Posted in Holy Days

Autumn Equinox Traditions

The Autumn Equinox has been called the Witches’ Thanksgiving. It is the second (middle) of the three harvest festivals, beginning with the First Harvest and ending with Samhain, or the Last Harvest. The first harvest marked the beginning of the grain and small fruit harvest as well as the cutting and replanting of cool weather crops, such as those in the cabbage family. The Autumn Equinox marks the tree fruit harvest. Apples, plums, pears and more. The activity of this harvest is a visit to the Cider Mill. Oh yea. I don’t like donuts, but when you go to the cider mill, it’s all about cider and donuts. Yum. And our favorite cider mill has apple cider slushies and just happens to hold a festival at just the right time for our Autumn Equinox celebration.

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While we’re there, we load up on fresh apples (maybe we pick ’em, maybe we buy ’em pre-picked) to add to the haul from our singular and ancient apple tree and a few jugs of cider, which freezes well. At home, we make apple butter and mulled cider and fill the house with the sweet, spicy aroma. Apple butter freezes, and it’s great on yogurt, waffles and pancakes and as a side for potato and cottage cheese pierogis.

Most exciting about the Autumn Equinox is that once it’s out of the way, it’s time to start thinking about Halloween– Our favorite holiday.

This festival is also called Mabon and Harvest Home.

Pick Something

When we lived in the city, we used to enjoy driving out to the country and going apple picking for the equinox. Now, we live on a farm and we pick things all the time. So, when we go to the apple orchard, it’s not exciting to us to pick other peoples’ things. Why pay to do work we could do for free at home? And they don’t cost less if you pick them yourself, either! I checked! What’s up with that? BUT, if you don’t have your own fruit trees, you and your kids should certainly take the time to spend a few hours at a you-pick orchard near you to commune with the trees and gain some insight into the work that goes into gathering these crops. It will build appreciation and gratitude for the trees and the farm workers. It’s also good exercise out in the fresh air and sunshine and lots of talking can be done while picking. You can find a U-Pick orchard near you at www.pickyourown.org/

Give Thanks

The Autumn Equinox is call the Pagan (or Witches) Thanksgiving, so why not have a Thanksgiving celebration. Even if you don’t have a big special meal (I don’t, who has time this time of year?), you can take a few minutes before your meal to say a prayer and have everyone discuss what they’re thankful for. Perhaps do something craftsy that you can leave up as a decoration through the rest of the season, like maybe a tree with paper leaves that everyone wrote their gratitude on.

Honor the Darkness

During the Autumn Equinox, the sun is directly over the equator and the day and night are of equal length, but after the Autumn Equinox the days are shorter than the nights. This festival marks the beginning of the dark half of the year. So, at sunset, perhaps you could say a little prayer or meditation or have a little ritual to mark that.

Do Your Autumn Cleaning

Spring cleaning gets all the press but autumn cleaning is just as important. You need to have your furnace serviced, change various filters, pull out and wash all your long johns and winter coats, fluff up your sweaters and put away your booty shorts and bikinis. Make sure your snow shovel (plow, blower) is in good working order and maybe buy a couple bags of road salt, check the condition of your tires and maybe have your car serviced while you’re at it. It might not be time to put plastic on the windows yet, but maybe you should check the weather sealing and caulk. When you’re all done with that, do a little house blessing ritual if you haven’t lately. Is all the energy in there right now the energy you want to be shut in for winter with?

Shed What You Don’t Need

Take a tip from the trees and get rid of what you don’t need. While you’re doing your autumn cleaning, pack up some stuff and donate it- your kids don’t fit in any of last year’s winter stuff anyway. As part of your Autumn Equinox observation, maybe you’d like to write some things you’d like to do away with on pieces of paper or on leaves (or paper leaves, whatever) that you toss into your fire. I know, that’s a lot of paper leaves…

Stock Up on What You Do Need

Take stock of your supplies and be ready for winter emergencies. Do you have enough working flashlights and batteries? Enough food for a couple days, in case it becomes too dangerous to drive?

Posted in Book of Shadows, Kitchen Witch Corner

Using Herbs for Magick

Herblore or Wortcunning is often closely associated with Witchcraft in the public imagination and indeed many witches are also experts in using plants for magical and healing purposes- but not all. So I just want to say before we begin, that if you’re not into plants, you can still practice magick without them and you don’t have to be a plant expert to use them effectively in your magick. Witchcraft does not equal herblore and vice versa. As there are plenty of herbalists who do not practice magick, there are lots of magick users who don’t practice herbcraft. However, because we do not practice magick in a vacuum, every magick-user benefits from a basic introduction to the use of plants in magick. If you are interested in learning more, this will be the subject of my next online course.

First, let us define what an herb is. In botany, an herb is a leafy plant, not a woody plant. An herbaceious plant, not a tree or shrub. But in magick, as well in the culinary world, an herb is a useful plant. Garden Sage and rosemary are both technically shrubs, as they get woody as they mature, but for our purposes, they are herbs because they are useful, a chef would agree and so would an aromatherapist and a traditional healer.

10 Ways to Use Plants in Magick

  1. Use their fragrance Fragrance is used in magick to set the mood and also because it is believed that Gods and spirit beings, who have no need for food, still appreciate an agreeable fragrance. Plant material is used to make incense and some spells and other rituals specify specific incense combinations. Some magic-users make their own incense, but those who do not wish to do so have many options for purchasing quality incense online and in local metaphysical shops. In addition to incense, plants lend their scent to our magic work via essential oils which can be added to dressing oil or dropped into diffusers and sometimes added to candles to release their scent as they burn. Potpourri can also bring fragrance to your altar.
  2. Fumigation Fumigation is purification by means of smoke. Dried plant material is burned either whole or incorporated into incense and the resulting smoke is wafted through the area to purify it of specific or general unwanted energies. You can use a feather or fan to move the smoke around, or pass an item directly through the smoke. Frankincense, sage, cedar, pine and thyme are good fumigation herbs, though there are many suitable options. Remember when burning herbs that smoke is always toxic to a certain degree and ventilation is important.
  3. Potions and such The word “potion” refers to a concoction with magical (or seemingly magical) properties. These are often made with herbs but minerals are sometimes also included. Most modern witches mix our potions using herbs with known or reputed physical properties, relying on chemistry as much as magick, but herbs can also be combined according to planetary and elemental correspondences to bring those energies to the body. It is important, of course, to ensure that the herbs used are safe for human consumption. Potions are generally decoctions, infusions or tinctures, though very serious herbalists and alchemists might prepare a much more complicated spagyric elixir.
  4. Herbal washes Herbal floor washes are popular among Hoodoo practitioners and available in many Hoodoo shops down South. Washing an area with these infusions diluted in water brings the magical energy of the herbs to the space. Many traditions, including Hoodoo, use herbal infusions to wash people and objects to cleanse them of unwanted energies or attract desirable energies.
  5. Take a bath Like an herbal wash, a nice long soak in an herbal infused bath can bring magic to your very being. You can also make soaps or bath salts scented with herbs or their essential oils for your magical baths. I especially like to use this method for cleansing spells, infusing herbs into oil and mixing the oil with salt to make a salt scrub to rub on my skin, cleansing my body and my aura, then all the junk goes right down the drain.
  6. Hang them up The use of plants for decoration is pretty common and many magic users like to display herbs around their space to bring in the magical energy of the herbs. These can be done in the form of wreaths, swags, bouquets, pressed herbs in a picture frame or dried herbs in a glass ball.
  7. Wear them You can wear herbs and flowers in a corsage or a boutonniere, tuck it into your hair or make a wreath to wear around your head to bring the magic of your chosen plants into whatever you are doing.
  8. Make a talisman Herbs and other objects are often placed in a piece of cloth to carry with you. Some will wear these on a cord around their neck, or just put it in their pocket. You can also keep it in your car or in your desk at work if you need the magic there. Different traditions call these different things, like juju bags, mojo bags, or simply magical sachets.
  9. Powders Herbs and other materials ground into fine powders are used extensively in Hoodoo. They may be sprinkled where someone is expected to walk or into their shoes or clothing. Herbal powders are also used as candle dressing for candle magic spells.
  10. Plant them in and around your house A growing plant can bring desirable energy into your environment and protect it from harmful energy. For example, a thorny hedge between you and your grumpy neighbor can help break up any unfriendly energy he sends to you without doing him any harm. I love roses for this. You can read my article Housewarming House plants for some examples of how you can use houseplants inside your home.

Where to Get Your Herbs

Herbs for magick are readily available in retail establishments as well as in your environment, but where you acquire them has a lot to do with your attitude toward them. If you are simply buying herbs because a spell calls for them, but you’re not really into herbs at all, you’ll probably want to acquire them from your local metaphysical shop or an online retailer. Many herbs can be purchased at your local grocery store, and this may be okay with you, or you may be concerned about the energetic environment of the grocery store interfering with your herb’s energetic signature. If you are really into herbs and you are very concerned about maintaining the natural energies of your herbs and ensuring their potency, you may wish to grow them yourself or wild harvest them from your environment.

Growing Magical Herbs

Growing your own herbs for magical use allows you to develop an intimate relationship with your herbs that allows you to use them in a more intuitive way. Many herbs common to spellwork can easily be grown in a garden or a pot. I recommend that if you are new to gardening, you start small with one or two plants that you find particularly useful or interesting either in pots or in a special spot in your garden. Some really easy plants to start common garden sage, which will grow into an attractive shrub if you let it, rosemary, which can’t tolerate extended periods of cold but does well in a pot and thyme which is nigh unkillable once it gets started. Each of these has a long history of healing and magical uses and have their established place in the kitchen as well.

Wild harvesting Magical Herbs

Most herbs grow quite easily in the garden or in a pot in the house, but some prefer a natural environment and are notoriously tricky to domesticate. Wild harvesting may be necessary for these. If you choose to gather herbs from the wild, you must make sure that you do so responsibly. Some herbs are endangered due to habitat loss and some are easily killed by damage inflicted during collection. When you collect wild herbs, do so thoughtfully by following 3 simple rules:

1. Collect legally. Know who owns the land you are collecting on and get permission to collect. Make yourself aware of what plants are protected in the area and do not collect those!

2. Know your plant and harvest it in a way that does minimal damage to the living organism.

3. Leave more plants behind than you walk away with.

Herbal Cooperation

Many witches believe it is important to get permission from a plant and/or leave an offering at the time of harvest. These are nice thoughts, but they should be secondary to the more practical considerations I’ve outlined above. It is important to be respectful of the plant spirit and any land spirits involved, but it is much more disrespectful to overharvest and damage wild populations than it is to forget to ask permission or leave an offering.

To ask permission Different witches use different means to ask permission to harvest a plant. Some have a prayer or chant that they use each time and others simply sit and meditate with the plant to connect with its energy. If the energy feels positive, they accept the permission and proceed with the harvest

Leaving offerings or gifts A gift may be well appreciated by the local nature spirits or fairies. Many people leave pretty crystals or food offerings, I have also known people to write poetry on little slips of paper, read it aloud and leave the slip of paper behind. The most important thing to remember here is not to leave anything that could damage the environment. Food offerings are likely to be eaten by the local wildlife and we know, for example, that chocolate isn’t healthy for many non-human animals, so it should be avoided here as should processed foods that can make animals sick. Very small amounts of alcohol are generally safe, but remember that large amounts poured into the ground may kill important microorganisms and damage delicate roots. Salt can also destroy the fertility of the soil and so should be treated with care. Any other items should be limited to those that will safely biodegrade, or benefit the environment. A seed bomb containing seeds of the plant you are harvesting would be perfect, but take care not to drop seeds of invasive species!




Posted in Book of Shadows

Doing it by the Moon

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As Witches, we often time our magical activities according to the phases of the moon and the positions of the other heavenly bodies, but Witches aren’t the only ones. Generations of farmers have been timing their planting and livestock activities according to these considerations as well. Both your Witches Almanac and the Farmer’s Almanac provides the best days for various activities relying on zodiac considerations. The activities may differ, but the considerations align quite well.

The first thing that needs to be considered is the Sun.  The position of the sun in relation to the Earth isn’t generally addressed in the Almanac when calculating “best days”. This is probably because, unlike the moon’s phases, the sun’s (perceived) position is quite variable from place to place and what that means is variable too. If you live in the Midwest, the summer solstice is happening just a few weeks after you get your crops in. In other areas, the crops go in at the Spring Equinox and in other areas, you plant during the dark half of the year because it’s just too hot in the summer to be planting. Witches also have many Sun-based things we do. We have harvest celebrations, and the Feast of the Dead as the days start to get shorter and more parties as the days start to get longer- and we do magick for our ancestors during the darker time, and magick for increase as the days go longer. Since most Neo-Pagan ritual cycles are based on agricultural calendars, it’s really no surprise that there are parallels.

The other significant body in the sky is the Moon. There are two things we look at when choosing the best days to do things according to the cycles of the moon and that is the lunar phases, from dark to full to dark again, and the passing of the moon through the various signs of the zodiac. The moon passes through all the signs during each cycle but starts on a different sign each month, so that throughout the year you get all combinations of phases and cycles.

Let’s begin with the moon phases.

Since the moon obviously has an effect on water, evidenced by the correspondence ocean tidal behavior to lunar phases, we extrapolate that the moon also has an effect on smaller concentrations of water, such as those within the soil, and other liquids like body fluids. According to the agricultural lore, as the moon grows fuller, liquids flow more freely and as it wanes they become more restricted. Thus, planting seeds during the waxing moon encourages them to take on water and sprout, if you’re trying to conceive, the full moon is going to be the best time for semen motility (though you have to match up with ovulation, of course), but if you’re having surgery or having a tooth pulled, you probably would prefer your blood not flow too freely so you’ll want to do it during the waning period as close to the dark moon as possible.

The Witchcraft lore tells us that the waxing moon is the time for drawing spells and spells of increase, while the waning moon is best for banishing or overcoming problems. And this is paralleled by the lore that trimming hair or pruning a plant to keep it short should be done during the waning moon, but if you want to encourage vigorous growth, it should be done during the waxing moon. The idea that the full moon is good for fertility is also mirrored in Witchcraft lore since Witches often choose to perform our most important work under the full moon, believing it gives energy to the work.

The other consideration is the question of what sign the moon is passing through.  There are two ways this is generally looked at. The first thing to consider is the element the rules the sign and the second is the body part that is ruled by the sign. This will seem more complicated, but once you understand the connections you will see it is quite intuitive.

Below I have listed all the signs in order. You will see that the elements sort of cycle through the signs in order and that each sign rules a body part, beginning at the head and moving down to the feet.

Aries          Fire      Head
Taurus       Earth    Neck
Gemini       Air        Arms and Lungs
Cancer        Water   Stomach and Breasts
Leo               Fire      Heart
Virgo            Earth   Upper Abdomen/Small Intestine
Libra           Air       Kidneys and Veins
Scorpio       Water  Gonads and Lower Intestine
Saggitarius Fire      Thighs
Capricorn   Earth    Knees and Bones
Aquarius    Air        Shins and ankles
Pisces          Water   Feet

As the moon moves through each sign, the body part ruled by that sign is most sensitive to healing or harm, or whatever you want to do to it. So, if you are going to have surgery or a massage or a healing spell cast to benefit a certain body part, you might want to choose a day when the moon is passing through the ruling sign for that body part.  I have also heard it said that it is also suitable to perform the work in any sign that affects a lower body part because the energy flows in through the head and will pass through on the way.

While the individual signs correspond to human and animal parts, the elements correspond to plant parts. Earth is Root, Air is Flower, Fire is Seed, and Water is Leaf. This tells you what sorts of plants respond best to which sign. Those grown primarily for their roots should be planted and transplanted on an Earth day, those grown primarily for their flowers on an air day and so on.  There are exceptions and nuances, but it’s a general rule.

In addition to indicating plant body parts, the elemental correspondences indicate certain qualities of the energy of the sign. This is something we’re all familiar with.

Earth- Root – Dry and fruitful
Earth signs are good for planting to encourage root development and also good for casting magical spells for practical things related to survival. Food, money, shelter, etc.

Fire- Seed- Barren and dry
Fire signs are best for planting grains, beans and fruit as well as for pruning and harvesting fruit for long-term preservation, as they will dry out and moisture causes spoilage. For magick, fire energy is purifying and energizing and it’s good for destroying obstacles.

Air – Flower- Barren and Dry
Air signs are good for planting flowers, aromatic herbs and vines (especially Libra) and also to get the garden ready for planting. (I put in my herb garden during the New Moon in Gemini.) Air energy is the energy of wisdom, justice and communication in magic.

Water- Leaf- Wet and fruitful
Water signs are good for planting and transplanting anything grown for its leaves, like lettuce and cabbage. Water energy is known to be emotional and fertile, highly associated with either the Moon or Venus, this is a good time to encourage your animals to breed, and to cast love spells.

Systems do vary.

As you can see, there are parallels between the Agricultural zodiac system and the one many Witches use to time spells. This does not mean that they are the same, though they certainly arose from the same source and both systems are certainly combinations of different systems from different times and places.  But as a Kitchen Witch and a farmer, I love the idea that I can really time everything from baking bread (Waxing, Air sign) or anything else (Waxing, Earth) to canning (Waning, fire sign)  to money drawing spells (Waxing, Earth sign) if I want to, though I might just choose to make something delicious as part of a spell and choose my timing based on the spell rather than the activity.  Of course, it’s not always practical and sometimes I’ve just got to do the thing. And that’s fine too.

If all this seems really confusing, I have created a calendar to help me out, and you’re welcome to use it. You can find it at https://calendar.google.com/calendar/embed?src=ontlr8sn2bojfbdntlhv0b6j48%40group.calendar.google.com&ctz=America%2FNew_York

And I am the sort of geek that not only makes a calendar like that, but I have it on my phone, and you can too with Google’s calendar app. Just follow the link on the calendar to import it into your Google calendar and download the app.

 

Posted in Book of Shadows, Kitchen Witch Corner

Little Kitchen Rituals

Ritual is the difference between the ordinary and the special. Rituals surrounding objects, times and places signify their importance, their sacredness. While there are certainly other things involved with Kitchen Witchery, rituals surrounding the kitchen and the preparation of food is a defining feature. It reflects the sanctity of the space as well as the importance we place on the preparation and sharing of food and a sacred act.

While the word ritual often evokes visions of unnecessary complications, that isn’t really what ritual is. Rituals can be very simple and easily incorporated into mundane activities to give them a little sparkle. Read on to see what I mean.

Keeping things Clean

Everyone knows that a clean and organized kitchen makes for a happy cook and a wholesome meal. In recognizing the kitchen as sacred space, keeping it clean becomes not just a daily drudgery necessary to prevent food poisoning, but the blessed act of the Priest/ess.

Whether you make your own cleaning supplies, choose ready-made supplies based on the energies their fragrance brings into your house, or buy the least expensive product that will do the job effectively, cleaning with the intention of purifying and sanctifying your space will bring magick to everything you do in it, whether you’re actively spellcasting or not.

And while it is often difficult to get past the fact that cleaning is rather boring, you can brighten up the job by turning it into a meditative interlude. If you have trouble being still to meditate, you may find that the rhythm of dishwashing or floor scrubbing helps to lull you into that mental space, and before you know it, you’re done.  Some people find these tasks very “zen” if they allow themselves. Just focus on what you are doing and allow yourself to settle into the rhythm instead of wishing you were somewhere else! You may find it helpful to begin your cleanup time with a bell or similar to signal to your subconscious that the sacred task is about to begin. Some other sensory cue can be used, of course, such as lighting a candle.

If this doesn’t work for you, you can go in the opposite direction and turn on some upbeat music, perhaps something by Wendy Rule or Dead Can Dance and dance your kitchen clean. If these don’t work for you, choose music that reminds you of good times with family and friends. The argument can also be made for heavy metal or anything with significant drums, as drums, rattles and loud singing have been used by many cultures to purify space and drive out unwanted energies.

I like to listen to audio books while I’m doing my kitchen chores and my young son is recently starting to pick up the habit (My husband is still rocking out though.) I like to mix it up between fiction and non-fiction and tend to listen to the same thing over and over- knowing I am going to do this makes it easier to miss something because I ran the blender or something. One of my favorites is Braiding Sweetgrass and I also like to listen to the Great Courses (I’m currently listening to Food:A Cultural Culinary History) between visits with the Discworld Witches who are basically my witchy icons. Choose books to listen to that remind you of family, or that put you in a magical mindset, or choose nonfiction books that further your cooking or witchcrafting knowledge.

Choosing a specific time each day to do the work will also solidify its significance and make it easier to deal with. It will take awhile, but, eventually, the 7pm (for example) ritual of washing all the dishes, wiping down the counters and appliances, sweeping and spot-mopping the floor and emptying the garbage and compost will become such a habit you won’t even bother dreading it. Choose whichever time is convenient to you and stick with it. I actually do it all at 6am, because I am too tired after dinner to mess with the kitchen and there’s nobody around to bother me at 6am. But it does get a bit of a touchup (and the audiobook gets turned back on) at 5pm as a prelude to cooking dinner.

Of course, once everything is physically clean, a carefully selected fumigation or wash will banish any unhelpful energies and/or draw in helpful ones. You can light some incense or a smudge, or give everything a final wipe with an appropriate floor wash. Or (and?) you may wish to make a final pronouncement or affirmation when the cleanup work is done. “My kitchen is a magical place of healing and nurturance!” Or just “I love my kitchen!”. Whatever works for you!

Dressing the Part

When I go out to the barn I wear muck boots, bright pink work gloves and a scrub shirt (lots of pockets). My gardener outfit is pretty similar. I generally braid my hair into pigtails and if the sun is out I wear a floppy hat and sunglasses. When I go to my day job, I wear my steel toed work boots, khaki pants, the shirt they gave me and a badge and I put my hair up in a bun. No hat. Sometimes when I am doing heavy work around the house, like putting in fencing or building a coop or planting trees, I wear my work boots too. When I work in the kitchen, I put on my comfy house shoes, discard the barn-fouled scrub shirt in favor of a something clean and comfy and an apron with lots of pockets. I would never wear my day job clothes to cook or farm, they’d get dirty and I’d have to buy new. And I would never ever wear my farmgirl outfit to work. I’d be out of uniform!

I believe it was the Flylady who first pointed out to me that everything has a uniform. If you get up and put on your “housekeeper” uniform, it’s easier to get into the “housekeeper” mindset and thus, easier to get your housekeeping done. The Flylady is also a big fan of rituals, though she’s not a witch (I think she’s some type of fairy).

And so I suggest to you that you get yourself a Kitchen Witch uniform. It doesn’t matter really what it is, but it should have comfy shoes and lots of pockets and be easy to clean. When it’s Kitchen Witchery time, put on your uniform, put up your hair, wash your hands and become!

Cooking with Intention

Even when we’re just cooking to fill our bellies, the act of cooking is a sacred alchemy that transforms ordinary items into appealing foodstuffs. Eating an apple is nice, but when someone cores and slices that apple so that it’s easier to share, that’s even nicer. And if they bake that apple into a pie, well that’s nice. But if they did that because it’s your favorite pie and they love to see you smile, that’s really nice.

The difference is in the intention. It’s the difference between cake and birthday cake and a wedding cake. A plate of spaghetti because it was easy after dinner, the spaghetti your great-grandma always made for you when you came to visit and the spaghetti dinner fundraiser go to with your neighbors. These differences are so meaningful but not generally recognized by the average person. 

Acting with intention is a defining characteristic of a witch so it is only logical that cooking with intention be a defining characteristic of a Kitchen Witch. And so we have it in our power to transform every meal, not just special ones, by infusing it with intention as we create and serve it. This may seem that such a practice might diminish the importance of significant meals, but those meals have their own intentions. Your everyday meal intention need not overshadow those. And intention as simple as “that all who gather to share this meal be well-nourished, spiritually and emotionally as well as physically.” Or that “all who share this meal feel welcome and loved.” or something.

To create such an intention in your meal, simply declare it out loud as you begin your meal preparations. You may wish to do this in the form of a prayer to your God, ancestral spirits or house spirits, or you might want to make up a little chant or song, or simply say it as an affirmation. It’s up to you. It is important to say it out loud, but the actual form it takes isn’t significant. I like to light a candle as I say my intention out loud and allow the candle to burn as I continue to work, to remind me that I am working with intention.

There are some ritual actions that you can take while you are cooking to support your intention. If your intention is to draw something in (love, joy, money, wellness), you should stir clock

When you serve the meal, you may wish to repeat the intention out loud in the presence of your diners. You can do this in the form of “saying grace” if you like.

Eating with Gratitude

When we eat, we absorb the essence of other living beings and use it to create our own bodies. With the exception of fruits, nuts and a few species of herbs and vegetables, those living things gave their lives to feed us. If that isn’t humbling, I don’t know what is. I believe it is very important to keep the sacrifices of other species as well as our own place in the world in mind and I think a very simple and powerful way to do this is to practice gratitude.

There are tangible benefits to gratitude that go beyond keeping us humble and aware. As witches, we know that the kind of energy we cultivate is the sort of energy that we attract. Gratitude is one of those energies that just keeps on reproducing itself. It works in many ways and even more scientifically-minded disciplines such as Psychology recognize its value and research has demonstrated that practicing gratitude in a variety of ways has beneficial effects on mental health. (Psychology Today has a lot to say about the benefits of gratitude. Go to https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/gratitude to learn more).

On the metaphysical front there is the idea that we attract similar energy to that we are sending out. In the case of gratitude, this means we are attracting gratitude both externally and internally. Externally, our gratitude inspires other to feel gratitude toward us, which makes them place a higher value on us; and thus our health and happiness. More importantly, the energy of gratitude affects us internally by generating the energy of gratitude which helps us see things to be grateful for (rather than things to feel disappointed about), overall improving our outlook on life which causes a landslide effect of positive energy coming our way.

Practicing gratitude isn’t complicated. Just take a moment to say thank you, every day. Saying “grace” over a meal is a good way to do this. Something simple like the old standby in our family “For this food we are about to share, we are truly thankful.” Or take a moment of quiet contemplation before digging in. I also like to take a moment every new moon to write a thank you note to the Universe in general for all the wonderful things that happened that month (and also make plans for the coming month). You can spread the gratitude around by thanking the Universe for every beautiful thing you see.

I am so grateful that I live in a world with a sky that looked like last night’s sky, clear and star-filled with a giant sliver of the new crescent moon, all orange and glowing.

Posted in Book of Shadows, Kitchen Witch Corner

Infused Oils

selective focus photo of bottle with cork lid
Photo by Mareefe on Pexels.com

Infused oils bring herbal goodness into a carrier oil base. The oil can later be used as a base for a salve or it can be used alone as a massage or moisturizing oil. Infused oils can also be used in cooking (see warnings) and in ritual as a dressing or anointing oil.

All you need to make an infused oil is the carrier oil of your choice, some dried herbs and time.

I suggest dried herbs over fresh herbs because fresh herbs have more moisture and moisture trapped inside oil, sealed off from the air, can cause the growth of some pretty nasty bacteria. If you are using fresh herbs, get them as dry as possible, let them wilt a bit, and use the quicker heat-based method listed below. Your choice of herbs will, of course, depend upon the qualities you wish to infuse into your oil. You can use more than one herb if you like, but I prefer to infuse my herbs separately and then combine the infused oils.

Your choice of oil will depend upon the sort of qualities you need out of it. If you are using heat to infuse your herbs or if you are going to use heat to turn it into a salve, you’re better off using a more stable oil like coconut or grapeseed oil and avoid more delicate oils like flax or hempseed oil which need to be refrigerated and have a relatively short shelf-life. If you’re hoping the oil will take on the fragrance of the herbs, you will want to avoid oils that have a strong fragrance of their own, like olive oil. Each oil has its own additional qualities to bring to the mixture as well. Some are more emollient, some are astringent, etc.

On to the recipe

You will need

Dried herbs

Enough oil to cover them completely with space to spare

  1. Fill a jar or other suitable container with dried herbs.
  2. Pour the oil over the herbs and cover. The herbs might rise up and float on the surface, give them a shake and let them settle.
  3. Now you have two choices.  The “cold” method: You can place your herbs in a warm, dark place and allow the infusion to take place over about six to eight weeks, shaking the jar every day or two. (Many folks recommend placing the jar in the sunshine. Only do this if the walls of the container are solid or dark as light is not your friend here.) OR the hot method: Place your jar of oil in a slow cooker and add enough water to the bottom of the slow cooker to reach about halfway up the outside of the jar. Turn the slow cooker on low, or if it has a warming setting use that. If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can place the jar in a pot with water in your oven and turn on the over to 170 degrees Farenheight. This way, your infused oil will be done much sooner. Make sure to shake it a few times during the process.
  4. After your oil has infused to your liking, strain it through a very fine mesh strainer, cheesecloth or a tea towel.
  5. If you wish to add essential oils for their fragrance or other qualities, you may add them now.
  6. Store your infused oil in a cool place for the best shelf life.

You can now use your infused oil as is or use it in cooking recipes, salves, soaps, or other concoctions. Enjoy.

 

 

Posted in Book of Shadows, Homestead and Hearthcraft, Kitchen Witch Corner

Simple Salves

20181129_064603Salves are soothing medicine for the skin in a convenient form. Nourishing oils thickened with waxes or butters and enhanced with the goodness of herbs and essential oils, salves can sooth irritated skin, bring healing to minor injuries and bring soothing warmth to aches and pains and congestion. All salves are based on the same basic recipe – A carrier oil and a thickener combine to form a semi-solid paste that melts into the skin.
 
First, you need an oil. You can choose from a variety of oils. The choice of oils might depend on the ultimate purpose of the salve. If you want a salve that’s strongly scented, you might want to avoid an oil that has a scent of its own that might conflict with the essential oils and herbs you wish to use. Or you may choose an oil that will enhance the properties of the herbs you are using in your salve, perhaps an anti-fungal or anti-inflammatory oil. You may need to take allergies into account, avoiding oils made from nuts, for example, or you may be restricted by what you have available to you. Most oils can be suitably turned into salves. You could even use lard, and it won’t need much, if any, thickening.
 
You can make a salve without adding any herbs or essential oils to it and get a smooth, spreadable oil that soothes the skin. However, most people add herbs and/or essential oils to salves. Herbs should be infused into the oil before making the salve and essential oils should be added right at the very end or they might just evaporate before you’re finished. An infused oil can be used without a thickener, but thickening your oil makes it less messy and more convenient to use and more portable.
 
The final ingredient is the thickener. Again you have several options. You can use a wax, like beeswax or carnauba wax or you can use a butter like cocoa butter or shae butter. The same considerations can be taken into account here as with your choice of carrier oils, including fragrance, cost and availability, allergies and the specific properties of your oils.
 
On to the recipe
 
You will need –
4 parts oil
1 part butter OR 1/2 part wax
 
Depending on the oil and wax or butter you are using, you may need to adjust these quantities, but don’t worry, if your salve turns out too thick or too oily, you can always just re-melt it and make your adjustments as needed.
 
Step 1 – Melt your butter or wax. Use a double boiler or put about 2 -3 inches of water in your crock pot (electric cauldron) and place a canning jar inside. To speed things up and to make it easier to measure, you can chop your butter or wax into small pieces or use a cheese grater to shred it or you can buy them in “pastilles” which are already quite small, usually for a modest price increase.
Step 2- Add your melted butter or wax to your oil. Stir it with a spoon. You can check the thickness of your salve by placing the spoon in the freezer for a few minutes, but really, I find you don’t really know till the next day.
Step 3- Add your essential oils.
Step 4 – Pour the salve into labeled jars, let sit covered but not sealed overnight in a cool place. You can also pour a thick version of your salve into a lip balm or underarm deodorant mold to create a balm that you can carry in your bag and rub directly onto your body where needed for extra convenience.
 
If your salve is not right
Sometimes we look at the salve we mixed up in the warm kitchen and find that it’s more like a candle on a cold morning or the salve we mixed up in the air conditioning is more like a massage oil out in the summer heat. No worries. You can fix it.
 
Place your jar, uncovered, in the top of a double boiler or in the electric cauldron (crockpot) with some water and heat until it melts. Now pour it out of the jar, clean the jar and set it aside. Add more oil or melted wax/butter as needed and stir. You’ll probably need to freshen up your essential oils. Return the salve to the jar and carry on.
Posted in Holy Days, Homestead and Hearthcraft, Kitchen Witch Corner

First Harvest Reflections

The feast of the First Harvest is a feast of little bits. The garden is full of promise, but not full of ripe produce. We have some zucchini, an eggplant, maybe even a tomato, but hardly enough of anything to make a meal, but together, with a handful of herbs, couple eggs from the hens and some cheese from the farmer’s market, they make a passable vegetable lasagna. A few other odds and ends, six green beans and a carrot, with some scraps from the lasagna noodles and we’ve got a hearty soup. Slice up some of those cucumbers with that tomato and sprinkle with salt and herbs, maybe a bit of feta cheese and we’ve got a salad. And it was good.

There was bread, of course. There is always bread. But we do not grow wheat so wheat is not part of the first harvest at our house. (Yet! I have seeds and I have prepared a space and we’ll be planting winter wheat for the first time this year! I do not know that it will be part of the First Harvest next year, that depends on when the wheat. It will let us know.) Baking bread is a First Harvest or Lammas tradition in many households, but we bake bread all the time, so it’s just not special here. What is special is that one pepper on the pepper plant that I’ve been fussing over since I started it in my kitchen window back in March.

Before I moved out to my little homestead and began gardening in earnest, I used to gather for the First Harvest with friends and we had a Stone Soup tradition for the celebration. Everyone brought a little something to go into the pot. And we told the story, of course. But the message was slightly different. It was about sharing and being generous with one another to ensure the entire community benefitted.

Now that I’m gardening and having a quiet celebration at home with the family the message is slightly different. Many small and things, so small as to be insignificant, not worth much at all, combine together to make something wonderful. The First Harvest is small, though it has the promise of something bigger- that one ripe tomato is surrounded by green brethren, weighing down the branches. Elsewhere in the garden, massive green squashes rest beneath an umbrella canopy of leaves and potatoes grow plump beneath the soil. The first harvest is not one of abundance, but oh what a treat. It is the opposing equivalent of a few tiny pebbles falling down the hillside ahead of an avalanche of food goodness. By the Second Harvest, we’re going to be buried in produce and trying to figure out how to preserve it all before it goes bad, but right now we’re scraping together something useful from a few representative offerings.

There are things I don’t eat out of season. Eggplant simply doesn’t exist in my world from November through July. We only eat canned tomatoes out of season because store bought fresh tomatoes simply do not taste like tomatoes- so what’s the point? By the First Harvest we are practically salivating at the garden gate for these treats we only get this time of year. Like racehorses at the gate, ready to start the season. And it will be a race to get it all canned and dried and frozen and otherwise stored before it starts to spoil. There is anticipation, a bit of excitement, and melancholy for a summer going by too fast.

But for now, there is no urgency. We can just enjoy the fruits of the season and leisurely pace. The winter garden is in- we can’t celebrate till this is done, so we know that our greens will be at their sweetest in the cool autumn and some of our brassicas will even be there resting beneath the snow to keep us fed well into winter. The autumn rush has not yet begun. We rest now and we share what little has ripened with each other and with the land.

Inspired by the book Braiding Sweetgrass (I highly recommend it) I have been thinking a lot lately about giving back to the land and the honorable harvest. And I felt a bit guilty about eating this first fruit in our excitement. We always leave an offering of the first eggs in the spring and we’ve offered the first fruit in the past, but this year is really the first year that our diets have been so garden-focused. In past years, our garden was just a supplement. Now it’s our primary source of food, along with our livestock, supplemented by the grocery store and farmers markets. It’s easy, isn’t it, to share the stuff you’ve gathered for fun.

But there were a few things we’ve done this year that honored the harvest. Our wild berry harvest lasted three days. After three days, what was left belonged to our wild siblings. Our birds took some of them all along too, of course. After gathering berries and making jam from them, we shared the jars with family and friends. The berries were a gift of the wild, and gifts are meant to be shared.

We also work hard to nourish and restore the land. I have seen the results of it, not just in the abundance of the garden. I see monarch butterflies every week now. We saw two all year last year, and none in our first and second years there. The yard no longer smells of milkweed blossoms, which smell magnificent, by the way. People talk of the scent of lilacs and roses and violets and lily of the valley, nobody ever talks about the fragrance of milkweed, but it is lovely. Our lawn shrinks, the butterflies come, the fireflies light up the night. We’ve even seen new species of birds we’ve never had before, grosbeaks and barn swallows, and the deer, while occasionally snacking from the poultry feeder as if she were one of ours, has thus far been kind enough to leave our garden alone.

The land knows we love it. And I think it loves us back.

Posted in Holy Days, Kitchen Witch Corner

Entertaining at Midwinter

The Winter Solstice occurs sometime between December 20th and 22nd and is the shortest day and longest night of the year and the official start of winter, though some folks will feel that winter has set in long before its arrival and some of us are saying “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”. This time of darkness gives rise to a number of holidays to brighten up the gloom of the season with a celebration anticipating the return of the light. I like to use the name Midwinter as a path-neutral alternative, but Yule or Yuletide is also suitable and if it’s easiest to say Christmas, I’ll do that too. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a great time for a party. The best time for a party.

But many Pagans, especially those still building new traditions, are sometimes at a loss for how to proceed. Many of the most obvious traditions seem to belong to other religions and many feel the need to reject these because of it. But I say to you- nobody owns them. These are universal traditions that highlight are similarities more than our differences. We are a human family and we should all celebrate together. So, I say to you: Invite them all; eat, drink and be merry! Party like a Pagan.

Midwinter Overview

The Winter Solstice means different things to different people. For many it celebrates the birth of a divine child who will bring light back into the world, either literally (as in Sun=light) or figuratively (a savior). For some, it is an entirely secular holiday set aside for spending time with family and friends without regard to what the Gods are doing.

In truth, the traditions of the Winter Solstice are probably much more ancient than any myths we associate with it. The dark of winter was a very scary time for our ancestors and just about everyone would have lost someone they knew before springtime. Cold, malnutrition, suffocation from inadequate ventilation, food-borne illnesses from stored food, viruses and parasites brought in by animals seeking shelter from the elements and bacteria benefiting from the fact that no significant cleaning could get done without a “nice day” to ensure everything dried before it froze meant many people didn’t make it.

The cold weather and the lack of electricity to counter the effects of the waning sunlight meant that most people spent the majority of their winters isolated from their neighbors. Some cultures believed that this dark time of the year allowed spirits to wander free and they heard the cries of their dead and malignant spirits on the voices of the storms, giving them further reason not to venture past their front door.

But our ancestors didn’t spend their winters in idleness. They spent them spinning and weaving and sewing the wool and flax they gathered during the warmer months; making baskets and mats from the reeds and straws they had stored up; carving useful objects out of wood: bowls, spoons, pipes. Even making toys.

Soon, the light would return and they knew it. And once that turning point hit the cabin fever would send them out into the light to seek out their neighbors and friends, to make sure that everyone they knew was okay and to offer aid where aid was needed. And of course, they brought gifts. Whatever projects they were working on while they were shut in became gifts for their neighbors- especially for those who helped them gather the materials – and those neighbors had gifts in return.

And what do people do when they’ve been cooped up for months and finally find themselves standing in the sunshine with friends they haven’t seen in quite awhile? They sing! They dance! They drink! They eat! and they make merry.

Hosts would want to decorate their homes, to brighten things up, to improve the smell a bit even. Evergreen boughs were perfect for this. And candles, of course, so you could see your dance partner. Letting the fire go out was never a good idea before matches and butane.

These ancient Winter Solstice traditions – gift-giving, charity, singing and general partying, and decorating with evergreens are inherent to humans living in Northern climes. These are gut traditions. The myths that go along with them vary from person to person, group to group, but we can all agree on the traditions which speak to the very heart of us. The part that needs comfort and companionship and light and greenery in the coldest, loneliest, darkest, dreariest of seasons and cannot help but burst into song when that need is fulfilled.

Decorating for the Winter Solstice

When decorating for the winter solstice the theme seems to be to make everything the opposite of what it is. The Winter Solstice is cold, gray and dark. Winter Solstice decorations are warm, colorful (gaudy even) and bright. Whatever greenery can be obtained should be. Your evergreen trees should be pruned in the winter anyway, so bring those prunings in and make an evergreen wreath and some evergreen garlands.

These bright decorations symbolically balance out or negate the winter cold and darkness, but some choose to embrace it instead with images of sparkling snowflakes, icicles and snowmen. This is can also be also quite festive and lovely.

Many people blend the themes for a harmonious look.

Colors for the Winter Solstice

Colors for Winter Solstice events should evoke warmth and light and the promise of new life. Gold represents the sun and fire, red is fire and joy and green holds the promise of the coming spring. These are the most popular colors of the season.

The colors red and green can easily be brought in using berries and evergreen branches. Holly and cranberries can be used to good effect. Apples are also popular.

Another popular color combination is white, blue and silver. These colors to me evoke images of the silvery moon in a cloudless sky reflecting off of snow. They seem to embrace the season rather than seek to banish it as a more fiery color combination does.

The Centerpiece

You can get really creative with the centerpiece and have a lot of fun with it. I think candles are probably the only requirement. Here are a few ideas.

  • A bunch of greenery surrounding large pillar candles is a gorgeous classic. Maybe add some pinecones dressed up with gold paint or glitter to complete the effect or some fruits and nuts.
  • Yule Log candle holder. You can dress this up further with some greenery and berries.
  • A boar’s head with an apple in its mouth is more traditional than you might think.
  • A large bowl (or cauldron) full of red and green apples and citrus fruits.
  • A gingerbread house or some other scene made of gingerbread figures.

Lighting

Candles, candles, everywhere. And strings of LEDs of course. You can get nifty solar powered lights for outside too.

Fragrance

The scents of Yuletide are both warm and bracing. The scents Cinnamonnutmegclovesallspice, pine, and spruce will make your home feel festive and cozy.

If you have brought fresh evergreen boughs into the house, you’ve probably got that fragrance handled. Otherwise, you can gather sap very easily from trees and these can be set in the top of an oil warmer to release their fragrance. Be careful, it’s very sticky and looks very dirty. If you’d rather spring for oils, do it.

You can fill your home with the warm scent of cinnamon and cloves by keeping a crockpot full of mulled cider on low throughout the festivities. Bundle the herbs up in a bag so you can ladle out your cider without getting bits of clove in there and keep adding cider to it as your guests drink it.

Symbols

The symbols of Yule are many and varied. Like our color combination there seem to be two major categories: those symbols that embrace the season, and those that seek to banish it. There is also a third category based around gift-giving.

  • Images of light, such as candles, stars, the sun help to drive away the darkness
  • Birds who fly south for the winter bear the promise of springtime- geese and ducks, robins
  • As do images of animals who hibernate in the winter, such as bears.
  • Evergreen trees, holly, ivy, any plants that stay bright in winter bear the promise of greenery in the summer, but also celebrate the uniqueness of the season.
  • Snowflakes and anything to do with snow, including snowmen, sleds, shovels, etc. celebrate the season
  • As so images of winter clothing, esp. boots and mittens
  • And animals that thrive in snowy climes, cardinals, arctic foxes, snowshoe hares, reindeer, penguins and polar bears
  • Images of Santa Clause also bear the promise of presents, though many also associate him with the spirit of the season.
  • Stockings, gift boxes and ribbons remind us of the gift giving aspect of the season

The Altar

Cover your Yuletide altar with greenery and candles. Other than that, it depends on what you’re focusing on. You may be embracing the winter and celebrating winter spirits or spirits of nature or focusing on the battle between light and dark or perhaps you’re celebrating the birth of a new God. If your celebration is strictly secular but focused on celebrating social bonds, you may wish to dedicate your altar to you Hearth Goddess, in gratitude for the protection your home and hearth offer from the cold or decorate it with family photos to celebrate how important they are to your life.

Group Activities for Your Yuletide Celebration

  • Decorate a tree. This can be a group activity, especially if there are children involved or you can have it ready when everyone arrives as part of the decor.
  • Decorate a tree for the wildlife. Strings of berries, dried fruit and cheerios make lovely garlands. You can also string together peanuts in the shell. Suet balls in netting can be decorated with some pretty ribbon, pinecones smeared with peanut butter or sun butter can be rolled in birdseed, sliced apples and oranges hung on a ribbon are also lovely and a tasty treat for your local critters. You can also get bundles of millet that are really cool-looking to hang from a ribbon.
  • Make cookies. Make the dough ahead of time and refrigerate it and set up a decorating station, sundae bar style.
  • Sing carols. There are many secular ones and several Christian carols have been rewritten by members of the Pagan community. You can find some here. If your neighbors are amenable, go caroling or wassailing.
  • Wassail your orchard. Assuming you have an orchard. Or even a single fruit tree, or just your garden. Sing to it, beat drums and blow whistles to scare off harmful spirits and pour it libations to let it know you’d like some gifts back as soon as it is able.
  • Collect winter clothing, toys or food to give away to people in need (pick one, if you make it general it just gets too complicated).
  • Have a gift exchange. You can have people draw names randomly ahead of time or do a White Elephant exchange. I find the latter to be easiest and very fun as it’s an activity in itself. You just tell everyone to bring a wrapped gift in a certain price range, between $5 and $10 for example. Then you just take turns. The first person picks a gift and opens it, the second person can steal that gift or pick a new gift. If the second person steals the first gift, the first person gets to pick a new one. At the end you can let people trade. This can be hilarious, but I find very young children and some teenagers can’t always handle this game.

The Winter Solstice Celebratory Meal

Lots of foods are associated with the Winter Solstice. The foods we choose are those that our ancestors would have relied upon back in the day. Preserved meats like ham and sausages would have made up much of their winter protein, supplemented by fresh game, particularly wild boar was popular and my own ancestors raised geese specifically to fatten up that special one just for Christmas dinner.

Dried fruits like datesprunesfigs and raisins are also popular as are fruits and vegetables that store well, sweet potatoes, potato]es, winter squashapples and nuts as well as heavy and heavily spiced cakes and breads, as grain stores well all winter- and they’d be stuffed with dried fruit and nuts and possibly liquor as well.

Posted in Book of Shadows, Holy Days

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is an American secular (semi-Christian) holiday that celebrates the first harvest of some of the earliest settlers in North America which was shared by the indigenous people of the immediate area. Thanksgiving is not a Pagan holiday, and it is a contentious holiday for those who support indigenous rights, but it’s also an American institution that is not easily escaped. And there’s food. Lots of food. And so I present to you this collection of Thanksgiving traditions to incorporate into your celebration.

Any of these can also be incorporated into any other Harvest celebration.

Giving Thanks

Gratitude should be practiced in the household of every Kitchen Witch as it fills the home with energy that draws many blessings. This Thanksgiving, take a moment to have your guests speak the gratitude in their hearts for the blessings they’ve received this year. If you aren’t all comfortable speaking out loud, perhaps you could write them on slips of paper anonymously and have someone read them all out loud. Or if you just want to share it with the Gods, toss them in the fire when you pour your libations.

If you don’t say “grace” at every meal, consider doing so today as well. You can find a list of Pagan meal blessings at http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/mealtimeprayers/ss/Pagan-Meal-Blessings.htm Meal Blessings for the Magical Home

Honoring Indigenous People

It is clear that the Pilgrims probably wouldn’t have survived without the help of their indigenous neighbors and the culture they brought into this land is guilty of a terrible genocide against those who were here before. This Thanksgiving, think of ways to honor the indigenous people of America and other places in the world.

Consider a donation to Native Planet or Amnesty International

This year, let us also keep in our thoughts and prayers the Native Peoples who are standing in the way of the Dakota Access Pipeline. This protest began with just the Standing Rock Sioux, but representatives from many tribes are there now standing together for all of our rights for clean water and a clean future, as well as the rights of Native Peoples to have their treaties honored. Consider sending them a donation, or calling or writing to your representatives in Congress letting them know how you feel about the situation. You can find the right people to complain to at http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

Recognizing Native Foods

Many of the traditional foods served at Thanksgiving were unheard of in Europe before they landed on the American continent. If you don’t make it a regular practice to eat local foods, think about making it part of your Thanksgiving celebration and honor the spirits of the Land as you do so.

Native American foods include turkeypumpkin and many other types of squashcornwild ricepotatoes, cranberriescocoa(well, South American), beans, black walnuts, sunflower seeds, tomatoes, peppers as well as any local game or fish, of course, and many more. Most traditional Thanksgiving foods are native to the Americas.

Sports and Games

Watching sports while lounging on the couch seems to be a traditional Thanksgiving, though it doesn’t appeal to me, but a nice inter-generational board game or card game builds family togetherness. If you all love football, then that can too.

Posted in Rites of Passage

Where will you go when you die?

Discussing the recent one-year anniversary of my grandfather’s death, a friend of mine asked me where the old man was buried. As it happens, my grandfather has was not buried. His body was sent to a medical school anatomy lab to help a new generation of doctors learn how the human body works. When we talk about it in our family, it’s as if it was just another adventure the old man’s body was taking. Grandpa, who went to work when he was 11 and never graduated High School has gone to college. We haven’t got him back yet, but when we do, he’ll be in an an urn which will be interred with my grandmother whenever her body finishes its journey.

Anyway, all this got me thinking about what I would like to have done with my body when I go. Being buried is just so boring and cremation isn’t very exciting either. No, my body needs an adventure. I was an Anthropology major in college and I really would have liked to study forensic Anthropology (like Bones) but the college I lived near and could afford (not that I really could afford it) had nothing like that. I have heard that some colleges (The University of Tennessee being the original) have a place called a body farm where corpses are laid out in different biomes so students can see how they decay and what sorts of bugs are attracted to them and such. Now that would be cool. But a cadaver lab would be cool too.

My friend told me about a book she read on the subject called Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers that she and her husband both enjoyed, recommended to her by her mother in law. I haven’t read it yet, but there’s three recommendations people who liked it. It’s on my list.

I was there when my grandfather died and there was a state of blessed confusion. (Blessed because everyone was too busy being confused to be overcome with grief, that came later.) Although his will stated his wishes, although we had told the doctors, nurses and chaplain what his wishes were, when the time came to have him sent on his way, nobody was sure how to go about it. We had to contact a funeral home to sort it all out and, since there wasn’t going to be a funeral (he did have a memorial service at our ancestral Lutheran church, but there was to be no body, no coffin, no burial) nobody had thought of this. And since he’d been transported by helicopter to the hospital, we had no idea whether to use a local funeral home, one by us, or one by their house. Meanwhile, grandpa was getting cold.

So I thought it would be a good idea for me to handle as much of the particulars ahead of time. I am working out my will (willing.com or Legalzoom.com can help with this) and registering as a donor (you can do this at Sciencecare or at Medicure or contact your local Medical or Forensic Anthropology school). I will also consult my local funeral home to make sure everything is in place ahead of time.

But then there’s the rest; Where to lay my mortal remains. I’m not sure how much I care about all that… Circle Sanctuary has a cemetery in Wisconsin, but I’m not sure the family wants to travel to Wisconsin on Samhain and Memorial Day. I don’t like the idea of being pumped full of chemicals and being put in a non-biodegradable box, so if burial were my destination, I’d be looking for a Green burial, but I believe cremation is the ultimate destination for a donated body so I’ll let my loved ones figure out what to do with my ashes. If my husband outlives me, I’ll probably end up in a storage unit with all of his other priceless treasures he can’t find room for and doesn’t have any immediate use for…

So… where will you go when you die?