Incense of the Land

At the end of March, I discovered an eastern hemlock tree in our yard was weeping resin. This is quite common in the spring, especially if trees have a wound. I found smaller globs on the white pine in front of our house, but the hemlock must have lost a branch or something. I collected the bottom portion and left the rest to help the tree heal. It’s a natural bandage, basically.

When I was younger, I tried to use charcoal discs to burn sandalwood resin. I vividly remember setting off the smoke alarm after struggling to get the darn thing lit. Then I burned my hand when I panicked and picked up the metal incense holder I was using. What a silly young druid I was… Clearly, I get the title “Ditzy Druid” from somewhere! The whole experience put me off using this method for years, but I was always inspired by others like Sarah Anne Lawless who made incense blends using locally sourced resins.

The interesting thing about this walk was I set out in the hopes of finding resin. I felt ready to try again, so I made offerings to the local spirits and brought the appropriate tools to gather. When I found the sticky treasure, I asked for permission and, as I said, did not take more than needed.

Once home, I ground up dried mugwort and lavender from my gardens last year. I mixed it all together with my hands. Though it smelled amazing, the process is very messy. Thankfully I read about using olive oil to clean up before starting. That made a big difference, and after all the hand washing we’ve been doing recently, the oil was very healing for my skin!

I let the pellets dry for a few weeks, but decided to try burning one today. I’m still awful at lighting these dark charcoal discs. My husband helped me, and we did get it going for a bit! The incense smelled divine! The soft, subtle scent of forest filled my kitchen for a short time. I’m pleased with the results and just need to improve my method of igniting everything.

For more information on trying this yourself, I highly suggest reading this resource from The Druid’s Garden and this from the Apothecary’s Garden.

Three Things Thursday: Sacred Stitches, “Cooked,” and Novel Aesthetics

Sacred Stitches

The Ioho /Idad/ Yew Ogham setting on a fabric mask in progress.

Each day, I draw an ogham card as an omen. I ask the Kindred what guidance, lessons, and blessings they have for me. Yesterday, I pulled Ioho /Idad/ Yew. Most of my sources refer to this as Idad… I’m very fond of Erynn Rowan Laurie’s interpretation of the ogham, and I embrace this as a symbol for mystery, longevity, and ancestral traditions. How fitting, later, to learn that the governor of NY is mandating we all wear masks when out in public, and to find myself once more sewing fabric masks for friends and family members. I talked to some others who sew, and we share a similar sentiment: it’s something we have to do. We feel it in our bones. We have this skill, passed down from person to person, that we can use to take care of each other. Each stitch feels like a sacred link between the past, present, and the future we hope for. To all who sew masks for others, blessings to you during this time.

“Cooked”

I started to watch documentaries when I do the dishes – relaxing programs about cooking, gardening, and travel. They’re also very appropriate should my child walk in the kitchen. Most recently, I finished a four part series on Netflix called “Cooked.” Based on his book by the same name, author Michael Pollan narrates his journey as a food writer learning some fundamentals about cooking. I highly recommend it, and think you’ll find his exploration of cooking through the four classical elements to be a unique approach. With fire, he looks at the transformative power of flame on meat and how it shaped early humanity. Episode two looks at the alchemy of water with vegetables. Next he explores the power of air in baking bread. Finally, the earth episode focuses on the powerhouse of fermentation. Although I’m a dairy-free vegetarian, I still found the series to be fascinating. I appreciated Pollan’s critical examination of modern, industrialized food versus more traditional methods which bring us closer to the land we live on. He touches on the difficulties with cooking from scratch each night, but he ends by encouraging everyone to try and cook one more dish a week, or to try making something you only ever thought you’d buy if only to better appreciate the process. I think it’s something so many of us can connect with during this period of social distancing.

Novel Aesthetics

Some images from Canva that I feel convey a bit of Lacey’s character. From left to right in a clockwise circle: a woman sits on the edge of a riverwalk, overlooking the water, with a notebook; offerings in the sand; a brunette woman dreams while relaxing on the grass; a woman in a lace dress (more for the sequel).

If you’re interested in my upcoming novel, RIVER MAGIC, and you enjoy character aesthetics or mood boards, I posted several on my Instagram a few days ago. I intend to create more, so stay tuned! They’re such a fun way for me to explore the characters and bring them to life. Many are practicing Pagans, so hopefully you find them relatable as well as intriguing!

Working with the Land

A lovely purple asparagus crown. It looks like a rosebud growing out of a crab! Photo by M. A. Phillips 2020

This weekend, I did something I’ve been wanting to do for a few years – I started an asparagus bed. Having come to appreciate the nutritious veggies as an adult, it’s a bit surprising that I hadn’t looked into growing them before! You’ve seen photos of my garden, right? It just seems like something I’d do. Honestly, I never considered how to grow them until I visited my friend Regina a few years ago. We stayed at her new home, and she was lucky enough that the land came with an established asparagus patch. It was then that I saw how tall and dainty asparagus ferns could be. It was also when I learned that asparagus take time. They require a few years to settle, but then you can have a reliable crop each year for decades!

When I was lucky enough to find asparagus crowns this year, I selected the Purple Passion variety. Two of them had baby asparagus spears already sprouting. They look like little rosebuds blooming from strange crab-creatures. Asparagus are great teachers for working with the land. It can be dirty and even grotesque seeming, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes you have to look really close.

Asparagus grow best in their own bed. They don’t like to compete with most other vegetables, particularly anything with hefty roots. Due to social distancing currently in place, I don’t have access to a mechanical tiller. My father usually brings one up from his house. I broke ground with handheld tools and back-breaking labor. The process was strangely meditative. Even while my muscles started to ache, creating this space was satisfying. All the while, I chanted and hummed to the land.

After I dug the trenches and set the asparagus crowns in their bed, I worked with our compost pile. I turned it and got to the dark, rich soil that cooked all winter. I mixed it with some chicken manure from the local greenhouse, then added some wood ash left over from the fire pit last year. Once more, I was working with elements of the land I live on. To deter competition, I mulched the space with straw that I got by raking our lawn. We still had plenty of dead grass from last year. Sometimes it pays to be lazy and let the land rest. If we had obsessively mowed in October, I wouldn’t have had what I needed to begin the process again as successfully.

The finished asparagus bed complete with a small wattle fence. Photo by M. A. Phillips 2020

Finally, I made a small wattle fence to enclose the asparagus bed. I have a few tenacious stumps in the back yard that produce new growth every year. Last year, I discovered that I could use the pliable trimmings to make a boundary around my shade garden. Not only is this free to me, but it’s entirely sustainable. One day, the fences will deteriorate and go back into the Earth. At that time, I’ll make more. And while the shoots may come from stumps, I still made offerings to the tree spirits. I sang to them while I worked. Stripping them of their growth could be more traumatic, but this seems to ease both them and me.

Odds and ends I found in the soil while digging the new bed. I wonder at the people who lived here before. Photo by M. A. Phillips 2020

Forming a relationship with the land is a central part of my Druidry. In fact, it’s the bulk of my Druidry. If you’re looking to deepen your practice, I highly suggest starting a garden. Even if it’s a container, doing this kind of work is transformative, both inside and out. With time and practice, I have learned to look at the land and what I eat differently. While I have so much to learn, I feel that I’m a chain in a great partnership.

Gods willing, this asparagus bed will help feed us in years to come. When I finally taste the fruit of this labor, I will pause and remember how the food is not simply asparagus, but a marriage of grass, tree, soil, microbes, decomposers, chickens, my muscles, and song.

Three Things Thursday: Death, Rebirth, and Rejuvenation

It’s Thursday again, which means I have three little things pasted together as a big post.

Death

A pawprint keepsake from the vet’s office.

My eldest cat, Esmerelda, passed away after twenty years of gentle companionship. She was there for me during heartbreak and joy. She sat on my bed as I read my first books about witchcraft and Druidry. She kept me company during some of my earliest writing projects. Her health had been declining for the last couple years, but the last few months were particularly hard, culminating in a very difficult couple of days. I had never accompanied an animal companion to to the vet for euthanasia before. My other furry friends passed away in their sleep or were taken by other family members. Due to Covid-19, I had to go by myself. Although it was hard, holding her as she drifted off to sleep was honestly one of the most peaceful moments, and I’ll never forget how relaxed she looked after so much suffering. There was closure in that. The veterinary team was amazing. Even during such a chaotic period, they possessed the most compassionate bedside manner for both Esmerelda and me. I pray that the kindreds bless all of them. We were lucky for their care.

Rebirth

Elder bushes bursting to life!

Just as surely as there is death, there is new life. Saying goodbye to the physical form of Esmerelda was very hard, but I’m glad it happened during the spring when there are reminders of renewal all around. Yesterday, I walked around the yard and pruned various fruit trees and berry bushes. They needed it. I’ve always been hesitant about pruning mostly due to my own ignorance of it. I didn’t want to hurt the plant, and never thought to research it until it wasn’t the right time. Hopefully the wee haircut will help everything flourish.

Rejuvenation

Being apart from friends and family so long is stressful. I miss my grove mates, but we found rejuvenation through a very non-spiritual activity – a virtual grove game night! Utilizing Discord and an online version of a favorite card game, we had a grand time full of laughter. Sometimes meditation and yoga help us. Other times it’s a walk in the woods. Still, there’s something to be said about a good belly laugh! I hope that you are all able to find something to lift your spirits.

Three Things Thursday: Seedlings, Meditating with Plants, and Camp Nano!

It’s hard for me to top yesterday’s big announcement, but I hope this week’s edition of Three Things Thursday also inspires you.

Seedlings:

img_1025
Bean plants reaching toward the light. Photo by M. A. Phillips, 2020.

The seeds I started on March 20th are doing well for the most part. The beans are most vigorous as you can see from above. The tomatoes and squash have sprouted, which is always cause for celebration. The habanero… Well, I still have hope. Two types of basil and parsley are also reaching toward the light. I’ve since started lettuce, leeks, and some other herbs. It’s amazing to see their progress each day, and it helps me feel closer to the goddess Airmed.

Meditating with Plants:

img_5810
Dried mugwort from a previous year’s garden. Photo by M. A. Phillips

Speaking of plants and gardens, it’s time for a bit of a throwback to when I took part in the“Plant Spirit Ally Challenge” with Hagstone Publishing last May. I wrote about meditating with a specific plant (mugwort) to better know them. Even when you live in a northern climate where plants are just popping out, there are ways to make a connection. Why not start now? Are you going to work with any new herbs this year?

Writing Update: Camp Nanowrimo:

Camp-2020-Writer-Web-Badge1
Graphic says, “Camp NANOWRIMO 2020 Writer”

I’ve never been one to rest on my laurels. Sure, I have moments where I laze about, but I’m always working on something. As I wait for the next steps toward River Magic’s publication, I’ve decided to take advantage of Camp Nanowrimo and work on a sequel! Due to yesterday’s excitement, I didn’t make a huge dent in my goals, but every story starts somewhere, right? I’ll document some of my progress on Instagram with another writing challenge. My plans for this story? Another otherworldly being, but more kitchen magic this time!

Big News! River Magic to be Published!

 

mphillips_portrait_5x7
Yes, this is a photo of me! At long last, I’m revealing my face. Photo by my husband.

If you follow my instagram, you saw my cryptic post yesterday that I had a secret about my novel River Magic, but I couldn’t share it yet. Well, now that it’s official, I can! Shadow Spark Publishing is going to bring River Magic to life! You can see my official bio on their author page here! I am so excited to join a team that is enthused about my manuscript and shares a similar vision for publication. I want to thank everyone who has supported me so far, especially my family and readers. I have so many emotions and thoughts swirling around my head about this, but I’m too excited to stitch them all together. Stay tuned for updates as I enter the next phase of my journey as a writer!

img_1041
My publisher’s announcement on Twitter! It says, “We’ve signed another one! Please welcome M. A. Phillips to Shadow Spark Publishing! Her Magical Realism Novel, RIVER MAGIC, had us staying up late at night to finish reading, and we look forward to bringing it to the world soon! @ditzydruid, Welcome Home, lady!”

 

How to Make a Spider Your Ally

How to Make a Spider Your Ally
Text reads: “A new short story by M. A. Phillips: How to Make a Spider Your Ally – Featured on the Adirondack Center for Writing.”

The Adirondack Center for Writing decided to inspire its members and supporters with weekly prompts to help us get through this alarming time in our history. When they posted this week’s prompt, “How to make a spider your ally,” it immediately spoke to me as an animist. I had so much fun with this project, and it helped me work through some sadness experienced from the social isolation. You can read it for free on The Adirondack Center for Writing! Don’t forget to check out the other amazing entries! I’m enjoying them between housework, and I hope you appreciate them as much as I do!

Three Things Thursday: Virtual Vernal Equinox, Devotionals with my Daughter, and a Writing Update

Welcome to Three Things Thursday – your weekly dose of three mini posts in a larger post.

Virtual Vernal Equinox:

img_0964
A view of the ritual space in my back yard. I tried to make it as festive as possible with a green tablecloth, pastel bunnies, colored eggs, and an Airmed flag I sewed a couple years ago. Photo by M. A. Phillips 2020.

Life changed quickly due to Covid-19, and my grove adapted with an online ritual. Unlike other instances when we did virtual rites, I did all the parts. I wanted to make it as stress-free as possible, so I streamed what I did online and left quiet moments for those joining in to speak to the Kindreds at their own home altars. When I called to the Nature Spirits, a red squirrel shimmied really close, stared at me, then chirped! Online rituals are always awkward, but I tried to make it peaceful and simple. People from out of town took part or viewed it later. I’m glad that I helped others find some comfort in a scary time. It was certainly a learning experience!

Devotionals with my Daughter:

img_0977

Like many of you, I’m groping through this whole social distancing experience. As I figure out how to balance teaching my students online and keeping my daughter on some sort of educational routine, I decided to include her in morning devotionals. I usually do them on my own before heading to work, but lately I felt it was important to make it more of a family affair. She cuddles up and hugs me while we take three calming breaths. I’ve had to shorten my ritual a little, and I let her choose who she makes offerings to. I think she’s finally at a perfect age to appreciate the added comfort.

Writing Update:

As I wait for feedback on RIVER MAGIC, I’m doing my best to keep busy and improve my craft. A sequel is taking shape in the form of an outline, and I’m working on a flash fiction inspired by the Adirondack Center for Writing’s prompt. Stuck at home, writing is even more important to me. It’s an outlet and escape. It’s another way to connect to others. I’m so grateful for Brigid’s inspiration.

How are you creating and connecting to others while staying inside?

Three Things Thursday: Growing Food, an Equinox Scavenger Hunt, and a New Excerpt

Once more, I’m squishing three mini blog posts together into a big one for your viewing pleasure! Here you’ll find some musings on the Spring Equinox, an activity for you to do with the little ones during isolation, and a new excerpt from an upcoming short story!

Growing Food

 

14eda5cb-91d2-41e4-8ae4-2670cedcc923
Lettuce I’m regrowing. The CSA I got it from included the root ball, so I just plopped it back in a pot and watered. Now it’s regrowing! Photo by M. A. Phillips, 2020

My seeds from Pinetree Garden Seeds arrived a couple days ago, promptly followed by the grow lights I ordered to improve my success. With everything shutting down, the shortages, and uncertainty, growing some food at home seems more important than ever. Each little seed is a packet of hope for the future. I enjoy blessing the seeds and planting them as part of our family Spring Equinox observations. If you’re new to gardening, there are plenty of resources online, but some of the easiest plants to grow in my experience are lettuce greens, peas, and chives. Chives will flourish year after year as they are self-seeding  (and quite invasive if you let them have their way). They’re a harbinger of spring in my garden, and even thrive left in pots left out over the winter. I enjoy snips of chives in my salads, potatoes, soups, and stews.

An Equinox Scavenger Hunt

Equinox Scavenger Hunt

My daughter is sad that she’s not able to celebrate the spring with our grovies. She always enjoyed doing an egg hunt and running around outside with the other kids. When the news reported that the virus reached the West Coast, I started buying one treat each grocery visit to ensure I had a basket for her. I also plan to do a scavenger hunt. I made a graphic using free clip art on Canva.com and am including it here for you if you like! I designed it for either hemisphere, and I emphasized the three realms in a kid-friendly way. It’s meant to be open-ended. Your child doesn’t have to find a bee, for example. It could be any insect flying in the sky. Any water will do – whether you go on a nature walk, look out your window, down from your balcony, or search for pictures and videos online. The important thing is you’re having conversations with your children and reflecting on seasonal changes.

A New Excerpt

Invasives excerpt
I push down the urge to utter a curse. My mind is too rattled to fuse words coherently without causing more harm than intended.
Invasives
by M. A. Phillips

I shared a sneak peek into an upcoming short story called “Invasives” on my instagram. I’ll talk about it more as we approach Bealtain, but I’m really excited for you to see it in issue three of Stone, Root, and Bone magazine! As always, I like adding excerpts to my Three Things Thursday posts since not all of my readers use that social media. Speaking of Stone, Root, and Bone, issue one is available for free this month! Just enter the promo code SRB1FREE when you check out. You’ll be able to read my short story “Lemon Balm Tea!” Let me know what you think.

Stay well everyone.

Virtual Irish Fest!

TwitterIrishFest1 (1)

Due to concerns with COVID-19, we should all be practicing social distancing for everyone’s health. Please stay home unless you must go out! It’s sad that we can’t go out and celebrate Irish culture together during Irish Heritage Week / St. Patrick’s Day, but we can come together online! Join me on Twitter or Instagram with #TwitterIrishFest or #VirtualIrishFest. Share events, videos, music, and photos that celebrate Irish culture!

What do I mean by that? 

First of all, please don’t perpetuate anything offensive or racist. ANYONE is welcome to celebrate Irish heritage and culture regardless of DNA. That said, we MUST respect that the Irish culture is alive and well. People still speak the language. Let’s truly honor that. Also, this is meant to be spiritually inclusive! Ireland has seen enough religious conflict. Feel free to share prayers, songs, or devotionals to the Tuath Dé Danann, the Good Folk, or the Saints. Please DO NOT put down anyone’s religious beliefs, engage in debate, or attempt to convert anyone. This is a time for coming together and supporting one another.

I will tweet and update this list as I learn of more events happening, but here are some things you may want to check out:

So grab a pint or a cup of tea, learn some Irish (or teach some!), share and enjoy a tale or three, clap along, and celebrate Irish heritage!