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I wanted to use my patio table as a temporary altar to do some work under the full moon. I had forgotten the potatoes I harvested and left there (oops). Then I realized this was perfect! My magic could tap into that fertile potato crop energy. With a clear sky, a bright moon, and a chorus of crickets, I set to work with the help of the potatoes that I lovingly tended for several months. I still have some dirt under my fingernails to prove it! My time outside with the moon and my spirit allies was fantastic. One of the best solo rites I’ve performed in awhile. I felt so connected and in the moment. It’s exactly what I needed.

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Full Moon Rite with Potatoes – Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019

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An Herbal Cleanse

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My old herbal stash. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019

In what seems like a never-ending quest to better organize our small home, I decided an herbal cleanse was in order. I mean that very literally in that it was time go through my old trunk of herbs and sundry. I’ve learned over the years that there is an optimal way to store dried plants. They also lose potency, especially if you intend to use them as food, drink, or medicine.

As a younger Druid-in-training, I had so much to learn. I frequently bought interesting baggies of herbs at metaphysical shops. I had a favorite stall at the Sterling Renaissance festival, and I tried to buy one or two samples every year. I clung to these purchases like talismans of witch cred. Simply having them made me feel more magical, at least for a moment. I seldom did anything with the herbs. I occasionally made an herbal sachet or dream pillow, but most accumulated in the trunk. Even as I grew, however humbly, in my Druidry, folk magic, and herbal know-how, the trunk has followed me around. An item of nostalgia.

Until a few days ago.

I went through it, examining each specimen, remembering where I obtained it. Some were from witchcraft shops no longer in existence. Some came from my very first herb garden. There were rose petals from a young man I kissed one summer long ago. Oak leaves picked up and crushed… because I never had any of those trees where I grew up, so I collected whenever I could.

I put many of the ancient herbs in my compost pile. It seemed appropriate to return these dead plants to the Earth. They can help me grow new herbs in the future. As I worked, I developed a composting prayer:

 

Stem to soil
Bark to brown
Wilt to worms
Break it down! 

 

(I did put a few herbs in the fire pit which was probably not the best idea as they made a lot of smoke at first!)

I did keep a few things: plants that, now that we’re reacquainted, truly are appropriate for talismans rather than consuming. I have some mistletoe, which is steeped in lore, and is not something I’ve encountered in my own surroundings before. I also have a dried fly agaric which I’m very fond of. I rediscovered some chunks of dragons blood purchased at a shop in Salem, MA, and I even have a baggie of shed Arctic fox fur (an animal sanctuary sold little samples of it as a way to raise funds). I mean… you never know when you’ll need these things, right?!

As someone who converted to a polytheistic path over several years, it can be fascinating, humbling, and hilarious to look back at my journey. I prefer keeping my herbs in glass jars now, though I do need to improve my usage and not horde them so much. I also strive to grow or forage for most of what I utilize, but I’m not above buying a hard-to-find specimen from a trusted source who ethically harvests plants.

Do any of you have old herbs stashed away in baggies, forgotten or horded for some unknown purpose? Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate how you work with herbs and do your own herbal cleanse!

Newly cut roses for Airmed. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019.

Summer is here, and that means I’m in and out of my garden multiple times a day. Gardens take work, but it’s a relaxing, uplifting labor or love. I often find myself lost in contemplation. I thought about how it’s a perfect metaphor for my religion, but then I realized that it is my religion. Although my Druidry is culturally focused on Irish traditions, it always comes back to the land I live on.

In Druidry, we honor the Ancestors. Most of my ancestors lived in Europe, with a great many coming from the northern parts – Ireland, Scotland, England, Germany, and Norway. I think of how they interacted with the land (without romanticizing it). I study the plants they worked with, their land-based symbolism, their agricultural cycles, and how they interacted with land spirits. Some of my ancestors moved to the United States to seek new opportunities. I know that some came here to farm, to brew, and cook. I delight in learning how they did things and adapted to North America. I look to the ancestors of this land I now live on. I try to learn about and respect how the indigenous cultures live and work with the land. I try to learn about the spirits in their traditions so I don’t insult them. I strive to honor them in my own way with acknowledgement and my efforts to restore native species of plants to my yard. I try to keep abreast of issues that are important to the tribes who live in Upstate NY. It’s a never-ending effort of respect for the land and the people who lived here first.

In Druidry, we honor the Deities. I honor the Tuath Dé Danann, with emphasis on Brigid, but also a lot of work with Airmed, An Cailleach, An Dagda, Angus, Lugh, An Morrígan,  and Manannán mac Lir. They are mostly deities of cultural elements, but they also have strong land associations. Many have lore-based connections to plants or animals. Their sacred spaces are based in the land, sea, and sky of Ireland and surrounding countries. How can I connect with them in Upstate NY? The Celts migrated in the past, so I believe I can connect to the deities just as they did*. One way is by respectfully creating shrines on the land where I live. One of my favorite, most meaningful offerings are the plants I grow.

That brings me to the third arm of Druidry – honoring the land spirits. I’m mostly focused on the actual spirits of this place – seen and unseen. When it comes to the unseen, I’m specifically referring to the spirit of the soil, the trees, the overall forest here, etc. Not really the Good Folk, but that is a big gray area (see link below)**. When I interact with the tools and ingredients my ancestors knew and loved, I also interact with the land. I must consider what is and isn’t invasive and damaging to this land. When I visit cemeteries to honor the dead, I also honor the land they are becoming. As I grow food for my family, I know that I will go into the soil and contribute to the cycle one day. When I erect shrines for the deities, I work with the land. When I create spiritual tools, I strive to respectfully wildcraft what I can, and then use materials ethically obtained. I avoid working with certain objects due to mining, over harvesting, etc. When I lead rituals with my grove, we are interacting with an older cultural tradition, but also integrating it with the rhythms of this land.

It all comes back to the land. Gardening, and the many other ways I work to live in better harmony with the earth, is me living my Druidry. As we move into more challenging, uncertain times, I pray that my relationship improves and helps me and my family adapt.

 

*The topic of immigrants interacting with deities from another land is a huge topic best for another post.

** Are land spirits and fairies the same thing? Here’s a great discussion on that huge topic.

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Happy green moss growing between the cement slabs. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019.

One of the reasons we bought our home is because we loved the back patio and garden area. However, we are not keen on how the stones were placed. There are large slabs of cement with wide gaps in between. Previous owners put gravel in the spaces, but it doesn’t stay, especially during winter. I am constantly toiling to keep the plants that grow between the stones at a manageable height. It makes me feel bad, but I do pull plants that get too high. Last year, around early autumn, I transplanted my hanging strawberry plants and their babies into the ground to start a strawberry bed. As I dug, I felt guilty for displacing some moss. I moved it into the patio area between the cracks. I was inspired by one section that had some moss in it. I thought it looked nice and wanted to experiment. Months later, you can see how well the moss took to its new environment above. It’s spreading its fuzzy green wings.

Newly transplanted moss. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019.

Some neglected pots of soil developed their own layer of moss. I decided to move them to the patio cracks. Grow into a happy patch, little moss! Of course, I  seek their permission first, then sing to them as I give them an offering of water to help them settle into their new home.

A naturally occurring cushion moss in a patio crack. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019.

Some mosses have happily developed here on their own. They like the sandy, acidic soil and partial shade. Check out this gorgeous, verdant cushion moss! Many of these specimens, undisturbed from my refusal to use weed killers, are cheerfully releasing little spores to spread some fuzzy love.

Nettle (center), moss, and wood sorrel. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019.

As with any garden work, I  learn more about the land and the other plants that are growing here as I work and explore. The more I learn about Japanese gardens, the more I’m intrigued with the idea of transforming the land but working to do so in a way that maintains harmony. When you slow down instead of hack and slash everything without observing, you may miss blessings from spirits all too willing to work with you.

I recently saw a witch post on social media about how plants and fungi she wanted to cultivate are suddenly growing in her yard! I feel as if I’m experiencing a similar blessing. I’ve longed to find nettle for years. I sought it in the hedges near my old apartment, where I was lucky to discover numerous other plant allies. Last year, I thought I found it, but was not convinced.Over the winter, I considered buying some seeds. As you may know from my Instagram, I recently found it growing along my fence! Yesterday, as I transplanted moss from a pot, I felt a sting. At first I worried I’d disturbed a bee, but nope! I quickly realized I brushed against a tiny nettle who had taken up residence in the pot along with the moss. Well hello there, wee one! Don’t worry. I’m not moving you anywhere. In fact, you can have that whole pot. Welcome!

When I was younger, my mother taught me to sew. My first project was a small pillow. I decorated it to look like the Earth. At least, that’s how I conceived of it in my six-year-old mind. I still have that pillow. It is a treasured reminder of how I’ve grown with the gift my mother gave me. Sewing became one of my favorite pastimes. Since that first pillow, I went on to stitch stuffed animals, curtains, and costumes. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I tried my hand at making a fabric doll. When I did, it was because I couldn’t afford a statue of a goddess I work with. The result was something I felt more intimately attached to. I worked with the goddess through the process, and the effort became an offering to her. I’ve gone on to make several spirit dolls since.

For the pragmatic practitioner, a doll can act as a mental stimulus to aid in focus during magic and ritual. For deeper work, dolls can become a conduit or home for trusted allies. They can become talismans to augment the magical qualities your plant spirit ally already possesses. Just as the process can connect you to the spirit you are depicting, you also have control over what materials you use. Choosing more sustainable materials can affect the character and energy of the finished piece.

Dolls are typically humanoid. While a full body is not  required, I find that a face facilitates connection. That’s the power of personification. It’s important to note, however, that such a visage should not be confused with the actual face of the spirit. It is an interpretation, one that should come through much contemplation and even research if you desire to incorporate lore (as I would do when making a deity doll). I encourage you to incorporate motifs associated with the plant. Study the leaves, stem, flowers, seeds, or roots and contemplate what designs you could incorporate.

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Mugwort Dram Pillow Art Doll by Grey Catsidhe, 2019

Originally, I had a more complex concept in mind for my mugwort spirit doll. As time went by, my idea simplified. I decided to craft a mugwort face in the spirit of a green man, but female. As an Artemisia, I find that mugwort has a very feminine energy to it. Furthermore, I wanted to connect the doll to the plant’s dream-inducing qualities and make a dream pillow. I used fabric I already had on hand, including some wool felt for the silver-green leaves I admire. The pillow is stuffed with wool and dried mugwort from my own garden.

I’m very pleased with how she turned out! All that’s left is for me to consecrate her. I encourage those curious in experimenting with spirit dolls to start with a face and add it to something like a drawstring bag or pillow that can contain dried components of your plant ally.

For some inspiration, check out Hagstone Publishing’s spirit doll Pinterest board. If you’d like to see some of the other dolls I’ve made, you can look at my portfolio. Want to join me in my plant spirit ally exploration? Check out Hagstone Publishing’s guide. It’s never too late to work through the journey.

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In an ideal world, you would be able to meditate with a living example of your chosen plant ally. Michelle Simkins of Hagstone Publishing has already written a wonderful primer on meditating with a live plant, and I encourage you to read it if you have a green acquaintance who has budded or flowered. But how can you work closely with a plant who is currently dormant within your bioregion?

As April slowly unwinds into May, my nights are cold. Here in Northern NY, temperatures regularly dip down into the 30s until around Memorial Day weekend. Yes, tree buds emerge as red and green starbursts. Yes, the songbirds and tree frogs have returned. I’ve even seen a mosquito. While some early spring plants have blossomed, many will not emerge for a few more weeks thanks to the lingering promise of frost.

My mugwort ally remains snuggled in a bed of soil. I know where the rhizomes rest, and I regularly return to say hello and check on their progress. Like most plants, we can’t see all the activity below the soil. To meditate with a live mugwort this time of year is to tap into very drowsy energy. If you are lucky enough to know where your plant ally slumbers, return regularly to keep vigil.

Below the light of April’s full moon, I reached out to mugwort. I cleared the layer of leaves, and moved the shell of last year’s growth to make room. I reverently  touched the cold soil. Soon, they will grow. I whispered prayers of greeting. Then I waited. I took note of the sensations running through my body. I felt a sense of fatigue, yet a promise for dreams. The mugwort seemed almost haughty, eager to remind me of their power even as they huddled in the earth. My dreams have certainly been vivid and strange these days. Such is the power of mugwort.

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Dried mugwort made with last summer’s growth. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019.

While meditating with a vibrant plant is ideal, there are ways to make a connection with a sleepy specimen. Thankfully, I have some dried mugwort I harvested last year. If you are lucky enough to already have the beginnings of a relationship with an established plant, working with dried parts – leaves, roots, flowers, or even seeds – is a wonderful alternative.

Dried mugwort is wonderful to have on hand. It is excellent for a sleepy, dream-inducing tea. Others have shared that it helps them commune with the spirit world. If you are working with a dried plant that is safe to ingest, tea is an excellent way to meditate on its properties. All parts of mugwort are safe to use, but you should avoid it if pregnant*.

As you prepare your tisane, examine the way the dried plant looks. See its color, and make a guess at what it would look like lively and vibrant. Feel the plant. Notice the difference in textures. Crush the plant between your fingers and inhale. Take note of how your body reacts. Once you pour hot water over 1-2 teaspoons of dried mugwort, let it steep and inhale. How does the scent change? How does it make you feel? Let it steep for 10 minutes. This is the perfect time to sit, breathe, and reflect on the changes in scent and color. Finally, when it’s ready, taste. Feel the warm liquid on your tongue and hold it there for a moment. As you swallow, feel it flow into your body.

No matter if your plant is bursting with green or just emerging from its wintry slumber, this is a great time to reflect on the coming days. Tomorrow is supposed to be a time to make an offering. Ask, aloud or in your mind, what the spirit of your new plant ally would like. Be prepared for what it asks. Seek guidance for future activities, especially with the creative projects such as creating shrines, writing a prayer, and crafting a spirit doll. Meditation is the beginning. As you progress, continue to make time for meditation with your plant ally. Check in, both with your body, and the plant spirit. Taking the time to still your mind and observe is foundational to the work.

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*Mugwort is known for bringing on menstruation, so while normally safe, it could cause a dangerous situation during pregnancy. As always, if you have any concerns, you should consult your doctor or midwife.

 

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A fresh mugwort smudge wand I made in the summer of 2016. Photo by Grey Catsidhe.

When I was younger, my paternal grandmother taught me about plants. She had a lovely garden complete with perennial flowers, vegetables, and numerous herbs. Before her health declined, the garden was her pride and joy. It inspired her artistically and holistically. She was the first person to introduce me to plants as allies. While a staunch Catholic, she taught me that plants can do more than simply look attractive. Just as people, there is more below the surface. Plants have various properties that can restore or damage a person’s health. She was the first to introduce me to wild foraging. She did this with much caution. Before she had to move into an assisted living facility, she took the time to make notes in some herbal books that she then passed on to me.  All her care to point out the dangers taught me to slow down and really observe. It is in the spirit of caution that I learned to pay attention to my intuition when working with plants.

As a young adult, I kept a container garden on my apartment patio. They were very easy to maintain, in part because competitive plants (what others call weeds) are not as pervasive in containers. Yet they do appear from time to time, and are usually from airborne seeds or bird droppings. Somehow, Nature saw fit to introduce me to mugwort.

At the time, I didn’t know what was growing in my potato bin, but I’m naturally curious about new plants. I let the stems, leaves, and flowers grow so I could identify them. As an animist, I strongly believe that plants have spirits. When we slow down to contemplate a plant, we open ourselves to that spirit. I approach this relationship the same way I approach my gods – with a healthy balance of reading and contemplation. My intuition kept me looking. Referencing materials by experienced herbalists and botanists gave me peace of mind to further work with mugwort. Each of us has to find a method that works best for us, and this balanced approach felt most healthy and pragmatic to me. It continues to serve me well as I expand my herbal and gardening knowledge.

Lately, I’ve felt called to work closer with mugwort, but other plants also reach out for attention. Now that I’m a homeowner with gardening goals, I’ve felt pulled toward many potential green allies. Yet I kept “hearing whispers” from my old friend, the mugwort. There is more to learn. I wouldn’t say I was ignoring this inkling, but I put it on a backburner. Then I noticed the plant popping up in conversations. I’d see it all over social media. I would randomly open herbal books to pages about it.

When Hagstone Publishing posted about its 30 Day Plant Spirit Ally Challenge, I knew mugwort would be my focus. So here we are! I’m excited to grow and share with everyone this month. I will be posting tomorrow about meditating with mugwort to begin the journey. Later, on day 22, I will share the work I’ve done to create a mugwort spirit doll. I can’t wait to see what everyone else contributes!

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