Practical Magick

This simple Himalayan salt diffuser is perfect for summer. It’s small and portable and doesn’t use water or electricity or add humidity to the air – just a gentle waft of fragrance. You can set it on a bathroom or kitchen counter, bedside table, coffee table, desk – wherever you want a delicate aroma to calm and relax, refresh or wake you up!

You only need three items: a few drops of your favourite essential or fragrance oil stirred in to a handful (about 1/3 to 1/2 cup) of coarse pink Himalayan salt in a glass or ceramic container.

A small dish works best to diffuse the scent. I found this cute little bowl at a dollar store. An old teacup would be a pretty touch! You could also put the salts in a small jam or mason jar so that you can close it up when not in use to preserve the fragrance (and take with you, if you’re on the go). Whatever you choose, make sure it’s a dedicated container that will not be used for food later.

Himalayan salt is mined in Pakistan near the Himalayas, not from the mountains themselves. Like common table salt, it contains up to 98% sodium chloride; the remainder is made of trace minerals and elements such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron and copper, which give the salt its pink colour. Himalayan salt is generally less processed than table salt, which leads to claims of it being the “purest” salt available. Find it at health food stores, some pharmacies, online and, if you’re lucky, at your local bargain store. (After splurging on a box at a health store, I found a bottle of perfectly good stuff at the same dollar store where I bought my dish.) Some Himalayan salt comes pre-scented (e.g. lavender, eucalyptus, cedarwood, citrus); choose the unscented variety if you want to add your own fragrance. And fine-, medium- and coarse-grain all work for this project, but I think the coarse pink salt looks prettiest!

Use your favourite essential or fragrance oil in the diffuser, either a single note or a blend. I used a few drops of strawberry fragrance oil. Every few days, I give the bowl a bit of a shake to revive the aroma. Simply add a few drops more oil when the scent has completely faded.

Here are a few suggestions for summery scents – use these essential oils singly or in a blend of your own:

Citrus:  bergamot  •  grapefruit  •  lemon  •  lime  •  mandarin  •  sweet orange  •  tangerine

Floral:  geranium  •  jasmine  •  lavender  •  neroli  •  palmarosa  •  rose  •  ylang ylang

Blends:  bergamot + jasmine  •  grapefruit + jasmine + ylang ylang  •  lemon + lavender  •  rose + lemon  •  sweet orange + sandalwood

When you want to change out the blend, don’t throw the old mixture away! If you’ve used skin-friendly essential oil (not fragrance oil) such as lavender or rose, scoop up a little of the salt for a scrub as you wash your hands, making sure to rinse well. You can also sprinkle a handful into your bathwater for a nice relaxing soak.

You can pretty this idea up even further by nestling a small candle amongst the salts in your heatproof container. (I suggest a small jar for this.) The warmth of the candle will help release the fragrance.

Caution: Keep out of reach of children and pets.


Stained Glass Sunday

dew-softened colour
like rain on leaded window
a stained glass morning

“Stained Glass Sunday” © 2018 Valerie Barrett. All rights reserved.


Carved stone rosette, one of many 19th and early 20th century architectural relics conserved at the Guild Park and Gardens in Scarborough, Ontario.

July’s prompt for Wild Daffodil’s Photographic Monthly Meet-Up is Sculpture.

‘Musidora’, a nymph representing Summer from an 18th century poem. This statue was vandalized in 2014 (not her hand – she’d already lost that!) but remains on display.

These photos are from a park in Toronto called Guild Park and Gardens. This is a special place that has gone through many transformations since its inception over 100 years ago. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting a couple of times (once for a wedding), and it’s one of my very favourite places in the city. These pictures are from a visit in September 2009, when I didn’t have a lot of time to get properly stuck in to document the many artworks in the gardens. Now that I’ve done my homework and know so much more about the place, I will certainly go back soon!

Nestled in the centre of the park is the Guild Inn, a Period Revival mansion with Arts and Crafts detailing. (During WWI, Period Revival was a popular interpretation of medieval architecture using Tudor-derived elements.) It was built in 1914 as Bickford House. The 33-room manor house, perched atop the Scarborough Bluffs overlooking Lake Ontario, is surrounded by an area of gardens and woodlands originally known as Ranelagh Park. After the first owner moved away, the grounds were used variously as a Christian mission seminary and boarding school, and a private residence, then lay vacant for several years.

Wall from Toronto Fire Department Engine House No. 2, built 1871.

Marble Ionic column salvaged from the Bank of Nova Scotia, built in Toronto in 1903.

The property was purchased in 1932 by Rosa and Herbert Spencer Clark, newlyweds with a passion for the arts. It was this socially-conscious and idealistic couple who gave the property an exciting new life. Inspired by New York’s Roycroft, a utopian artists’ colony and centre of the Arts and Crafts movement after the teachings of William Morris, the Clarks wished to establish a similar cooperative in Canada. They opened their home, free of charge, as the Guild of All Arts, a sanctuary for around 100 painters, sculptors and artisans to create, display and sell their works. Some of these artists were contemporaries or students of the Group of Seven, who so skillfully captured iconic images of the Canadian landscape. Over the years, the Clarks acquired more land and added offices, a pottery kiln, a sculpting studio, a farm, and a hotel block for their residents and visitors.

Stone angel panel from the North American Life Assurance Company building, Toronto (1932).

The government requisitioned the Guild property during World War II. It was used as a training base as well as a veterans’ rehabilitation hospital; the patients’ treatment included art therapy in the workshop spaces.

The ‘Greek Theatre’, erected in 1982 to commemorate the Guild’s 50th anniversary. Corinthian columns and classical archways were rescued from the Bank of Toronto (built 1912, demolished 1966). The open-air stage has hosted festival theatres, movie, tv and music video sets, and weddings.

‘Bear’ by E.B. Cox and Michael Clay, commissioned by the Guild Inn in 1979. (That’s a friend up there, not me.)

The Clarks finally got their property back in 1947. Throughout the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, when rising costs and taxes forced the couple to cater mainly to tourists (and change the artists’ cooperative to paid membership), they began amassing an extensive collection of art which they erected in the gardens. This included statues and sculptures, and dozens of architectural fragments rescued from 19th and early 20th century buildings that were being demolished in Toronto and other cities to make way for modern skyscrapers. In this way, Rosa and Spencer rescued many fine examples of Gothic Revival, Victorian, Romanesque Revival, Beaux Arts, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Streamline Moderne architecture from obscurity. Some refer to this architectural museum as the ‘Graveyard of Lost Buildings’.

Aging and in ill health, the couple sold the property and its collection to the Toronto Conservation Authority in the late ’70s, three years before Rosa died. The Guild continued as a hotel – run by Spencer Clark until shortly before his death – and restaurant, changing hands several times until it was finally closed in 2003. For years the abandoned building lay crumbling in a dangerous state of decay as developers and the community argued bitterly over its fate and that of the sculpture gardens and the woodland upon which they sat.

Detail of the brick and terra cotta entranceway from the Produce Exchange Building in Toronto (built 1890). Together with ironwork salvaged from a demolished home, they form the southern gates to the park.

Stone bas-relief panels from the Toronto Star Building (built 1929, demolished 1972), an Art Deco edific that was used by Superman co-creator Joe Shuster as the model for the Daily Planet.

Thankfully, sensible heads prevailed. The Guild Inn was recently purchased, restored, extended and redeveloped as a restaurant and event centre, and the estate is open once again. The original house, although expanded, remains intact, still retaining its historic and artistic spirit.

Fortunately for the public, the 88-acre parkland, with over 70 relics dotting the lawns, gardens and wooded trails, has always remained accessible. It’s a pleasure to wander amongst the marble columns, terra cotta turrets and sculpted stone, ranging from small remnants to massive structures of several tonnes. Ensconced in the grass, huddled amongst trees and open to the air, all are in remarkably good condition thanks to the Clarks’ loving conservation – and that of the Friends of Guild Park and Gardens, a volunteer group. And I’m sure the faeries creep out of the woods at night to render their magickal protection, too!

The Clarks collected ornamental elements and keystones, many of which were mounted for display on salvaged stone walls. Here, a winding wooded path leads to two such “keystone walls”.

Something Witchy This Way Comes!

As the two-year anniversary of this blog fast approaches, I recall one of my very first posts about books featuring wise women and witchery. This subject matter, it seems, never strays far from my bookshelf, and I’ve been happily engaged in reading another stack of necromancing novels. Some are new, some hark back a few decades, but, for various reasons, they’re all worthy of a look.

The Witches of New York by Ami McKay (Vintage Canada, 2017)
Against the bustling backdrop of 1880s New York City, a trio of proudly independent young witches, each with her own secrets and struggles, operates a tearoom that dispenses more than just orange pekoe and oolong. Accepted by desperate-to-believe customers and reviled by others, the women stand against antifeminism and religious zealotry – and stumble down dark alleys and dank cellars into mystery and danger. McKay, author of The Birth House and The Virgin Cure, has clearly done her research. Her evocative descriptions of the city’s history and culture drew me into the genteel world of the well-heeled, the city’s poor and seedy underbelly, newfangled inventions and sensations such as the Egyptomania inspired by Cleopatra’s Needle. Victorian-style news clippings and advertisements for cure-all potions and fortune tellers illustrate the chapters and help propel the narrative. I did like the book, but the author’s penchant for cramming in every imaginable type of paranormal activity turned me off, so much so that I put the book down for several months before finishing it. I was glad I picked it up again, however. If you’re willing to suspend your disbelief in a big way, I think you’ll find the novel’s atmosphere and historical tidbits entertaining and informative.

The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart (Knight, 1973)
This children’s book, originally published in 1971, comes from the author of my favourite travel-romances and the Arthurian masterpieces, The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment. I’m so happy to have tracked down a secondhand copy of this slim, 127-page novel, which I read in one avid sitting. It didn’t take long before the plot and many of the story’s elements began to feel hauntingly familiar. A lonely, awkward child of absentee parents is summoned to attend a college for witches. Amidst flying broomsticks (including a detailed description of the latest, most high-tech and expensive model), animal familiars, eccentric professors, creepy classrooms and magickal spells for Invisibility and Transformation, I couldn’t help but feel I’ve read and watched all these things before… . Could it be the author of that extraordinarily famous work (the best-selling book series in history, as a matter of fact) took her inspiration 20+ years later from Stewart’s little novel? I’ll never know, but I do know that I adore her tight narrative and descriptive passages – spare, yet so effective – such as this one:

“The trees were a dim shadowed huddle beyond the lawn. The hanging clouds above them had withdrawn a little, to show, beyond, a faint inlay of silver star-dust. The air was motionless. Two storeys below, on the darkness of the lawn, nothing stirred.”

Dark Witch by Nora Roberts (Berkley, 2013)
Having never read Roberts before, I picked this novel up only because it and its sequels, Shadow Spell (2014) and Blood Magick (2014) were bargain bin purchases. I’m always a bit leery about popular authors with dozens of titles to their names. I was half right in approaching this trilogy with caution. I liked the premise: modern American woman travels to England to meet long-lost cousins, one of whom is the local wise woman dispensing lotions and potions from her village workshop. The newcomer soon discovers a family talent for witchcraft, a new love, and an ancient enemy who traverses the ages to wreak his revenge. The prose can be repetitive – if I read the assertions “we’re family; we’re of the blood” one more time in the third volume which I’ve yet to tackle – I’ll surely cast a curse on someone! However, I am a sucker for herbs and cauldrons and the like, so this one was mostly my cup of tea. For more on the trilogy, see this post.

Witch by [Elizabeth Peters writing as] Barbara Michaels (Harper, 1973)
Note: This author is not to be confused with Ellis Peters, who wrote the most excellent Brother Cadfael series. Set in Virginia, this story follows the oh-so-familiar plot of single woman in a new town (this one full of narrow-minded, superstitious wackos), fixer-upper cottage in a secluded, mysterious wood, handsome neighbour, etc., etc. Michaels is another prolific author whose work I hadn’t previously sampled, and although this novel is suitable for a light read of a summer’s evening, it can’t hold a bell, book or candle to far superior efforts it tries to emulate (see a list here). Michaels fails to explore what could have been ghostly goodness; the eponymous “witch” is woefully underused, and the final twist too easy to decipher long before the story ends.

Herb of Grace by [Shelley Adina, writing as] Adina Senft (FaithWords, 2014)
Book One of the Healing Grace trilogy, this novel, which I picked up on spec from a convenience store on holiday two years ago, is set in the Pennsylvania Amish community and involves not a witch, pagans or the occult but a herbalist/healer-in-training on track to becoming the town Dockterfraa. References to medicinal plants abound (‘herb of grace’ is a folk name for rue), as do well-researched and respectful insights into Amish culture. Herb of Grace is nicely-written with a concise plot and good character development, served up with a gentle sweetness that I quite enjoyed. Needleworkers take heed! Senft has also published an Amish Quilt series.

Soul of a Gypsy

Patchouli has a bad rap, it seems, being so firmly tie-dyed to the hippy-dippy flower children of the ’60s and ’70s. Undiluted, this strong fragrance, derived from the Pogostemon cablin plant, can be overwhelming. Some describe it as heavy, dirty, musky or earthy. In small quantities, however, patchouli can anchor a fragrance, give it depth and help it last longer. It’s also a popular ingredient in incense, which of course can aid in meditation and relaxation.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of books about witches (reviews to come), so I’ve been living in a world of shadows and dusty attics, whispered secrets, rustling parchment, dripping beeswax, fortune tellers and mumbled spells. Then the solstice came and went, and suddenly the summer’s abloom with riotous colours, floaty fabrics, al fresco dining and bare feet. Heart’s Little Queen (with that fabulous album cover) has been in my car’s player of late, and all of a sudden, I’m feeling (feeling, I say … not looking) very bohemian – very gypsy.

Trying to harness my inner Stevie Nicks and capture this mood, I felt the urge to create a new perfume. I wanted something that hinted of dark corners and tattered lace, but with sunshine peeping through the cracks. It would be like emerging bleary-eyed from a curtained bed to sit on laddered steps, nursing strong, smoky tea as the sun kisses awake a peach-coloured dawn. Think: 19th Century Grubby. I call this perfume Gypsy Caravan.

In this rollerball recipe, patchouli essential oil is the base note along with ylang ylang, a floral which is pretty heady stuff, too. (I hate it on its own, but it takes on a new persona when blended with other oils.) Pink grapefruit lends a bright, effervescent top note, almost champagne-like, which prevents the other two from gettin’, like, all heavy, man. (That would totally not be groovy.) I think sweet orange or tangerine would work well, too, if you don’t have or like grapefruit. The apricot oil imbues the liquid with a deep golden glow.

This perfume is strong, so only one swipe is needed. The citrus top note will give graceful way to the exotic blend of patchouli and ylang ylang, which lingers on the skin like an ancient mystery.

Gypsy Caravan essential oil perfume by Gillyflower

  • 5 mL glass rollerball bottle
  • 14 drops patchouli essential oil
  • 12 drops pink grapefruit essential oil
  • 2 drops ylang ylang essential oil
  • apricot kernel oil (or other shelf-stable carrier such as fractionated coconut, sweet almond or jojoba oil)

Add the essential oils to the bottle • Top up with carrier oil, leaving enough room for the rollerball insert • Insert cap and shake thoroughly • Perfume can be used right away, but its full character will be achieved if left to mature for several days • Shake before each use • Do not expose perfumed skin to sun • Keep bottle away from heat and direct sunlight

Dance on, Gypsy Souls!

True Colours

True Colors 2 seed bead & sterling silver rainbow necklace © Gillyflower Faire

Pride Month is in full swing, and today was Toronto’s annual Pride Parade. The colours of the rainbow may not have shown themselves in the day’s grey and drizzly sky, but they were flown proudly everywhere in the city.

This week I had the sudden and shocking news that the facility where I’ve worked for five years – a job I love and a place where I’ve made many friends who’ve become family – has closed its doors. Shock has already given way to a bit of anger, lots of mourning, and a path of slow acceptance. As I learn to deal with what was perhaps an inevitable change, I will take time to understand the situation from as many angles as I can, and ensure that our “family” doesn’t fall apart. On Friday, some of us got together to talk, to reminisce, to mourn (I looked at our gathering as somewhat of a funeral), and just to be with one another. We ended the evening on a positive note and with assurance that each of us, in our own way, will be alright.

The day of the “funeral”, I sat down at my worktable and made a new perfume, just to lift my spirits. It worked out exactly as I’d intended (which is really saying something), and I wore it to the gathering. The fragrance is a balance between grounded earthiness and something uplifting, and was perfect for the mood I was in. I’ll share the recipe soon.

Today, when I’d normally be working all day, I needed to stay creative. Cheerful colours were in order to counteract the rain that fell in a steady, gentle curtain all morning. In celebration of today’s parade, I made a simple beaded necklace (above) in the colours of the rainbow (which correspond with the chakras): red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. A version of this bright, summery necklace will join other rainbow/chakra jewellery in my Etsy shop. Here’s a sampling:

Clockwise from top L: Over the Rainbow Czech glass necklace; Chakra bracelet with quartzite, aventurine & amethyst; anodized aluminum Rainbow Chakra chainmaille bracelet; True Colors seed bead necklace © Gillyflower Faire

I’m proud of what I achieved at the place-that-no-longer-is, through lots of learning, honing skills and hard work, professional development and professionalism. So, this summer and as long as it takes for positive change, I will wear the necklace with pride and remembrance, and hope for a brighter future.

Studies in Structure

My workplace, a heritage-designated Gothic structure built in 1880, is a photographic wellspring. Graceful shapes, time-worn texture, classical details and the charm of a bygone age are all there. Here are some vignettes which I captured recently.

Wrought iron scrollwork with leafy vine pattern and quatrefoils

Corbel with carved palmettes or anthemia, ancient Egyptian and Greek symbols representing welcome and hospitality, victory and peace

Even ordinary objects make an attractive display. It wasn’t until I was editing the photos that I noticed the backrests bear Green Man carvings!

Decorative façade of a Casavant Frères pipe organ; the working pipes are hidden

Scrolled metal bracket

Newel post with quatrefoil, symbol of good tidings

The building boasts many intricate examples of stained glass, but I prefer the muted colours of this simple one