Thursday, May 3, 2018

Why Insta-worthy Magical Candle Dressing is Hazardous to Your Health

As I'm sure we all are aware, the internet is both a blessing and a curse. It makes accessing information on pretty much anything easy as a few key strokes. But then it also gives you access to ALL the info on that topic, including a great deal of misinformation, fantasy, wish-fulfillment, spiritual bypassing, and stuff that's just plain WRONG and will mess you up! I've seen quite a few things that I've wanted to address due to their straight-up health and wellness risks.

Like the crystal yoni egg fad that's going right now - it's an amazing way to get a nasty vaginal infection, and that's about it. And that's not even addressing all the issues related to counterfeit crystals that are colored with toxic dyes, which will leech out into your mucosal membranes and get right into your bloodstream. I know, there is actually a long history of such things as Jade Eggs used for this purpose. That doesn't mean that there are not much healthier alternative now available to us. "Historically accurate" doesn't automatically equal "smart" or "safe".

If you want to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, plain old kegels are scientifically proven to do the job best, but if you're hell bent on having some equipment to help you out, only use products made with surgical steel or other medical-grade materials that can be properly cleaned and will not harbor micro-organisms. If you're wanting to heal and connect with your Goddess-energy, or heal from past traumas, etc - I fully support you in your efforts! But please keep the crystals on the outside of your body. They work perfectly well laying on top of your pelvis, as opposed to minefield you enter when you put them inside of it. And don't even get me started on the related train-wreck and health hazard of "magical douches"! 

But as maddening as it is to see people engaging in infection-inviting behaviors in the name of spirituality, I've seen something else on my Facebook and Instagram feeds more and more, and this one could outright end up with someone either losing their home, or their life due to fire. We need to talk about over-dressing your candles with all those pretty herbs, root pieces, glitter, metal charms, etc that are so popular all over social media.

I know it looks really nice. I do. I ogle the pictures just like everyone else. However, I also know that once you light those gorgeous candles loaded with colorful flower petals and crystal pieces that they will simply become a giant flame. Nothing magical about it, then.

I've also seen companies marketing candle dressing kits where they show a video of someone dumping about 1/4 cup of glitter and an entire 1/2oz bottle of oil onto a glass-encased vigil light, rolling that mess around and then lighting it. 

If you do this, you are asking for a fire. Full stop. That isn't magic. It's irresponsible, and frankly wasteful. What is most crazy-making about this is watching people spin this reckless, risky behavior into evidence for how powerful their magic is. "Look at my tray full of sooty, broken glass candles! And this novena candle that has a full 1 foot flame coming off the top of it! Proof positive of how hard my spirits are working!!" I have seen this SO MUCH over the past year.

This hits me as proof of one of two things: that they are very inexperienced workers, or they are out to scam the unsuspecting. (The blackened candle glass is an element in a classic scam, where the scam artist says they will set a light for a client, and then afterwards they produce a very dramatically blackened candle glass, saying it's proof of a bad curse, and that more money is needed for more work for that client to be free of the spiritual danger!) I hope that it's mostly just inexperience and too much enthusiasm. 

Just, no.

You legitimately DO NOT need more than a PINCH of herbs, &/or more than a few drops of oil in order to dress a candle authentically, powerfully, and effectively. Trust me. I've been doing this for 21 years now, and I've watched many traditional elders dress their candles. If you're using more than a pinch and a few drops - and I understand how aesthetically pleasing it is to your eyes when you do - IT IS A FIRE HAZARD. Period. Not to mention that some things - like most glitters - are toxic when heated or burned.

Any dramatic flames, or pops, or glass breaking, or soot in the glass that occurs when you have over-dressed your candle are simply the result of you over-dressing. It is NOT spirit work. It is not a magical sign. It doesn't mean your trick is working, or "taking a hit" for you. It's purely the result of a flame combined with over-enthusiastic craftsmanship turned dangerous fuel. Period.

You cannot divine anything from the way an over-dressed candle burns. So if you're over-dressing the candle, and then trying to perform divination about the situation from that, you're wasting your time and energy. You've also basically wasted that candle.

This is not to say that candles cannot get up to some wacky stuff when spirit is moving through them, and it is dressed correctly. They can. They do! I

f you've dressed your candle with a pinch and a few drops, and after setting it prayerfully you start seeing unusual flame movement, or a lot of extra smoke - that means something. That's why there is a whole divination skill set around reading the details and remains of a candle burn. I love watching a candle burn - the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle shifts and changes in the flame and over all burn, and the resulting shapes in the wax are evocative, informative, and all part of the work. Yes, sometimes you get a really sooty burn. Yes, sometimes the glass cracks. But when this happens as a practitioner, I always double-check myself to ensure that it was not the result of a mistake that I made, before assigning spiritual meaning to it. Once I confirm that it was not an action on my end that caused the anomaly in the burn, then I can feel confident it is an actual sign!

But if you've over-dressed your candle, all you're getting is a unnecessary fire hazard in your living/working space.

I can completely understand how visual aesthetics are important to some people to really help them get into that ritual, magical mindset. If you are really attached to lots and lots of flowers and shiny things (I was a raver - I lived in a 90s silver holographic universe with glitter and glowsticks everywhere, I get it) put them around your altar space, but NOT into your candles. Be wary of over-decorating platters that you may be using underneath multiple candles. As the candles burn lower, is there a chance that one of the flames will use some of the items as fuel or a new wick? You may wish to rethink that, re-organize your decorations, or have a secondary platter under your burning tray that you can decorate to your heart's content.

I'm not here to rain on anyone's parade. If you've been over-dressing your candles, just chalk it up to a life-lesson, have a lighter hand when it comes to the herbs and such next time, and go on with your life! Be grateful you didn't run into any trouble before now. Every practitioner has over-dressed a candle at some point in time. Most of us learned real quick how unsafe that is, and how it's not conducive to our spiritual work.

There was a particular method that I had come across when I was a new worker, that I really loved. I won't say exactly what it was, because I don't want others making the same mistake. But suffice it to say it was a method that purposefully put an item into the vigil candles, that had the capability of becoming a second wick, as well as drifting too close to the glass which can cause too much heat transfer and result in a broken jar. At first, it seemed really powerful working to me - because I really LIKED that method, and it was very evocative for me. I had some early red flags that it wasn't super safe, such as the second wicking which happened almost every time with this, and also sometimes it would result in some too large for comfort flames. But I just sort of ignored it, because I liked my personal narrative of this being a powerful working, and so far nothing had gone super dramatically wrong! After the third cracked glass, though - and thankfully the jars always cracked clean around the bottom, and there was no explosion of glass, or shards to contend with - I had to listen to that little voice in the back of my head that had been saying " hazard, lady!" As soon as I stopped using that method, all of that goofiness stopped. This wasn't magic, it was just poor technique that did not work.

My point being... I get it. I just worry that as more people are learning in the Instagram age, that they may not have more experienced practitioners available to let them know that less is more, even when MORE is what sells on social media. And common sense seems in REAL short supply now, and I don't trust folks to get to that point where they finally realize that something is more dangerous than anything else before an actual injury, or a resulting fire that gets out of control.

So here are some basic rules of thumb to help you get the best burns, without burning down your home:

* Test burn new brands/styles of candles before using them for magic.

Get a couple and burn them and watch what they do when they are just burned plain. Note how long they take to burn, if they leave a wax or soot residue, how high the flame generally burns with that wax, if the wick stays centered or drifts to the side as the candle burns down, how much wax tends to roll off the candle and puddle, etc. Now you have a control set of data for when you start using them for magical workings.

* Trim your wicks!!

Many people don't understand that wicks must be attended to. When you first purchase a new candle, very often the wick is far too long. You'll need to trim that to a reasonable length. If you're burning something like a novena candle that will be lit over a long period of time, you need to plan to check your wick several times a day. It may need to be re-trimmed, it may have developed "knots" that need to be removed, the wick may be drifting towards the glass and so becoming a cracking/breaking/exploding hazard, etc.

Candle magic is ACTIVE magic - it's not a front-loaded magic where you prepare the candle and then set it and forget it. You must check up on it regularly, pray over it, attend to it, and act as a flame-keeper to shepherd the burn, and thereby the working. 

* Let's talk all things sparkly and lovely - GLITTER!!

Glitter has been used for a long time as a component in some practitioners' candle dressing, so I have no quibble with using it. I use it sometimes myself! But, glitter, the majority of which is made from plastics, is toxic when burned. It's also TERRIBLE for the environment. Now that we know better, we need to do better.  If you still want to use glitter in your candle dressing (or other conjure works), make sure to get biodegradable glitters. They exist! They're every bit as beautiful. You still need to use it sparingly.

* Grind your herbs for candle dressing WELL!!

They should really almost be a powder. (There are a few exceptions to this, but generally unless a spell specifically tells you that you should beware popping or otherwise flaming herbs in the dressing, you should NOT have that happening.) You ideally don't want a lot of chunks or leaves left. As the candle burns, these can turn into secondary wicks, increasing the heat output which can stress many containers to the breaking point. There is also a chance that the plant matter will pop or explode, sending sparks flying and increasing the fire risk. 

If hand-grinding herbs isn't for you, just pick up a small coffee grinder at the store for $10. They work AMAZING for this kind of thing.

After you are done with any inscribing &/or loading, apply your oil to the candle. Then take the ground herbs and lightly sprinkle them onto your candle. It should be a light dusting - LIGHT! The oil will make the herbs stick to the candle, and you'll be ready to set it working. When properly dressed, the herbs on the candle should IN NO WAY change how the candle would have burned in other circumstances.


Remember, if you're using high quality, authentically crafted conjure oils, then you will already be putting lots of herbs and curios onto the candle through dressing with oil alone. 

Adding additional herbs (sometimes called double-dressing) over the oils is a traditional, but not a universal, and certainly not a mandatory practice. Your prayers, inscriptions, loaded concerns (if applicable as in the case of figural candles), and condition oil are more than enough for very effective candle magic. 

* Use fire-safe containers and platters for your candle work.

I prefer straight up metal. Make sure that the surface that container on is also heat proof. You don't want to come home to warped counter-tops or shelves. If you are going to be leaving a candle unattended, be VERY sure that where you place it is safe. A fireplace, or inside an oven, or a ceramic or cast iron (NOT the vinyl ones) bath tub can be very safe - but still not fool-proof!

Even in using best practices, and excellent fire safety, practitioners who burn a lot of candles will nearly all have at least one story of a close call they had. (I have 2 close call stories, myself) So there is no reason to increase your risks even more by thinking that Instagram-worthy elaborately festooned candles are safe, or desirable, or NECESSARY for successful magic. They are not. 

So what happens if you over-dress a candle, and/or you are able to identify that an anomaly in the burning process was most likely due to your own errors, rather than some spiritual event? Just dispose of the candle like your normally would, and then start the work over again with a new candle, and more careful and moderate technique. That's it. No drama. Just accept that it happened, learn from your mistake, and move forward!

Happy Hoodooin'!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year Y'all!

I hope that everyone had a wonderful New Year evening - whether you laid low, or went out and made a night of it.

There's a lot of hype around it being 2012 and what that might mean on a global and cosmic scale. Aaron Leicht has written a really fantastic article that I encourage you to surf over and read entitled "So you think 2012 is the end of the world?"

It's still Winter time, so it's a perfect time to setting the stage for really germinating the seeds of your goals - making sure you have all the right tools (mental, physical, and spiritual) to succeed. Even if you didn't make any specific resolutions, doing some cleansing and road opening work in these first few days of the New Year is a fantastic practice to undertake to tap into the fresh energy flows washing over the world.

This year is going to be a very special one, and I encourage you all to make the most of it. Now is the perfect time to really set a goal for yourself, and do what is necessary to support your own efforts and resolve to achieve that goal. Don't get crazy. Shoot for something modest and realistically achievable that will actually have a large impact on your life over the long-term. Like many people, you may wish to drop a few pounds, so doing something as modest as switching to a healthier breakfast option - which is easy and financially simple to do - can make a big difference in the long run. When you start seeing the small payoff from that, it's easy and even FUN to make another small change that will manifest even more positive results.

It's a good time to do a good spiritual house cleansing - work a Van Van spell kit over the course of a week to clear out the 2011 dust bunnies, and invite all the gold-and-silver-sparkles of 2012.
It's also a great time to do or have done on your behalf an in-depth year ahead divination for yourself to see what energy patterns are dancing in your sphere so you can either embrace them, or take evasive & corrective actions to manifest the future which YOU desire. (And, yes, this is exactly what I'm going to be doing over the next few days!)

Stay tuned for my newsletter which will be out this week, talking a bit about Road Opening for the New Year, and with some new custom rootwork offerings to be hitting the virtual shelves at Queen of Pentacles Conjure Shop.

Many blessing to you and yours!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Venezuela's Espiritismo Marialionza

Thanks to the Wild Hunt blog I stumbled on an article about the Maria Lionza religion of Venezuela today and found it fascinating! It's a Spiritism tradition that has many groups of spirits - including Indians, Doctors, Criminals, and even some Vikings - which are headed by their Queen, Maria Lionza who was believed to be a native woman long ago. It blends Catholicism with some African practices, and Espiritismo beliefs, and 1/3 of Venezuelans are said to participate in it - though it's not just limited to local Venezuelan devotees.

What really caught my eye is that Dr. Jose Gregorio Hernandez who I frequently work with for healing and finding appropriate treatments and practitioners, is one of the main figures in the Doctor family of spirits. This makes sense seeing as how he is Venezuelan!

I'd love to learn more about this, and especially in how the Blessed Dr. Hernandez is worked with in this tradition - and thought that perhaps other readers of my blog who hadn't heard of this current of practice might also find it interesting as I had. I especially liked this short video showing some of the practitioners and rituals associated with Espiritismo Marialionza:


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Trad Folk Magic Fest 2011 – After Thoughts

After spending 3 days immersed in conjure culture and meeting many new friends and colleagues, I had the opportunity to sit down with some of the attendees and talk about our experiences. The likes, dislikes, and things we’d like to see in the future as this Festival appears to be really taking root and growing like a weed! Basically you’re in for an opinion piece peppered with wild fantasies…so buckle up. At the end I’ll tell about my creepy experience in the Séance Room of Muriel’s with some of the others.

LIKE: We all liked when we were provided with live demonstrations and hands-on practice opportunities. Books and the internet are fantastic, but learning face-to-face from other practitioners is where the gold is, and this kind of Festival provides an opportunity to do just that. Obviously with the number of people present and space at a premium (both lecture rooms were barely large enough to contain everyone), these kinds of classes require extra logistics – such as supplies, extra tables, etc – that makes them more challenging to hold. But that doesn’t change that we’d love to see more of that.

LIKE: We loved having the opportunity to get out into the city with some of the presenters for special events, such as the magical shopping trip (which I sadly did not attend) and the Voodoo séance. We also loved how visceral some of the lectures became as spirit started to move through the presenters and the room. But it seemed that presenters often held back, perhaps because they felt the context was not completely appropriate or that some in the eclectic audience would feel uncomfortable.

WISH: We wished that there had been more opportunity for immediate experiential application of the material we’d covered in the lectures. Especially with something like the Boneyard Work lecture with Orion. It would have been AMAZING to have been able to leave from the lecture, and go into a cemetery to care for some graves. Now, obviously in New Orleans most cemeteries close mid-afternoon, so that would make it necessary to have the lecture in the morning, etc. But having that experience while the spirit and energy of the workshop was so fresh would have been invaluable.

WISH: It would have been extremely wonderful to have been able to more fully experience the local spiritual culture of New Orleans. I’m sure it was a logistics thing again, but with several well respected Voodoo houses in the immediate area, it would have been amazing to have had the opportunity to experience a full-scale Fete, with the entire compliment of drums, and traditional litanies and songs, and authentic dances. Many attendees have never had the blessing of attending a Fete before, and it’s an amazing experience that would be of particular interest to those practicing the folk arts of the African diaspora.

Even if it’s not specifically Voodoo, especially as they are looking at holding future Fests in other locations, but a full-scale ritual (as much as one can pull one off in that kind of larger Fest atmosphere) would have been thoroughly appreciated. I know many of us were left really wishing that Orion had let fly during the Bible Conjure workshop, as he admitted he’d held back. I understand that in the middle of a workshop might not be the best place to let the Spirit take over, but for those who may wish a closer spiritual experience the option of attending a full ritual or even charismatic praise service would have been most welcome, instructive, and valued.

WISH: If a particular presenter is known for being able to go on and on and still be providing fantastic information, find some way to allow them longer slots of time! Mamma Starr and Orion both could have been given much more substantial blocks of time, and everyone there would have just eaten it up. Their storyteller styles lent to a more free-form and spirit-led method of getting across information, and it would have been nice not to have been rushed out of some of their workshops. Auntie Sindy and Miss Susan seemed much more attuned to the more traditional presenter/teacher formats, and so they were more able to succinctly get across the amount of material they planned for, without their being the sense of being rushed or getting cut off. It would be great to see presenter styles taken more into consideration when planning out lecture schedules in the future.

WISH: Since the Fests are going to be occurring regularly, and many new attendees will want to partake in some workshops that have been given before, and the presenters are worried about repeating information for those who are returning attendees, perhaps offer some 101 and 201s. For instance Mamma Starr didn't talk too much about Black Hawk, because she assumed that most had been there before and wouldn't want to hear similar information, and also she wanted to build on the information she'd given before. All understandable. But those of us who hadn't attended last year were a wee sad to not hear the Black Hawk info. If she had a Black Hawk workshop for new attendees, and then a White Eagle & Mother Ross workshop for those who wanted to deepen their knowledge, that would have been ideal! Having some more "advanced" class options for repeat attendees would be really amazing.

WISH: This one really is just pure fantasy, but I wish there had been a way that I could have attended ALL the workshops! In attending Mamma Starr’s Black Hawk, White Eagle, and Mother Ross lecture, I had to miss Orion and Auntie Sindy’s workshop on cleansing and uncrossing work. Trying to decide between those two power-houses was like some kind of Sophie’s Conjure Choice. I also missed out on Miss Susan’s workshop on Astrology for Conjure, and Auntie Sindy’s workshops on love and home protection/prosperity work.


LIKE: The workshops were, for the most part, all filmed this year. So if we missed something, or we just want the relive something, we’ll be able to order the tapes!! And also, the intent is to make those tapes available to the public too, so even those who cannot make the Fests will be able to get a good portion of the material in the future.

DISLIKE: Overall, there was precious little to complain about!

However, there were several instances where an attendee sort of “dominated” a workshop, and really took overly large chunks of time away from the lecture. Now anyone who has taught or spoken in public knows that there is often that one (sometimes more if you’re unlucky) person who continually asks off-topic questions, or asks incessant questions that stall the presenter completely, or otherwise repeatedly interject with their own stories and opinions, and this easily takes over and takes away from the facilitator and indeed the other participants. I’ve been there and had to face the challenge of wrangling such a person. In fact, at the beginning of the Fest we were all asked to basically just listen to the material, and save questions and comments for the end when a presenter would invite such. I realize this was an attempt to pre-empt “over-enthusiasm”. But it fell on some deaf ears. Several workshops were taken over in this manner, and it was frustrating to those of us who really wanted to milk every second of knowledge from the sessions. It would be nice to have presenters be a bit less polite and accommodating when it’s apparent that someone is over-stepping such boundaries.

So that’s my Hindsight Analysis!

Now, the final night of the Fest, after all the workshops were through, everyone dashed off in different directions to party in whatever way the fancy struck them. I ended up going with Andrea and her hubby (SOO sorry I can’t remember his name), and Randy Love into the French Quarter. We had reservations for cocktails in the Séance Lounge at Muriel’s on Jackson Square. I ADORE Muriel’s and especially the mind-numbingly atmospheric Séance Lounge, which is actually where I had my wedding reception. (Seriously – click on the link and look at the pictures; you won’t regret it.) I was excited to be going back.

When we got to the Quarter, we were a little early for our reservations, so we stopped for a drink at the hilariously elaborate Pirates’ Alley Café for some absinthe and general pirate-goodness. Yes, the bar staff all dress the part! I don’t like the flavor of anise, fennel and other black licoricey things, which is sad because the whole ritual of absinthe is gorgeous and I would love to partake. Too curious to not at least give it a go just in case, I had a sip of Randy’s and it was much smoother than I imagined, but still icky for my palate. *Pout*

Onwards to Muriel’s, we found that our reservations had been quite superfluous, as the Séance Lounge was completely empty except for us. This was both cool – as we had the place to ourselves – and not-so-cool as Muriel’s apparently plays a 3 minute loop of spooky dissonant music in there when it’s not populated, just to add some ambience for when people stick their heads in just to look. This 3 minute loop becomes its own form of Water Torture when one sits in that room for any length of time, let me tell you!

Oh, and did I mention that Muriel’s is haunted? Yea. It is. For real.

Now, not being a natural medium I am blessedly not inundated with spirits all the time. I usually have to work at perceiving them – sitting down to meditation, asking them to come, being very still and very quiet so I can pick up the subtlety when they arrive. Generally speaking, unless it’s VERY good or VERY bad, I don’t immediately pick up on presences. Also, when it comes to spirit beings I’m usually very even-keeled and cool-headed. Non-carnate entities (being that have never had a physical body, or had one so long ago that it’s almost a moot point now), and human-spirits-in-visitation don’t phase me. But my skin will crawl and my hackles raise like crazy if a true disembodied spirit is around. I don’t like it. My anxiety shoots through the roof, and despite all my knowledge that everything’s going to be ok, I still get really creeped out. I feel guilty about that, especially since my mother is quite gifted in ghost rescue, but it’s the truth.

This all makes me feel all the worse since Death doesn’t frighten me, and Spirits of Death – such as Santa Muerte, Kali, Baron Samedi and the Ghede, Archangel Azrael – just love me and we get along like gangbusters. I also don’t have a problem with graveyard work, though I admittedly don’t do too much of it. But I’ve always LOVED cemeteries and find them extremely peaceful and beautiful places. So the fact that disembodied spirits of dead people freak me the hell out seems really illogical. I think, in listening to Orion’s breakdown of the various parts and natures of the spirit, that it makes sense. Lingering disembodied spirits are “off” – that’s not a state that is in balance. So that sets my spiritual alarm bells ringing, and gives me a good case of the creeping horrors. Spirit-impressions and Spirit-visitiations, both of which I have no problems with, are balanced and appropriate manifestations of spirit and so don’t jangle me. (These are all just my own personal musings and opinions. I realize plenty of other people would heartily disagree with my interpretations, and that’s totally fine. I hold multiple truths, this is just how I experience things and explain them to myself.)

Back to the story, we’re sitting around talking and having a great time in the Séance Lounge (despite the 3 minute loop of doom), and I keep seeing something out the corner of my eye in the next room by this mirror. I also am feeling really tense. But I tell myself it’s just the music wearing on my nerves. Next thing I know both Andrea and Randy are saying, “do you see that in the corner by the mirror?” My stomach drops, because I’d really been telling myself that I’d just been seeing a wisp of my own hair out of my peripheral vision, and the anxiety was the music. Now I can’t lie to myself anymore. Dammit.

We nicely greet the spirit, and Andrea invites it to sit with us if it wants. I am wanting SO badly to not feel scared, and ever the indoctrinated Canadian just do my best to project apologies for my fear, and communicate goodwill.

The spirit starts knocking in various places in the room. Fine. All well and good. It seems to mostly like to hang out in the corner by that mirror across the room, and that’s also fine with me. Of course, then it starts jumping around in all these wooden carved faces that are on the walls – from one face to another to another. I try to tell myself I’m just making this all up in my head. Sure, the spirit is knocking and hanging out by the mirror, but jumping faces? Nah. That’s when Andrea and Randy both mention that it’s jumping around in the faces. Dammit.

I’m getting really tense. I’m trying to stay all calm and nonchalant. Apparently it’s not working, because everyone starts laughing at me and my obvious discomfort. Andrea decides we should all move and sit over near the mirror where the spirit is. I like to push my boundaries, so I agree. I guess the spirit has a wicked sense of humor, because no sooner do we get over to that area then it starts knocking directly underneath me and also directly behind my head. Gee, thanks. Dammit.

I decide I really can’t take much more. I’m all tense and anxious, and I’m starting to feel kinda dizzy. Ghosts just don’t agree with me. So I ask St. Michael to please put a shield around me so I can no longer be effected by the spirit, but ask that the spirit still be allowed in the general area since everyone else seems to be enjoying it. Immediately, I felt pounds and pounds lighter, the anxiety diminished, and I was able to just enjoy the company of my friends. The spirit still dashed around the room, and we all saw it, and it knocked a few more times.

I will say that although I did not get a sense of overt malevolence from the spirit, it definitely had some anger. I guess you’d kind of have to have a little something unpleasant going on – whether its sadness or anger or pain - or else you wouldn’t be a ghost! When the conversation would turn to something a bit more frustrating or negative, its strength would increase exponentially, and when things would lighten up with laughter and mirth the activity would drop down to nearly nothing. To me that says a little something about the resonance of that particular being. So I don’t feel too badly about putting up my shields! I just DON’T do well with ghosts.

One more freaky thing happened that night. As we stepped outside Muriel’s, a man walked by who was noticeably drunk, but who had something else riding along with him, if you get me. He locked eyes with us on the doorstep of Muriel’s and said “Oh you’re talking to spirits, eh? Hehehehe.” And just walked off as quickly as he’d appeared. The hehehehe part was said really deadpan and weird. It was creepy. I just told St. Michael not to let anything follow me back to the hotel, and when I got back there I put the prayer cloth we’d gotten from Mamma Starr and Orion’s workshop on top of my head to sleep!

The next morning I ended up having a lovely chat with Heatherleigh, Jacki, Papa Newt, and Orion before we headed off to one last breakfast before everyone parted ways. It was a perfect end to a perfectly magical weekend!

My husband was going to be flying in and meeting me that afternoon, and we stayed in NOLA for another 6 days. I was going to be trying to find my family crypt in Lafayette Cemetery, collecting dirt and waters from various sacred locations, visiting churches and Voodoo temples, and eating LOTS of delicious food. And, yes, I’ll tell y’all about that too. With pictures!

Till next time….

Traditional Folk Magic Festival 2011 – Day Three

The third day of the Fest began with a champagne brunch, filled with mimosas, crawfish pies, macaroni & cheese, and bread pudding. Yea. You read that right. Other than a noticeable lack of sauce for the bread pudding (wassup with that?), it was glorious!

I had a cleansing and healing scheduled with Mamma Starr, so I held off on the eating and drinking until after that session. It was so wonderful to get a chance for some hands-on work by her. It’s not only good for the soul, but it’s also instructive, and I tried my best to take in as much as I could. It was a powerful experience, and since having that healing I can attest to having many of the fears that had been plaguing me banished far, far away. And as a completely unanticipated side-effect of the healing, my long standing sensitivity to caffeine has disappeared!

For the past 10 years, I’ve had to either avoid caffeine all together when at my most sensitive (even decaf drinks and chocolate candy often had enough caffeine in them to cause me to become ill), or be extremely judicious in my intake (like anything more than ½ cup of green tea every other day would overload my system). At my worst, I was so sensitive to any stimulating substances, that I had to avoid spicy foods, sugary foods, and even peppermint tea! Thankfully, that phase passed a few years ago, but I still had to be very careful. Papa Newt can attest to how closely I was monitoring my caffeine intake during the Fest so as not to get sick.

Since that healing, I’ve been having REGULAR coffee – and New Orleans-strength coffee at that, and full mugs of green tea without any issues. Sometimes even 2 or 3 cups of green tea in a day. I’ve not been ill, and my sleep has not been disturbed. HALLELUJAH!!

I can’t express how much I’ve missed my coffee and tea, and how grateful I am to have that enjoyment back in my life. Thank God, and thank you Mamma Starr for being a conduit for that healing.

At the conclusion of my healing session, Mamma Starr gave me some very strong encouragement to start learning to read the bones. It’s not something I had really considered, but her method of encouragement was such that there was really no way to get out of it! I’m looking forward to spending time cultivating knowledge of how to work with that form of divination, and have had some bones already present themselves to me…so I seem to be on the right path.

The remainder of the champagne brunch was used to spend more time getting to know the other goers better. I had the pleasure of sitting and chatting with Coventry Creations’ owner Jacki, who did some impromptu readings with the new oracle deck that she’s made. It’s quite ingenious, using the labels from her extensive line of spiritual candles as the basis. Among them there are world deities, magical plants, condition formulas, and magical actions. When they are dealt in a 3-card draw, they create an extremely accurate portrait of the query, along with suggested courses of action. I didn’t even concentrate on a specific question when I drew, letting Spirit give me a message through the cards. And DAMN if it didn’t speak directly and unambiguously to a major challenge in my life at the moment. Jacki is an extremely gifted reader, and her elaborations on the cards were bang-on. Everyone around the table that was blessed with a reading came away feeling blessed with insight and clarity on a variety of issues! Those are some good cards!

After we’d all had our fill of delicious food, and most had at least a slight buzz from the bottomless mimosas, it was time to begin the day’s classes.

The first workshop I attended on Sunday was Creative Conjure with Miss Susan Diamond. This actually turned out to be more of a round-table discussion and brainstorming session than a class or lecture. Miss Susan opened up by speaking a little on using what you have available to you to do the work that needs doing, and not having your magic limited by lack of fancy supplies and exotic herbs. She also spoke a bit about finding the spirits in urban environments, and using a city to one’s magical advantage. Once the ideas starting flowing, the floor was opened up, and Fest-goers began just sharing different creative ways they had approached work in the past. Some really unique ideas were tossed around, and it was interesting to hear about other peoples’ styles.

The next class was the Candle Burning Workshop with Mamma Starr. This was really great, as she pulled up a huge table and laid out all kinds of the tools and supplies she works with. She wasn’t just talking about the work, she was showing us exactly how she goes about doing it! Her style is just so straight-forward and simple, it’s fantastic. Need to shut someone up? Tape their picture to a dressed candle, draw a mouth on top of it, and slap the hell out that mouth while commanding that person to shut it! That co-worker making trouble for you at every turn? Stick their picture upside down under a rock!

As always with Mamma Starr, the topic she begins with is really just a jumping off point. You’ll learn about that topic, but you’ll also get about 10 streams of related information along the way. Bottle work, controlling work, road opening work, blessing work – you name it. And the stories she tells to illustrate her points are just priceless. If you’ve listened to her radio show or read her books on these topics, it’s great to confirm that you’ve correctly understood her method of working by getting to see it performed first-hand. And if you hadn’t encountered her style before, it was a fantastic introduction that will make her other materials all the more instructive.

Over dinner break, the various presenters generously made themselves available to attendees so that anyone with additional questions or concerns could get clarification. Mamma Starr even held a little informal talk with some of the people who had asked about harder works during the general workshop. It was also a last-chance for people to buy from vendors there. I grabbed a few extra oils from Miss Susan’s Serpents Kiss line, and grabbed a few conjure crafts from Mamma Starr for my altars at home. Everyone was feeling happy and energized, and also really anxious for the final workshop of the Fest, the much anticipated lecture on Graveyard work with Orion Foxwood.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter WHAT Orion is talking about. Even if he’s just casually chatting with you, so much knowledge and wisdom just comes flowing out of him in this amazingly accessible, humorous, and inspiring way that’s its just pure bliss. He has this gift for saying exactly the right thing that really makes something hit deep in your heart and take root, bringing your understanding of it to a whole new depth. It’s really remarkable. He’s also extremely charismatic and his presence just effortlessly commands the entire room. This was going to be a great finale to a wonderful weekend.

Orion shared his understanding of the Realm of the Dead, or as he often refers to it the Ancestral Current, and its place in our world and existence, as well as our responsibility to it as spirit workers. His take on that nature of the spirits that are being worked with in graveyard work was really fascinating. Rather than graveyard work being a matter of calling back a spirit to work with you (which he said can, of course, be done – but is a whole different ball of wax), he said that it is more a matter of calling upon the memory of the person that is recorded in their physical body and the energetic impression of that person and their qualities that radiates and is stored in the soil as they return to the earth. The imprint of the person can be quite strong and complete, and does contain an intelligence that can be communicated and interacted with by the worker. He painted a beautiful picture of upon having gained assent from the grave-resident to work with their plot, calling forth from the soil the quality of the person you wished to utilize in your work, and then digging and leaving payment for the gift.

As he was explaining this, you could see some of the other presenters (who were all gathered to take in this talk as well) finding the information both new and compelling. Obviously, there is a pervasive understanding of graveyard work as, in fact, being with an actual spirit-being as opposed to a spirit-impression. I think this perspective was new to many people there, and would be hotly debated by practitioners from other traditions, but it seemed to resonate with many present. Though specifics vary, the idea of the soul having several parts is common among many different spiritual traditions – the Nephesh/Ruach/Neshamah in Herbrew mysticism, Ti Bon Ang/Gros Bon Ang in Vodou, Ib/Sheut/Ren/Ka/Ba in ancient Kemetic belief, etc, etc – so hearing the particular traditional witchcraft perspective presented by Orion, especially in the specific context of graveyard conjure, was really fascinating and valuable.

Orion stressed that graveyard work should be something that manifests balance and healing to both the physical world and the Ancestral Current. He shared some heart-wrenching stories of powerfully healing experiences he’d had over his years of working with the residents of cemeteries. His tales had tears falling from many in the room, and his love and respect for the dead was inspiring in its depth.

This lecture was only 90 minutes, and I think everyone there would agree that it should have been closer to 3 hours. He barely scraped the surface of what he had to share when it was over! I felt like I could have spent an entire weekend just listening to him speak on that ONE topic. I really hope I have more opportunities to learn from him in the future.

My post-Fest analysis and story of last night run-ins with ghosts in the Quarter to come…

Trad. Folk Magic Fest 2011 - The Marie Laveau Messages

So in my last post I told about the game of Exquisite Corpse we played as part of the Voodoo ritual calling upon Marie Laveau for a message to us. Good timing being what it is, today the document was posted online through Conjure Crossroads' Facebook page, and I have reprinted it for you. It really is beautiful. I hope you enjoy it!

Through this misguided world, I wish I could speak so you could hear-the running water of the Mississippi River- where I give you my heart, Breath and soul- a Soul without cause is never rejoined.

Voodoo Queen we ask you for guidance for the yes. Yes to the power of the spirit within a glow flickering deep in the heart-something that brings out the spent personification of ourselves- yet often does not appear to ourselves as it does to others. They wander and wonder why the earth trembles and the waters flowed, why from her hair rose great birds that cried out the joyous sound of her name,
“I did time, unlike most people my age, unlike most who lived in my time”

Yourself -is the vessel, lifting you skyward like a dust. Surrender yourself! Give soul to soul, ashes to ashes, dust to soul –become the one.
“Listen, as the bayou sings, my child, Remember to always listen while running in the moonlight so fast--- Unbelievable… ‘

The moss on the crypts add grave beauty to wisdom which comes with the Gators – plentiful in New Orleans where two people met and became one.
Ills are not something that is here in the bayou.
"Oh, What the world has come to …”

New Orleans, the Spirit of Marie lives within love. Love unites us all conquers all fears, soothes all hurts and cures all---------.
Be focused – Right is strong & belly full, proud!

If SHE could see, she would still stay in the old ways, with the ports and the ships trade that carried those goods for trade, bringing people and culture together with the beauty of the bayou in the air and felt beneath feet,
“I too danced around the oak tree “.

SHE fears- her worlds fly.
“The cock will crow. Crow spirit brings us to realms of death where our beloved beckon us to share joy with them once more, “
She said and a mist rose to cover all around.

Spirits rose and formed whole again. Yet there is something. – slipping again- a masked face in a dark room you don’t know.
“Who is that I became?

It was not for me to say- it was something that could happen only in a place like this.

Why already she has seen 4 signs from her friend that had recently passed but had not yet contacted her.

She IS of the earth, core, center and will come to the meeting of the sun and moon where she like a dark lover, slipped into his embrace of a world that changed.

SHE : The gators speak of Guneia. The Power of change is within all of you. Trust yourselves, you are the land and the moss on the trees traveling in me.
“Retire, then to the Quarter and enjoy decadence with all seen and unseen.”

US: With your visions and your presense we honor and respect you and look forward to your messages.

SHE: Messages travel through the streets on a wild writhing horse- frothing and riding through the city- riding the unbridled pulse of the city, delivering blessings from its foaming mouth, like the witness of creation

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

2011 Traditional Folk Magic Festival – Day Two (of Three)

The second day began for many of us with the Voodoo Doll Making workshop with Bloody Mary.

I just love Bloody Mary, whom I first got to know during the year we were prepping for our wedding. Someone had recommended her to me as one of the people in New Orleans that were the “real deal” and could not only officiate for us, but also provide all the referrals to other trusted places and service providers since we were planning everything from a distance. She proved to be an invaluable friend during that year, and every place and person she recommended were lovely and really came through for us. She also helped us craft a beautiful and meaningful marriage ceremony that was based in Voodoo, but was easy to understand and was generally accessible for our non-magically-minded friends and family. We were married in Congo Square, on Halloween, with our guests being given a fantastic tour of the French Quarter by Mary beforehand and led directly to the ceremony. It was AMAZING! So I was very much looking forward to seeing Bloody Mary again, and actually getting to learn some stuff from her.

I was really excited for the Voodoo Doll workshop, as she had made a Bride and Groom set of dolls that were just stunning, and I wanted to know her method! I was not disappointed. She brought all the supplies – bags of Spanish moss, sticks from ancient oaks, cloth and ribbons of various colors, beads, bells, and bangles. We not only got a fantastic overview of doll making, but some great NOLA history and lore as well. I’ve heard it said many times that Bloody Mary’s forgotten more NOLA lore than most people will ever even know, and I believe it. She’s a priceless fount of information! We spent time cleaning and loosening our moss, while impregnating every single motion and act with significance and intent.

She showed us how to wrap the moss around the sticks to craft the body of the doll, and then how to drape and tie the fabric around it. Once everyone had successfully put together the bodies of the dolls, we were given some free time to embellish it. Markers, buttons, sequins, bells, beads, ribbons, feathers and more were all there for us to use. She reminded us to make every single action mean something while crafting and decorating it. We were then walked through the process of naming, tasking, and then enlivening the dolls. Bloody Mary aided us by feeding the dolls with some Florida Water, and giving her own blessing and "newborn spanking" to them!

I was a little stunned when without any warning one of the fest goers reached over the yanked my doll from my hands in order to see how I had tied the fabric! But I just shook off the shock as, thankfully, it hadn't been named yet and just kept on going. (I can’t imagine just grabbing someone else’s work like that – mundane OR magical…but especially magical.) Nothing was going to mess up my baby! Just goes to show that all levels of experience with conjurework were present, which for the most part, was part of the joy of the Fest.

They turned out really great! I couldn’t resist having a picture snapped with Mary and my dolly and me!

Yes, I've blanked out my dolly. I don't like posting active work, and I am actively working with this dolly!
Call me paranoid. Better safe than sorry as far as I'm concerned. The internet is not immune from shady people.

The afternoon session was an extraordinary powerhouse. Momma Starr and Orion Foxwood teamed up to give a 3.5 hour lecture and workshop on Conjuring with the Bible. This was such a spirit-led and filled experience that it’s hard to really communicate what exactly went down during it. It was much more like going to church – and I mean that in the absolutely BEST way possible – then attending a lecture. Orion did most of the talking, as the Spirit was really moving through him. He discussed how powerful the old time folk Christian practices and Bible readings were, giving examples from his childhood. Momma Starr often chimed in with really interesting things which she’d found while working with the Bible.

While the Bible was the jumping off point, and all workshop participants got a Bible of their own to take home and work with, this class was really more about the very powerful Spirit-filled practices of the anointed Christian congregations. We were taught about prayer cloths, and Orion led the participants through a prayer and praise session, filled with layered s
ing/chanting, clapping, and drawing down the Holy Spirit which was directed towards empowering some olive oil with Divine energy, and filling the white cotton handkerchiefs with the same.

Let me tell you…I’m usually fairly dull when it comes to physically feeling the vibrations off of spiritually-charged items. When people pass around crystals, or other spiritual items ooo-ing and ah-ing over the strong vibrations, I usually just end up smiling and nodding, and feeling sort of left out. It’s just not where my particular extra-sensory perceptions seem to lie. But when we were given those prayer cloths that Orion and Mamma Starr had been praying over and we’d all been directing our energy and calling the Holy Spirit into – WOAH!! It was like holding something that had a mild electric current running through it. I was floored. I can’t even imagine what the people who are more sensitive felt.

Mamma Starr also talked about some specific verses and how they could be used for different conjure purposes. At least half of the Fest participants were witches and Pagans, and she shared some of what she had been learning about the Holy Spirit and Wisdom being female (Shekinah and Sophia), as her friendship with Orion who is a witch had made her more curious about the Goddess-inclusive traditions. She read a bit from The Book of Wisdom, which is included in some Catholic version of the Bible. Momma Starr has just released a new book on Working with the Bible in Conjure, so if it’s a topic that interests you I recommend picking up a copy (actually many of her books include pages with Bible verse references that you can use for different intents), and also listen to some of the back episodes of her Old Style Conjure BlogTalkRadio show where she actually dedicated several hours of speaking on the topic.

After that marathon spiritually-thick session I was pretty exhausted, but the night was just getting started! Bloody Mary was back to take those who had registered for an outdoor Voodoo “séance” at the bayou’s edge, where we would be calling on Marie Laveau for written communications. We had a bit of a walk to the streetcar line, and a nice leisurely ride out to City Park which is home to the nation’s oldest Oak forest. These trees were hundreds of years old, huge, and magnificent! There’s also a patch of bayou left in the park, and it had created a small island under a canopy of gigantic oaks flowing with moss where the ceremony was held.

We chanted as we were led through the dark park and over a strangely precarious stone bridge onto the island. Her assistants had set up a beautiful altar, and we all sang, danced, and called upon Marie Laveau to visit us and inspire us with words that would express something about herself, the bayou, New Orleans, and Voodoo. Then we played a version of a parlour game from the 19th century called Exquisite Corpse, where each person writes a sentence on a sheet of paper, and then folds it over so that no one else can see what was written. Only the last word of the sentence or phrase is written on the “fresh” line, and the next person uses that word as inspiration for their own sentence. We were calling upon to inspire us with her message through this method.

I’ll be honest: at the time it felt quite cheesy and ineffective. The dancing and singing to call upon Mam’zelle Marie had been weak and uninspiring – no one knew the beat or the song, and let’s face it, a lot of folks find syncopated rhythms hard to keep up with. If you find NOT clapping on 1 and 3 a challenge, trying to clap and move to complex African inspired beats without a least a bit of practice is probably going to be near hopeless. (I say this with love and a big old smile on my face.) There was only one drum, so it felt “thin” to begin with and didn’t help support those who were struggling. When we sat to do the writing exercise, it wasn’t an overly inspiring experience. I felt a bit let down, even though a great deal of fun was had by all.

I did enjoy the end of the ceremony where we wrote a petition and presented it at the altar. Despite all our floundering to clap and dance, Spirit had showed up…even if it choose to stick close to the warm altar! Once you were up there, you could feel the thickness of the air and the presence, and it was wonderful to be able to spend a few moments with the Voodoo Queen.

This picture really doesn't do the altar justice. Without the flash it was too dark for my camera to capture a decent image, and then of course with it it just kills any sense of atmosphere. I assure you it was stunning.

Bloody Mary collected all the papers, and said that over the next day she would transcribe all the various sentences and arrange them in a logical order, and come by the Fest to read us the results of the communication. I didn’t have high hopes, but it was fun nonetheless. Several other Fest-goers expressed feeling similarly.

I’ll go ahead and tell the end of the story now, even though Mary didn’t come to read us the end result of the exercise until the 3rd day right before we ended. She showed up, and everyone was gathered together, not really sure what to expect. Would it be cringe-worthy? Would it be silly or saccharine?

We were all absolutely taken aback as Mary read out the message. It was stirring and powerful. It was filled with sadness, and strength, and anger, and hope. It expressed love and frustration, told of tears and of ecstasy. It was stunning beautiful. There were many people with tears flowing down their faces by the time it finished – myself included. We’ve been promised that Mary will send a copy to the Fest organizers, who will then forward a copy to all the attendees. I absolutely want to copy it out and have it be a part of the Marie Laveau altar that I’ll be building over the next few months. And when I do get the copy, I’ll make sure to post it here so that all of you can read what came of that night exercise. We were all very impressed, and a bit humbled by the fact that our preconceptions of what it was “supposed” to be like had caused us to doubt that Spirit would move through and be present for us that evening.

Once again, I was wiped out by the end of that Festival day. But I was also REALLY hungry. Andrea and her husband (I apologize for not having remembered his name – I’m just awful at names!), Randy and myself walked down to the gas station at the corner which had this really surprisingly good deli and fry booth. We got some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever tasted, and some delicious poboys. I never thought I’d rave about gas station food, but I suppose in New Orleans anything really can happen! We laughed and stuffed ourselves silly, and then fell into bed to rest up for the final day.

More to come!...