Five-pointed Protection

A small pentagram made from reclaimed pine branches

The pentagram (or pentacle, if it is surrounded by a circle) is an ancient symbol which has been used by many cultures and belief systems. It is a positive symbol of light and love, nature, connectedness and good, white magick. Its five points represent north, south, east, west and the spirit (the topmost point) as well as the four elements (earth, air, fire and water) and life energy. In some cultures, the points represent wood, earth, water, fire and metal.

Used as a talisman or amulet, the pentagram is thought to protect the wearer and banish negative energies. Some believe that the material the symbol is made from further enhances its power. A silver pentacle, for example, might be associated with the Moon; a gold one is linked to energy and mental clarity.

I made this large 10-inch pentagram of juniper, one of my favourite woods. Tied securely with twine, it protects my bedroom at our cottage.

Pentagrams fashioned from wood evoke the natural world. They are easy to make using branches reclaimed from the forest floor or your garden. I took a ramble through the little wood at our island cottage and gathered species with ancient Celtic meaning:

A 5-inch red pine pentagram

Cedar – arborvitae, or the Tree of Life; protection from harm
Pine – hardiness; purification
Juniper – to attract love and discourage thieves
Oak – the King of Trees; protection, strength, success and stability

I built the rustic pentagrams starting from the bottom left point – the way you’d draw a five-pointed star without lifting your pencil from the paper. Each of the five sticks is laid one atop the other, with each juncture tied tightly with string or twine. There’s no need to use glue or nails – just keep readjusting as you work until you get a pleasing shape. (It might help to have someone hold the pentagram while you wrap and tie.) Tie three more times where the sticks cross in the centre to completely secure the structure.

This 6-inch pentagram is made from gnarled old cedarwood, the Tree of Life.

The pentagrams can be placed anywhere you wish for security or protection, or to evoke magick. The largest one shown here hangs on a wall inside the cottage as a house blessing. I placed the four smaller pentagrams in the same species of tree from which they were made (for double the magick). Ranged along the lakeshore to the north, south, east and west, they serve as the property’s protective guardians.

A pentagram of hardy oak stands guard over the southern shore.


Life is a Bed of Roses

Happy Sunday! Today I’m celebrating a couple of things: the 2-year anniversary of this blog, and the start of some R&R at the family cottage. I still have to commute to work for a few days here and there, but I’m looking forward to spending lots of time in the forest — my kind of cathedral!

Rose Garden • 5” x 7” washable marker on watercolour paper © 2018 V. Barrett

Fantasy Landscapes

Back in 2016, I posted a couple of my attempts at “art” using inexpensive washable markers (Crayola, Elmer’s) and a water mister. I’d seen some examples on Pinterest, and Crayola had this idea (for kids!) on the back of their boxes. I already had some markers, watercolour paper and a mist bottle (for hot flashes!), so I thought I’d give the technique a try. I also tested out another Pinterest idea using melted crayon.

Let me emphasize that I am not an artist – but I do love nature, and trying new things – so I call these pieces “fantasy landscapes”.

Storm’s Comin’ • 8” x 10” washable marker • Inspired by Ontario lake-scapes, this was my first attempt at using the “spritz” technique – laying down broad strokes of water-based marker on watercolour paper, misting lightly with water, then tilting the paper so the colour fans out and blends. I added the trees last, using very little water in order to retain some detail.

September Hills • 5” x 7” washable marker • Colours will bleed into each other if laid close together or touching, or if sprayed at the same time or with a lot of water. Squiggly border lines form when enough pigment flows to the edge of an area and dries there.

Autumn Mist • 5” x 7” washable marker & watercolours • I let the colours blend too much on this one and lost some definition, but it’s a good example of the misty, feathering effect and map-like edging that can be achieved.

Blowin’ in the Wind • 5” x 7” washable marker, watercolours & ink • With the spritzing technique, you never quite know what you’re going to get! This take on a poppy field was an attempt to salvage an experiment gone wrong. Let’s call it ‘whimsical’!

Hot Mess (detail) • 8” x 10” melted crayon on paper • Don’t believe those Pinterest photos showing fabulous works of melted crayon art! Trying to melt broken crayolas with a heat gun (a hair dryer doesn’t work) onto paper was ridiculously laborious, not to mention dangerous, and just blew the bits around – and all over the room – in ugly globs of colour. This detail of a very abstract piece is really the only half-decent part of the end result.

Heather Hills • 5” x 7” washable marker • After a long hiatus, I got out my markers and paper again to make this recent picture. In addition to a spray bottle, I found by happy accident that a raindrop effect can be achieved by dropping or flicking water onto the pigment, whether wet or dry. Unhappily, I discovered that glitter washable marker does not blend well when wet (but could be used to highlight dry areas) – but I was sufficiently pleased with the overall result to give this one as a gift to a family member.

Billow • 5” x 7” washable marker • To me, this picture, which took hours to make, looks sort of like batik. I was careful to work section by section, allowing each to dry sufficiently before starting an adjacent area or colour. I kept most colours separate, or layered pigment wet-on-dry, and used white space to enhance the composition. In addition to a mister, I used an eyedropper to add water to specific areas and push it along as needed. This allows more control over the final result than just spritzing.

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 edifice 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.