Charms of the Enchanted Wood

It is a well-known fact that the Faeries use our little island on the lake as a portal through which to travel from their realm to ours, and back again.

Since we took up summer residence at the cottage on that island, the Wee Folk, in an act of benevolence, have been leaving little gifts on our doorstep each night. I believe it’s because they acknowledge and approve of the fact that we are stewards of their lakeside domain. Every year, we keep forest paths clear for them, move fallen branches obstructing their bolt-holes, and ensure the landscaping around their doorways remains tidy and groomed.

As payment, they have generously bestowed upon us tiny tokens from the shore and woods. These charms of the Enchanted Wood have been preserved in vials ranging from 1.25″ to 3″ tall, and each nestles comfortably in its own little wood-and-leather coffer.

Pixie Pillow • Hardworking hobgoblins and constantly flitting faeries need to rest their heads on a nice, soft pillow after a long stint of magick-making. Cushy moss is ideal material for a billowy pillow.

Crystallized Pixie Tears • If the Fae don’t find lovely soft bedding to sleep on (see above), they are liable to become rather grumpity. (Whenever you encounter a put-out pixie, it is highly recommended that you beat a diplomatic and hasty retreat.) Dried pixie tears solidify instantly into semi-transparent and opalescent crystals. Extremely rare, these gems are considered very lucky, and should be carried on one’s person at all times.

Flotsam • In a cove at one end of the island, there is a small beach where all manner of treasure washes up on the sand. Faeries are particularly attracted to the iridescent nacre found in freshwater clams (they use it for jewellery just like Humans do), and of course there are pretty little stones of pink feldspar and driftwood of all shapes and sizes to be found.

Magick Mushrooms • Deep in the forest on be-dewed mornings, the Wee Folk busily harvest the choicest mushrooms which have sprung up like magick overnight. Dried, powdered and sprinkled around a wooded glade, these fabulous fungi help to conceal from prying eyes the legendary Faerie Circle Dance.

Baby Dragon Scales • I’ve never seen a Common Brown Dragon (Draco communis), but I know they exist, because here is a vial of their scales. Baby dragon scales in particular are highly valued for their confounding mixture of flexibility and toughness. Essential for protection against sneak goblin attacks.

Faerie Berries • Have you ever smelt the fragrance of juniper “berries” (cones, really) as they cook? There’s that ginny aroma, for certain, but also a sharp, fresh scent that fills the kitchen with woodberry delight. These faerie berries, hand-picked and dried by the elves who live along Lighthouse Lane, are especially good in Sylvan Stew and Goulash à la Gnome.

Spell Parchment • Faeries can’t always keep a litany of enchantments straight in their ethereal little heads, so from time to time they must write the receipts down. What better way to record those arcane spells than with a duck feather quill and birchbark scroll? Perfect for the scriptorium.

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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.

A Dozen (or so) Dyed Eggs … the Natural Way

My mom is an expert designer and crafter of hooked rugs (the kind the pioneers made, not modern latch hooking), and she has often dyed the wool swatches herself with a variety of natural materials. I remember watching her stir steaming, sometimes evil-smelling pots of plant matter for hours, listening to her talk of onion skins and celandine, marigolds and mordants – which permanently set the colour.

Those experiences sparked my interest in using natural dyes for eggs. With fond childhood memories of sitting around the kitchen table painting Easter eggs – which we’d blown out until we thought our heads would explode – I adapted several natural dye methods found online and experimented over a couple of weeks, using only items from the grocery store and spice cupboard (and, okay, my husband’s wine rack) to get the results shown here.

These dyes produce muted, variegated, matte colour – like those seen in nature! Don’t believe those Pinterest photos showing “naturally” dyed eggs in hot pink, brilliant blue and emerald green – I suspect they’ve cheated and used commercial dyes or food colouring. Also, despite online recipes for green dyes using cabbage, beets or spinach on white or brown eggs with or without vinegar, the closest I could get was a very pale celadon green from spinach. I did, however, get a teal green-blue (not shown) from first dyeing with turmeric (#3, alternate method) then redyeing for less than an hour in red cabbage (#15).

General Tips:

I dyed my eggs uncooked because I wanted to blow them out later so they’ll last longer; if using raw, make sure they’re fresh so they’ll stay submerged in the dye liquid – older eggs will bob with one end sticking out • Use hardboiled eggs if you prefer • Before dyeing, clean eggs with a drop of dish soap and lots of water so the colour will adhere better • Dye eggs in a single layer in a non-metal container narrow and tall enough to ensure complete coverage • Turn eggs occasionally in the dye bath, touching them as little as possible, until desired shade is reached • Remove eggs very carefully with a slotted spoon – plastic if you have one – and set on a wire cooling rack; until it’s dry, the colour is very fragile and prone to rubbing or scratching off • Some dye matter such as turmeric or grape juice will leave a grainy or bubbly residue or “skin” which will eventually set • When most of the egg is dry, turn to let the underside dry, gently patting over the still-wet rack marks with your finger or a paper towel • Save the dye to use multiple times • Always soak and store eggs, whether raw or hardboiled, in the refrigerator.

Natural Dye Recipes:

These twelve materials and methods – with a few variations in soaking times – yielded the results shown in the photos. Generally, the longer the soak, the deeper the hue, especially for pinks, purples and blues. Colours 1 to 7 are a bit more vibrant in real life than in the photograph (it was hard to get the lighting right!).

(1) Celadon Green: Bring 4 cups (one 227 g/8 oz. bag) fresh spinach and 1 tsp baking soda to a boil in 3 to 4 cups water • Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, occasionally mashing spinach with back of spoon • Remove from heat and allow to cool • Strain spinach from liquid • Soak white egg in strained liquid for 24 hours. This is a very pale green that never got any darker, even after 24 hours.

(2) Ochre: Add 2 cups boiling water to 4 green tea bags • Allow to cool • Remove tea bags • Soak white egg for 8 hours. This colour is a slightly more muted version of the mustard yellow from turmeric (see #3), with no residue.

(3) Mustard Yellow: Add 1 cup boiling water to 2 tbsp ground turmeric and 1 tbsp white vinegar • Allow to cool • Soak white egg in mixture for 14 hours. This method left a grainy residue on the egg. Alternate Method: Bring 4 cups of water, 4 tbsp turmeric and 4 tbsp white vinegar to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes • Allow to cool • Strain turmeric from liquid • Soak white egg in strained liquid for 24+ hours. This will give a sunny yellow colour and a smoother surface to the egg.

(4) Tan: Add 2 cups boiling water to 2 tbsp ground coffee • Allow to cool • Strain coffee from liquid • Soak white egg in strained liquid for 24 hours.

(5) Light Sienna: Add 2 cups boiling water to 4 tbsp ground paprika and 2 tbsp white vinegar • Allow to cool • Soak white egg in mixture for 24 hours. Unlike turmeric, the result (without straining) was a smoothly-dyed surface with no residue.

(6) Mushroom: Add 2 cups boiling water to 4 strawberry pomegranate (STASH™) tea bags • Allow to cool • Remove tea bags • Soak white egg for 24 hours. This looks just like the LBMs (little brown mushrooms) we find in our local woods – taupe with a hint of olive green!

(7) Umber: Add 1 cup boiling water to 4 orange pekoe tea bags • Allow to cool • Remove tea bags • Soak white egg for 7 hours. A wide range of shade intensity is possible, depending on soaking time.

(8) Baby Pink: Bring 4 cups peeled, sliced red beets (about 2 medium) and 4 tbsp white vinegar to a boil in 4 cups water • Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes • Remove from heat and allow to cool • Strain beets from liquid • Soak white egg in strained liquid for 10 minutes. Beets will give instant, lovely results ranging from pale pink to deep maroon, depending on soak time and whether you use white or brown eggs. See #9 and #12 for variations.

(9) Dusty Rose: Use same method as #8, soaking white egg for 2 hours.

(10) Lavender: Soak white egg in 2 cups of red wine for 5.5 hours.

(11) Mauve: Soak white egg in 2 cups concord grape juice for 14 hours. Intensity will vary depending on soak time.

(12) Maroon: Use same method as #8, soaking brown egg for 2 hours.

(13) Slate Blue: Add 2 cups boiling water to 4 tbsp loose hibiscus rosehip tea leaves • Allow to cool • Strain out tea leaves from liquid • Soak white egg in strained liquid for 2.5 hours. This tea was a no-name bulk food store purchase. Straight hibiscus tea will probably yield similar results. See #14 for a darker variation. This recipe, with vinegar added, is supposed to yield green, but it didn’t.

(14) Denim: Use same method as #13, soaking white egg for 7 hours.

(15) Sky Blue: Bring 4 cups shredded red cabbage (about half a large head) and 4 tbsp white vinegar to a boil in 4 cups water • Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool • Strain cabbage from liquid • Soak white egg in strained liquid for 45 minutes. See #16 for a variation.

(16) Deep Blue: Use same method as #15, soaking white egg for 3 hours. Not shown: a brown egg soaked for 4.5 hours produced a dark denim blue (not the dark green claimed by online recipes).

 

Luck in a Bottle

Witch bottles have been around for hundreds of years, their popularity peaking in England and the United States during the 17th and 18th centuries. They were used by witches and wise women, healers and lay folk as counter curses or protection against evil spirits and psychic attack. The idea was to place sharp objects such as needles, pins, nails (the rustier, the better), broken glass, thorns or bits of wood into a bottle along with a liquid such as urine, red wine, vinegar or sea water, a written spell, pungent herbs or personal objects such as hair or nail clippings. The bottle was then sealed and placed in a hidden corner of the house, between walls, or buried either beneath the doorstep, hearth (evil spirits were thought to enter the house through the chimney) or at the farthest corner of the property. There it was thought to draw evil into the bottle to be impaled on the pins, drowned in the liquid or banished by the herbs. As long as the bottle stayed intact and undiscovered, the power of its spell remained alive.

Witch bottles are still used, although the intent has shifted from countering curses to ensuring luck and protection, encouraging creativity, positivity, happiness or wealth. Go ahead and use urine if you want (eww) … but most witch bottle recipes today call for more palatable ingredients such as sea salt, peppercorns and other spices, herbs such as rosemary, bay leaves and basil, sand, saw dust, crystals, coins – and anything else that symbolizes your intent.

As December wanes, I wanted to make a protection bottle as a symbolic clearing of old energies, readying the house for the New Year. While I was at it, I made a flower-filled “witch ball” ornament – hung in the home for good luck – as a Christmas gift for a friend. I used only what ingredients I already had on hand, and saw no need to use liquid or hide the bottle. In fact, both projects use pretty colours, as they are intended to be seen! Here are my ingredients and their associated properties:

All-purpose Protection Bottle (layered from bottom to top)

Moss: connection to the earth • charity • luck • money • protection
Pink Himalayan salt: protection, especially against negative energy • purification
Pink peppercorns: protection
Crushed bay leaves: wisdom • victory
Lavender: love • longevity • peace
Allspice berries: (male) energy • money • luck
Cardamom pods: (female) hospitality
Rosehips: health • wealth • luck • encourage friendly spirits
Rose petals: love • protection against the evil eye

I chose to seal the small corked bottle with white candle wax (dripped from a couple of tea lights), but you can also use a bottle with a screw-on lid or a small mason jar. As I don’t expect to repel a curse (!), I intend to leave the bottle on my work table so that I can admire its colours and textures and gain inspiration from the simple act of its creation.

Witch Ball

My friend, whose favourite colour is purple, struggles daily with illness, so I filled a glass ornament with dried lavender, rosebuds and rose petals to represent love, good health and protection. Although the cap is glued on for security, small holes in the top allow a delicious potpourri to waft out.

Stay tuned for more bottled magick coming soon!

Steeped in Superstition

Tea as a beverage is thought to have been discovered in 2737 BCE by the Chinese emperor Shen Nung, a renowned herbalist, when some leaves from the Camellia sinensis tree fell into the water his servant was boiling. Tea-making and drinking has since become popular, fashionable, in many cultures revered and ritualized – and sometimes (as in my case) even addictive! There are bags and bags of lore associated with the consumption of this most royal brew.

Prosperi-tea:

An expensive import from Silk Road countries such as China and India, tea has always symbolized fortune, wealth and protection.

  • adding tea leaves to a potion or herbal sachet helps attract money
  • carrying tea leaves on one’s person is thought to protect against evil and misfortune
  • drinking hot tea incorporates all four elements: earth (the pot), water (brewing tea), fire (heat and steam) and air (the tea’s aroma)
  • to ward off evil spirits, sprinkle dried tea leaves on your front doorstep
  • accidentally dropping loose leaf tea is good luck for the woman of the house
  • unintentionally spilling a little tea water while making tea is considered lucky
  • to attract a new friend, make overly strong tea
  • a leaf or stem standing upright in your tea is a sign of good luck; this stems (ahem) from the fact that tea merchants, having trouble selling leaves with stems on them, started telling customers that upright ones were lucky!
  • to promote good luck, always stir tea deosil (clockwise)
  • undissolved sugar at the bottom of the cup means someone is sweet on you
  • throwing used tea leaves on the fire helps keep poverty at bay

Trouble’s Brewing:

According to folklore, if you don’t prepare, serve or sip your tea the correct way, you’re in for pots of trouble!

  • breaking a teapot is an omen of losing a loved one
  • pouring boiling water into a pot without tea leaves or bags brings misfortune
  • don’t stir tea inside the pot; it means you’ll argue with a friend
  • if the tag falls off the teabag while it’s in your cup, you will receive bad news or lose something within the week
  • two people pouring from the same teapot is very unlucky
  • never “be mother” (i.e. pour the tea) in another person’s house – it’s an insult to their hearth and hospitality and is generally a bad omen
  • you risk crossing love’s path if you put milk in your tea before sugar
  • stirring tea with anything but a spoon invites bad luck
  • stirring someone else’s tea means you’re stirring up trouble for them
  • emptying the teapot on the day a fishing boat sets sail portends tragedy for the fishermen (capsizing, drowning); crew who empty a teapot on board are “pouring away” all the fish they hope to catch and will come home with empty nets

Tea is for Tasseography:

Tasseography or tasseomancy (a.k.a “reading the cups”) is the practice of reading tea leaves for divination. A teacup with a light, unpatterned interior is best, and the method of preparing it for a reading is quite precise. There are dozens of interpretations for the shapes made by the remaining tea leaves – too many to go into here. But generally, it’s a bad omen if most of the tea leaves are left at the bottom of the cup; leaves spread evenly around the cup is a much better sign. Other prophetic tales tea can tell include:

  • forgetting to put the lid on the teapot can portend numerous events: the arrival of an ominous stranger, that you’ll be sent for, or a doctor will be required before the day is out
  • tea spilling from the spout while the pot is being carried means a secret will be revealed
  • bubbles around the edge of your teacup means you will soon be kissed; each bubble represents one kiss
  • bubbles in the centre of your cup signify money; the more bubbles, the wealthier you’ll be
  • if you can transfer the bubbles from cup to mouth without the bubbles touching the side of the spoon, you’ll soon receive an important letter
  • the more tea leaves that end up in your cup, the fuller your life will be
  • a single tea stem, known as a “stranger”, floating on the surface of your tea presages the arrival of a visitor; a hard, woody stem means the visitor will be male; if the stem is soft, female
  • a teaspoon dropped on the floor is a sign a child will visit the house
  • two spoons accidentally placed on the same saucer predict an imminent wedding, or that the drinker will marry twice or have twins with tea-coloured hair
  • when two women are drinking tea together, the woman who pours will become pregnant within the year

So next time you brew up that delicious pot of tea, mind the details — and good luck!

Turn the ill omen of a broken teapot (in this case, the lid) into something serendipitous! Make it into a vase or planter; if the pot is cracked, line it or insert an inner container before adding water or soil. Use as a rustic holder for kitchen utensils, cutlery, napkins, paint brushes, etc. Knitters, pop a ball of yarn into the clean, dry pot and thread the end up through the spout for an instant dispenser.

Full Moon Magick

May Flower Moon

This month’s full moon, which occurs May 10 to 11, is known as the Flower Moon because it’s generally considered safe to plant flowers and crops starting in May. Other traditional names are Mother’s Moon, Milk Moon and Corn Planting Moon. Folklore tells us that clothes washed for the first time under a full moon will not last long, and that, because the Moon is associated with love, the best time to accept a marriage proposal is during a full moon!

Moonstone

Moonstones showing a bit of blue “flash”

Moonstone is a variety of feldspar that has been admired since ancient times. The original name for moonstone was selēnitēs, the ancient Greek word for the Moon. The Romans believed that this mineral was made of solidified moon rays, and that the Moon’s waxing and waning could be seen by gazing into its milky depths. Moonstone’s lunar association makes this silky crystal, which is considered feminine, the stone of lovers, blessings in marriage and fertility.

Selenite

Selenite, a colourless, white or pale peach, pearly or transparent form of gypsum is unrelated to moonstone but got its name in the 15th century from the same ancient Greek root; it means ‘stone of the Moon’. Gypsum has insulating properties and feels warm to the touch.

Washi tape, which is surprisingly water resistant yet easily removable, adds a pretty touch

Grounding Mist (2 fl. oz. / 60 mL)

Although I do love the Moon, for me, the days leading up to and during a full moon can be chaotic and unsettling. To help bring calm and stability, try this grounding essential oil mist made with soft sandalwood, romantic rose, rich vanilla and night-blooming jasmine.

1 vanilla • 3 jasmine  • 9 rose or rose geranium • 12 sandalwood

Add essential oils (number of drops indicated) and distilled water to a 2 fl. oz. (60 mL) glass mister bottle. Shake well before each use and spritz on skin, hair or into the air as desired. Keep at room temperature, or in the fridge for an extra refreshing mist. Avoid getting in eyes, and do not ingest.

Moon Goddess Mist (4 fl. oz. / 120 mL)

This intoxicating hair, body and room spray includes jasmine – the Queen of the Night – perfect for communing with the full moon! Add the oils to a 4 fl. oz. (120 mL) glass mister bottle of distilled water. Feel free to adjust the amounts according to your desire, but don’t go overboard with the vanilla, or it will overpower the others. Recipe can be halved for a smaller bottle.

2 vanilla • 9 jasmine • 12 tangerine • 12 lime • 12 neroli • 12 rose geranium

Selenite and Legend: The Arthurian Tarot by Anna-Marie Ferguson

The Crystal Cave

20170111_002030-3Named for the 1970 Arthurian novel by Mary Stewart, this garden of clear quartz (a.k.a. rock crystal) standing stones rises from a glittering bed of ice blue and frost grey pebbles. The seven stones (a magickal number symbolizing knowledge, awareness, meditation and introspection) stand proudly, admiring their ancient reflection in the surface of a frozen lake. Amongst this winter wonderland, a blanket of forest moss gives us hope for an early, green Spring.

To make this crystal garden, I filled the bottom of an 8” diameter rose bowl with a mix of blue and grey vase filler glitter stones, then nestled an inexpensive 5” round mirror amongst them – remembering to clean off the smudges first! Because none of the quartz points had a flat base, I used white tac adhesive (removable, non-drying and non-staining putty) to help them stay upright, and disguised it with moss and more pebbles. Tweezers and my cell phone stylus helped with placing and securing the pebbles and moss.

20170111_002030-5To add a further wintery touch, I originally sprinkled the garden with faux snow of the shredded clear plastic kind, but the large flakes with their colourful iridescence didn’t fit my theme of icy winter white and just didn’t look right, so I used my tweezers to remove most of them. If I were to do this again, I’d choose the granular variety instead.

I purchased all materials except the quartz and adhesive at Michael’s, although glass containers and craft mirrors can usually be found at bargain stores.

The beauty of this arrangement is that it’s temporary and can be changed according to one’s whim: with the seasons, using different decorative accents, or with minerals or stones that hold special meaning for you. Amethyst, for example, would be a wonderful choice for February!

For more information on the history and properties of clear quartz, please see my blog post here.dsc_5078-3