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

Land Acknowledgement and Reflection on Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Three spires of cornflowers reaching toward blue sky and sunshine in my backyard. Photo by me, 2021.

It is Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and perhaps a good time to acknowledge that I live, work, and pray on Haudenosaunee land. I am always learning and striving toward a better tomorrow, and while I know that simply saying that is never enough, it is a step in the right direction. If you are not Native, take time to learn about the land on which you live. If you live in North America, you live on tribal land on Turtle Island. Learning and reading are always a start, but never the end.  


This is a photo of the corn I’m growing in my garden with the Three Sisters method. Indigenous people taught this companion planting to the original colonizers here. I think about this whenever I work in that garden bed. That skill helped some of my ancestors survive, but I also know many of my ancestors did not treat the Indigenous people well in return. I don’t know the specifics in my case, but I know (and continue to relearn) the country’s history. I know people who look like me hurt and oppressed Native People while others let it happen. I know I benefit from that system and enjoy a lot of privilege. 


Every day is the start of a new opportunity to right past wrongs and heal past wounds. It will likely take generations, but seize the moments. 


I’m listening and trying, and I will continue to try. It’s hard, and we’ll make mistakes, but it’s important work.


Let’s respect the treaties. Let’s stop Line 3. Let’s listen to our Indigenous neighbors. Let’s no longer celebrate monstrous colonizers who get all the credit. 

(To learn about whose land you live on, check this site!)

Brigid’s Light: Cover Reveal and Pre-Order!

The beautiful cover featuring art by Stuart Littlejohn.

I’m delighted and honored to share that my short story “Sisters” will be published in a new anthology next year through Weiser Publishing! The book is called Brigid’s Light: Tending the Ancestral Flame of the Beloved Celtic Goddess edited by Cairelle Crow and Laura Louella. May my latest story honor Brigid and my Irish ancestors.

Currently, you can preorder this beautiful work at Barnes and Noble or, for those who prefer to support indie bookstores, through Malaprop’s Bookstore.

Here’s what I can share so far courtesy of the editing team:

We are thrilled to officially share “Brigid’s Light” with the world, coming in Spring 2022, available for pre-order now!

Editors Cairelle Crow and Laura Louella have gathered art, poetry, stories, spells, rituals, recipes, and traditions as an homage to the worldwide influence of Brigid’s magic and lore, especially among the descendants of immigrants to the Americas. In compiling these individual works, Cairelle and Laura have given voice to those traveling ancestors by showcasing a rich and beautiful heritage manifested through embodiments of devotion by their descendants, as well as others touched by Brigid.


The contributions are beautiful, funny, delicious (yes, delicious!), and powerful. All proceeds are earmarked for non-profit donation (and more about that soon). We’re very proud of this compilation of works that were created in honor of our beloved Brigid!

You can learn more about the Sanctuary of Brigid and their work here. Stay tuned for more!

A Brigit of Ireland Devotional: Sun Among Stars — A Review

Ebook cover of A Brigit of Ireland Devotional by Mael Brigde against a green velvet background. Surrounding my phone are items associated with the goddess – dried rowan berries, Brigid crosses, acorns, candles, and handspun yarn.

As many of you know, I worship and serve the goddess Brigid*. One reason I wrote my novels is out of service to her; to portray modern, polytheistic devotion to her and other members of her godly family. So when I was given the opportunity, I jumped to review an ARC (advanced reader copy) of A Brigit of Ireland Devotional: Sun Among Stars by Mael Brigde.

This book, like the goddess herself, is multifaceted. Part devotional poetry, part mystical reflection, and part resource, this text belongs on the shelves of all who devote themselves to Brigid. I don’t have much space in my little home, and I tend to buy ebooks these days, but I plan to purchase a physical copy of this as I sense it will become an old friend.

The poetry itself flowed from the page to my heart. While not all pieces will impact readers equally, there are verses reflective of many life experiences. I can see myself revisiting the tome again and having a completely different reaction. Favorites of mine include: “Brigit’s Garden,” “Otherworld Gate,” “Ancestral Dream,” and “Ogam Reading.” Some jumped out as prayers I want to commit to memory such as “Threshold Blessing” and “Kindling.”

Those who are familiar with Irish lore will recognize when the author taps into some older poetic forms as in “Song of Brigit,” but other entries take on a more conversational tone such as the excited, childlike “Everywhere.” Some ask the same queries I have about her mysteries.

What really touched me about the author’s writing, poetry and prose, is her humility and love for the goddess. She repeatedly speaks with an adoring tone, and it’s clear she has felt this love reciprocated over many years. The book ends with footnotes and short essays describing how the author’s intellectual understanding of Brigid has shifted over time. She humbly admits that some of her older poems were written based on misunderstandings or concepts passed on from Victorians and modern Neo-Pagans rather than Irish and Scottish sources, but she wanted to preserve them as part of her journey. Her wording is never accusatory or belittling to those who may still embrace those ideas. She simply describes her process of sitting with new information, letting go, and finding her relationship with Brigid has only strengthened as a result. Seeing this process in print without a condescending tone is both refreshing and very needed.

No tome concerning Brigid would be complete without reflecting on the question we all encounter: where does the goddess end and the saint begin? Are they different or the same? She continues to help me heal after converting from Catholicism, but has also acted as a bridge between me and my monotheistic family members. Like other flametenders and priests of Brigid, the contradiction has become less of a hinderance and more of a meditative concept that deepens our compassion for self and others over time. When there seems to be some new drama in the online Pagan community every day, I felt a medicinal sort of kinship with Brigde while reading her words.

Mael Brigde’s conclusions may surprise you, but she does not insist other’s embrace her perspective. She leaves it open, as each devotee must figure that out with Brigid herself. The figure(s) loom so large in Irish culture, both on the island and among the diaspora, that surely she(they) evolve with the times. She loves her devotees, whether Druid, witch, nun, Wiccan, Catholic, or polytheist. This book of poems will provoke your meditations but ultimately comfort you on your journey with Brigid. You are not alone, and the goddess is here to inspire and guide you on the way to be both a better priest to her and your community.

…and like the wild fox

race across the plain

leap into the jumping chariot

shelter

beneath her cloak

prepare to do anything she wants of me because I love to do as she has asked

Mael Brigde

You can read more about the author, Mael Brigde, here. She also regularly updates a blog (here) with reflections on Brigid, including more poetry, Pagan practice, the goddess in contemporary cultures, and book reviews (fiction and non-fiction).

* You’ll notice I spell the goddess’ name differently. The name can vary depending on region, culture, time period, colonial influence, etc. This is just another example of how multifaceted she is.

Becoming

An in-progress Ogham set. Three sanded staves without symbols form an Awen beside a white organza bag. Through the fabric, many staves wait in their bark. A silver knife rests on the other side. All on rough gray stone. Photo by M. A. Phillips

Becoming

By M. A. Phillips

From the dark cauldron

From the tall altar 

You grow anew

Your roots will delve deep

Your branches reach high

Though few will see

You wax with the moon

You are becoming

A new ally

Camping With Fire, Water, and Tree

I went away for several days; off to where Lake Ontario spoons the shores of Upstate New York. The beachline stretched beyond my sight, past buoys marked for ‘swim at your own risk,’ private residences, and wildlife management areas. Fresh water, sometimes smooth as a reflecting pool, other times choppy and reminiscent of ocean surf, extended until the horizon kissed the sky. As the thirteenth largest lake in the entire world, it is one of those landforms that washes me with humility and awe.

It almost seems as if a watchful eye observed our after-dinner stroll. (Almost sunset peeking through clouds over a glittering, calm Lake Ontario in the background. A few people linger on the beach. Dunes, beach grass, and wooden fence in the foreground.) Photo by M. A. Phillips.

Another couple and their child invited us to the getaway months ago. Their site had room for another tent, and we’d been talking about camping for some time. Friends and grovemates, it meant for a peaceful time away from obligations among people with whom I can be myself. As I sat on a sandbank, foamy waves splashed against me as one friend shared an experience with Manannán mac Lir, and then we felt the god there with us in waters that would flow through the St. Lawrence and reunite with the Atlantic Ocean.

We took shelter from the sun in the shaded areas of the camp, renewing my gratitude for trees. Our first day there, my daughter and I made offerings and said a prayer of thanksgiving to the green sentinels who guarded our refuge. When we left, the children and I placed kisses on the grass.

As the sun arched low, we built fires for warmth and even cooking. I had another humbling experience in which I burnt the peach cobbler I’d attempted to make, but I successfully cooked chili over the flames, and in the mornings I boiled water for tea. We made offerings to the fire, to Brigid, and cozied beside her. Our final day coincided with my flame-tending shift, and I now see ways I can deepen that practice with new skills.

Returning to the comforts of home, especially our soft mattresses, was welcomed, but I do miss falling asleep to the lullaby of a crackling bonfire on the sand, wind through the trees, and waves rolling toward the dunes.

WitchLit Wednesday: Fermata Cellars

Three things I enjoy: a glass of wine, supporting local farmers, and folklore. Author Gwen Clayton combined all three into an intriguing and entertaining offering of WitchLit. In my last entry (which was in May, my gosh), I explored a loose definition of WitchLit and committed myself to reading and reviewing such titles on my blog. Clayton caught my eye last year when I realized she’s also in ADF and her religion inspired characters and situations in her novels.

The cover of Fermata Cellars by Gwen Clayton displayed on my viola along with a floral crown, my triquetra necklace, and some quartz crystal friends who wanted to show off. Photo by me.

First, the book blurb:

BUSINESS CLASS DIDN’T TEACH THIS KIND OF CONFLICT RESOLUTION

Manuel Chavez grew up in the vineyards as the son of a migrant farmworker. All his life, the good Catholic boy heard rumors of Fermata Cellars being haunted, but he never believed them until he accepted a job as the winery’s marketing director. When a corrupt city councilman tries to snake the land away from his Pagan employers, he has to confront his fear of the supernatural to determine whether or not the nuisance should be abated.

The premise of Fermata Cellars intrigued me and reminded me of By Earth: The Witches of Portland Book One by T. Thorn Coyle in that the antagonists are corrupt officials. There’s also an element of religious conflict which looms over the characters both in regards to the fate of the storied vineyard, and in Manuel’s personal baggage as he grapples with his identity and how he fits into the community.

I’m going to explain what I liked in a moment, but I want to get this part out of the way. To be honest, I often struggle getting into stories written as journals (hello Dracula!), and it was difficult for me believe that someone would document such detailed dialog in their diary. The minutia of Manuel’s record-keeping, such as his marketing plan budget, sometimes detracted from the mysteries of the vineyard, but that’s just me. He initially starts the journal to help him keep track of the details, and I suppose Manuel has a very good memory! I also want potential readers to know that characters use several slurs. Some of them are Romani people, and the author uses a more controversial title for them. It definitely reveals something about the characters when they speak as they do, but you may find it jarring and at times unnecessary. One of my favorite scenes actually involved a young woman calling Manuel out on using one!

Curiosity in who ultimately haunted the Fermata Cellars kept me going, as well as a desire to see more about the Comatis, a fictionalized group of Pagan people who have deep roots in the Rivervine community. They are very open about their religious identity, and many run local businesses in addition to growing grapes and producing wine. Overall, the portrayal was a glimpse at what could be if a large number of polytheists lived together in the same village.

I suppose I should have been weirded out, but they didn’t do anything that was downright scary. Everyone kept their clothes on. The children were safe. No demons appeared out of the bonfire. It was just incense and candles and tossing stuff into the flames like pennies in a wishing well.

Manuel reflects on a ritual in Gwen Clayton’s Fermata Cellars.

In addition to the supernatural suspense, Clayton populated Fermata Cellars with an intriguing cast of characters. I enjoyed learning about Manuel’s friend Lily and would have liked more of her. There’s also Glenda, a journalist who decides to write a novel about the spirits who inhabit the vineyard. Even one of the antagonists, Edie, has a strong voice I clearly heard in my head whenever she spoke.

Another strength is Clayton’s ability to bring the setting to life. Notes and acknowledgements reveal some of the locations and experiences that inspired Rivervine. I have a soft spot for story locations that are as much of a character as anyone else!

If you’re seeking a romantic read, there is a small subplot, as well as LGBTQ+ representation, but it’s not a major focus. However, if you thirst for a ghostly whodunit with realistically described rituals based on actual practice by an author immersed in polytheism and her landscape, this may be your cup of tea! (Or your glass of wine!)

Witch Lit Wednesday: Why “Witch Lit?” What is it?

I often classify my writing as magical realism, which has been wonderfully explained by others such as this helpful series. I think my books sometimes veer close to being supernatural, especially the third, but the plots remain rooted in a realistic, contemporary setting. The characters have experiences with spirits, sometimes in corporeal form, who scare, confuse, inspire, and guide them. Lacey, Cian, Anthony, Margaret and others often doubt themselves, but as they move forward, they realize these beings are an integral part of reality, though others may not experience them. This is something many polytheists and animists experience too.

My second book surrounded by items from my craft that are relevant to this story about contemporary Pagans.

If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you may notice I also often make use of the “witch lit” hashtag when promoting my writing. Perhaps you’ve wondered about that and why I don’t simply stick to the magical realism label. What is it?

Again, others have written about the topic before me, notably author Wendy Steele who helps curate the Witch Lit account on Twitter. There are communities on Facebook and Discord for people who write and read it. Author Laura Perry discussed this and linked to some in a guest post on Nimue Brown’s blog. So what is it?

To me, Witch Lit is a sub-genre of magical realism, meaning it’s rooted in real witchcraft and folklore. That doesn’t mean one has to be a practicing Pagan to write or even appreciate it, but it should show an understanding of who we are (and have really been). Witch Lit, in my opinion, is not about Hollywood witchcraft. The Wicked Witch of the West and Hermione Granger are great examples of literary witches, but they aren’t based on reality like the aunties in Alice Hoffman’s acclaimed “Practical Magic” for example.

Photo by me.

When I realized I wanted River Magic to be more magical realism than fantasy, I was inspired by Hoffman and Sarah Addison Allen, but I thirsted for stories about people like me by people like me. (I’m not sure what Allen’s religious perspectives are…I can’t find them. Hoffman is Jewish.) So I did what so many writers before me suggested: wrote the story I needed.

Now, through the wonders of social media, I’m connecting with other Witch Lit writers such as Gwen Alyce Clayton, Serene Conneeley, and fellow Upstate New York resident Janina Grey! These are just a few who I’ve become acquainted with, but I know there are others, and I’m excited to get to know a more diverse circle and read their work. Each month, I aim to delve into more Witch Lit and share my recommendations. Stay Tuned!

Come to the Magical May Fest with me! (Book Giveaway)

Official “Rock Bay Magical May Fest” graphic by Shadow Spark Publishing artist Jess Moon!

My third novel, Forest Magic, begins a new tradition in the Rock Bay Pagan community – the annual Magical May Fest! The small-town magical festival was inspired by several I’ve attended and helped to organize. In the novel, Lacey and Cian help their friends plan for their first ever multi-group event!


Last year, many of our favorite festivals were cancelled or held virtually. Some are reviving this year, but others are playing it extra safe and postponing until the next. Many of us miss these physical opportunities to celebrate and learn with like-minded souls. Goodness knows I miss the workshops, whimsy, drum circles, and shopping.


In honor of the festivals that have inspired and shaped me, to support my local Pagan community in Upstate New York, and to celebrate the publication of my third novel in the Rituals of Rock Bay series, I’m bringing the Magical May Fest to you online! For the rest of the month, I’m going to share reflections of past festivals, snippets from my novel, and peeks at a prize I’m going to give away on May 31st! Join me on a little tour of some of my favorite shops and artisans–places and people I imagine Lacey and Cian would adore. There will be opportunities to interact and wine prizes! There will be one package for US residents only (which will include a signed paperback copy of any one of my novels), and another for international fans (which will include an e-book copy of any one of my novels). Stay tuned for more info here and on my social media for the other prizes.

Winners will be able to choose one of my three novels above!

For your first entry, comment on my blog or Instagram to answer the following prompts:

  1. In what country do you live? (To determine whether you may win a paperback or e-book of one of my novels)
  2. Which of my novels would you choose and why?

The rules:

This giveaway is not associated with WordPress, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. You must be 18 or older and have a valid email address to participate. Winners must be willing to share their mailing address and email. Only US residents will win the package with the signed paperback copy of one of my books. The e-book prize is also one of my novels. Winners may choose one. Participants may enter by answering as many prompts as desired, but must interact by answering the questions fuly. Participants may gain more entries by answering on more than one social media platform, but only one answer per post will be counted. I will randomly choose two winners, one per prize package, on May 31st and announce them on social media. Winners must respond with valid contact information in order to receive their prize. The contest is free to enter!

Regional Druid (Witch) Challenge

Allies and beloved tools. Photo by M. A. Phillips

Instagrammer Via Hedera started a challenge called the “Regional Witch Pic Challenge” and tasked everyone to post a photo “that highlights the toolkit of magic” where we live. I’ve truly enjoyed seeing all the marvelous photos others have posted, and have been considering what to share for my own.

I decided to place everything on the quilt handstitched by my great-grandmother. In my Druidry, the ancestors are a major focus. While I live in Northern New York (in Haudenosaunee land), my own ancestry is largely comprised of diaspora from Ireland, Scotland, and England. Those folkways dominate my practice and influences how I interact with the local spirits and my deities.

In the center, there is a sigil representing the Three Cosmos (designed by Ian Corrigan). A fellow ADF Druid gifted me with this handmade banner. Though not authentically Irish in design, it represents my journey with modern Druidry in America. I try very hard to focus on Irish polytheism, but I found my spiritual community within Druidry. It has a special place in my personal path.

A deer friend rests on top of that. He has been with me for some time, and he is a beloved and steadfast companion.

Other items (from the top going clockwise) include:

  • A seagull feather found at Sylvan Beach
  • A potholder my daughter made me — I’m over the moon that she’s learning how to craft useful items for our kitchen magic
  • A rowan cross made with berries I harvested and dried and wool yarn I spun
  • The mini cauldron that belonged to my mother
  • Dried juniper
  • My handstitched pouch that houses our Brat Bride 
  • A smooth river stone
  • A Herkimer quartz (a local gem largely found in the region around my childhood home)
  • Local honey
  • Pellets of incense I made with wildcrafted ingredients
  • A jar of mugwort grown in my garden
  • The shell of a fresh-water mussel found beside the Indian River
  • A fresh-water snail shell found near the St. Lawrence river
  • A handmade ceramic bowl made by an artisan in Utica. It contains dried beans and peas from my own garden
  • A candle made of local beeswax
  • A Brigid cross made of dried grasses from around our home

There are other items I could have included but did not for various reasons. I enjoy how this layout turned out, and I hope it inspires some of you. Tools needn’t be central to your polytheism; the focus is on your service to the gods, land, beloved dead, and your community. That may involve tools, and I hope you consider where you obtain them and how.