and culture as their own. Hence, the Celtic culture of the Gaels is not based on one's racial origins and never has been; it is based on ones involvement in, and promotion of, the traditional culture of the island. (This question of absorption into the traditional culture is at the very heart of the modern war in Northeast Ireland). It is important to remember all this when we start using "Irish" as an adjective to describe something, especially our own spiritual path, because it is such a battered term, implying different things to different people.

"Witch" is a non-Celtic, Anglo-Saxon word meaning "to bend" or "to know". In the popular mind, the term has many other connotations as well, most of them negative. Since it is not an Irish word - and indeed since it is a word associated with the very peoples who have wreaked so much havoc on the traditional Irish pagan paths - many modern Irish pagans would prefer to use an Irish word to describe their path, and dispense with English words altogether.

One of the problems with coming up for a good word in Irish for "witch", is that there are quite a few words to choose from, each with very subtle differences in meaning, depending upon the original context in which the words are said. The Irish is an extremely flexible and creative language and taking isolated words out of their context in conversation can be a very misleading and self-deluding enterprise. On the other hand, the ancient Irish were never very strict in their use of words, preferring to let the oral usage of a word dominate over a formal, "standardized" definition of it.

Another problem is that there is simply alot of disagreement over the very nature of pre-Christian Irish and Celtic religions. Some people would describe all Irish spirituality as coming from the Druidic Order, and hence would describe any pagan Irish beliefs as being "druidic". Others would say that there were probably a few different pre-Christian religions within Irish society at any given time, so the druid tag simply wouldn't and couldn't apply to all paths. To complicate matters, there were different types of religious communities (priests/priestesses, monks/nuns), within these various religions, AND some of these religions may also have been pre-Celtic in origin!!!

I'd like to briefly discuss what we *do* know about these various Irish religious paths, so that the words we use in Irish to describe some of them are better understood.

First, the Druids. Much has been written about them; most of it nonsense. Most neo-pagans accept the Victorian notion of Druids as bearded old men, dressed in white, who constituted a patriarchal, Aryan-Celtic Priesthood. One of the oddest descriptions about them is that they were all pacifists and even vegetarians.....odd when one considers some of the Gods and Goddesses who were supposed to patronize the Order!! They were, in reality, the "Aes Dana" or "Men of Art", or learning. They were the Celtic "Intelligentsia", and hence would have simply been the people with an education within Celtic society. The religious connotations regarding them stem from the fact that in Irish culture, all learning was done through the art of poetry, and poetry was the measuring stick used to judge ones educational level and intelligence. Anyone with an education was schooled in poetry, but the most educated had literally memorized the most poems about a particular subject. Poetry was always considered to be a magical art, and thus those with the most poems had the "most magic", and would be considered to be someone who was close to the gods or Sidh.

Luckily, much more is known about the *Irish* branch of Druidic Order (as opposed to the Gallic and British Orders), because the Irish Order survived as an institution until the 17th century, right up to the destruction of the Gaelic Nobility which supported it, and even beyond that. After the coming of Christianity to Ireland, certain factions of the Druidic Order struck a bargain with the druids who had adopted the Christian teaching and gave up some of their religious ritual functions. (This bargain could have been struck consciously at an historical point, or evolved slowly over a long period of time, but it might be attributed to the Christian saint and druid, St. Columba, who later Irish Bards revered as having saved their Order after an attempt to banish it). Other Irish druids never did give up their power or officially convert. At some point the druid-Christians took over the officiating at religious rituals, but for a very long time, Bishops and Druids officiated together. Even after the Christian Bishops dominated ritual events, the druids continued their educational and magical traditions as bards. The Irish definition of what is "magical" or what constitutes a ritual is simply broader in its view than Christianity. Hence in many ways, it was business as usual for the druids of Ireland.

The Druidic Order as it is popularly understood today was supposed to be divided into three sections of Bards, Vates and Druids. Now this would mean that *all* members of the Order were considered Druids, with the Order having "Bardic-Druids", "Vatic-Druids", and "Druid-Druids", all performing somewhat different functions, but all being equal as Druids, and all having overlapping duties. (Again, the Irish were never very strict about their institutions). Over time, the Order in Ireland became identified almost exclusively with the Bardic section of the Order, and that has had an immense influence on what is considered "magical" in Irish culture, and hence in the Irish language, even today.

The Bardic division of the Druidic Order became more powerful and people who wanted to become druids and NOT Christian priests now simply became bardic-druids. In this way, they continued their magical practices, yet made room in Irish society for Christianity, and it is that ability (or inability) to compromise and make room for newcomers to Ireland which is a central part of the Irish experience. In medieval times, a King's "Chief Poet", had a higher ranking than the King's (Christian) Bishop. One of the last great Irish "Official Poets", as they were called, was Eochaidh O hEoghusa, who served three successive Maguires, The Lords of Fermanagh, from 1586 to 1602. O hEoghusa retained the traditional rank of the "Ollav", or Kings' Poet, and in most ways, he differed little from his ancient Druid predecessors.

There were also definitely Female Druids as well, and it would seem that, as in most cultures, there were priests, priestesses, monks, nuns and hermits all within the Irish pagan spiritual milieu.

So, would Irish Druidesses be considered "witches" as we understand the English term "witch" today? Probably, but again, there are many different functions for many different types of clerical vocations, and one word used for one period of Irish history, may not mean the same exact thing as applied in a different period of Irish history. An Irish "Wise Woman" and healer/herbologist from the 19th century, like the famous Biddy Early of Clare, may not have been a card carrying member of the Druid Order and hence a "Ban-Draoi" (Druidess), but she certainly was a witch and, in a way, a "priestess" of The Sidh. Was she a healer, a "Fairy Doctor"? Certainly. Was she a Seer? Definitely. Was she a Prophetess? At times. She was mostly known for her healing abilities however, and what becomes clear when looking at the various words used to describe various Irish pagans is that no matter what their varying abilities or educations, they eventually were best called by whatever term best described their most popular ability. Therefore, for someone like Biddy Early, better terms than "Bandraoi" would be: "Fáidhbhean" or "Fáidhmhná"; "Cailleach", Cailleach Feasa", "Cailleach Phiseogach" or "Cailleach na gCear". All of these terms can mean "wise woman" or "witch".

Another problem in choosing terms is that many modern neo-pagan Celtic Witches don't equate Irish "Druidism" with Irish, female oriented "witchcraft". But the problem here is that in the Irish language, they often do!! It's that simple. Because the term in Irish which means Druidism, "Draíodóireacht", has a much broader definition than its modern English counterpart. The Irish worldview of magic, art, poetry and in particular, women, is much more complicated than the view held by the rest of Europe, and this would include their view of witches. There were no witch trials in Ireland, for example, until the Normans came. This doesn't mean there were no Irish witches prior to that, it just means there was no persecution of witches in Irish society, until the foreign, Euro-Normans invaded. Irish society was not as rigidly "categorized" as we today - thinking of it in abstract, historical terms - would like it to be. Since Irish society was so flexible, its views of many things overlap each other in ways which simply don't occur in the modern/neo-pagan/Anglo-centric world, in which we all have to live.

In Irish, there was and is no specific gender based split between male and female magic or magicians, period. "Draíodóir" for example, is an asexual word, *but* more often than not, words in Irish which are associated with creativity, poetry, craft, the supernatural, spirits or magic, have an inherently feminine connotation in them. This is because it was thought that these things all had their source with the Goddess Aíne, also called Anu, Ana and hence "Dana". Aíne is the "Mother of all the gods" and hence the Queen of Magic. The "Tuatha Dé Danann" are literally all Aíne's children. (Tuatha Dé Danann = The Children/Tribe/Family of Dana).

In ancient Celtic cultures, anyone one who had a special skill or "craft" was considered capable of/an inherent practitioner of magical powers. Scáthach, the trainer of CúChullian, was a "martial-witch", I suppose, or at least was clearly a woman practicing magic, mostly through the craft/trade of martial arts. When deciding who is a witch and who isn't in Irish Literature, a dead giveaway is any one characters use of incantational poetry, such as the sort Scáthach composes upon CúChullian's graduation from her Academy.

Which brings me to my next and final point. I mentioned earlier about the Bardic Order. In the older Irish sagas, the terms for poet (fíle, bard, licerd, aes dana, etc), druid (drui), and seer (fáith) are freely mixed and constantly exchange functions. The Irish "world field" concerning poets, seers, druids and magicians (of both genders), are, Irish scholars are coming to realize, virtually interchangeable.

Now, the actual terms themselves....

The most common Irish-English/English-Irish dictionary available in the United States, the "Foclóir Poca" (by An Gum, the state sponsored Irish language publishing house), lists "witch" as: "cailleach, draíodóir mna". "Mna" is a feminine prefix/suffix in Irish like "ban" or "bean" is. The same dictionary defines "witchcraft" as: "draiocht, an ealain dhubh". "ealain" is: "art; science, skill; workmanship, craft". It can also have an underlying feeling of "trickery". So "an ealain dhubh" equals "the black arts", or "the black craft".

The following terms relating to Irish witchcraft and paganism were culled from the Irish-English dictionary "Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla", by Niall ó Dónaill, An Gúm, 1992.


draíocht, f. (gs. & pl. ~a). 1. Druidic art, druidism. Lit: draíochta druadh, druidic arts. 2. Witchcraft, magic, charm, enchantment. Briocht, cochall, clat, ceo ~a, magic spell, cloak, wand, mist. Ceol draíochta, magical, entrancing music. Luacht draíochta, magicians, enchanters. Le draíocht, by magic. draíocht a bheith agat, to have magical powers. draíocht a bheith ort le rud, to be entranced with something. Tá draíocht ar an áit, the place is bewitched. Duine, rud, a chur faoi dhraíocht, to cast a magic spell someone or something. draíocht a chur ar dhuine, to enchant someone. Bheith faoi dhraíocht, to be under a spell. draíocht a chur do dhuine, to cast a charm for someone.

draíodóir = Magician

draíodóir fir = wizard

draíodóir mná = witch, enchantress (also, crafty, sly, person; rogue, hypocrite, trickster; Secretive person)

draíodóireacht = Practice of magic; Sly cunning, hypocrisy, trickery; Secretiveness.

draoighonta = Bewitched, enchanted

draoi = Druid; Wizard, magician; Augur, diviner; Trickster

bandia = Goddess

bandraoi = Druidess

bandraíodóir = Enchantress

banfháidh = Prophetess

banfhile = Poetess

bansagart = Priestess

other "ban" words for your perusal:

banlaoch = Female warrior; heroine

banoide = Tutoress, lady teacher

banfhlaith/banphrionsa = Princess

banríon = Queen

bansióg = Female fairy

banchuire = Band, group, of women

banchosantóir = Protectress

bandáil = Company, assembly, of women

banaltra = Nurse

banchealgaire = Seductive woman, siren


anam = Soul

anamchara = Spiritual advisor

anamachas = Animism

anamimirce = Transmigration of the soul

briocht = Charm, spell; Amulet.

briocht sí, briocht draoi, briocht suain, - fairy, druidic, sleep, charm

briocht a chanadh = to chant a spell

cailleach = Old woman, hag

cailleach feasa = wise woman, fortuneteller

cailleach phiseogach = sorceress, charm-worker

cailleach na gcearc = hag, witch

Leigheas (na) cailli = old woman's remedy

fáidh = 1.) Seer, prophet. 2.) Wise man, sage. 3.) The Fates.

fáidhbhean = Prophetess; wise woman......Another variation is "fáidhmhná"

fáidheadoireacht = Prophesy, prediction.

ealaín = Art, science, skill; craft

An ealaín dhubh = black art

Tá (an) ealaín dhubh aici = she has black magic

Chuir sí an ealaín dhubh air = she bewitched him

piseog = Charm, spell; Superstitious practices, superstition

An déanamh piseog = compounding charms, casting spells

piseogacht = Superstitious practices

piseogaí = Charm-setter, superstitious person

amaid = 1.) Lit: Witch, hag. 2.) Foolish woman. 3.) Simpleton, idiot.


Words associated with poetry and magic:

aos = People, folk

aos dána = Poets

aos ceoil = Musicians

aos treafa = Husbandmen

aos eagna = Intelligentsia

bard = Poet (of certain rank), bard

crosán = Mimic, jester; satirist, scurrilous person

dámh = 1.) Lit: Bardic company; party, retinue. 2.) (With article) The literary caste, followers of the arts. 3.) Faculty.

dámhscoil = Bardic school

dámhchuire = Band of poets, of artists

dán = 1.) Gift, offering. 2.) Craft, calling; allotted task. 3.) Art, faculty; art of poetry. 4.) Poem. 5.) Lot, fate.

dán draíochta = druidic art

dán ceoil = art of music

Fear dána = minstrel, poet

dán diaga = sacred poetry

dán direach = Irish syllabic poetry

dán a chumadh = to compose a poem

fíle = 1.) Poet. ~ ceoil, amhrán, songmaker, lyricist. 2.) Satirist, scold. ~ mna, scolding woman.

ollamh = 1.) Lit: (a) Master-poet, ollave. (b) Master, expert, learned man. ~ seanchais, le seanchas, chief historian. ~ cearda, master craftsman. 2.) Professor. ~ ollscoile. university professor. ~ Gaelige, professor of Irish.



Incidentally, Biddy Early was a native Irish speaker who spoke English; however, the vast majority of her patients were, like her, Irish speakers. They referred to her as a "Wise Woman", a common euphemism for a "White Witch". Biddy constantly admitted that she trafficked with the faeries, and as such, the faeries acted as her "familiars" when she was healing people. As you'll see below, the terms "fáidhbhean", "fáidhmhná" and "cailleach feasa" are all interpreted as "Wise Woman".



For general Pagan beliefs of the Irish:

The Fairy-Faith In Celtic Countries, W.Y. Evans Wentz;

The Middle Kingdom: The Faerie World Of Ireland, Dermot Mac Manus;

The Holy Wells Of Ireland, Patrick Logan; (Also by Logan, Irish Country Cures)

Time Travels Of An Irish Psychic, Sheila Lindsay;

For other accounts of Irish Witches:

Biddy Early: The Wise Woman of Clare, Meda Ryan

Witchcraft In Ireland, Patrick F. Byrne

The Táin, translated by Thomas Kinsella (with only incidental accounts of Irish witches though)

For information on some of the magical folk beliefs (especially witchcraft practiced by women) and practices of the Irish, written by people of the period and not Neo-pagan Americans:

The Farm By Lough Gur, Mary Carbery;

Traits And Stories of The Irish Peasantry, Vol 1 & 2, by Willam Carleton;

For information on the continuation of the magical practices of the Druidic Order through the Bards:

Satirists And Enchanters In Early Irish Literature, Fred Norris Robinson;

The Hidden Ireland, Daniel Corkery;

Medieval Irish Lyrics with The Irish Bardic Poet, James Carney;

For an account of warmongering Druids, medieval tax evaders and an Irish version of an ATF raid, (all of which completely contradicts the mindlessly accepted concept that the Druids were pacifists who never, ever participated in warfare), read:

Forbhais Droma Dámhgháire: The Seige Of Knocklong, Seán ó Duinn; (This same story was also butchered and lied about in the Matthews "Encyclopaedia of Celtic Wisdom", a worthless book if ever there was one.)

For books on the continued paganism inherent in the Irish expression of Roman Catholicism, read:

The Year In Ireland: Irish Calendar Customs, Kevin Danaher;

Occasions of Faith: An Anthropology of Irish Catholics, Lawerence J. Taylor;

Mythic Ireland, Michael Dames;

Renewing The Irish Church, Joe McVeigh;

A Wounded Church, Joe McVeigh;

On Lough Derg, Purcell & Blake;

Saint Patrick's Purgatory, J-M. Picard & Pontfarcy;

Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry, by Carleton (again);

Wisdom Of The Celtic Saints, Edward C. Sellner; (Ed is an acquaintance of mine and is a college professor in Minnesota);

Celtic Christianity Ecology And Holiness, Ed. Christopher Blamford and William Marsh;

The Celtic Alternative: A Reminder of the Christianity we lost, Shirley Toulson;

Celtic Inheritance, Peter Berresford Ellis;

For the Celtic roots of the medieval, Continental European witch cults:

Ecstasies: Deciphering The Witches Sabbath, Carlo Ginzburg;

The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarain Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, Carlo Ginzburg;

Forest Rites: The War of the Demoiselles in Nineteenth-Century France, Peter Sahlins;

Witchcraft in the Middle Ages, Jeffrey Burton Russell (this is about European witchcraft in general, (not Celts) and the religious/political semantics at work in the period.)

For Irish shamanistic traditions:

Sweeney Astray, Seamus Heaney;

All Silver And No Brass: An Irish Christmas Mumming, Henrie Glassie;

The earlier books I mentioned about Lough Dearg and the Sidh/Faeries;

A Celtic Quest: Sexuality and Soul in Individuation, John Layard.

Other good books on shamanism are:

Shamanism: Archaic Techniques Of Ecstasy, Mircea Eliade (the ultimate Shamanism reference book);

Shamans, Healers and Medicine Men, Holger Kalweit;

Dreamtime & Inner Space: The World Of The Shaman, Holger Kalweit

The Way Of The Shaman, Michael Harner;

The Death And Resurrection Show: From Shaman To Superstar, Rogan Taylor;


Other books of interest:

A Guide to Irish Mythology, Daragh Smyth;

Myth, Legend & Romance: An Encyclopaedia Of The Irish Folk Tradition, Dr. Dáithí O hOgáin;

Medieval Ireland The Enduring Tradition, Michael Richter;

The Irish Mind: Exploring Intellectual Traditions, Ed. Richard Kearney;

The Irish Countryman, Conrad Arsenberg;

For concise information on the history of what the British government has actually been doing in Ireland for all these years read:

British Brutality In Ireland, Jack O'Brien;

The Unionjacking Of Ireland, Jack O'Brien;

The Cultural Conquest Of Ireland, Kevin Collins. "

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Considering a Brick and Mortar Pagan Store? Here's the Info you Need to Succeed!

You don't have to re-invent the wheel to start your own pagan store! Pagan merchanting is like most other kinds, but with some very specific products and customers. You can indeed make your living by helping other pagans on their path, but avoid some of the major mistakes that fledgling storeowners make by knowing some of the perils and planning ahead.

A Splash Overview - The Good News and the Bad News: Women have a much higher rate of success in small business than men. Some of the reasons why is that we are trained to think in more multi-dimensional terms, we more realistically assess risk, and take fewer long shots. When we are successful, though, we don't make nearly much money as men's do. And when women's businesses fail, the reasons are very different from why men's fail.

Men's fail, according to stats, by not having enough capital, expanding too early or drawing themselves out too thinly. Not anticipating rent overheads. Things like that. Since women work more on a ratio system, rather than absolute numbers, we almost never have a problem calculating those accurately. Our businesses fail for reasons like trusting a partner or supplier who rips us off and leaves with most of the capital or sticks us with huge bills. Or by health issues, since we are usually the ones to take care of family members. If you understand and prepare for the frailties your style or training may have, and keep a lookout for the appropriate hazards, your business can weather them when they happen.

And they will happen.

You shouldn't expect to make money quickly, and that's good. You should expect to see cash come in quickly, and a lot of it, but it should only go to overhead and more stock for at least the first few months. If you do it correctly, you shouldn't need very much money to start off with, it should need no infusion of cash later, just a small slush fund, and it should start to show a profit and pay for itself in less than six months. If anyone has to get a job to support it, you're not doing it right. It should BE your job.

And now, on to the more common perils of pagan specialty shops in particular...

I know you envisioned them but classes, though always tempting for new pagan store owners, are ONLY a good idea if you have a big space. Big enough to have a bunch of people in to sit down, have coffee, and hang out for an hour. A store crammed with product, and for a new store that's the ideal, means that classes are out until you can manage the room. I would only recommend them after you're established enough for people to trust that you know what the heck you're talking about. And that's a rep issue. You'll only get one shot to impress the locals. If you blow it, your classes will flounder and you'll need a breathing space of about a year before you try them again. Pagans have very long memories. We've had to. Leave all kinds of classes for later, unless, as I say, you really need space filler.

In determining products, it depends on how big your store is, and how much capital you want to toss in. Raw herbs, of medicinal quality, are always excellent. They are very affordable for both you and your customers, take up oodles of space to fill up your store, they prove you care about quality, they are used up quickly, and they're hard to find, so it really encourages customer loyalty. They cross so many markets, from medieval reCreationists to healers to chefs! Get organic if you can. You may have to import, and you may need a license for food quality to repackage them in your store. Check your local bylaws. If you need one, and can't or don't want to get it, there are ways around it. You'll pay a bit more for them, but get someone else who is already licensed to package them for you. Most of the herbs will still be under $5 for 50 grams retail, and many much less. 50 grams is a lot for most herb uses, since they don't usually weigh much. Get medicinal and culinary herbs. That way you'll also have all the ones you need for the cookbook spells from Cunningham. Oops, did I say that?

Essential Oils are a very bad idea to start off with unless you really know how to sell them, and it's a mistake way too many stores make starting out. They require a huge amount of capital. People want a giant selection, and most of the exotics are extremely pricey. And no matter how many different kinds you get in, you will always get people who want you to order something in for them. And if you don't or can't get it, you just lose the customer if you don't have a solid enough relationship with them.

Oils have a limited shelf life, so not selling them is very costly. They hardly take up any room, so you will have a lot of cash in a very small space, which is fine, AFTER you're established. You need very knowledgeable staff to sell them to customers. And they take forever to use up for most people, so they hardly move at first at all. All in all, for a launch, they are one of the worst mistakes you can make. Unless you take all these factors into account.

Incense, however, is a great idea. They move very fast, they are cheap for you and your customers, they take up lots of room, you can get so many different varieties to tempt people to take some home, they are used up very quickly, and they cross all markets. The only thing you have to worry about is the prejudice from customers with allergies making disparaging comments about having incense around. They are reacting to the bad experiences from the poor chemical incense that abounds in most places. I suggest hypoallergenic incense that is just dipped in oils, which is safe for customers with ECS, but even then most folks won't open their minds enough to believe that it doesn't affect them. So be prepared for some grief on the subject. You will be tempted to put them at the back of store. But don't. They sell entirely by scent, so they go at the front, for when customers first come in and just before they leave as an impulse buy.

Candles are halfway between incense and oils. Unless you get high quality beeswax in colours, customers can easily fulfill their magical candle needs in many other places, so most pagan store owners make the plunge into aromatherapy candles. They are as smelly but more expensive than incense, take up almost as much room, almost as hard to sell as oils, and most people don't actually burn the things fast enough to come back and get more. Unless you really know your candles and scents, it's best to avoid these at first.

Jewelry sells itself. You can put it in a vending machine and it will sell. Get as much as you reasonably can, for every type of customer, from wizards to eco-freaks. Jewelry is your biggest asset. Nearly everyone who enters your store will at some point come back for jewelry, but you will only sell a few pieces a year to any one person even if you're lucky. So don't overload on it, but don't ever neglect it. It will pay your rent. Middle quality and price is your best bet, and they go under glass, but right under the customers' noses. Let them drool and covet. They probably won't buy the first time they see it, but they will after they've had time to mull.

Always bank on the women! Women control 85% of household income, so plan for them and make your store women friendly! They are the ones who are searching for enlightenment in a non-establishment, self-directed environment, and they also buy food and treats for their families far quicker than they will indulge their own whims. Decorate accordingly, and seriously consider a children's area and aisles wide enough for pushies and mobility aides. A small children's area means that many women will be able to peruse your books and products for far longer than if their children, grandchildren, or charges get bored. Put up a sign for legal purposes, a few toys and books, and women will bless you for it, even if it takes up a tiny bit of space. It's an Accessibility issue. Same with your counter.

Nothing says intolerance to me than a counter that is 4 or 5 feet high. Get one that is wheelchair and child height to the side of the main counter. And always remember those Accessibility ramps! Where you do not include, you exclude, and those ramps work for strollers as well as other mobility issues. And why would you exclude patronage?

Always consider bus routes and other access in your business plan. It will give you a very good idea of who will be coming in. For example, will you be realistically getting much walk by traffic, or will you have to get your customers to come down specifically to your store? If so, you'll have to budget more for advertising.

Don't expect the pagan community to support you, just 'cause you're pagan. You may be able to get them down there once by that method, as people will be curious, but one of the biggest mistakes that pagan stores make is that they see the community as their only market, and when the pagans don't keep coming back, the store is ruined. If you make it, they will come. But they may never come back.

So consider selling something else that you love, and that is included with your spirituality, but are less pagany products to draw different customers in. Patterns for medieval garb, say, Celtic themed articles, club wear, or ancient Ukrainian art. You already know about it, it's part of your practice, and if you think it's cool, others are bound to as well! If you state it as your primary, it can also help you get a bank loan, because unless you have a pagan lending co-op in your area, the only monies you'll have to start a pagan themed store with is that which you can finagle from family and friends. I, for example, focus on personal and Earth healing as my complement, and here's why...

The new eco-green and organic shops are the wave of the future. Throw in some Earth religion, and you have a segue ushering in the new Civilization! The reason I like them, other than the fact that witches have always been healers and Earth worshipers, even if we don't specialize, is that organic and eco products have a hellova lot more turnover than the pagan stuff. Herbs, foods, personal care products, etc. are low cost items that people need to replace on a regular basis. Another big mistake is the investment in primarily high priced, low turnover products. Pagan books, oils, jewelry and other items important to a pagan shop may bring people in to look, but simply do NOT go flying out of the store. A customer may, if you're very lucky, buy an item a month, even if they come in to read every few days. Always remember that you need products that not only bring people in, but has them buying something every week or so.

If you choose an eco-pagan shop, don't forget the following items. Fair Trade chocolate, coffee, and treats, especially things for baking, is still very hard to find at a reasonable price. Bring in as many kinds as you can, and you'll get known for it in your area, from eco-snackers to chefs. Since snacks and coffee are just luxuries and people expect to pay more for Fair Trade, you'll be tempted to price it high. But resist that temptation. Price it as low as you reasonably can, and still make a profit, and you'll have customers learning that they don't have to have it monthly just as an indulgence. They can make it their regular treat stop for themselves and their families. They will go out of their way to come to your shop! Since treats get eaten quickly, you won't be able to keep them stocked fast enough. Word gets around on things like that...

You'll want a wet bar. Seriously. Genuine eco and personal care products, not the Greenwashed kind, are very hard to find in many places, and the people that purchase them would rather leave as little footprint as possible. Many communities don't have adequate recycling facilities, so those bottles and boxes, even of great eco products, end up in landfills. Give your customers an alternative to filling their land. Bring in their own bottles and containers for their eco cleaning and personal care products! Many companies, like Biovert, Ecover and Dr. Bronner's, sell their products in giant tubs that come with a pump for customers to refill themselves. It's a great draw, and the space you save, not to mention the bottles and boxes themselves, will create a loyal fan base that you'll never lose. Think outside the box!

Consider a reading room. People don't buy if they don't know what to get or ask for. An informed customer is repeat customer. If you encourage it, you'll be a local gathering place for information and activism, like any pagan or eco refuge. Your customers will become your advertising. Let them put up posters, hang out drinking fair trade coffee, have your reading room stuffed with their flyers and mags that you can't find in many other places. Like Mother Earth News, Harrowsmith, and Organic Gardening. They'll come back in every month just to use your reading room! And eat some fair trade treats...

Keep in mind of course, that lots of customers will not be patronizing you because of the paganism, UNLESS you make the atmosphere positive in a spiritual but non-wiccan freaky way. Good colors, for example, with the witchcraft books and other items on a completely different end of the store. If you make it non-threatening to those who might otherwise eventually stick their nose in the pagan section, they may in fact pop by to pick up their other more weekly purchases. Customers have oodles of choices these days. The only way you'll keep them is being different than the rest of the crowd.

One of your biggest assets is your staff. Even if it's you. A monkey can sell pagan items, especially jewelry. You'll hear people say, "It just called to me and I had to have it." Not so with other kinds of products. You need staff who can do it all. Someone who impresses the customers enough that they want to recommend your shop to everyone. Word of mouth is not counted nearly enough, but in this kind of community, it can really make or break a store.

The little witchling staffers aren't usually the ticket, as they generally don't inspire confidence. You'll get lots applying though, who are begging to work for almost no money, just for perks. In this case, you get exactly what you pay for. Same with family and friends who volunteer to take care of your shop. Resist the temptation of free labour. Not only can you not fire them easily, but volunteers rarely have the buy-in of a paid staff member, and it only takes one surly, inattentive, or clueless encounter for a customer to decide that your place isn't one they want to support. In business, free is almost always too expensive.

No matter what products you finally choose, don't make the markup mistake! Grocery stores know this, and so should you. Milk and rice do not have the markup that microwave pizza has. Everything is not two times cost. Profit margins vary. Items that people come back for more often or have low value added have a lower price margin from items that people save up for a few times a year or are highly processed. Herbs for example are about 1.2 or 1.3 times cost, books are usually 2 and clothing can be three or more.

Don't lose money, but don't overprice. If your herbs and incense are the same price or even cheaper from the whole foods store down the street, then you will not only will you make a profit, you will thrive! Very few things will kill a store faster than the impression of gouging your customers, and that will never happen if the products they are used to viewing and purchase often are priced cheaply...

That covers some of the basics. I've been a merchant for many years and I am planning on opening a new brick and mortar pagan eco-store in next year myself. Witches were the traditional purveyors of all kinds of products; from health and healing, to cosmetics, to charms and spells. That's how they made their living when someone wasn't dying or giving birth. My personal mission is take back our heritage from the pharmaceuticals, oil industry and organic chemists, and provide bio-safe and sustainable products once again! If you decide to take the plunge, I hope this article is of some small assistance, and that your venture goes as well as I believe mine will.

Reprinted from my Witchvox article:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What really happened with the Poly motion at the Green Party convention.

(Detailed informational links below)

I sent this blow-by-blow to a Green member list to give you some idea what happened from my own perspective. The Greens are fiercely democratic and any small group can put together a motion for us all to vote on and discuss. If you really want to make a difference in Canada, become a card-carrying Green! I can say that with upmost confidence...

And just for the record, the media really DO hear what they want to hear, and it's usually sensational. I said "I'm a member of the poly community" and "my husband will be most put out that I didn't consult him before I made these speeches." What I meant of course was I hadn't had time to give him a heads-up that I was exposing some of our private views in a public forum. What some bored and nasty reporters heard was a confession to having an affair! In a convention, no less! When a story isn't good enough, just make it up, I suppose... That's what can happen when you aren't using the same playbook... Definitions

This was entirely an internal democracy issue, and does not in any way reflect the Party's position on any other policy. Rather mundane, all things considered... The resolution was submitted by a small group of well-meaning students from York University who had heard of the criminalization of poly and wanted to do something about this obvious discrimination. They were not acting on anyone's behalf, they did not consult with the poly community ahead of time, nor they did not clarify the language in their motion. Though their hearts in the right place, they were in essence completely clueless to the implications of their motion to the community they wished to protect and the Party itself.

I have been a polyactivist long before I was a Green Party candidate, and therefore felt it was my duty to attend the workshop for this motion, since I was one of the few people who could speak reasonably to the problems at hand. One other Green polyactivist had come from even further away than I had to speak on the motion since it was so vital for him to address it. However, the resolution was so badly worded that the original motion was "decriminalize polysexual", which is something else entirely. I was able to help clarify the language somewhat, but in an hour and half, the learning curve was just too great to iron out all the flaws in the wording. I did my very best to ensure that the sponsors of the motion had some grasp of the issues involved, as well as the implications for the Party. They went with "Decriminalizing polyamoury", which is still correct, but not what they really intended. Polyamoury is only illegal if it's in a committed relationship, and usually living together. The more committed, the more illegal. If you're just sleeping around, that's just fine, but don't make families out of it. I'm pretty confident that the intent of the motion was to protect poly families, so the wording rather failed in that... We were able to make some progress with the motion which was then voted on and it was adequately reworked enough to survive a vote and present to the party, while doing damage control with the ham-fisted language and implications. It still did not cover what the sponsors originally wanted, but they didn't know enough to know that...

A few reporters arrived during the lively, if small, debate of about 20 people and we voted on whether they should be there. I saw nothing unusual in that, but this was my first BGM, and didn't know that it was not common. There was no "highjacking" by a small wing-nut group, nor was it a "closed session". The drama queens that started that rumour and convinced a reporter of that wild accusation should all know better. The Sun reporter asked me for an interview after the session, and I took the hit, since I was one of the most experienced members on this issue. I thought if she were going to get someone's thoughts on it, I'd do one of the best jobs. The story was very fair but exposed my private life far more than I had intended for national media, and the reporter in question has since apologized to me and retracted a bit of the story. She admitted later that even she didn't realize the implications of what the criminalization of this lifestyle can do to families and was hardily sorry for causing me such distress. I didn't even get a chance to consult with my husband on this great impact on his life, and I'm very grateful he's still talking to me, since none of our extended family knew anything about this before now.

When this motion was presented for plenary, obviously, now that my head was in the noose, it behooved me to speak. In for a penny and all... When it was my turn, I don't even remember which of the facts that I usually use in my improvised speech. I had had almost no time to prepare but I have so many points that I often discuss. I only had two minutes. I don't remember if I pointed out that nearly all Native cultures were almost entirely poly in some form or another before the imposition of Christianity and it's enforced monogamy. I know I was passionate about the impact on children who are taken from their homes or where custody is altered due to a parent's poly lifestyle, but I don't think I brought up other legal issues like family health insurance, estates, or who gets to visit in hospitals; the very same issues that the LBGT community had up until a very few years ago. I mentioned the monotheistic monogamy, as opposed to the polytheistic polyamoury, as well as the global and historic precedent for poly in nearly all traditional cultures. The human rights aspect of this cannot be understated, as it relates to religion, culture, language, and family groups, as well as so many legalities, I argued, but the problems of the wording of the motion could not be ignored. Though I very much supported the spirit, the language was inaccurate, incomplete, and did not reflect consultation with the community it was intended to protect.

Since we had voted down many motions that weekend already whose language were not adequate to the intent of the resolution, I knew that this one would also in all probability suffer the same fate, and I was not mistaken. The point may soon be moot, however, as the Charter challenge has been undertaken by the poly community in the newly formed Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association. By the time it makes it to the Supreme Court of Canada, it should nicely co-incide with the next BGM and hopefully we won't be left behind in the dust of other parties shouting their support for poly and human rights.

I also had the very great privilege of having the trust of many, many Greens coming out as poly to me after the resolution, but most will not take the step of identifying as such, since some are very highly placed in the Party. I think there are more polys in the Greens than most, what with our commitment to justice and all... Though rarely has anyone been charged, poly is still criminalized with draconian heavy-handed wording, so it is therefore considered immoral and none of them as yet will take the risk of coming out of the closet. Polys hide like rats as it is right now, and it's hard to get out of the habit, especially when your job, kids, extended family, and home are at risk. I also took on the task of answering the many questions on the motion posed to me by other Greens not in the community who wished to learn more and spent much of my time on that humble duty.

The dialog will not be stopped now and I am deeply honoured to have played my small part in these events by helping to move forward the conversation of poly rights in Canada. It has been a great strain on my family and our relationships but my work with the Greens has always been the most rewarding and effective work I have ever done.

If you wish further reading on the topic, I provide more links on poly cultures below. And please remember, that when any family from the many poly cultures around the world immigrates to Canada, they must give up more than those from monogamous cultures. They have to pick one spouse and their children, leaving the rest behind forever. More than two adults are unlawful, after all... I can't imagine how that *wouldn't* be a human rights issue, quite frankly...

Today, most Americans think of monogamy as the "normal" form of marriage. But as it turns out, strictly monogamous practices are in the minority. In fact, cultures that practice some form of polygamy outnumber monogamous cultures by the hundreds [ref].

Poly orgs and groups in North America:

Poly blog:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Colours of Magic, Racism, and Reclaiming Traditional Balance

At the Standing Stone altar...
I believe Wicca has done the world a great disservice in the modern labeling of magic. Not that magic types shouldn't be labeled. It's very helpful to categorize when one is looking for reference material in a library for example, or to indicate who might be a better match to work with. And colours designations themselves are not the problem per se. Colours to describe forms of magic are traditional all over the world. However, the current use of colour terms has some very unpleasant connotations and perpetuate associations that we as spiritual practitioners must acknowledge and be aware of, especially if we decide that we must deal with the issues they present.

"White" magic is by implication almost the only desirable magic nowadays. Many practitioners, especially those who are new, go out of their way to explain that they practice only white magic. One can only assume it is because this colour has implications in English that is consistent with the image Wiccan writers and leaders wished to perpetuate. White is by implication, then, desirable, clear, pure, shining, and filled with light. And practiced by Whites. "Black" magic, on the other hand, is undesirable, dark, sinister, and practiced by the unscrupulous victimizers. And Black. These same implications have also applied to the possessors of the skin colour called "black". But why not "constructive and destructive"? Or "positive and negative"? Or even "yin" and "yang"? By the most powerful suggestions, then, the practice of Wicca has translated into delineations along racial lines. How many 'whites' can imagine a 'black' Wiccan vehemently denying that they practice 'black' magic, and only practice 'white' magic? What exactly is wrong with 'black' magic, then? And doesn't that have implications on the colour of their skin? With current usage, if I say "Black witch" or "White witch", do you know if I'm referring to the type of the practitioner's magic or the colour of their skin? By these associations, does that mean that Red magic is only practiced by North American natives? Or Yellow magic by Asians? What about Brown? Green magic must only be for space aliens...[1]

There is of course a long tradition of associating Black and Night with fear and negativity, in the Western World especially, but it becomes greatly exaggerated with the advance of Xianity and the suppression of paganism, particularity women's traditions. Modern Witchcraft, in it's evolution of thealogy, can draw upon other rich traditions and classic depictions of magic, and does not need to perpetuate the popularized Xian view of magic that associates black with harm, evil, and Satan. I accuse the newcomer Wicca as the primary source of the infection, because much of the rest of the pagan world still goes by an older system, the traditional three "gunas" found for thousands of years in most cultures. They represented the three aspects of the Goddess in her Creatrix/Virgin, Preserver/Mother, and Destroyer/Crone modes, distinguished by White, Red and Black. Being of the Celtic persuasion, when I have used those colour designations, I envision the Creatrix magic as primarily Bardic and Inspirational. Red magic is the Preserver, so I see healing, love, etc. Most cultures place fertility in this colour, although a few reasonably place this in White for birth. I guess it depends what result one hopes for. Black Destroying Crone is for battles, curses, balancing the scales, removal of cancerous circumstances or images, or the destruction of other things that have outgrown their usefulness and need to be replaced.

It is nearly impossible to discuss and manifest balance in the world with the inadequate and limiting nomenclature of the Wiccan White and Black. The White=Good, Black=Bad presents us with a very unsophisticated tool to represent our spirituality. The traditional gunas give much more freedom to our thealogy. Black, White, and Red magics have negative and positive forces in them that must be explored by the seeker. There is positive and negative destruction. Without destruction, there is no creation. The pure blank page must be destroyed to write poetry on it. The crumbling building must be destroyed before a new one can be built to house a family. The remains of last night's dinner must be put on the compost to rot and create new soil. There is negative creation. There are many ideas, constructions, and institutions that have mostly caused harm in the world, and would have been better had they never been created. Red magic negativity can express itself in harmful relationships or love obsessions, or in healing that truly believes interventions on unwilling subjects is 'for their own good'. Such unsophisticated terms also reduce our ability to deal with destruction as good and necessary, and creation as not always the best choice. As women, it reduces our power to deal with destruction in any reasonable manner, leaving us with far less skill or experience to tackle issues under the Destroyer auspices even in our own lives, such as marital arts or abortion. This is what the Goddess in all her aspects is really about: expressing and celebrating our power as women, in all it's dread and magnificent forms.

If we are to use a system of colour classification to broadly describe certain specializations and preferences, and I personally find it can be quite elegant and robust, there are many conventions to draw upon. Brown usually speaks of animals and other nature magic. Blue is most often Water and it's creatures. Purple is considered more on the astral plane: like travel and divination. The Indigo Children or Tribe are often said to be such. I know a Red Witch who absolutely emits sexual karuna energy, and my apprentice is envisioning herself as a Red and Brown witch. She is learning the aspects of healing, for horses and other animals as well as humans. I have heard of Orange, Lavender, Mauve, and other forms of specialization, but I'm not as clear on what their particular areas of interest are. I use Green magic to describe the primary form I focus on, that is, healing, herbs, kitchen witchery, environmental work, etc. By implication, it is seen as primarily positive. Using that to designate myself gives those who don't know me an excellent basis for how I work and what my interests are. It has helpful thealogy aspects to meditate on and I find it inherently more useful than the term "White". As well as not perpetuating any nasty stereotypes.

Green Magic is in fact a great example of the ongoing evolution of the Colour System. Green Witchcraft as a term is far more recognized than it was even ten years ago. It's almost become an agreed upon designation. That didn't come overnight, nor without controversy, and it was not in wide use until very recently. I believe that this helps demonstrate several important points: that the interest in colour designation will not fade away, that we can choose to alter the current uses, and that we can agree upon and transform colour terminology to best reflect our practices of magic and our philosophies. The Colour System does not, will not, and should not go out of use, but we can change those aspects of the modern designations that are non-traditional to witchcraft and offensive to our egalitarian philosophies.

One of the other significant benefits to the Colour System is one not widely practiced currently, but again gaining in popularity. Since many witches dedicated to a particular type of magic will often find they are most comfortable with that colour around them, they will occationally find that an aspect of their religious practice is to wear only those hues. Rather than finding it limiting, it is a vibrant expression of their spiritual practice and dedication that they can take with them in their day-to-day living, as well as provide a meditative concept. It has the same discipline as religious dietary regimes and other spiritual practices. If during the training as pagan nuns, they dedicate themselves to a Colour of Magic, I encourage them to explore the rather radical discipline of dressing in only those colours as part of their spiritual practice; in effect being garbed as a nun all the time, even if those around you never know. Some will even begin to dream that they need to have those colours enfold them. Most who take on this discipline usually choose one particular shade of their colour, and almost always mix it with Black, often seen as the traditional colour of witchcraft itself. Some use a few more colours, to indicate their different preferences. A symbolic metal will often also be selected for jewellry and accents. Gold and gold-like metals such as brass is usually for the sun and masculine energy. Silver is for the moon, of course, and copper is traditionally associated with Venus, Love, and Red Magic. White Gold would be a combination of Silver and Gold aspects, Red Gold with Copper and Gold, Bronze is often used by warriors, etc...

I personally have taken on this practice for decades. I have only worn the Colours of Dark Green, Black, and Silver since the mid-90's when I dedicated myself to living my Craft every moment of the day. With this discipline, I am constantly a Green Witch, and I am always displaying that concept to myself and those around me. For those of you who would worry about being seen as even more of a weirdo in dedicating yourself to your Craft in that way, the rest of the world, including some who have known me for years, don't usually notice the perpetual colour choices of a wardrobe. Unless it's only one colour, for some reason... I've also saved an incredible amount of money on clothes, since everything I purchase goes with everything else, and I always look put together, for the same reason. Imagine going into your closet blindfolded and coming out matching! It's really a dream...

I am obviously a huge fan of the Colour System, and find it wonderfully helpful in my own practices and assisting my students find where their own interests might lie. It is a traditional, valuable, and vibrant part of our heritage. When considering the negative, positive, and possibly neutral aspects of each colour, the Colour System gives rise to a very robust and intricate system of designations that can help us accurately define our theaologies with beauty. However, there are some serious flaws in how the Colour System is currently being used in modern Paganism. As it is in the process of evolving, it can be deliberately altered to more suit our needs as a spiritual tool, yet without continuing to perpetuate the stereotypes of the English language or our practices, to ourselves and the general public. To do this, it is vital that we insist upon purging the racism and self-loathing in the current use of the terms "White Magic" and "Black Magic", and instead begin to explore the more traditional aspects of those colours, and how they might better serve our modern sophisticated ideas of magic, it's practitioners, and our philosophies. I, for one, look forward to the day when our designations evolve to a more sophisticated level; when I can speak of magic without someone fearfully interjecting, "But you only practice White Magic, right?"

No. No, I don't. 

Footnotes and further reading:

"Red, white, and black are the main sacred colors in Zulu symbolism. In combination, as particularly in the clothing of diviners, who also code medicines as white, black, or red (Ngubane 1977), these colors suggest an understanding of the universe and the cycle of life within it. White is associated with the ancestors, concepts of purity, calm, and good intentions, and light and divine enlightenment. In some contexts, black represents darkness, evil, death, and defilement. In other contexts, black is linked to the ancestors and carries positive connotations-it evokes the dark rain clouds necessary for the sustenance of life, for example, and Zulu pots, some sculptural objects, and the leather skirt of marriage are blackened to please the ancestors. Red is the color of blood, menstruation, and fertility, and red ochre is strongly associated with the earth and women and their fertility; white clay is associated with the ancestors (Berglund 1989)."

"Ornamentation of everyday use items seemed to be an obligatory component of their creation. Earthenware, ceramics, pottery, tools, vessels, dishes, pottery moulds, internal walls of houses (as shown by clay models) all exhibit a compulsory ornamentation: painted in varying earth-colours, such as white, red, ochre and black, and sometimes carved with incisions or encrusted. The decoration of items or spaces are geometrical incorporating symbols of nature (sun, moon, stars, rain, birds, trees, branches, seeds, flowers, water) and with magical symbols of the supernatural world (the eternal circle, teeth, rhombus, crosses, endless meanders, snake-patterns, lines) are so universal and repeated, that it is unlikely that the decorations were random or coincidental. Umansky believes that these ornament-symbols are of two types: “those aiding to find food and to grow crops, and those protecting people and the results of their labour”. He notes that “some items carried both the symbols of fertility and of protection, intertwined in an integral picture of the cosmos”. Videiko also supports the idea of using ornamentation as a form of protection: “the floor and the walls were painted with red and white colours and decorated with geometrical ornamental patterns to protect the inhabitants from evil spirits” (The Trypillian Culture: Introduction)."

"Graves gives the colours white, red, and black as the colours symbolic of the moon goddess. These are moon colours because the full moon is white; the moon appears red in certain atmospheric conditions and solar eclipses, and black just before the new moon. In occult tradition, white symbolises the goddess as Spring; red is Aphrodite, and black the death aspect of the goddess, say Atropos (the third of the Fates)." 4