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Secretary Bird2“Change can only occur with the destruction of the old. The very nature of destruction is creation.”
– Scott Cunningham

I find the concept of creation and destruction so intriguing. A common mainstream view is that destruction is bad and creation is good but we witches know better. It just depends on the circumstances right? For example, destroying harmful habits can be good while creating debt can be bad. In fact, destruction and creation can both be beneficial when wielded to our advantage.

When it comes to artistic expression, many people tell me how they would love to be more artistic but that they are either wrought with anxiety, fear of failure or that they have no talent. Even an artist like myself has to constantly take care of my vulnerable inner child. In fact, every time I start a new sketch and see that blank page, a wave of anxiety overtakes me. Then I go about my ritual of destroying my anxiety by giving myself permission to fail. This gives my soul a chance to soar, if only for a little while. I find it fascinating that some of my best work was simply the result of getting out of my own way long enough for the magick to happen. Just a little healing can go such a long way!

Do you have harmful programs that you’d like to destroy in order to make room for your creative endeavors? If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few ideas that I’ve found helpful for me.

There’s a great therapeutic product called “Wreck This Journal” widely available in bookstores. Not only is it absolutely freeing and liberating, it’s actually pretty hilarious! Each page includes an activity like dropping the journal from a great height, or Artsy witch photo 2scribbling outside the lines and even smearing what you had for dinner on the page! Oh yes, if you follow the activities you will absolutely wreck the journal in the most liberating of ways!

Oftentimes when working on an artistic project, that inner critic just will not shut up! Argh! Here are a couple of techniques I’ve found to teach my inner critic how to take a back seat during the creative process:

– Give your inner critic a name. I call mine “Crusher” because that’s what it does. It attempts to crush my confidence and my will to accomplish my goal. Talk to your critic. When you receive criticism ask for it to provide concrete evidence for the criticism. Next, find all the evidence you can to debunk your critic’s harmful opinions of you.

– When your inner critic just won’t shut up, ask it to take a back seat during the creative process. Then tell your inner critic that you will listen to what it has to say for five minutes afterward. Be sure to honor your critic and allow it a full five minutes to talk to you. I think you’ll be surprised at what happens.

– Create a spell during the waning moon phase to banish limiting thoughts and harmful programs that are holding you back. Christopher Penzcak’s book The Inner Temple of Witchcraft has some great exercises for this as well!

By destroying old harmful programs, room for artistic healing and expression is truly possible! Working with my own inner critic is a regular process for me and my healing journey is not over yet. I’m making progress though, and I hope that this article helps you on your own journey as well.

Next: Adult Coloring Books for Healing and Inspiration
Previously: Black Cat Rescue Candles

Christine Marie Ford is a professional visual artist and crafts person for over 12 years. She is a former professional actress and musical theatre performer with over twenty years of experience and continues to sing and play cajon. Christine is a first year apprentice of the Temple of Witchcraft mystery school and a 101 Wicca Student of BTW. She has been a solitary practitioner for three years and has studied Reiki and various divinatory arts for many years. You can visit Christine at www.christinemarieford.com or on Facebook.

Inked

 

inked

Inked

by Ashara Mayim

The pain on the back of my shoulder is bad, but far from unbearable. Occasionally on the physical plane I feel the needle hit a bundle of nerves and the stinging becomes particularly sharp. I might squeeze the hand holding mine or kick my legs, but I’m not all there. I have one foot firmly planted in each world. In the tattoo shop, I am laying on a cushioned table, breathing deeply, listening to the steady, terrifying buzz of the tattoo gun. At the Crossroads, I am sitting, my knees tucked to my chest, looking at my hands.

There is a staff with a torch planted firmly at the “Y” intersection of the gravel roads. Several plates of food offerings are gathered at the intersection. Little blades of grass peek through the rocks and dirt, which crunch beneath the weight of my body as I shift to get comfortable. But there is no getting comfortable. The Crossroads isn’t a comfortable place. It’s a place of choices—of metamorphosis—of change. The Crossroads is a crucible.

She is standing over me, looking at me in her maiden face. Dark hair and glowing eyes—sometimes green and sometimes black (or maybe they are just dilated so far that they appear black to me), they seem to radiate in the light of the moon.

“Are you happy now” she asks. I look up at her in time to see that little smile trace across her face.

“That’s not the question, though, is it, little wolf? You didn’t do this to make me happy.” I feel suddenly offended. A surge of defensiveness, anxiety, and self-righteous anger well up in my belly.

“Of course I did! I did this ALL for you! I drew it for you, I planned it with you, I mixed my blood with yours, and you told me to earn it! That’s why I’m here at all! To show the world you are my Goddess!” My artist hits a nerve bundle. I wince and curse. Her hand on my chin pulls my attention back to the Crossroads—to Her. She is crouched down, staring into my eyes with her crone face.

“Stop thinking so hard. Get out of that HEAD of yours. Stop thinking and KNOW,” she tells me.

There is silence, save the howl of a wolf in the distance. I think I see his shadow out of the corner of my vision, but it is obscured by the light of her torch. My own appearance shifts to the Lady in the mirror with her blonde curls, her beautiful body, her full red lips…and back to my earthly form again. Her voice has softened, but that stern resolve is ever present. It’s hard to argue with the Lady anyway, but when she’s right, it’s downright impossible.

“I did it to prove…”

“To prove what, little wolf?”

“That I have a choice. That I can. That it’s my body—that other people, my past, and my fear… none of that controls me. I have control. I make my choices.” She grins at me, letting go of my chin and standing to full, imposing height, looking up at the moon again. Even in Her crone face, she is far from frail.

“And what have you chosen?”

“I choose you.”

“As I have you.”

We stare into the moonlight, in silence, my fingers tracing the scar on the palm of my hand. All at once, she is gone, the Crossroads are gone, and I am jolted back to the harsh reality of the physical world. To my artist telling me it’s over. To my friends telling me how well I did. I sit up, look at the pictures, brush sweat from my brow, and begin to cry.

Let the tears fall down and cleanse my emotions as the ink has cleansed my soul.

I am strong. I am made new. I am free.

Ashara Mayim has been a Witch since October of 2012 and is about to start her third year of study with the Temple of Witchcraft. She is a life-long learner, published author, and a teacher by trade. Mayim co-founded The Owl’s Well, an education-based pagan community in St. Louis, in December of 2013. She lives in St. Louis with Owl’s Well co-founder Andrew, her dog Ace, and her cat Isilmé.

flower 2Few things speak of Beltane to me more than flowers. As the Spring sun kisses the emerald grass, it seems to leave a trail of yellow flowers behind. The cool May breeze spreads the floral perfume of these elegant color splashes that dot the newly green landscape. You can’t attend a single Beltane or Spring event where garlands of flowers don’t decorate the hair of the participants. The flowers sing of all the promises that Beltane and Spring make. Vibrancy, beauty, passion, sexuality. The colors of yellows, purples, pinks and reds are alive and reflect the energy that is around us.

Most of us love to fill our houses with these new friends, loading vases with tulips and lilacs, allowing us to carry some of that verve inside, but I bet most of you don’t think about eating them. Many of these newly blossoming friends are edible and even have some nutritional benefits. Some edible and easy to find flowers are clover, violet, lilac, dandelion, peony, chrysanthemum, nasturtiums, calendula, golden rod, bee balm, jasmine, elder and linden.

Check out this link for a more complete list: http://whatscookingamerica.net/EdibleFlowers/EdibleFlowersMain.htm

I thought I would use this month’s article to share three of my favorite ways to incorporate flowers into your Spring and Summer Menus.

Salads – Let’s start off easy. Flowers like violets, dandelions, calendula and clover are easy to find, and all you need to do is step outside, pick a few, thank the plant, rinse them, and add them to your greens. Summertime is loaded with picnics and events like Pagan Pride. Making a Green Salad that is dusted with purple and white violets will be a show stopper. Adding a hand full of calendula to your favorite pasta salad fills the dish with vibrant streaks of golden yellow and orange.

Simple Syrups – This one is a little more work, but still not difficult. A simple syrup is made by taking equal parts of water and sugar and slowly heating them until the sugar is completely dissolved and suspended in the water. After you allow it to cool, you can use simple syrups to sweeten, iced tea, lemonade, iced coffee and your favorite cocktail. The switch up for my simple syrup is to make a variety of them that are flavored with flower. How delightful does rose lemonade sound or a lavender-infused gin & tonic? Flowers such as elder, lilac, rose, lavender, bee balm, thyme and mint which have stronger flavors work best. Once you have made them, you can use them to flavor the beverages I mentioned or add them to cake frostings, drizzle them into fruit salads, and brush them on grilled fruit for summer BBQs.

Simple Syrup Recipe

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water (room temperature)
  • 1/2 – 1 cup flower of choice

Add water and sugar to sauce pan and place on medium heat. Stir mixture until sugar has completely dissolved and water has just come to a boil. Turn off heat and add flowers. Stir flowers in and make sure they are completely wet. Steep for fifteen minutes. Strain flowers using fine colander or cheese cloth.

IMG_1597Baking – Flowers can be added to cookies, cakes and breads. Bee balm or bergamot shortbread cookies are a favorite of mine; don’t worry I have shared the recipe, but I also love adding rose with chocolate or calendula to corn bread. You can even press flowers between layers of phyllo dough or pie crust.

Bee Balm Shortbreads

  • 3/4 lb unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 5 tbsp bee balm – finely minced
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt

In mixer, cream sugar and butter. When the color of butter and sugar has slightly lightened, add vanilla, bee balm and lemon zest mix until just incorporated. Add remaining ingredients and mix until the dough forms. Dump out on table and form ball. Roll ball into long snake or cylinder about two inches in diameter (square off edges if desired to form square cookies). Wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, overnight preferred. Remove dough from refrigerator. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut cookie dough into slices about 1/4 thick. Bake for 10 -12 minutes. Remove from oven. Cool and devour.

Now that you have three methods you can use to add flowers to your ,you might be asking how this is Kitchen Witchery. In my opinion, every meal that we cook as a Witch is Magickal. We take care to gather the ingredients. We add each one to our cauldrons, now known as pots and pans, and stir away, creating a meal for those we love, providing them with energy and sustenance. The act of cooking in itself is one of transformation, but when we take a little more care with the ingredients we are adding the Magick of our foods start to really zing. Simple acts of charging your salt with protection and intentionally stirring in a particular directions make the mundane an act of Sorcery. With the topic of flowers in mind, we can carry these intentions a step further. You can choose flowers that correspond with your particular need. You can choose the color of the flower’s petals to reflect the spell you wish to weave into the food, or the scent of the flower to carry the spell to its target. Almost everyone I know associates roses with love. Nothing says Love Magick more to me than chocolate cupcakes with rose-infused chocolate frostings.

Now go outside. Pick and play but please make sure when gathering your new found friends, you know where you are getting them from and that they are not treated with anything that might be toxic.

Ryan is an ordained Minister and Seminary Graduate of the Temple of Witchcraft. Ryan is passionate about Kitchen Witchery, the creatures of the Green World, working with Plant Spirits, and making magick in daily life. Crafting herbal infusions, candles, and sacred tools, Ryan is co-creator of Drops of Three. You may visit his website at www.dropsofthree.storenvy.com.

 

The Journey Home: A Story Based on the Tarot

By Ravenwonderingdragon

She wore a mask so no one could see her beauty. She wanted to have people know her from the inside out. It was her one virtue she held onto. In fact she called herself Strength. It was a name that few did not recognize. The ritual of the Goddess and God joining together again was approaching. Strength had no time to waste. She needed to make it back to her homeland. However, she was lost.

Strength had traveled many lands on her adventures. In that time, she had never gotten lost. It was odd for her in this moment to feel as if she could not even take a step forward. She adjusted her mask and looked onward; the lion, which was with her, held steadfast as they approached a strange figure. The figure was almost transparent, but upon closer view was skeleton in nature. As he walked towards Strength and her majestic lion, he held in his arms a woman.

Strength held back as the figure approached.

“Hello, I don’t mean to scare you. My name is Death,” Death said as he put the woman on the ground.

Strength looked at the ground where the woman lay. She realized just how much of the desert she had crossed trying to find her way back home. Looking up at Death, she wondered how this figure had come across the same area she had. She was surprised yet relieved that there was someone else out in this vast terrain.

“How long have you been out here?” Strength asked.

Death looked around. He moved what little white hair he had left from his eyes. He then looked at the woman.

“Too long it seems. I have been on this quest to bring this woman back to her final resting place. I have traveled long and far. In all this time, I have not come across one person, until you.”

Strength stared at the woman who lay on the ground lifeless. Her black hair just peeked under the hat she was wearing, and her red dress was tattered from the dust.

“I am on my way home for the great ritual.” Strength reached down to pet her lion.

“The great ritual, ah, yes, does that not happen in a few days?” Death asked.

Strength nodded. “I should have been there by now. I have to prepare.”

Death looked into the huge desert. He shook his head. “Why are you not there?”

“I’m afraid I have gotten lost.”

“That is not good. I might be able to help.”

Strength looked up. “I would appreciate that.”

“Okay, fond lady, I have to go to Summerland first to allow this woman to have her final resting. It should not be far from here. I can help you after to find your place.”

They walked and walked. It seemed like it took millions of years before they reached what Death had labeled as Summerland. Strength suddenly stopped. Before her eyes were five beautiful fairies on a tree. Each one of the fairies was holding a branch; they swung from the tree with such grace. They noticed Death and Strength.

“What brings you here?” they said in unison.

Death placed the girl back down. “Thank you, my fairies, for your wisdom,” he said. “The woman here needs to go to Summerland for her final resting place. My traveling companion needs to be at the Great Ritual.”

The fairies spoke in unison. “We accept your place, Death. As for your companion, she needs to wait here. However, you follow us,”

Still holding the girl, Death followed the fairies through an invisible field. They all disappeared. Strength just looked on. She wondered what would happen if she tried to pass through the veil. Did she have the courage she thought she had? Strength made a choice; she was going to do it. She was going to go through the veil.

She started to walk into the veil. At first it seemed cloudy, and she could not make out what was ahead of her. However, beyond the cloudiness she saw beautiful trees with majestic horses and the vastest land she had ever laid eyes on. Her weight was nothing, and she floated past several apple trees which made her smile. The winds led her to a sacred circle just outside the biggest tree she could possibly imagine.

The tree was so large that Strength could not even believe it was real. She walked up to the tree where its hollow entrance waited for her to join. As she walked into the tree, she heard birds chirping. A sudden stop caused her to look and see the great Goddess waiting for her, her hand outreached ready for Strength to take. She took the Goddess’s hand and continued to walk with her up the tree. As they walked, Strength saw several people enjoying the fruits of their labor. They played and celebrated as if life had never ended but was reborn,

“My dear, you are in Summerland,” the Goddess said. “Your journey has been long and perhaps one you did not know you were seeking. However, you are here now. The Great Ritual you were seeking was of your own rebirth.”

Strength looked at her with love and trust; she followed her further up the tree where she came across Death.

“This is why we met too, little one. It was fate.” Death now took her hand leading her the rest of the way up the tree.

When she reached the top of the tree, the God awaited her, now joined by the Goddess. The Great Ritual was about to begin, and Strength was about to be reborn.

Ravenwonderingdragon has been a practicing Witch for several years. She is a published author, aspiring screenwriter, Certified Tarot Consultant, and avid Tarot deck collector. She does professional Tarot and Dream interpretation readings at her website: http://www.readingsbyravenwonderingdragon.com/. Ravenwonderingdragon lives with her family that includes some furry cats in the Southeastern U. S.

 

Legacy of Magick by Ellen Dugan: A Review

by Adam Sartwell

Ellen Dugan, author of Seasons of Witchery and The Garden Witch’s Herbal, has written many useful, earthy and practical instruction books on the craft. Embarking on a new path, Dugan joins the ranks of Michelle Belanger, D.J.Conway, and Silver Ravenwolf and other well-known occult writers who have ventured into fiction. Dugan’s self-published debut novel, Legacy of Magick, is written with her personal humor and conversational style. The first in a series, Legacy of Magick embraces Dugan’s innate storytelling abilities and personal knowledge of the craft.

There is always the question of how to represent magick in fiction when you are actually a practitioner of the craft. Dugan takes a grounded approach to magick in the novel. The main character Autumn, a seer, is a magickal novice because of her mother’s influence in her immediate family. Now that she has moved in with her father’s relatives, while attending graduate school, more of her magickal abilities are surfacing – although they don’t come so easily as to be unbelievable in the story. Autumn has to work at improving her magic by actually studying it as she deals with old family feuds. Though she has a family legacy, she is not instantly in control of her power or sight; her natural clairvoyance helps her through some of her challenges, but in others, she falls short. As pagans we sometimes have this belief that just because your family has magick, your path to magic is easier. Dugan shows the reality to this misguided assumption.

It is also important that the main character thinks about whether or not it is ethical to use her powers without consent, even if it is for the highest good of the person. She and her family have multiple discussions about this, and she gets to feel what it is like to have that consent taken from her, driving the lesson home.

The only power that has a little fictional embellishment is Autumn’s cousin Ivy’s telekinesis and Ivy’s brother Bran’s effect on lights. Both of these things are possible in our world (having experienced both of them personally) but it is nice to visit a world where telekinesis and electromagnetic response is a bit more consciously controlled.

The cover of the book is simple and classic, with a blood-red moon being reflected in a hand mirror. The Blood Moon is referenced many times in the story and appears clairvoyantly in a mirror much in the way that the cover art depicts.

The story unfolded at a good pace. It’s a relaxing read, recommended to keep you turning pages well beyond bed time. Legacy of Magick is available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon; it is also available in stores and in Nook e-book.

Adam Sartwell is a Founder and Virgo lead minister of the Temple of Witchcraft. Adam’s psychic and intuitive gifts led him to study Witchcraft in his teens and he is a teacher, healer, and professional Tarot reader. He spends time hand-crafting products for the Temple store (which he manages) and has written essays for The Green Lovers and Ancestors of the Craft anthologies from Copper Cauldron Publishing. He can be reached at virgo@templeofwitchcraft.org.

A link to our past

Link to our past

The grave itself is but a covered bridge,    
Leading from light to light, through a brief darkness!

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Golden Legend (1951)

Ris Selchidh is an practicing eclectic Pagan with close ties to Maine and the ocean. With a degree in Cultural Anthropology, he currently works as a bookkeeper and pharmacy technician and volunteers with NOAA. Ris enjoys nothing more than being outdoors, whether that’s just walking along the seashore or wandering in the woods with his camera.

Who has faced the Harvest Night?

Tailtiu labored ’till

Her deathly flight…

Indeed…

Lugh acknowledged

His mother’s toil…

So too, then,

Lughnasadh requires our moil…

While we celebrate Her Sacrifice

With games and flame…

(For this bounty of the year

demands our acclaim…)

We must remember the sacrifice shared…

And in sharing our gifts

Prepare to be bared…

Knowing…

Cernunnos calls

to begin The Hunt…

To gather meat

for winter’s drought…

For in the dark

Of this lessening hour

We spend our strength

While preparing our power…

As The Great Lord wanes,

And The Lady’s soon to sleep…

May The Harvest and the Hunt

Flaunt in Full Vitality…

For the Cycle of Life

Spiraling ’round and ’round

Envelops Infinity

(If we choose to be bound…)

And while we hold choice

To choose as We Will

Awakened or No…

Tis…

Our Path to Fulfill…

(An’ ol’ bent Crom Dubh delights

In gathering his own…

From ubiquitous planting-

So I am told…)

© 2014 Raven Wynn

A former teacher, minister, alcohol/drug and family counselor, Raven now focuses his attention and energy on writing poetry, hand sewing leather journals, crafting feather quill dip pens, and naturescape/infrared photography. Living in a small town on the banks of a quiet river with Majíi, a Siamese cat, Raven experiences life through a (pre)-celtic animistic cosmology celebrating our sacred individuality within the oneness of all.

Temple Bell Call for Submissions

As Samhain approaches and we enter the dark half of the year, we work within both physically and spiritually. The Temple Bell is looking for submissions sharing members’ workings for the new turn of the Wheel of the Year.

We also are always willing to see reviews, rituals, and pieces dealing with the Sabbat. Please send any queries to the templebell@templeofwitchcraft.org.

Where are the Spiders?

Garden Spider

by Tim Titus

Last winter I posted an article about the bizarre winter we had in southern California. We had very little rain, and the daytime temperature rarely dropped below 75 degrees. Every cause has its effect, and I was concerned that our warm winter months would lead to some unfortunate side effects in the fall. We may be seeing those side effects now.

Our spiders have disappeared. Normally, late August brings the big, beautiful garden spiders to our suburban yards. They spin durable, intricate webs that hang from trees, eaves, and rain gutters, then they sit in the dead center and wait for their prey. I can spend all day just studying their web design as they glisten in the sun.

Some may recoil at the idea of missing our normal eight-legged autumn visitors, but everything is connected. Our most common summer insect is the housefly. They start buzzing around in mid-spring. By summer’s end, they are pretty heavy. Flies serve their own purpose, but as anyone who ever enjoys a meal in their backyard can attest to, in large numbers flies are quite a nuisance. The appearance of those big brown garden spiders heralds in a welcome new predator ready to kill off those annoying flies.

Without spiders, we’re still full of flies. Flies that want to help themselves to a taste of my lunch or a sip of my wine. Flies that are usually all dead by now. Something isn’t right.

Whatever is going on, it’s probably related to that unseasonably hot winter I mentioned. It’s well known by now that California is suffering a severe drought. All up and down the state’s major highways, traffic signs alert us to the lack of water and plead with us to conserve. Disturbing pictures of our reservoirs before and after the drought were recently circulated around the internet. They show a water supply that has dwindled to levels that can make you start to treat every drop like your own blood. You’d expect spiders would love to be where the flies are, but maybe their thirst is a more powerful motivator. Flies are abundant; water is scarce.

As we grow on the path on the Witch, we become more and more in tune with the patterns of the natural world. I have strong childhood memories of staring at garden spiders while walking to my first day of school. I learned early to connect them with the fall. But up until the past few years, I’m not sure I would have connected them to the disappearance of the flies at around the same time. Nor would I have considered how water levels may play a role in any of it. I was a suburban kid, surrounded by manicured lawns and gated communities, completely out of tune with actual nature.

As we continue through the turning of the Wheel, more and more of the the world’s mysteries open up. You don’t need sabbat rituals or occult books to tell you that spiders eat flies, but the deeper connections both in the natural world and within ourselves continue to reveal themselves as we experience the cycles in a magickal way. That goes for any number of facts about the natural world – you can understand them intellectually from a sixth grade science education, but the esoteric, personal meanings they carry for those of us on the Witch’s Path take time and experience to understand.

What is the spider’s mystery for you? Do you find yourself neglecting your normal practice in any way? Are you experiencing your own drought? Are you surrounded by spiritual flies? Like the missing spiders – or the missing waters – that previously vital, but now neglected, part of you could be damaging you in ways you don’t yet fully understand, allowing those energetic nasties to enter your life. As we approach Samhain, now would be a good time to do some cleansing work. Meditate. Talk to your guides. Just as spiders spin webs to catch their prey, seek the places where your web isn’t fully cast. Seek the holes that are letting in the flies. Seek sustenance while eliminating the habits which don’t serve your spiritual growth.

One of Scott Cunningham’s Thirteen Goals of the Witch is to “attune with the cycles of the Earth.” While that goal is partially about understanding nature, it’s also about discovering their deeper meanings for you, your life, and the development of your soul. The more we attune, the more we re-tune, and the healthier we become in all the worlds. We just need to bring back the spiders.

Tim is a Witchcraft V student and the co-leader of the Temple of Witchcraft Healing Case Study Group, a service of the Virgo Ministry. He writes at his own blog, Intersections, which focuses on the crossovers between science, art, and mainstream culture from a Pagan perspective. For more information on joining the Healing Case Study Group, contact him at healingcases@templeofwitchcraft.org.

The Mystery of Bread

As we turn the Wheel of the Year once again, we arrive at Lammas, the first of the three harvest festivals. To celebrate the first cut of wheat Kurt Hunter brings us his unique thoughts on bread. While written during Imbolc his piece connects us with the fruits of the Lammas harvest.

Elemental Cooking: Mysteries that Become Mysteries

by Kurt Hunter

If anyone has been following my Facebook page in recent days then you likely know I’ve been delving into the strange and arcane world of cooking, specifically, baking–even more than that, of baking breads. Quick breads, sweet breads, yeast breads especially because those always seemed the most unfathomable. Now I have experienced the chemistry of it and, as the Ancients knew, the art of alchemy is strongly related to the science of chemistry. Many of our spiritual practices and traditions can be linked to the operations of preparing food, because food is life, life is chemistry but—more than that—life is alchemy. The spark of life that happens when inorganic compounds become organic compounds and then living organic compounds is still unknown to science. It has something to do with energy, and maintaining structure in the midst of a decaying universe while promoting diversity, and being able to duplicate its own pattern so the process can continue. We understand the definitions but I am not sure how much closer we are to understanding the ineffable stuff of life itself–at least not in the sense of our relatively modern definitions of “science”.

Shamans, mystics, alchemists, magicians, and all our hoary ilk have been pondering this very question for thousands of years. Life might be considered the infusion of spirit into matter. All sorts of mystical principles are bound to this idea. Before there was the written language the shaman understood it. They carried it to us from the spirit world. Before we made a systematic study of it, the priests knew it, for the gods told them. Apparently it was important we learn to ask these questions. With the asking and the exploring came the discovery of many an edifice of scholarly thought on the very topic of life itself. At some point mysticism and science diverged for much of Western civilization. That’s too bad. It’s fairly commonplace amongst occultists to blame the Christian Church for this suppression of knowledge despite the irony that monks and scribes from that same church served as the only source of many magickal teachings that we are resurrecting today. I do often wonder what life would be like in this world if that hadn’t happened. Some say it would have been as though Atlantis never sank below the waves. But if that had happened then, likely, I would never have embarked on my culinary adventure.

The Pagan community is driven by big larger-than-life images: Myths. Stories. Fables. One of my favorite old-time horror flicks is Frankenstein, based on the novel by Mary Shelley almost 200 years ago (that long?) A part of our popular culture is that particular scene, that particular line, where Dr. Frankenstein is hovering beside his greatest creation, shouting “It’s ALIVE!” This is obviously a cautionary tale about the pursuit of knowledge going where it has no business to be. Essentially, life is best left up to the gods. This isn’t a particularly new notion however. Just delve back into history about the story of Prometheus, he who dared to steal fire (life) from Them. Fast forward centuries to the biblical tale of Adam and Eve– Yahweh is rather ticked that Man went and stole a bit of His divine prerogative. It would only have been so much better for you if you’d just remained in the lovely paradise of ignorance. Do as your told and your parents will see to it that you’re kept safe. But we are incapable of that. Because we have that blend of living curious humanity, ipso facto, we have that blend of living curious humanity. Blame the gods. They did it, so in essence, they made us into Them. Is it any surprise that we keep trying to be Them?

But we aren’t ready to understand these secrets!
We will destroy everything with hidden knowledge!
God(s) know best, just follow Them!

Yeah. Whatever.

I loved my parents deeply. Did I always do what they said? No. Seriously, show me an adult who didn’t get into trouble. Did I get burned sometimes? I think that is essentially the point. We’re going to explore. We’re going to make a mess. We’re going to turn the kitchen into a disaster area. We’re going to tip over the cosmic apple cart with our gods-be-damned curiosity because that’s how we’re made. And, most importantly, we’re going to make mistakes.

And so, many lines later, exactly what in the hell does this have to do with baking bread? Do I digress? A little. It’s an intellectual tangent but life is, really, a meandering foray into the conceptual dough of un-being.

Any kitchen witch knows this truth: cooking is all about the Elements. It’s all about balancing the Elements appropriately. There are various excellent books on this very profound Mystery. The cunning art of the place where we cook is an absolute favorite in many a book of shadows, grimoire and tome. This seems like an excellent time to plug author Dawn Hunt and her magickal recipe compendium (this is a fancy phrase for “cookbook”) Cuchina Aurora. While you’re salivating also grab Tastes from the Temple, a collection of wonderful stories and concoctions from my magickal alma mater The Temple of Witchcraft. I get double entendre word score here; the Latin phrase “alma mater” also means “Nourishing Mother”. You’d think that it was Demeter/Ceres who vouchsafed these mysteries to me, but no, at least not directly. Honour She whose Mystery brings the grain, but it wasn’t Her who hit me upside the head tonight. That happens at Lammas.

I’m writing this whole convoluted morass of ingredients to illustrate a point that was given to me quite elegantly by Brigid this past week. Specifically tonight, on Imbolc, as I was cooking my final Great Loaf Offering Unto Her as the culmination of a week’s worth of solemn observation. You see, despite my love of attempting to cook, I have a rather irrational fear of putting things in the oven (because I invariably forget they’re even there and the imp of the perverse haunts the timer on my stove). I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have thought “What’s that smell?” to be immediately followed by the “Oh Shit” moment of realizing you don’t have nearly enough air flow in your apartment and your smoke detector is going to throw yet another conniption fit. So baking bread is really a serious leap for me. I enjoy the steps of it, so long as someone else is fundamentally in charge. I have been educated in just how, elementally speaking, a sensitive process it is. It’s like creating life, a little too much of one thing or too little too much of another thing, and you’ve got something that isn’t fit for human consumption, much less a divine offering. Fortunately for me, Brigid has a lovely sense of humor.

Which goes to say, I learned a lot more from my failures than my successes this past week. We’re supposed to fail. Life is designed to fail. It perfects itself, incrementally, upon its path to perfection. But it really has to blow it all up, and spectacularly is better because nothing serves to focus the attention like a ceiling full of smoke. Here is what She behest me to say about these lessons.

EARTH: Yah. Ingredients. I tasted some pretty foul stuff. Who knew that a pinch of salt was so bloody important? Well, as you read this may have and are laughing, but I certainly didn’t. Corn starch also makes a poor substitute for baking powder (but it looks the same Mom!) Also if you put too much fruit of the Earth into your recipe without allowing for something to balance it, like a bigger loaf, then bad things happen. What’s that smell?

AIR: It’s good to know what you’re doing. It’s great to be able to understand the simple causality of “If X, then Y, if not X, then not Y”. A statement of Boolean logic. All sorts of strange things occur if you ignore this simple truth. The written word also rules recipes. I don’t know enough yet to violate the rules when I think I do. Smoke is also ruled by Air, which is a good thing otherwise I’d be a crisped hunk about now.

FIRE: Obviously this is going into the oven. That sacred Element of the forge and hearth that so compelled me to try to honor Her right and proper that I’d make repeated stabs at it. It approached the level of irrational compulsion and an expanded waistline because I made more bread than I can realistically consume. (But damn homemade bread that turns out is good!) I needed a bigger freezer. Thank goodness I have tolerant coven mates. I had to bake something with grain in it every day for the past week or so. They didn’t all fail, but enough did to recognize that my temperature gauge likely needs some adjusting.

WATER: You know what happens when you accidentally read ¼ cup to mean ½ cup? A soppy, blobby mess that simply did not have the nice puffy consistency of a good sourdough but didn’t even take to slicing it crosswise with a knife before baking. It simply refused the decency to tolerate a little human error in this regard. Why aren’t you folding out of the bowl now? I cannot get enough flour on my hands to make you-come-loose! Too little and you just crack and crumble. I’m a water sign yet this seems to have been my most frequent nemesis.

SPIRIT: I’ve been talking about life. What part of bread yet retains the spark of life before you put it together? The yeast! I have grown to adore yeast. The smell. The funny little bubbles and swirling, expanding foam it makes in the water. I would simply stare into the water, willing the bread to live! I’m sure an entire form of divination can come out of this. (Yeast-o-mancy?) More than anything it was the thing that made me feel truly like Dr. Frankenstein, going “Mwa ha haaaaa!” I don’t seem to have forgotten any recipes that called for it, or added it to any that said “don’t do it for the luv of God!” I would have liked to have seen if I added too much. I might end up summoning Cthulhu. Perhaps next Imbolc.

Bread is like a fussy kitty who refuses to eat what you put in its dish. It’s also a fascinating study on the human capacity for divine error, the Elements, balance, and most importantly, the ability to laugh and learn from your mistakes.

Yay bread!

Kurt Hunter is Georgian elder and NROOGD red cord who has been working in the Craft for over 25 years. He is High Priest of ElvenOak Coven in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and is currently a student in the ministerial seminary of the Temple of Witchcraft. Kurt works as a professional counselor and clinical supervisor and enjoys stone collecting, gardening, photography and gaming. He lives in Portland, OR and can be reached at kurthuntertow@gmail.com

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