Rethinking Holiday Gifts (AKA – The Gift I Want More Than Anything This Year)

It’s been too long since I last posted on my blog. I spent much of October sick or helping take care of sick family members. I thought we were all doing okay for Samhain, and I enjoyed a lovely celebration with my grove, but then the crud crept back up on us and extended a little into November. Suddenly, tomorrow is Thanksgiving and everyone is talking about the holidays…

Truthfully, I’ve been thinking about Winter Solstice, Yuletide, and, yes, even Christmas. Specifically, I’ve been ruminating on the gift-giving associated with this time of year. (Of course, I could include a lot of other holidays that include exchanging presents, but these are the only ones that directly impact my family traditions.) I really want to make a change. So much of my religion is about reconnecting with nature, ancestral roots, and the spiritual. It’s not really about separating myself from the material or treating objects as somehow more profane. No, Druidry celebrates art and the act of creating tools and beauty. Material objects and heirlooms are fine to a point, but the consumerism really gets to me. (And trust me, as an author selling books…I have a lot of complicated feelings about it.)

I’ve reached a point in my life where I have too much stuff. I really do. I love and appreciate many of the items I have (heirlooms, art made by friends and family, items carefully selected for me by loved ones who really get me), but I also have a lot of random junk. Knickknacks given for the sake of giving something. Clothing given to fill a box yet doesn’t really reflect who I am. That may come across as unappreciative, but I know I’ve given similar things for a similar reason. Everyone is under pressure. We want to make people happy, add to that holiday cheer, and ensure everyone has lots of fun things to open!

But behind all that? Stress. So much stress! There’s the financial stress of obtaining gifts, then the stress that comes with figuring out where to put all the new stuff. Perhaps stress related to demonstrating to gift givers that you appreciate it all. It’s exhausting! Can we all just admit that it’s ruining the actual spirit of the holidays, whatever you celebrate?

In the past, I’ve written similar things here and elsewhere about how I want to focus more on experiences. I really want to return to that, especially for people beyond my home. I’ll continue to give a few carefully selected “fun things” to my daughter and other children in my life, and I know what my husband wants and needs (as well as what will actually fit in our home. This is key.). He and I are also picking out something together that we know we both want anyway. It keeps things simple but no less special. For all the other adults in my life? I’m thinking more about the experience of eating and drinking. Good food and beverages to be enjoyed. Maybe a small item to add comfort in the cold. Nothing that will break the bank or take up a lot of space. Or maybe we could all agree that the simple act of gathering and sharing a meal is gift enough? Maybe sing some seasonal songs together. Read a poem or excerpt from a favorite winter story? Stop giving stuff entirely! It would be a wonderful, magical thing, in all honestly. Honestly, in a society facing extreme environmental breakdown and financial ruin, it would be transformative; truly magical.

To family and friends reading this: honest to goodness, I don’t need more stuff. Especially large stuff! I’m sure you don’t either! Gods know I spent way too much time the last couple months lounging on the couch, feeling miserable, wishing I were out experiencing life instead of staring at the mess of stuff around me.

Can we please all make this change?

(And please, stop giving my child so many things! Her room is bursting at the seams! Give her a gift card to the zoo or art store. No more toys. Please.)

Book Review: Metal Never Lies

Photo of ebook cover on a slab of rock resting on grass. The phone is surrounded by metal allies made by author Sam “Bo” Thompson. Photo by M. A. Phillips

As someone who honors and serves the Irish goddess, Brigid, you’d think I’d have a greater interest in blacksmithing due to her connections to the anvil. You’d think I would have read more on the topic or perhaps taken a workshop, but you’d be wrong. Well, you would have been wrong up until recently when I delved into an ebook of Metal Never Lies by Sam “Bo” Thompson.

I first learned of Thompson’s work through a fellow Pagan acquaintance online. She shared a photo of a metal tool she’d purchased from a polytheist blacksmith. I’m always keen to support other Pagan artisans, so I naturally started following Raven’s Keep Forge on social media. When he updated that he’d made and stocked small copper offering bowls and anvil dust, I was moved to purchase the items for my Brigid shrine and devotionals. Later, I purchased an iron hair stick with a swirl at the top. It doubles as a wand with which to write sigils into candles. Beautiful and twice and functional? Sign me up.

Then Thompson wrote and published his book, Metal Never Lies. I was interested in deepening my understanding of metal lore, and he serendipitously offered me an ARC copy to read and review.

Metal Never Lies is a great primer on incorporating metal into your magical practice. The author’s friendly voice shines through as he shares stories, insight, and wisdom on the ins and outs of metallurgy, folklore, and working with the medium from a Pagan point of view. It’s both insightful and very accessible to newcomers.

If you aren’t a metalsmith, I promise you’ll get something from this book as I did. Thompson shifted my perspectives on incorporating metal in my own spiritual path as a Druid and animist. Each chapter contains reflective exercises, and I soon realized I’m not paying enough attention to my metallic allies.

The author himself states that he’s not an expert in the lore, but he offers a multicultural list of deities and myth associated with metallurgy. I was a little surprised and saddened he didn’t spend more time discussing Brigid or Goibniu in the section on Irish lore, but they at least get a mention. Once more, Thompson never asserts his text is definitive, and the bits of info he supplies is enough to get a seeker on the right path.

I would have liked some more images or photos to go along with the text, especially when he speaks about tools or Ogham. Though I have enough knowledge of the ancient Irish alphabet, anyone unfamiliar to the folklore may be taken out of Thompson’s narrative flow wondering what he’s describing. That’s a very minor critique, however. As long as the reader goes into this book knowing it’s a very informal introduction, they will glean a lot of knowledge and perspective. I definitely recommend this book to any polytheist seeking to explore new avenues of magic.

You can find Metal Never Lies through Raven’s Keep Forge or Amazon. Don’t forget to check out Sam “Bo” Thompson’s many beautiful pieces available to purchase from the forge!

Let Me Show You Around My Rose Garden

Happy (almost) Lúnasa!

As the first major harvest festival, it’s a great time to be a gardener. My veggie beds are producing some beautiful food for us already in the form of beans, tomatoes, and eggplant. The squash are just starting to develop flowers and fruit. Hopefully we’ll enjoy harvesting them closer to the Autumn Equinox.

Today, I thought I’d share a different part of the garden with you all. More of a spiritual and emotional harvest at this point, my ever-evolving rose garden has become a spiritual centerpiece in the backyard. The goal is to one day harvest blossoms and hips for herbal workings, but while everyone establishes themselves, I mostly work with this area for cutting the occasional offerings, moonlit rituals, and for meditation.

If you didn’t already know it, I started to share some amateurish videos of my garden journey. Perhaps they will inspire you. I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions, and I’d also like to see how you’re co-creating your own magical areas.

Make Room on Your Witch Lit Bookshelves!

A year ago, I was basking in an authorly glow after rapidly publishing three Rituals of Rock Bay novels with Shadow Spark Publishing over several months. The exhaustion had subsided some, and so I set out to once more participate in Camp NaNoWrimo with the very relaxed goal to start plotting a new novel. An idea had taken seed–something unrelated to Lacey, Cian, and the others. Slowly, a fresh set of characters grew, and Plant Lady blossomed into a manuscript I couldn’t set aside. 

Here we are, July again, and I have exciting news! I’ve happily contracted with Shadow Spark Publishing to bring Plant Lady to life for everyone to enjoy! 

Not the official cover.

Plant Lady by M. A. Phillips – Coming in 2023!

Plants are easy. People…not so much.

Fern is a practicing witch with a green thumb. She’s earned an enchanting reputation for helping people improve their fortunes at her tiny plant shop in Utica, NY, but she’d trade it all to reclaim her grandparents’ garden nursery.

Her life takes an unexpected turn when an ex-boyfriend suddenly appears at her Pagan circle’s meetup as they plan for their annual witches’ ball. Will he uproot this Plant Lady’s plans, or will new opportunities bloom?

After a relatively long rest, I’m so excited to be in this position again! Keep your eyes peeled for snippets, character art, and eventual giveaways as we get closer to the release of Plant Lady.

As always, thank you to everyone who supports me. I wouldn’t be here without readers!  


Happy Mermay Authors & Artists Appreciation Week!

The official Mermay Authors & Artists Appreciation Week graphic by Papaya.

I’m delighted to participate in author D. H. Willison’s first (hopefully annual) Mermay Authors & Artists Appreciation Week! This is a virtual tour to celebrate mermaids and other denizens of the deep who inspire so many of us. As an author who features a mermaid-type creature in my novels, I simply had to join in on the fun.

Ready to dive in with me?

The River Spirit from my Rituals of Rock Bay series. Commissioned art by immabunni.
  • Which historical myths did you draw from when creating your story/artwork?
    Long-time blog readers know how I look to Irish lore and mythology for guidance and inspiration. You may be surprised to know that the idea for the freshwater mermaid / River Spirit did not come from a specific Irish legend, but I did read about merrows and selkies as I considered who would haunt the shore and Lacey’s dreams. Ultimately, I decided against a selkie (which are not mermaids as we know them, but fairy-women who wear seal skins). There aren’t any seals in this region of the Saint Lawrence river. I briefly considered something similar with an otter, but it just didn’t feel right to alter established myth, and I instead drew on my first encounter with a sturgeon. The River Spirit of my novels remains in the water just like the ancient fish, but she can shapeshift. This quality was very much inspired by another dangerous water creature found in Scottish lore – kelpies. The Sturgeon Spirit is not a kelpie, though, but her form changes depending on who sees her and how she wants to influence them. And like many old stories about mermaids, the River Spirit can be dangerous, especially to those who cross her or her allies.
  • Do you have any personal connection to any particular body of water? Tell us about it.
    Of course! I think all mermaid fans must have a special bond with water somewhere. The Rituals of Rock Bay series takes places in a fictional town along the very real Saint Lawrence River in the Thousand Islands region of Upstate NY. It’s the state’s longest river and connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. It has a very old history with the Haudenosaunee people (which I’m still learning more about), and remains an important part of our state’s history and culture. I adore the waterway, and feel the sacredness whenever I’m there. As part of the Irish Diaspora, I love knowing that the river connects me to the ocean which touches Ireland. I sometimes feel the sea god, Manannán mac Lir, strong in the waters, mingling with many other spirits. It is a holy place, but there’s a lot of other magic too. From ancient fish like the sturgeon, to ship wrecks, pirate legends, ghosts, and even castles.

Curious to read more from me? Come explore the mystical side of the Saint Lawrence River and the fictional town of Rock Bay.

A fresh-water, shape-shifting river guardian dwells in the waters along the town of Rock Bay in my Rituals of Rock Bay series. It all starts in River Magic when Lacey Moran encounters a mermaid both in and out of her dreams. As she strives to better understand what this means for her blossoming intuitive skills, Lacey joins a group of local Pagans and navigates life and love along the Saint Lawrence River. Perfect for fans of Alice Hoffman and Sarah Addison Allen who crave realistic portrayals of folk magic and modern Pagans.

I hope you’ll join these other fine authors and artists to learn why merfolk inspire them and their work!

D. H. Willison (22 of Mermay)
D.N.Frost (23 of Mermay)
C. Willison (24 of Mermay)
Rosalyn Briar (25 of Mermay)
M. A. Phillips (26 of Mermay)
Papaya (27 of Mermay)
S D Simper (28 of Mermay)

Witch Lit Wednesday: The Lost Apothecary

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner on a wooden plank floor surrounded by various glass bottles, an herb cutter, and a mortar and pestle. Photo by M. A. Phillips 2022.

I recently finished reading The Lost Apothecary, a debut novel by Sarah Penner. While not what most would consider Witch Lit, I’m going to make a case for its inclusion in the fold.

These days, I normally want to read books with a heavy bit of romance, but a tale about a hidden poison shop to help women take revenge against the men who wronged them? Sign me up for that! Penner’s novel focuses on friendship, self-care, and falling back in love with old interests. The plot deftly jumps back and forth between time and three characters – Nella, Eliza, and Caroline. After a slow start, I was soon on the edge of my seat!

Caroline lives in present-day America. She travels to London following her husband’s infidelity and uses the trip that would have celebrated their ten-year anniversary as a means of reflection. She ends up finding an old apothecary bottle and, driven by curiosity and a desperate need for distraction, she rediscovers her penchant for research and English history.

Now let’s dig into the witchy characters. Nella and Eliza are from the past. The first is an older woman who owns an apothecary. She is the sort many (especially in the past) would label a witch. Well-versed in plants that can heal and maim, loner Nella uses her knowledge to help women in need from the outskirts of society. She has a deep respect for the plant kingdom, but she adamantly puts her trust in their properties and her humble understanding of science rather than spirits.

Eliza, on the other hand, believes in magic and ghosts. As a child who unexpectedly enters Nella’s life, the girl believes she is haunted and hopes the old woman has the means to assist her. Throughout the course of the novel, Eliza pursues a magical book and eventually uses it in an attempt to save them both. Though a much more subtle development, the girl grows into the early version of a modern witch.

Perusing other reviews, this seems to be the sort of novel people either enjoy or hate. I’ve seen some disdain toward certain characters’ melodrama, but given what they’re going through, their insecurities and fears made sense to me. When faced with upheaval, we may not always behave in ways society deems rational. We may jump fences or bridges and put all our hope into a potion, and yet that is what witchcraft can be for many. Groping in the dark, seeking the unknown to find ourselves, to remake ourselves. The allure of powerful plants is there for those who feel their back against the wall. I believe that certain detractors may have missed the subtleties in Penner’s use of genre, and I argue The Lost Apothecary is both historical fiction and magical realism, especially toward the end.

If you enjoy plant lore, coming-of-age, historical dramas, and what is often referred to as “chick lit,” you should pour yourself a cup of tea and cozy up with this novel.

Looking Ahead to 2022

Preparing to sain (purify) the home for the new year with incense, blessed water, wand, and protective dried rowan berries. Photo by M. A. Phillips, 2022.

Here I sit, January 1, 2022, realizing that I don’t have a new planner! I personally find something cozy and soothing about taking a moment at the beginning of the year, the month, the week, to sort my mind by way of paper and pen. Until I get that covered, I thought I’d hop on my blog and share my goals here! Some of them are very obviously religious in nature, but others are more creative or related to self-care. I share them here, in no particular order, as a form of accountability.

  • Deepen my understanding of Ogham through further study and introspection. This will involve completing my set of oak fews I’ve been working on.
  • Do more with my grove! The last two years have been so hard, and 2021 found me positively burnt out, especially with digital anything. However, I want to revisit options for the winter. I want to schedule a nature walk with everyone! We keep talking about it–let’s do it! I need to prioritize maintaining and strengthening my circle as I’m so blessed to have it.
  • On a similar note, I want to focus more on the Pagan community physically around me – both in Northern NY and Upstate in general. The pandemic made me turn online more. While I’ve made some valuable connections and friendships there (here?), I’ve withdrawn from the people around me. I’m not sure what this will entail…but I want to communicate more with friends in other group in my area. I’d like to strengthen our fellowship. I don’t say this to diminish the bonds I and others have formed online. Those are very special and real (and definitely worth maintaining due to safety and accessibility concerns), yet I crave the workshops and festivals I used to know. I crave in-person fellowship once more. This will largely depend on everything else, but reaching out is a start.
  • For writing, I want to “finish” and tidy up my manuscript, “Plant Lady,” so it’s presentable for my editors. This will require a few personal rounds of revisions and editing, then some beta readers, then more tweaking. Ideally, I’d have something to submit by the end of the year, but it may be an early 2023 goal. That’s okay.
  • Write another short story. Not sure about what. Maybe it will feature characters from Rituals of Rock Bay. Maybe not. More than likely “Witch Lit.”
  • Read a writing craft book. I have two on my shelf, and I should dedicate some time to at least one.
  • Read more for joy! I have a TBR pile a mile long! At the very least, I want to read the books my mother and sister gave me for Winter Solstice last year. I also want to read and review more Witch Lit! And, of course, at least three books pertaining to my religious practice.
  • On the arts and crafts front, I intend to sew more fabric art dolls. I’ve been feeling the pull recently, and a friend who runs a gallery has been urging me to get back into it. Taking it as a sign!
  • I’m going to be modest with garden plans this year, but I intend to add more to the shrine garden and continually improve existing beds.
  • Do more hiking! I want to make this the year we climb Cascade, one of the 46 high peaks in the Adirondacks. Let’s do it!!!

If you read this far, thanks for your time and support. Best wishes to you and yours this 2022! I hope to share some of my progress here and on my various social media haunts.

Book Review: The Return of the Light

A photo of the book “The Return of the Light” arranged on fallen evergreen branches and pinecones. A bookmark from The Little Bookstore peeks out. Photo by M. A. Phillips

While browsing my favorite local bookshop during “Shop Local Saturday,” I came across this little gem tucked among the various winter holiday selections. I was so delighted by the inclusion, I simply had to bring home The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales from Around the World for the Winter Solstice by Carolyn McVickar Edwards. I have a small collection of picture books related to the occasion, but my daughter is getting older. Her tastes and attention span are maturing! I thought this chapter-book-length addition could be an enjoyable shared reading.

Indeed, she listened to a couple stories, but she didn’t find them as exciting as the usual fantasy we read together. All the same, I’ve savored each tale like a small snack before bed throughout our Yuletide celebrations. They are enjoyable and very refreshing. Nearly all were unfamiliar to me and come from Indigenous cultures around the world.

The myths are not specifically about the Winter Solstice, but each relates to the sun in some way. Spirits attempt to steal the sun or return it to the people. In others, the sun is slowed to promote better fertility on Earth. These are largely pourquoi tales – stories that explain why things are as they are. You and your older children may enjoy learning a mythological explanations for why some hummingbirds have red throats or roosters have their crowns.

This is not an academic examination, but it is a great introduction to comparative mythology. There’s an extensive bibliography at the end, but the newest titles are from the ’90s and appear to be from a largely white authorship*. So, again, this is a fun starting point, but definitely not an “own voices” peek into Indigenous mythology, though Edwards uses a respectful tone throughout. Please don’t make this your only foray into such stories.

The end of this short read also contains various suggestions for children-friendly rituals, activities, and even carols tweaked to be more sun-centric.

The Return of the Light is an enjoyable little book that I will no doubt turn to again for seasonal inspiration. As an introduction to multicultural solar lore aimed at a younger audience, it fills a niche. Ideally, publishers would strive to create an anthology which works with authors representative of their respective cultures in the future.

*I did look up a few of the titles listed to verify, but I did not review every single item in the bibliography. The purpose of this review is not to dismiss these works but simply to point out the need for more diverse resources.

Birthday Reflections

Today is my birthday! I’m 36, but I donned the old Simba birthday pin I’ve had since elementary school. I found it recently and wore it with pride. I’m sure I come across as overly enthusiastic, perhaps even childish, about my birthday to some people, but I truly enjoy celebrating life with others. Though hard to believe, I’ve outlived some high school classmates, dear friends, and grovemates. Each passing has taught me to seize the day and do what makes me happy because we never know what’s coming. Death teaches me to live with more passion and authenticity, and for me that’s meant starting a Druid grove, dipping my toes into cosplay, publishing books, filling the yard with plants, and, yes, wearing chunky childhood pins.

To celebrate, my husband and daughter made me a delicious mermaid-themed chocolate cake. Yet more whimsy, and such a wonderful reminder of one of my proudest accomplishments in life – publishing my first novel, River Magic.
So here’s to another trip around the sun with dear ones! I thank everyone who has sent kind wishes and love my way. 💚💚💚

Roses: My Lifelong Plant Allies

Knockout Roses – Photo by M. A. Phillips

My first experience with roses was in my mother’s garden. For some reason, she only had one when I was younger. A lovely pink specimen that never got very large and only blossomed once a year–in June. This event was a moment to celebrate, and that joy overshadowed roses’ reputation for fussiness.

I didn’t learn about their notoriety until I was a teenager researching roses for a garden I started in my parents backyard. I never got very far because I soon started college. Between assignments, work, and then moving in with my boyfriend, I didn’t have time in that little garden bed. Then I moved north and spent a decade or so renting apartments. I grew herbs and vegetables in containers but hesitated to grow potted roses because I worried they wouldn’t survive our harsh winters. (This was before I knew there were pots specifically designed to withstand temperature shifts.)

For many years, having a rose garden was tied up with the dream of owning a home and working with the land. One of the first plants I adopted and added to our backyard was, of course, a small rose bush. In the spring of this year, my husband and I worked together to begin what is becoming our rose garden, and I brought in climbers, ramblers, and a variety I’ve been wanting for years: apothecary roses. They’re still small, but they’ll eventually produce many rose hips I can brew into tea.

A collection of rose thorns and hips. Photo by M. A. Phillips

As I prepared my many thorny friends for the winter by pruning, removing spotty leaves, and insulating their crowns for the impending cold, I kept some thick stems aside. I was reminded of part of what attracted me to roses in the beginning. They’re beautiful, enchanting, and bring happiness, but they also know how to protect themselves. I’ve always found their thick, spiny branches as beautiful as they are imposing. Working with roses is an exercise in care and mindfulness. Clumsiness and distraction lead to pricks or even some nasty scratches, especially as they grow large and long. Keep these, they whispered.

As I plan for improving the rose garden next year, I’m also making note of what I need to better preserve and prepare my harvest. I’m looking forward to making rose water for food and skin care, to drying petals and hips for teas…But I’ve also kept some thorns from my pruning this year. I can’t believe I never considered how useful those prickers could be for protective magic!

The nights grow colder. Each morning, a thicker layer of frost covers the garden. Soon, a blanket of snow then ice will replace that. I embrace the seasonal shift and the opportunity to rest from the physically demanding job of tending a garden, but I also look forward to spring and continuing to learn from one of my first plant teachers, the rose.

I carefully hold thick rose branches before removing thorns for spellwork. Photo by M. A. Phillips