Embracing Hope

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Chives emerge from the herb bed after a long winter. Photo by M. A. Phillips

The last few days have been tense. My county currently has zero confirmed cases of the new corona virus, my state has quickly jumped to the top of the pile. While schools just a couple hours away are closing for two to three weeks, we’re all waiting and trying to maintain normalcy.

We see the panic and fear on the internet as people post photos of empty toilet paper shelves in store after store. My colleagues who are older or have compromised immune systems teeter from nervous to petrified. The kids are flippant to skittish.

I’m trying to maintain calm and yet be a healthy level of prepared. Seeing examples of kindness buoy my spirits: friends and acquaintances in other hard-hit places offering lunches to kids at home without other food, reminders to donate to pantries, people opening their homes to others in need, and helping strangers find and reach supplies in grocery stores.

Druidry values hospitality, and I see that alive and well. Sure, someone posted a video of people fighting over TP, but I see an overwhelming and heartwarming flood of helpers.

I went outside today to get some fresh air and discovered the chives are waking up. It’s another reminder that the hard times come to an end eventually. I pray they don’t last long, but at least I’ll have some herbs to share soon.

Three Things Thursday: Low-Key Full Moon, Plush Tree Spirit, and a New Excerpt

Once more, three mini posts inside a big one! Trying to remain positive in light of a lot of anxiety at the moment.

A Low-Key Full Moon

I had plans for the full moon, and they collapsed, much as I did into bed, that night. The impact of losing an hour is amazing (on top of coming out of an intense Mercury in retrograde). This is unusual for me as full moons find me more energetic! After some reflection, I realized it’s okay. Listening to our bodies is important, after all. I altered my plans and did a simple folk charm during my devotional, and I prepared a bone to join the nature shrine. While I lacked the energy for my initial plans, I think everything turned out in the end.

Tree Spirit!

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Plush oak tree spirit made by M. A. Phillips 3/12/20 (Forgive the appearance of my sleeping garden.)

Writing has been my main focus for a few years now, but if you’ve been with me since the beginning, you know I also love to sew. I used to make (and sell) tree spirits at craft fairs, Pagan Prides, and on my now shuttered Etsy. Last year, a friend from a local artisan co-op approached me about adding some to their stock. I wasn’t ready last year, but I’m making some for this summer! The best part? Unlike before, this lovely little guy is made without plastic. That’s right! The felt and stuffing are wool, the thread is cotton, and the eyes are glass. Mindfully choosing materials that are less detrimental to the environment is very important to me, and I think it adds to the magic of these little sprites. Making him sure added a spot of sunshine to my week!

A New Excerpt!

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Lidia spread her arms wide. “Presenting the yet-to-be-named boutique of magic and shenanigans!”
Cian and Lacey chuckled in admiration. Not even Mark’s skepticism could deflate her plans.
“It must have shenanigans if you’re involved,” Cian pointed out.
“It must,” Lacey agreed. “It wouldn’t be Lidia’s store without it.”
The other woman flashed an impish grin. The streetlights shimmered in her green and blond hair. She twinkled like a shooting star. Lidia seemed to have everything figured out, and it transfixed Lacey.
RIVER MAGIC by M. A. Phillips

I’m still participating in the Dark and Light Author Challenge over on Instagram. Check mine out for more insight into my novel, RIVER MAGIC. The above excerpt gives a little glimpse at one of my favorite secondary characters, Lidia. She’s an eclectic solitary Wiccan who opens a metaphysical shop in their community. She’s also one of Lacey’s best friends and confidants. One day, I will write a whole story focused on her.

Three Things Thursday: Self-Care, Feral Witchcraft, and an Excerpt

  • Take Care – 
    Although “self-care” has become entangled with commercialism, I still find value in the original essence of the concept. Pausing to make time for ourselves and our spiritual, creative, or physical needs is important, especially when so much weighs us down. Between the news, some stressful situations at work, and such, I left my exercises on the back burner. Tonight I decided to fit in some belly dance and yoga, and I’m so glad I did. I feel much better, and I’m energized to practice more.
  • Feral Witchcraft
    I mentioned some stress at work. I love my job, but I definitely had to unleash my inner mama bear this week! When I got home, I learned that a very generous person gifted me with access to the upcoming Feral Witchcraft Course from Althaea! My dear, anonymous benefactor saw a tweet that I’m interested yet unable to afford it this time around. I am simultaneously shocked, humbled, and extremely grateful for the present! This is a timely gift given how I’m digging my feet in to stand up for those who need it in my community, and bringing my dreams to fruition on my own terms. There’s still time to sign up if you’re interested! Althaea is an amazing witch and teacher. I. Am. Hyped!
  • Writing Update – 
    I decided to join in with another writing challenge on instagram. Just one this time. Two became a bit much for me some days, especially once February break ended. I do so enjoy these, though. They spark inspiration and I appreciate an opportunity to share and connect with other writers and readers. Here’s the latest excerpt I posted featuring Lacey’s want as the story opens.

    ch 1 Lacey excerpt (1)
    “The old kayak dream is back,” she wrote. “I wish I could steer my dreams with a paddle and figure out where to go from here.” Lacey tapped the end of a pen against her lips. “There was a tune this time. I recognize it from somewhere.” From RIVER MAGIC by M. A. Phillips

     

What’s In a Name?

Lacey
“Woman in White Lace Crew-neck Cap-sleeves Top” -by Valeria Boltneva (free use from Canva, slightly edited to include character’s name)

Those of you who follow my Instagram know that I’ve been sharing excerpts from my RIVER MAGIC manuscript. Expect to see more and more about my novel in the coming months. I know many of you who follow this blog initially came here for information on Druidry, Paganism, and related topics, but I promise you have nothing to worry about. Just as with my short stories published in Stone, Root, and Bone, the main characters are contemporary Pagans!

I will post more about this soon, but for now, as part of the #darkandlightauthorchallenge over on Instagram, I’m going to share the story behind my main character’s name because it’s part of my Pagan genesis*.

Lacey is a clairvoyant young woman. To be specific, she has prophetic dreams, but only about those closest to her. She doesn’t dream about major world events or strangers unless they directly impact her, her family, or dearest friends. When we meet her in my story, she is fresh out of college and trying to figure out why an old dream has returned to repeat night after night. Her visions, and their elusive meanings, are a major draw to the metaphysical. Since her powers budded in adolescence, she’s delved deeper and deeper into Paganism.

Many of us come to polytheism, witchcraft, and the occult when we are teens, myself included. I spent my childhood going to mass with my family, but as I learned more about the world, I grew curious about mythology and esoteric subjects. Like attracts like, and I found myself with an equally curious circle of friends. I went to a lot of sleepovers in middle school, and one friend was particularly fond of activities born out of the Spiritualism movement. We had seances, explored tarot, and, yes, played “light as a feather, stiff as a board.”

During one such gathering, a girl named Lacey joined us. My character doesn’t look like her, but the name and our attempts to commune with the Otherworld stayed with me all these years. I never met another person with that name, and when I was considering what to call my character, Lacey instantly came to mind.

(As an aside, Lacey shares the maiden name of one of my Irish ancestors.)

So there you have it! My beloved character was born out of my own early dabbling and a chance encounter with a kindred spirit. I hope you’ll get to learn more about Lacey in the future.

*Pagan Genesis should totally be a band name.

Grateful for Warmth and Light

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Candlelight – photo by M. A. Phillips – 2020

The power came back on a few minutes ago. It’s been out since ten in the morning. Where we live, electricity is pretty cheap, so that’s how we heat our home. Unfortunately, we’re at a disadvantage when the power goes out in the winter.

It didn’t really bother us until a few hours in. Then the house grew noticeably colder. We dressed in multiple layers, found our flashlights, and lit candles. The cats lounged with us under blankets on the couch. It was quite cozy, but I worried about the pipes and everyone’s comfort during bedtime.

There are things I’d like to do to better prepare for such instances. My long term goal is to add an extension to the house and include a wood stove in the plans. Not only is it a reliable, safe source of warmth in these emergencies, it would have allowed us to cook.

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Cheerful winter offerings. Photo by M. A. Phillips – 2020

Brigid and the Winter Crone were in my thoughts today. I made offerings and prayed for warmth, to give thanks for what we have, and for safety. Losing the power during a blizzard for most of the day is an inconvenience for us, but nothing serious. None of us rely on any equipment for our health. We had shelter from the storm. We had plenty to eat, and my husband picked up some warm dinner on his way from work. We had our phones and a robust data plan, but I did stop using mine after a while just in case. We’re remarkably blessed.

Had it gone on more than a day, things could have been bad, especially for the pipes. I’m grateful to Brigid for warmth and light, to An Cailleach for wintry lessons of humility, and to all the people out there working to restore power.

Sometimes it takes annoyances to put everything into perspective.

Three Things Thursday: Trying Tasseomancy, Organization, and a New Excerpt

Hello lovely readers! It’s Thursday, so I have three tidbits for you. Three is a magic number, after all!

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White tea in my china cup. Photo by M. A. Phillips, 2020
  • Reading the Leaves:
    I mentioned last month that I’m interested in learning tasseomancy, and I finally tried my hand at it! I used Nilgiri white tea some family gifted me. I went with this because it has a mild flavor and won’t make the water too bitter while drinking. Others with more experience suggested I try mint or rooibos because of the smaller leaves, and this really appeals to me because of my gardening and my addiction to rooibos at night! My research and experimentation will continue. I’d like to make it a weekly rite.

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  • Getting Organized:
    Now that I’m researching publishing options, I’ve noticed a lot of writers keep track of the business end of things using a planner. Since I often feel overwhelmed keeping track of bills and doctor appointments, I decided I needed more than my calendar app. I’m a visual person, and I write myself a lot of to-do lists that flutter about my desk. I’ve actually started to use it to help me plan my blog posts, too! I have a list of ideas to write about. If there are any topics you’d like me to explore, please comment!

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  • A New Excerpt From My Novel:
    I know some of you have seen this, especially if you follow me on Instagram. I’ve been taking part in a couple writing challenges, and it’s been such a fun excuse to share snippets of my novel! After several years of keeping my manuscript hidden in my heart, publishing other short stories gave me the boost of confidence I needed to share more. I really enjoy getting feedback from others, and it’s exciting to know people want to read my book! Thanks to everyone who has liked, commented, and encouraged my posts. As I type this, I’ve finally finished my latest round of edits! Stay tuned!
ch 33 excerpt
“An eerie melody drifted into Lacey’s mind like tendrils of incense smoke. Every hair on her scalp shivered.’Do you hear that?’ she hissed.
Cian squinted at the air. ‘Um… you mean the ducks?’
‘No! Wait…’ She tilted her ear toward the water. Three bubbles rolled out of the gloom like otherworldly marbles. The siren’s tune had shifted from that of a weeping mother to a huntress. ‘She’s calling me.'”  – River Magic by M. A. Phillips

 

 

 

 

Seasons Within Seasons

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Sun shimmering on ice. Photo by M. A. Phillips 2020

As my path is bound to the land, I continually work to pay attention to the seasons. In Druidry and other polytheistic paths, we tune into the cycles. Tradition emphasizes agricultural shifts, but they are always linked to whatever song the bioregion is singing at the time.

In elementary school, teachers taught us about the four seasons. I don’t doubt that my parents taught me first, but I distinctly remember dividing a circle into four equal parts and filling it with different colored balls of scrunched up tissue paper in a primary classroom. Yellow flowers, green leaves, orange leaves, and white snow. As I grew up and embraced a polytheistic view, everything become more complex. In a good way!

Many of us modern Pagans subscribe to some form of the Wheel of the Year. I’m not here to untangle that cultural knot, but there’s no denying many of us celebrate roughly eight holidays. Some may practice more or less depending on cultural focus. Then there is the emphasis some place on the lunar cycle.

This time of year, where I live, it is still winter. While others around the globe post photos of flowers or spring floods, we have a foot or two of snow on the ground. In my opinion, February is the hardest month. Many of us in Upstate New York are at our limit of tolerance for the white stuff. Even while I strive to find the silver lining and embrace the Winter Crone’s lessons, her teaching is arduous and painful at times. February brings more daylight. The sun melts the snow, but the temperatures drop below zero at night. Each morning, there’s a new layer of ice. The photo above is my driveway. It’s a sheet of hazardous winter glass hungry for broken bones. To get to my car, I’ve started wearing a pair of ice fishing cleats.

Our winter is more nuanced than a picturesque Christmas card. December, January, February, and March each have their own defining characteristics. The Winter Crone performs a different spell for each and alters her teachings. Paying attention to the subtle changes can enrich our daily practice. As we develop a ritual of mindful observation each month or lunar cycle, we should start to notice patterns – seasons within seasons. These will fuel our traditional practices and perhaps inspire new customs.

 

Three Things Thursday: Keep Making Offerings, A New Excerpt, and ‘Slow Seeing”

Here’s another installment of Three Things Thursday – three mini posts nestled together in one for your viewing pleasure! Three is a magic number, right?

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Offerings at an outdoor shrine in the backyard. Photo by M. A. Phillips

 

Keep Making Offerings: The sun is shining, but if you go outside, the bitter cold will slap you in the face. Still, I felt compelled to put some offerings at the shrine. It’s important to listen to those urges as it helps us build and maintain relations with our spirit allies. I kept sensing a hunger from my closest magical companion. Sidebar: my husband helped me make that weathered sign for a local Faery festival. It now sits proudly by the shrine, adding a touch of whimsy to what is otherwise a half barrel filled with snow this time of year.

Writing Update: Since I’m on vacation this week, I’ve spent a lot of it editing my novel. I’m really proud of my progress as a writer, and sharing excerpts throughout February is both a testament to, and a balm for, my confidence. I’m glad that a story about contemporary Pagans is resonating with others.

River Magic _Famous Quote
An excerpt from my novel, RIVER MAGIC:
“What should we do?” he asked. “Make an offering?”
“We shouldn’t leave anything. ‘Leave nothing but footprints,'” she quoted.
He winced at his own folly.
“But I think a little drop of our water wouldn’t hurt.”

Slow Seeing: I loved this NPR article called “A Photographer’s Guide to Slow Seeing the Beauty in Everyday Nature.” I think many polytheists and animists will relate to the poetry of it, and those who are interested in this spiritual path should consider it. Along with editing, I plan to take my daughter outside to do some slow seeing today!

Magical Realism: Contradiction in Terms?

Nimue Brown really captures my feelings on the subgenre of magical realism. It’s the closest I’ve come to describing my fiction writing.

Druid Life

A guest post from Laura Perry

I’m a writer, and a portion of what I write is fiction that qualifies as magical realism. My most recent novel, The Bed (http://www.lauraperryauthor.com/the-bed), definitely qualifies. I’ve had a few people question that term, suggesting that it’s a contradiction. After all, according to mainstream society and “common sense,” magic isn’t real.

I’ve written before about Pagans who practice magic but don’t actually believe in it, a habit that can lead to very unpleasant side effects (http://www.lauraperryauthor.com/single-post/2016/02/10/Pagans-who-dont-believe-in-magic-but-use-it-anyway). Mainstream society puts a great deal of pressure on us to conform to the materialist viewpoint that anything that can’t be experienced through our five physical senses or detected via scientific instruments simply doesn’t exist or is, at best, some sort of hallucination. So it’s an uphill battle against cultural pressure just to consider the possibility that magic is a real thing.

There’s a…

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Show Love to the Land by Localizing Your Practice

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Locally found or made magical objects. Photo by M. A. Phillips, 2020

Valentine’s Day brings a focus on relationships. Though I don’t observe the holiday with my husband (my daughter is obsessed with it), I’ve spent the week thinking about my connection to the land. Perhaps it’s the lingering winter and my desire to garden and forage again, or maybe it comes from my discipline kicking in when I don’t want to trudge through frigid snow with offerings.

My spirituality is very much concerned with the earth, and so it makes sense that most of what I work with is locally grown and made. Whenever I go through bouts of “distance” with my path, I always restore it in the garden or forest.

When I took the recent Imbolc course on Irish Pagan School, author and teacher Lora O’Brien discussed her issue with pipe cleaner Brigid crosses. My grove has done them in the past – mostly because they’re easier for the little kids – yet I’ve always preferred using actual wheat or local grasses. O’brien really hit the nail on the head for me when she described the plants, traditionally reeds, as a way to connect with the symbolism of the goddess and holiday. She was really critical of adults (without any mobility issues) taking a shortcut that is normally so rooted in nature’s seasonal changes, yet she tempered this with compassion. We are all learning. To paraphrase, she challenged those without access to reeds or something similar to begin planning for next year to secure a local source. (Provided you have permission, it’s a sustainable source, etc)

In Northern NY, where the windchill was -20 last night, now is a perfect time to contemplate the warmer half of the year. What do we need to do to deepen our relationship with nature? What are your long term magical goals, and what allies do you need to cultivate? What tools or offerings do you wish to procure for the upcoming holidays? When will the plants be ready to harvest? What do the spirits you wish to work with desire in return?

When I look back at some of what I’ve gathered, it fills me with warmth. Rowan branches collected on a nearby island following a storm. Stones from rivers and lakes right here as opposed to a distant pit and mined by child laborers. Beeswax candles from local keepers. Mugwort wands from my own garden. I’m excited to strengthen my bonds with the spirits of this place, but it must be done thoughtfully.