Small treasures of death and the earth

This month seems to be becoming Still Life September for me, totally by accident. I’m not sure if it’s because my health hasn’t been great so my focus has turned more towards the things in my immediate surroundings, or if it’s an effect of the arrival of autumn, or simply a shift in inspiration, but I’m enjoying it.

This is another collection of beautiful dead things from my altar. The flowers were gifts from friends and the bone was found in a graveyard a few years ago (it has been boiled!). I’m not entirely sure where the wooden cup came from but I know it arrived with me via my husband.

The smoke isn’t smoke – it’s vapour. When I quit tobacco and started vaping, I had no idea how handy it would be for photography! The photo was taken with my Sony Alpha a550 dSLR using natural light and a brown faux suede curtain as a background.


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The Horned God

This little statue of the Horned God was a gift to my husband from a friend.

The lighting is from one studio light fitted with a honeycomb and a four-leaf barndoor. The ‘smoke’ is vapour. Not that it’s particularly relevant, but it was very tasty vapour and thankfully I got this in one shot so I’m not experiencing a massive nicotine rush right now.


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Nazis ruin everything (or why I got a new necklace)

There’s quite a bit of jewellery I wear all the time. Fourteen face and body piercings with various bars, rings and tunnels through them. My wedding ring and engagement ring, although neither are the originals as those had to be cut off following an accident with concentrated industrial cleaning fluid. My Fitbit. A brass and labradorite ring that I dedicated to Odin because synaesthesia-brain over here sees his name in the colours of labradorite. If you’re curious, his name smells like leather, dried wood and an open road at midnight in winter. It tastes like beach glass and feels like a galaxy made of blue goldstone and velvet.

The other piece of jewellery I wear all the time is my necklace, pictured above. I take it off in the shower, but that’s it. It has Thor’s hammer, a skull carved with flowers for Hel, and a five pointed star for general witchiness. My jewellery is a collection of talismans, charms and special things. Every piece of it means something to me and reminds me of something important, just like my tattoos do.

But nazis ruin everything.

I’m not going to get into a lengthy explanation of how nazis, white supremacists and various related, interlocking and overlapping circles of weapons-grade shitebaggery have appropriated symbols of heathenry to the point where there are people in the world who, for perfectly logical reasons, see mjolnir and think “racist”. This is not such an issue, that I’ve encountered anyway, where I live in Scotland because Northern European people living in Northern Europe and following Northern European religious traditions are not automatically considered to be bigoted fuckwits. Unfortunately, elsewhere in the world, and on the internet, this is not the case.

On a personal level, I genuinely couldn’t give less of a shit what assumptions strangers make about me based on my appearance. But I do care deeply about not contributing to anything that might make someone feel unsafe or unwelcome in the place where they live or the online space they inhabit. I am fully aware that as a white person with blonde hair, blue eyes, and numerous facial piercings and tattoos (one of those tattoos is also on my face), someone who perceives a connection between heathenry and bigotry could easily look at me and feel uncomfortable, or worse, because of my presence.

I’m polite to everyone I meet but have been reliably informed by friends, who have known me for long enough to say things like this, that upon first meeting me I can come across as anywhere between ‘slightly intimidating’ and ‘fucking terrifying’. I don’t fully get that cause I’m a small person who smiles a lot and never raises their voice, but while I can understand my own intent I do not get to dictate other people’s perceptions.

So I had an opportunity to examine my approach to the world. I could either accept that I am not a white supremacist nazi turd (which I am not), be angry that people have taken something that is not about hate and turned it into a symbol of hate (which I am), hope that the people I meet don’t feel unsafe because of me wearing a particular symbols (which I do) and continue to wear my necklace because it is significant to me as a symbol of my religion (which I would like to). Or I could easily alter an aspect of my appearance in a way that would mean I wasn’t potentially presenting horrible racist vibes to people who are already living with oppression and fear.

So there’s a new necklace on its way to me now – a very stylised and plain pewter spearhead, representing Gungnir, Odin’s spear. It’s a symbol of balance, magic, self-sacrifice, wisdom, strength and courage. It’s subtle and probably won’t result in people in shops wishing me a happy solstice or strangers in the street asking for directions to the nearest pagan bookshop. It’s not overtly heathen, but it’s still meaningful to me. Also, I bought it with some of the money I earned from writing this month, which is significant on so many levels.

I’m not saying it’s wrong or racist or any other shitty fucking thing to wear a symbol that has been appropriated, especially recently appropriated, by awful people. I’m not saying we should just shut up, give up and hand over mjolnir and runes and whatever the fuck else to nazi scum. I’m not saying anyone else should do anything. I don’t speak for anyone but myself.

I sincerely hope that we get to a place where non-racist anti-nazi heathen voices drown out the bile-filled spewing of extremists, hate groups and terrorists. I’ve witnessed some strong and beautiful action in that direction and I fully support it with all my heart.

But if changing a small, simple thing means that someone who already lives in fear encounters one less perceived threat as they go about their day, damn right I will make that change.


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How I celebrated Lammas

I don’t really connect emotionally or spiritually with Lammas/Lughnasadh as a concept or a practice in the traditional sense. I’m really not a summer person (I was born on the Winter Solstice, so maybe that’s why) and having always lived in urban or suburban areas I have literally no meaningful connection whatsoever to agriculture, apart from obviously I eat food. It’s not that I don’t know where food comes from or how it’s produced, or that I don’t have massive appreciation and respect for the people involved in that process, but basing a sabbat around that is about as meaningful to me as paying ritual tribute to engine building because I drive a car, or carpet making because I have floors in my home. I recognise the important part these things play in my life, but as processes they aren’t spiritual for me at all.

Living in Edinburgh, the beginning of August mostly represents a massive influx of people to the city for the many festivals that are happening here over the next month. My little world simultaneously expands and contracts as I am reminded that I live in a beautiful, vibrant and special place that people come from all over the world to visit.

August, for me, is also about being at home, about being grateful for having a home to be in. It’s about sitting in the living room with the back door open and listening to heavy rain fall through warm air outside. It’s about sitting still on the step and watching tiny birds at the feeder, feeling blessed that they are accustomed enough to my presence not to fear me. This year, it’s also about caring for new turf as it beds in and completes the lawn, and for small trees that were once nurtured indoors beginning to take root in their new outdoor homes. These are my connections to nature at this time of year.

In the last month, I published a book, wrote the first draft of another book and launched my Patreon. My husband started a new position at work, with the same company but at a different location, and is now working longer hours as he settles into a role with more responsibility. These things are, in their own way, harvests. They represent the results of dedication, sacrifice and patience. Our harvests might not have been plucked from fields, but they are still worth celebrating.

This year at Lammas, I cleaned our home. I find housework therapeutic and I enjoy it. I’m not a hardcore neat freak (or at least I don’t think I am) but it soothes my soul to create and maintain a clean, tidy, welcoming space. My health hasn’t been great lately, so being physically able to do this, even just for one afternoon, felt incredible (I’m suffering for it now though, so today is going to be a more gentle day). Also, it has been a year almost to the day since we moved in here and began turning a mostly empty shell into a home. It’s almost finished. Almost. And when I remember the struggles of years past and recognise how different life is now, that too feels like a harvest.

Because I don’t follow any specific Pagan path, I don’t feel the need to adhere to any set rules about how to celebrate at certain times of year. My wheel of the year draws from a variety of traditions, from Wiccan sabbats to Celtic seasonal celebrations to Norse blots. There are more personal elements too, from my heart, my marriage and my family.

While my husband and I sat in our living room, eating some truly amazing bread (our nod to more recognisable Lammas traditions), I offered thanks to Thor for my strength and determination, to Hel for my acceptance of dark times and dark places, to Odin for my words and relentless seeking, to the forces of nature for the beauty around me and to the people who love me for reminding me that I am worth loving.


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Musings about Odin, warrior poet witch god

My tea had some words of wisdom for me this afternoon and inspired me to write this post. Sometimes tea is very clever.

If you read my blog specifically for things related to writing or photography, here’s a quick catch-up to put what I’m going to ramble about in context. I’m an eclectic pagan witch, meaning I don’t follow one specific tradition in my spirituality and witchcraft. My path has shades of heathenry, wicca, chaos magic and a whole heap of other influences, although in terms of deities I feel most resonance with the Norse pantheon. Context has now been contexted. Onwards.

I mentioned in a recent post about some weird spiritual stuff that’s been going on. Over the last few years, I’ve felt the influence, support and protection of Hel and Thor. If you want to google either of them, please remember to include +norse -marvel in your search or you’ll end up with endless pages of MCU stuff.

Recently, I’ve felt a nudge/grab/gigantic punch in the brain from Odin. I’m not going to get into all the details of this because a) it would be long and complicated, and b) you’d probably all think I was losing my shit, but suffice to say he has made his presence known to the point where I eventually had to stop being like “No, I can’t be bothered right now” and instead offer a firm “OK, I’m ready and I’m listening”. Looking back, I realise that he has been around for a while but I wasn’t in a place to talk to him. I am now.

There’s been a weird feeling of cheating on the deities I’d worked with most up until now, which I recognise is a strange thing for a polytheist to experience but also quite a logical thing to feel when the dominant religion in the country where you live, and the country where you grew up, are monotheistic. I don’t feel that the other two are no longer there, more that they still have that protective, supportive presence that they’ve always had but the new guy has more of a guiding presence, a much stronger pull.

Understandably, I’ve spent a lot of time in ritual meditation and buried in books and the internet. I’ve read the Havamal (including this beautiful cowboy version!) over and over, revisted parts of the Eddas that feel specially relevant and been open to whatever this extremely interesting deity wants to tell me through whatever channels he wishes to use.

Things that have struck me (and I do mean struck, like a big thwack in the centre of the chest), in no particular order, are…

  • Odin is not just a god of war. He’s a god of all sorts of things including ordeal, communication, ecstasy, seeking wisdom, death, and enlightenment attained through self-sacrifice. He is a scholar, a skeptic, a scientist, a writer, a wanderer and a wonderful party host. He’s a smart cookie and he takes no shit.
  • He’s a gender-bending magical shaman rock star. Seriously. For example, even though seidr (Norse witchcraft, to define it briefly) was considered a thing for the womenfolk, Odin was all, “Fuck your prescriptive gender roles and judgy ways, I’m gonna do this epic magic and I don’t care what anyone thinks”. I paraphrase, but you get the gist.
  • Dude thinks deeply. He worries about the worlds. He fears that his ravens (a gift from Hel, and whose names, Huginn and Muninn, roughly translate as Thought and Memory) might just bugger off one day and never come back. Even the All Father gets a bit worried about losing his powers of understanding and contemplation.
  • He is the ultimate warrior poet, a beautiful contradiction and an inspiration for anyone who believes that magic, art, science, emotional intelligence and strength can all co-exist in one complex, divine package.

Following a steaming pile of BULLSHIT in capital letters over the last few years, I’d lost sight of the part of my spirit that strengthened my voice, the part of my spirit that knew I deserved more than to sit down, shut up and shoulder the burden of all the crap going on around me. It had become broken, shrunken, hidden. More recently, it has recovered and grown again, stronger for the spiritual scar tissue it has gathered as it healed.

Over the last eight months, I  have left all that shit behind me, put my damn self on the path I wanted to be on, got serious about not wasting my skills or giving up on my dreams, and found my voice again. My body may not work the way other people’s do, I may be dis-abled by a society that is only equipped to be accessible to people whose bodies function in ways that mine can’t, and I may have have cracks in my bones and my mind that will never go away, but I’ve got my fight back, finally, and I will never, ever, let it go again.

I’m a strong believer in the importance of timing and opportunity, that no matter how amazing something might have the potential to be, if it comes along at the wrong time in your life, you won’t be receptive to it. I’m also a strong believer in strength, determination and the power of people who genuinely give a shit, to change things for the better – for themselves, for their immediate community and for the wider world they come into contact with physically and through the tubes of the interwebs.

And when a warrior poet witch god throws a storm at you, you open your arms to it and you fucking roar.

Witch: My very unshadowy book of shadows

Before I get started here, I want to define a few terms (as I use them) in language that should hopefully make sense to non-witchy people or people who are new to witching.

Witch
Person (of any gender) who does witchcraft (not specifically wiccan!)

Eclectic witch
Witch who draws from a variety of spiritual paths and traditions

Deities/Gods
Personified/archetypal representations of aspects of the human condition, nature and cultural experience

Ritual
Set of words and actions used to focus intent and desire

Spell
Set of ingredients and tools used to focus intent and desire

Magic
The art, ceremony and practice of focusing intent to achieve desired results

OK, now that’s out of the way and you hopefully get where I’m coming from, let’s move onto the book of shadows stuff!

What is a book of shadows?

If you’ve read any witchy things on the internet, chances are you’ve run into the term book of shadows, book of mirrors or grimoire. Depending on what you read or who you ask, these can be different things or different words for the same thing. Because witchcraft is such an individual path, there is no one correct definition of a book of shadows/mirrors/whatevers. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to use book of shadows, but in doing so I’m referring to all the things I just talked about.

A witch’s book is (usually, generally) a place to gather reference material relevant to their practice as well as to record spells and workings they do. Some witches prefer to use a heavy, leather-bound book filled with beautiful calligraphy for this purpose. I use a pink Filofax Clipbook filled with scribblings in pink and black ink, and also Microsoft OneNote synced between my laptop and phone because I like to have a portable version of my book with me at all times.

Witches who follow a Wiccan path and/or work as part of a coven may have a very different book of shadows from a solitary eclectic witch. The point is, there is no right and wrong. It’s all down to the preferences of the individual and what works for each person.

What’s in my book of shadows?

I’m going to refer mostly to my physical book here, but my digital version is pretty much exactly the same. The picture at the top of this post is the first page of my book.

My book contains ritual words and processes, including specific spells and ritual workings with notes about when I carried out them out and how I felt during and after. I also have an ever-growing collection of research and reference material about everything from deities (Hel and Thor are my patrons) to festivals to tarot to runes to colour, nature and conceptual symbolism and correspondences. I also keep records of tarot readings I do for myself as well as dedications and prayers I’ve written.

My book is a living document, a place of study and growth. Things get added constantly and shuffled as suits me, which is why using a ring binder rather than a regular notebook works best for me. I’ve been there with the ever-so-serious only-write-perfect-things-here books and I ended up not really using them because I didn’t want to mess them up or do anything wrong. For me, a process of life-long learning is all about messing up and doing things wrong. That’s how learning happens. Rough drafts, scribbles and ideas are just as important as beautiful, finished pieces of art.

What should you put in your book of shadows?

The short answer is anything you want. If you’re starting your own book, I would encourage you to make it in such a way that you actually use it and aren’t scared of not writing neatly enough or revising information based on new experiences. Some witches are totally against keeping a digital book of shadows. Some feel it’s more powerful to hand-write everything. Others are happy to print pages from the internet. Some keep their book completely private and others share photos of their pages on Tumblr and Instagram. However you create and keep your book, it should be what works best and feels right for you.

If you’re staring at a blank page with literally no idea where to start, here are a few ideas:

  • Information about your chosen deities or pantheon
  • Prayers and dedications to your patron/matron/whatever-you-call-them deities
  • Research into herbs, plants, incense and oils that you use
  • Notes on seasonal festivals you celebrate
  • Principles and concepts relating to your spiritual practice
  • Spells you’ve worked and notes about your experiences
  • Correspondences for colours, days of the week, phases of the moon etc
  • Reference for divination processes you use, like tarot or runes
  • Quotes and song lyrics that speak to your beliefs and practices
  • Records of your dreams and meditations

The internet is an AMAZING starting point, especially YouTube and Tumblr, as are books that other people have written. Read the hell out of everything you can get your hands on but when it comes to filling the pages of your book, make it your own. Your experience of the divine will never be exactly the same as someone else’s. The plants you have access to will depend on where you live. Even the dates of seasonal festivals and sabbats will be different depending on your location – the wheel of the year in the Southern Hemisphere is the opposite way round from the Northern Hemisphere. Certain ritual processes will resonate with you more strongly than others. Where possible, use your own words as they will always hold more power for you.

This is my book of shadows. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

A note about my solitary, eclectic Pagan witchcraft, research and reference, and other cultures

My spiritual path is one of eclectic Paganism with mostly Celtic, Norse and, to a lesser degree, modern Wiccan influences. This has happened naturally over the twenty or so years I’ve been witching. I never set out to choose specific influences or deities but certain things have caught my attention and called to me. In a practical sense, this is probably because I’m a half-Irish half-English person currently living in Scotland with, to the best of my knowledge, mostly Celtic and Norse heritage, so those are the things that I’ve encountered as part of the culture I live in and that feel most relevant to me.

That’s not to say I don’t have any interest in influences from other cultures, because I do. I’ve always been intrigued by the similarities and differences between spiritual and religious beliefs and practices from all over the world and  have read widely about various topics from Native American spirituality to Buddhism to Christianity. I’ve definitely been influenced by this research, and I absolutely adore talking to people who follow spiritual paths that differ from mine, but there’s a big difference between “I’ve read about these practices and am influenced by them to an extent because aspects of them resonate with me” and “I’ve read about these practices so I am now that thing”.

That’s actually a really hard concept to wrap words around and I’m not sure that I’ve done a very good job of it. It’s such a broad subject and I really only feel comfortable speaking to my own experience and perspective. Also, I feel it’s important to remember that when a spiritual or religious practice is part of the culture of living people who currently exist, that should always be respected. To take it out of the context of religion for a moment, I eat Chinese food, I cook Chinese food, I go to Chinese restaurants but none of that makes me Chinese. You know?

I also lean towards chaos magic in my practice of witchcraft. For me (I am not defining chaos magic here – please do go and read about it though, cause it’s really interesting), that involves using the power of belief as the individual chooses to direct it with the intent of focusing personal desire and action. For example, I don’t believe that a bit of rock is inherently powerful or capable of making a thing happen. I do believe that using an object like a crystal (or literally any object) as a conscious focus for intent can increase the potential power of actions taken in relation to that intent. Even the least witchy of people can probably relate to wearing a ‘lucky’ pair of pants to a job interview, saying “Break a leg!” to an actor about to go on-stage or keeping a keepsake from a special holiday in a specific place on the mantelpiece.

It’s also worth mentioning that not all witches are Pagans. I know Buddhist witches, Christian witches and witches who believe in no deities at all. My husband shares my chaos magic leanings and we sometimes perform ritual work together, especially around season-based festivals, but he doesn’t refer to himself as a witch or have any religious beliefs. If I haven’t made it super clear already, witchery and magic are very individual things.

Finally…

This has been a long post! I really want to write more about Paganism and witchcraft because it’s a HUGE part of my life. I’m also happy to answer any questions you might have, although I can only answer based on my own experience and perspective.

Bewitched

❤ Eclectic pagan witch

Tools of the craft, bits and pieces from my altar, and part of my collection of lovely ritual paraphernalia.

Prints are available here.