Category Archives: Notes

On Product Descriptions and Plagiarism

Every few years or so I’ll run some snippets from our product descriptions through google to check for plagiarism. One time I found a store in South Carolina that had copied everything in our site – including the About Us. They had also copied significantly from Alchemy Works and Lucky Mojo (a compliment to be in such good company!). When I emailed them, I got an irate response denying everything, which I later learned was written as if from their cat. So I called them on the phone, but with no resolution. But I then got an email back from their ISP, with whom I had filed a copyright complaint earlier, claiming I had threatened their mom. You see, the ISP was also getting emails as if from the cat and were understandably confused when it told them I had called it’s ‘mom’. Now, I’m just curious to what I would have received if I’d actually ordered cauldron waters from them.

Today was one of those days going through the list. I’m glad to say the offenders were few, though one Azure Green reseller in Wisconsin seems to have plagiarized their entire site from various sources, which is sad, because from their Facebook page, it looks like they’re serving a thriving community.

More interesting than who, though, is the distribution. Most descriptions that have been copied are on one or two sites. That site owner, or someone they hired to populate their site with text, probably just googled the product name and grabbed some text from one of the top results. It’s funny how many places that don’t even sell perfume oils or anointing blends used orange blossom absolute in their “old blend Wood Song”.

But some descriptions are on hundreds of sites. In those cases, it seems that at some point someone wrote up a lengthier description of an herb or powder and included our description as a paragraph, and then that whole description has been copied by hundreds of sellers with small web stores, etsy shops, or ebay stores. There’s really nothing to be done there.

I used to care deeply about this – likely because I was nearer in time to when Jack and I spent weeks writing up those descriptions. Now, though I’m still annoyed that so many pagans and rootworkers can’t be bothered to write their own product descriptions, many of our old ones seem cramped, formulaic, or too ‘Cunningham-like’ in the sense that we say “{herb} is an herb for {magical intent} to be used as {method}”.

And so, we’re currently in the process of rewriting many of our old descriptions. Many of them are simply the text that we used on the labels back when we were still regularly selling at summer Pagan festivals. They’re certainly due for some updating! So stay tuned through the coming months.

Herbs of Midsummer

Summer has well and truly started here in Eastern Tennessee, and today my thoughts are on Midsummer which is now just a few short weeks away. Traditionally, certain magical and medicinal herbs like mugwort, saint john’s wort, and yarrow are thought to be especially powerful when gathered on this day, possibly because the solar power has waxed to its fullest. Being magical herbalists, one of our particular traditions for Saint Johns Eve is the harvesting of a number of these herbs of power, some of which are then worked into charms and blessed by the midsummer fire. Some of these herbs also find their way into potions and preparations which we use and offer through the apothecary.

If you’re interested in herbal lore, here is an excellent article about some of the herbs associated with Saint John’s Eve entitled “The Herbs of Good St. John” written by Maud Sargent and published in 1907 in The Gentleman’s Magazine.

The Herbs of Good St. John

Reformulating Shapeshifting Oil

“Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers by night
May still become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms
And the autumn moon is bright.”

Almost a decade ago, inspired by tales of werewolf cults, we formulated our Shapeshifting Oil to evoke an earthy and primal energy. It was sharp and ferocious and somewhat overpowered, and for the last few years we’ve been unhappy with it.

“I shall go into a hare,
With sorrow and sych and meickle care;
And I shall go in the Devil’s name,
Ay while I come home again.”

We wanted to create a more subtle blend, of moonlight on a mist shrouded meadow, at once both eldritch and mercurial. We wanted a blend evoking the hare-witches of Isobel Gowdie and the night roaming witch-cats of southern Appalachia. The process of refining and changing formula takes time, so we’ve been reworking and reformulating the blend over the last several months. We finished it up over the latest full moon, which the farmers almanac, oddly enough, names the Wolf Moon. We are excited with the result and can’t wait to use it in our own work this coming spring.

Planting by the Signs

Blessed Plow Monday everyone! Now that midwinter has passed and the light has started growing, my mind is turning toward the coming of spring and this years garden. We’ve a ton of seeds (mostly nightshades and daturas and fragrant woodland tobacco) that we’re going to start soon, so I’m checking the lunar calendar.

Planting by the signs of the moon is one of those old mountain customs still practiced by some individuals in Appalachia and the Ozarks. Many years ago when I was learning about it, I asked my grandparents if they planted by the signs. They said they just planted when the weather was right, but they knew plenty of old people who did. My grandfather told me it was attested in the bible, right in the beginning of Genesis: “And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.” This rural lore was widely practiced in regard to both planting and harvesting.

The basics are that, in addition to their traditional elemental association, each of the signs of the zodiac are described as fruitful or barren, and moist, watery, dry, earthy, fiery, hot, or airy. Planting is always done in one of the fruitful signs, and in general the best signs for planting are the water or earth signs. Planting should not be done in one of the barren signs; they are only good for pruning, killing, and weeding.

The fertile water signs are Cancer, Pisces, and Scorpio and are best for most plants. Taurus is also moist and productive and good for planting, especially plants grown for their roots. Libra, though an air sign, is a moist, fruitful sign and good for flowers. Lastly, Capricorn is fertile but dry, so while not ideal, may be good for certain root crops and careful planting.

The signs are traditionally assigned to parts of the human body. You’ll most often hear them discussed this way in Appalachia: “The signs are in the feet today, I’m gonna plant my blue lakes, so that they’ll start running.” [Pisces is productive and moist and good for irrigation and root growth] and “Never transplant in the head or the heart, you’ll kill your plants.” [Aries and Leo are both barren, dry signs].

There are about 14 fruitful days every month. Looking at the moon sign, as well as moon phase, and planetary days for the next 3 months, leads me to the following good days for starting seeds or transplanting plants in January, February and March:
January 13, 18, 21 and 22
February 10, 13, 17, and 18
March 11, 12, 16, 17, and 23

A Solution for Mercury Retrograde

Because of the motion of earth in its orbit around the sun, sometimes the other planets appear to be traveling backward through the zodiac (from our vantage point). This illusion is called retrograde motion. In the case of the planet Mercury, retrograde motion occurs three times a year for a period of about three weeks. Because the planetary force of Mercury is associated with travel, contracts, and communications, this time was traditionally associated with confusion, miscommunication, delays, and frustration. Mercury’s retrograde periods are often blamed for plans going awry, lost emails, technology breakdowns, and other issues of modern life.

Recently I made the following suggestion to a friend of mine who was having a particularly rough time during a Mercury retrograde event. He’s since contacted me to let me know how well it worked and that he’s spreading this bit of tech like a prophet among his friends and peers. To my surprise, his post on facebook about it garnered a lot of attention; I thought this was a fairly common working in planetary magic. Thus, I’ve decided to share this trick for relatively smooth sailing through Mercury retrograde.

When Mercury goes retrograde, on a Wednesday during the hour of Mercury (you can find particular planetary hours for your location at Lunarium) write out the kamea (magic square) of Mercury.
Kamea of Mercury
and then draw the seal of Mercury on top of it
Seal of Mercury
such that they match up exactly and every number has a line going through it. You can burn a Mercury incense or mastic resin and orange candles while creating the talisman to give it a little umph.

Planetary kameas are used to bring and magnify planetary energies and the seal is a graphical representation of this numeric grid. Somewhere many years ago, I learned that placing the seal on top of the kamea blocks a particular planetary energy, in effect “sealing” the focal lens. I would cite a source, but I have no idea where I got this, and at any rate magic should sometimes be about experimenting and experience. In our experience and those we’ve shared it with, this conjoined figure blocks the energy of Mercury. You can put the square on your desk, by your phone, write it on a post it note and stick it to the side of your computer, take a picture with your cell phone camera and make it your background. There are a number of ways it could be employed to help smooth things over for you. In doing this, you will of course be blocking both the negative and positive effects of the planet, so expect divination to not be easy while this talisman is around. Remember to destroy the talisman or delete the image when the planet goes direct again.

The temporary fix may also be used to limit the effect of the malefic planets Saturn and Mars. For instance, another friend has trouble with seasonal affective disorder and I made a charm containing the conjoined Kamea and Seal of Saturn and Hellebore to minimize winter melancholy. Again, I emphasize that this is a short-term talisman. The friend in question had surgery and found that her stitches weren’t properly healing. As Saturn controls bindings and boundaries and is associated with the skin, this makes sense; the sealed kamea was destroyed and the complications abated.

There may additionally be darker applications for this particular trick, say binding the planetary energies of Venus in the life of your enemies, but we’ve not tried it yet.

On Sacred Places

I’ve been reading Geosophia by Jake Stratton Kent over the last few weeks and came across this passage. It is, I think, a really well written piece about working with your regional locality as an expression of your mythic landscape. We’ve been covering this in workshops and training sessions for years, so this passage jumped out of the chapter at me, and I thought I’d share it here.

It is only if we permit it that the secularized landscape of the modern world is emptied of myth and magic. After all, this is not the inevitable impinging of the supposedly real world on our fantasy life; on the contrary, an irreparable separation of the inner and outer worlds is both unreal and undesired. Mountains, burial mounds, crossroads, monuments, graves, trees, streams, and rivers were ancient locations of the numinous. They are no less full of power today, if we but reclaim them. If communities and individuals have lost the sense of power attached to places- a very real loss- nevertheless the magician’s work requires them: this crossroads for offerings to Hecate or the spirits of the Underworld, this hollow tree to hide and isolate the image of a foe, this mountain, cave, or lake to court the favor of the Otherworld. More routine tasks too, disposal of ritual by-products and remnants, cutting of herbs and gathering water at auspicious places, or rods at suitable ruins, cemeteries &c. This extends even to suitable stores for obtaining mace, olive oil and other sundries, not to mention the gathering of dirt or clay from banks, police-stations, prisons &c. Employ mythic thinking to invest the mundane with the magical.

The magician looks about them and sees the magical potential in all things. Has this river no nymph, this mound no hero, this mountain no god? Perhaps under no name known today, but the magician is- like a second Adam- replete with the Power of Naming. Many locations have magical uses or associations, awaiting our use of mythic language. If, say, a prehistoric burial mound is associated with no name known now, then ask your spirits which of them or their companions and allies dwells there. What matter if no-one called the resident by this name before? Names change, but the ancient magic continues regardless. This extends to new places as much as old or rural ones; to any place with meaning for you. Reclaim the landscape, reinvest it with power and significance; be aware of the innate power and significance inherent in every place.

Mandrake Oil

This past full moon I decided to try out a mandrake oil that I started brewing under the full moon (and lunar eclipse) in Libra this spring. To make it, I censed a bottle with frankincense and put pieces of Mandragora officinarum in it with sweet almond oil. Round about midnight, I gently warmed the oil over a candle flame in a triangle of mountain ash wood (chosen for its quickening properties), and sang incantations while the root danced within the oil. I repeated this quickening rite a couple of times over the past few months, but otherwise, the oil has been biding it’s time and maturing in the darkness of the witchcraft cabinet.

Brewing Mandrake Oil

The oil has a potent charge to it that I felt when applying it– an electric tingle of magic that buzzed on my skin. The effects were different from what I expected; they were definitely quite embodied. The world took on a dreamlike, otherworldly quality, but the experience was still quite physical. The oil would probably good for ecstatic trance-work like masking or sex magic, or rites dealing with The Good Neighbors and Elphame. Because of the embodied nature of the effects, it will be less useful for spirit flight. Mandrake however may be helpful in a smaller proportion in a blend for transvection to the Sabbat. “Witchcraft Medicine” by Müller-Ebeling, Rätsch and Storl seems to back up my experiences. It refers to Mandragora officinarum as the mandrake of Aphrodite, growing in the garden of Venusberg.

To Our Lady

Our Lady of Night
“Honour to the crescent and the waning
and She who walketh in brightness,
The Mother of Enchantments.
Be good fortune in Thy waxing,
merriment at Thy full
and evils be banished in Thy decrease.”
~~Jack Brakespear and Doreen Valiente

Wealth and Riches

“The fourth pentacle of Jupiter. It serveth to acquire riches and honor, and to possess much wealth. Its angel is Bariel. It should be engraved upon silver in the day and hour of Jupiter when he is in the sign Cancer. ”

4th pentacle of Jupiter

The above image is the face and reverse of a paten created for the purposes of drawing wealth and riches to the bearer. Because it’s hard to come by a piece of silver large enough to burn candles on, I made these from pine, a tree which the Renaissance astrologer William Lilly assigned to the planet Jupiter, with silver leaf around the edges. The face is woodburned with the 4th pentacle of Jupiter, with the names of the angels in Agrippa’s malachim script and the versicle from the Psalm 112:3 in Latin. Translated it means: “Wealth and riches are in his house.” The square of Jupiter is burned into the reverse. These were made on the day and hour of Jupiter, with Jupiter in Cancer as prescribed in the Key of Solomon (the planet moves into Leo in July 2014).

To Jupiter
the fumigation from storax

O Jove, much-honour’d, Jove supremely great,
To thee our holy rites we consecrate,
Our pray’rs and expiations, king divine,
For all things to produce with ease thro’ mind is thine.
Hence mother Earth and mountains swelling high
Proceed from thee, the deep and all within the sky.
Saturnian king, descending from above,
Magnanimous, commanding, sceptred Jove;
All-parent, principle and end of all,
Whose pow’r almighty shakes this earthly ball;
Ev’n Nature trembles at thy mighty nod,
Loud-sounding, arm’d with light’ning, thund’ring God.
Source of abundance, purifying king,
O various-form’d, from whom all natures spring;
Propitious hear my pray’r, give blameless health,
With peace divine, and necessary wealth.

(This translation of the Orphic Hymn is the most well-known, written by the British classicist Thomas Taylor in 1792. His work was a significant influence on the Golden Dawn.)

Up the chimney!

1910 Witches Sabbat Postcard

We spent this past dark moon making flying ointment with our friend Charles, who was visiting from out of town.

In celebration, we wanted to share this awesome vintage postcard of witches flying to the Sabbat (it’s part of a set of 6 images) produced in Paris in about 1910. I particularly love the older woman smearing the younger ones down as they start their flight!