Three Things Thursday: Flowers, Grass, and Sculptures

Each week, I post about three things that have inspired or informed me. Lately, I’ve been using this day to “pay it forward” and recommend artists or authors to support. This week, I’m only going to feature one artist, then I want to share a couple quick things about the land I work with because it’s been too long since I’ve posted a garden update!

Wild Sculptures in the Thousand Islands

A sculpted crow by Will Salisbury at the Thousand Island Art Center in Clayton. NY. Photo by M. A. Phillips 2020

Though the pandemic is keeping most of us from museums these days, the Thousand Islands Art Center in nearby Clayton, NY installed an outdoor exhibit featuring the spectacular metal sculptures by artist Will Salisbury. Locals may be familiar with some of his iconic pieces such as the Three Crows which can be viewed on route 81 driving away from Alexandria Bay. There’s also the magnificent muskie statue at Frink Park in Clayton, NY. My husband and I recently went for a date along the river, and enjoyed strolling through the Art Center’s grounds. If you live in the North Country and are looking for some socially distant culture to engage with, I highly recommend this whimsical installation!

Garden Update

Sunflowers and broom corn – photo by M. A. Phillips 2020

We’re veering toward the end of August! I’ve been insanely busy with writing work, but I make a point to go outside to tend to and enjoy my garden each day. This is the best year I’ve ever had. When friends and family ask how I did it, my answer is three things: hard work, good soil, and a positive relationship with the land. I don’t think my garden would be so happy without my attention to sustainable practices like composting, companion planting, organic pest management, spaces set aside for pollinators, and regular offerings to the local spirits. What a glorious thing it is to celebrate the month of Lúnasa with sunflowers and broom corn taller than my husband!

Wild Grain for Imbolc

Wild grasses going to seed. Photo by M. A. Phillips 2020

Every year in August, I make a point to pick some of the grasses that have gone to seed. I do this in preparation for Imbolc. Though Brigid’s holy day is half a year away, I know that, if I wait, crafting Cros Bríde (Brigid’s Crosses) will be a challenge. While in Ireland it’s traditional to gather green reeds as January transitions into February, everything is under layers of snow and ice that time of year in Northern NY. Rather than use pipe cleaners, I’d rather mark the occasion in a way that keeps me intimately connected with the cycles of the land I live on. Thus, during the month of Lúnasa, I reflect on and prepare for Lá Fhéile Bríde. The holy days are not solitary sign posts. Rather they are akin to the warp on a loom, and the weft of our lives weaves in and out of them all, over and over. Sometimes, I see other Pagans lament that they feel little to no connection to Lúnasa. My suspicion is that they aren’t as connected to the land or culture that births the holiday. Perhaps, in sharing how I’ve linked these high days in my own practice outside of Ireland, it will inspire some of you.

Several Things Saturday: Lugh, SRB Issue 4, and my Newsletter!

Each Thursday, I share three things that have informed or inspired me. You may notice I’m late this week. Yeah…Going back to work on top of editing novels is rough. So we’ll consider this “Several Things Saturday!”

An Introduction to Lugh

Irish Pagan School has another offering for you! This time, it’s a course about the Irish God, Lugh! It may seem late to you. “Wait, wasn’t Lúnasa earlier in the month?” Not only can you learn about the deities all year outside the holidays associated with then, but Lúnasa is actually a month long harvest! “Lúnasa” is also Gaeilge (modern Irish) for August! So you’re good to go.

Stone, Root, and Bone Issue 4

The 4th issue of Stone, Root, and Bone is out! You can purchase this beautiful polytheist ezine here. There are excellent pieces within, both fiction and non-fiction! Though I do not have any work in this issue, I’m still very excited to support the publication. Hagstone Publishing is going on hiatus now that they’ve gone through a year of quarterly issues. No matter what they choose to do next, I’m proud to have been a part of this amazing project by and for other polytheists!

From the Desk of the Ditzy Druid

Later today, I will send out my latest newsletter with updates on my upcoming novel, River Magic! It’s a fictional story about contemporary Pagans, including a grove of Druids, who live in Northern NY along the St. Lawrence River! There’s romance, ritual, and even a mermaid! In this issue, I’ll share the latest character artwork. I’ll always make it available to everyone a week later, but you’ll want to be in the know, especially next month when I reveal my cover! So sign up, my lovelies! You can catch River Match October 31st of THIS YEAR!

Three Things Thursday: Pagan Parenting Things and Stuff

Each Thursday I share three items that have inspired or informed me. This week, I’m sharing some things for Pagan Parents: information on a religious education program, a craft activity, and an adorable onesie.

Little Oaks:  A Religious Education Program for Young Pagans

Fellow ADF member and parent, Rev. Jan Avende, is putting together a curriculum for polytheist families. Little Oaks, available through her Patreon, could serve as excellent spiritual supplements or even assist groves and other circles in planning activities for the little ones. Jan has a background in education, so this could be just the resource some of you are searching for!

Recycling and Coloring to Learn About Deities

Another ADF member has created deity coloring pages from a variety of Indo-European cultures for the younger set to enjoy. You can see the latest update here, but the page is in German, so you may need a translation. The idea is to glue them around toilet paper rolls to create figures for youthful altars. Even if the idea of recycling toilet paper tubes comes across as disrespectful, you could glue them onto other items like oatmeal containers. Either way, maybe this will inspire you and your little ones on a rainy day.

Mini Mystic Onesie

I recently received my “Witches Against White Supremacy” tshirt from Bébé Vaudou. It fits great and feels amazing. Now the designer has a new article of clothing in 100% cotton: this adorable “Mini Mystic” Onesie! If you or someone you know is expecting and appreciates whimsical outfits for their little ones, check out her shop! You’d be directly supporting an artisan in the magical community.

What Inspired my Writing?

An instagram prompt asked what inspired me to write my story. I decided this topic deserved a blog post because it’s very much entwined with why I write in general and what I share with my readers here.

Let me begin by saying I wanted to be an author since I was younger, but nearly abandoned the dream in college. I was discouraged with my prose and haunted by a sense of inadequacy. So I just…stopped.

I started this blog over a decade ago when I moved to Northern NY. I wanted to record my journey as a Pagan and Druid in the North Country. I also wanted to provide information for newcomers to the path. At the time, I was working through the Dedicant Program, a self-paced study through my Druid tradition, Ár nDraíocht Féin. Naturally, my blog became the perfect place to share my progress. Once completed, I delved into some more advanced courses, but graduate classes and pregnancy slowed my Druidic studies. It was also around that time I decided my energy was best spent simply sharing my experiences and artistic pursuits rather than attempt to provide original, scholarly essays. In my continued quest to better understand Irish lore and culture, I realized there were more qualified individuals for that task.

An eastern hemlock growing in rocky terrain overlooking Lake of the Isles, a major location in River Magic. Photo by M. A. Phillips 2020.

Before I had my daughter, I did a lot of sewing. I still keep a gallery of my work on my site for your viewing pleasure. This all started when I wanted a representation of a Goddess on my altar. I put the skills I’d learned making teddy bears to use and coupled it with a deep love of nature and mythology. Once I found myself nursing Bee more often than not, my creative outlet cried out for release, only I needed something that didn’t require both hands, a lot of movement, or so many sharp bits. While Bee snuggled against my chest in a wrap or in my left arm, I typed out the beginnings of what would become River Magic. This occurred around the time I began reading books by Alice Hoffman and I woke up to the concept of magical realism.

Everything came together, and I found my old dreams of authorship blossoming anew. I’d been floundering with an idea for an urban fantasy/paranormal romance. I realized the genre wasn’t working for me and the story I needed to tell. River Magic, and my other fictional writing, draws on my experiences as a contemporary Druid in Upstate NY, actual folklore, my relationship with the land, real life problems, and a touch of magic that so many of us in the Pagan community encounter. It’s fictional but informed by real belief systems and lore grounded in our reality. Soon, you’ll be able to enjoy it yourself.

Three Things Thursday: Stickers!

Each Thursday, I share three things that have informed or inspired. This week, I’m highlighting three artists and their glorious stickers!

I hear you. “Stickers? Really? What does this have to do with Druidry, Pagansim, etc?”

Look, most of us agree that supporting actual artists over corporations is a good thing, right? But if you’re like me, you can’t afford to buy a gallery of originals, and you only have so much wall space for prints.

Enter stickers from talented Pagan and Witch artists! Perhaps I’m a bit late to the “grown up” sticker thing, but I really enjoy personalizing my laptop and reusable bottles. Here are three artists offering stickers that are fun with a potential for whimsy, devotion, and social justice.

Fiber Witch by Ashley Bryner

You may already be a fan of Ashley Bryner’s magical photography as seen on some of Morgain Daimler’s books, but she has other artistic abilities, too! In addition to fantastic anime fan art that makes my heart fuzzy, Ashley creates some chic illustrations for Pagans. Check out her website, Firesighted for her portfolio. She recently released this beautiful witch hat with the fiber artist in mind. I just ordered the sticker and cannot wait to jazz up my sewing machine. It will cheer me up as I make more masks.

Goddesses by Anette Pirso

Anette Pirso is a prolific artist on Instagram. The way she depicts Goddesses and spirits is simplistic but powerful. She made my day when she listed a Goddess sticker pack. Sure, none of us need our deities depicted, but it certainly helps, especially in these trying times when our focus may be scattered. I ordered two copies of Brigid. I intend to put one on my tea canteen to help me focus on healing when I have to return to work. The other will go on my laptop since I do so much writing there. For my third sticker, I selected the “petrify the patriarchy” design. Because yes. Best part?

From now on 5% of each purchase will be donated to a local charity called The Estonian Women`s Shelters Union – an association of non-profit organisations acting in public interests which joins organisations dedicated to providing shelters` services for victims of violence against women.

Anette Pirso on Etsy

Stickers for Charity by Cat Coven

When a fellow Pagan posted photos of his recent acquisitions from Cat Coven, I knew I had to follow that artist on Instagram. I so appreciate the line work, medieval inspiration, and darker aesthetic. My mood shifts, right? When you buy from Cat Coven, you’re supporting a queer-owned business in Brooklyn, NY. She strives to work with eco-friendly materials as much as possible, something that I really appreciate. Recent additions to the shop include two stickers for charity. 100% of the fairy-esque moth cat purchases will go toward the Emergency Release Fund in NYC, and the “Not Welcome” design helps support Make the Road New York (while also telling racists to shove it). I encourage you to click the stickers and read more about each. That cat moth is going to look stunning in my classroom!

Magic Lessons

Our “sleepy dream time” potion infusing. Photo by M. A. Phillips 2020

The house grows still after another busy day. Upstairs, my husband’s voice rumbles like a purring cat as he reads to our daughter in bed. A moment ago, she sipped a “sleepy dream time” potion we made together.

Lately, Bee has been playing witch. I did the same thing when I was her age. I dug out a plastic cauldron and hat from the Halloween decor, then turned my dresser into a potion table complete with plastic spiders and fancy perfume bottles. My daughter is drawn to the magical aesthetic just as I was, but she has the advantage over the younger me: she has an adult polytheist to guide her for as long as she desires.

And she desires. Last night into this morning, she begged me to teach her spells. I reminded her, as always , that I’ve been doing that. I repeat the same refrain each time the topic comes up: real magic isn’t how Hollywood or most fantasy authors portray. Not usually, anyway. Real magic is about action rather than looks.

I model the best I can by making offerings, singing my gratitude to the plants, and reciting our protection prayer each night. Parenting continues to reveal my greatest strengths as well as my weaknesses. Until I became a mother, I didn’t realize how dreadfully impatient I can be. I suppose it’s because I must be so patient with my students, and a part of my always expects more from my daughter. So I grit my teeth and wait for her to change into her witch outfit then join me in the herb bed. We collect ingredients for the sleepy dream time tea I promised to teach her about. I reach deep inside, and often fail, to steady my breath and be as focused and disciplined as I tell her one must be when working magic. I wait for her to get her bear so that she, too, can join us in making a potion. We name the herbs and the effect we desire. I teach her the incantation I wrote and we say it three times, our hands hovering over the warm infusion.

We drink our tisane and I realize that we are teaching each other. As I impart my lessons, I recall the importance of play. Perhaps there is a place for the aesthetic part of magic after all, whatever the tradition. How many of us were drawn to Druidry, witchcraft, Wicca, etc because of a book cover or movie portrayal? And how often do we feel a shiver of inspiration when we see a beautiful piece of devotional art or a fellow celebrant dressed up as an avatar of the divine? I stayed and dug deeper because I sensed something more, something necessary to my well-being. My teachers helped, and gods know they were patient with me.

I sometimes worry that my daughter will grow bored of what I offer with the reality that I can’t make things float or turn on lights with the flick of a wand. But maybe, just maybe, in taking breaks from my own work and giving her my time, teaching her the slow ways with plants and poetry, she’ll discover the spirit of magic, of Druidry, of the spirits. While she may not embrace it all as an adult, at least, I hope, a cup of tea will conjure memories of me. Perhaps, in the end, that will be the greatest magic of all.

Three Things Thursday: Sturgeon Lecture, African American Nature Poetry, and Animism in Avatar

Each week, I share three things that have informed or inspired me in the hopes that they will help someone else exploring nature-based spirituality.

Sturgeon Lecture – Tonight!

Later today, I’m going to attend an online lecture from local environmentalist organization the Indian River Lakes Conservancy. I’m super pumped to learn about one of my favorite fish, the lake sturgeon! These amazing creatures are protected in New York State after generations of over fishing. Tonight, I’m going to learn how fisheries have helped to restock and repopulate the fresh water sturgeon. If you’re interested, you can sign up here. It’s free, and a wonderful way to connect with the local fauna.

Black Nature

I hold up a copy of Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry in front of my squash plants.

I usually don’t share books until I’ve finished reading, but I think I can make an exception for poetry anthologies, especially when they inspire me but will take time to work through. I recently started Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry edited by Camille T Dungy. I found it on a list of resources for intersectional environmentalism, and I knew I needed it. As an English graduate, teacher, writer, and Druid, I know I can do better. Exposure to other perspectives provides us with an opportunity to grow in knowledge and empathy. Celtic-influenced polytheists aren’t the only ones working with nature, after all.

Animism in Avatar: The Last Air Bender

Like many families in America, my husband and I introduced our child to the amazing world of Avatar: The Last Air Bender thanks to Netflix. As a highly rated animated show, it’s worth watching for the lovable characters, world building, and fantastic story alone, but it’s also a great vehicle to discuss animism with the younger set. Now that we’ve moved on to the sequel, The Legend of Korra, many of the previous lessons about the spirit world are being reiterated or explored deeper. For those new to the story, the Avatar is a person who acts as the bridge between the human and spirit worlds. There’s more to it than that, but there are a lot of great lessons about respecting spirits, controlling one’s emotions, and interconnection. So if you’re a polytheist parent looking for some wholesome television that celebrates rather than demonizes the spirit world (with a healthy amount of caution), I highly encourage you to check it out.

Where Do I Put Offerings?

If there’s one positive to come out of some of the more bizarre news in the online Pagan and witchcraft communities this weekend, it’s that it brought many of us together in conversation. Yesterday a relatively new Pagan posted in a local FB group about the whole “hexing the moon and the Fae” nonsense, but it turned into a really great conversation about my relationship to spirits. When she asked what I do with my offerings the next day, it made me realize I never wrote about it before, but it’s such a basic thing! We polytheists wax poetic about offerings, but seldom share how to handle the aftermath, especially in our homes.

As an ADF Druid strongly influenced and inspired by Irish culture, I make daily offerings to the Three Kindreds – the Land Spirits, Ancestors, and Shining Ones. Basically, I do this to maintain a bond but also to show gratitude. So often, new Pagans conflate giving as something you do to get something else in return. While that certainly occurs, and while I also pray that the Kindred bless and protect us, I put more emphasis on thanking them for what I’ve already received. But what happens to those sacred gifts afterward? I believe how we clean our altars is yet another way we demonstrate respect for the land and spirits. Whether you’re planning what to offer outdoors or how to dispose of items from indoor spaces, you need to consider various factors.

  • What are you offering? Is it potentially dangerous to wildlife (chocolate)? Are the seeds you’re offering able to germinate? Are they potentially invasive? Is the material biodegradable? If so, will it break down quickly or slowly and end up as long-term litter? Plastic items should not be offered. Just don’t. Opt for natural materials and truly demonstrate respect for the Earth!
  • Where are you placing your offering? Do you have an outdoor space where natural items can go back to the Earth? Do you have a fire pit? If not, you may want to find peace with putting offerings down the sink, in the garbage or, even better, community compost. After a day or so, I believe the Kindred have already taken the spiritual essence of the gifts. Just as I would clean up after feeding family, we need to do the same for our divine allies. Develop a prayer for such chores and clearly state that the items are going back to the Earth. If you have access to an outdoor space, consider whether or not it’s shared. What was a divine gift in your eyes is litter or a potential pest magnet to others. After all, hospitality is a virtue we should cultivate, and daily offerings of apples under a tree can become a stinky situation fast. Finally, I understand the desire to express gratitude and pray for safe travels when hiking, but just because you’re out communing with nature doesn’t exempt you from the 7 Principals. Familiarize yourself with the “Leave no Trace” philosophy so you don’t end up being part of the problem.
  • Is your offering culturally disrespectful? Some types of offerings, even traditional ones, can damage organisms or landscapes. For example, the rag tree tradition in Ireland is very old and has more to do with sympathetic magic, but visitors have begun leaving fabric that can’t easily go back into the land, and it’s damaging the trees! This is incredibly disrespectful to both the flora and fauna, but also the Irish culture! In addition, many polytheists have ceased pouring alcohol on the Earth out of respect to indigenous cultures who find it disrespectful. When in doubt, research. The later may not apply to where you live, but it’s good to know.

If you find yourself running into obstacles, don’t despair! We’re all in a process of learning, and different circumstances will dictate our lives. Some of us can’t have sacrificial fires, or we lack access to green spaces. Sing a song or recite poetry instead. Still feel that giving something tangible is more appropriate? One of my go-to offerings is tea. Once cold, you can pour it into a potted plant (maybe even the very herbs you’re cultivating to make infusions), and it’s safe to put down the drain if needed. Finally, don’t forget service as sacrifice, and definitely follow through. For example, instead of leaving something during your nature walk, give your time and effort picking litter off the trail. The genius loci will likely appreciate that more than a penny or a chunk of your Cliff Bar anyway.

Three Things Thursday: Courses and Workshops to Help You Become a Better Person and Pagan

Each Thursday, I share three tidbits with my readers. These could be books, movies, documentaries, podcasts, etc that have informed and inspired me. This week, I’m sharing three educational opportunities I benefited from. Maybe they’ll interest you?

So You Want to Talk About Race – Google Talk

Last month, I recommended the book “So Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo in one of my Three Things Thursday posts. I recently had one of those uncomfortable conversations with a friend and member of the Pagan community. We have to address these things head on, even when they put us at odds with people we’d otherwise not want to argue with. I owe it to my Black friends, neighbors, and students to do this work within my own circles. I suggested he read the book to help him work through some misunderstandings he’s having about the Black Lives Matter movement (particularly where our positive intentions and tone deafness can get in the way of making the positive changes we actually desire). He said he’d check out the book when he got paid. This reminded me: I’ve seen posts and headlines about books on race by Black authors on back order! So even if he ordered it right now, it may not reach him for months. There’s always the library, but there’s likely a wait list, too. Kindle books aren’t as expensive, but I get it. It still costs money people may not have. So in the meantime, if you’re in that situation, here’s a free video of the author giving a talk at Google. It’s just shy of an hour, but very worthwhile. As a white Pagan, I say this with love and concern to other white Pagans – we need to better educate ourselves so that we can create truly inclusive places and not say something that will be hurtful, whether we mean to or not. This is more general than Pagan, but human rights impact all of us.

Feral Witchcraft

Throughout spring, I had the privilege of taking a 12 week course on reclaiming our liminal power as magical practitioners from Althaea Sebastiani. In fact, my ability to join in was given as an anonymous gift – something that continues to touch and humble me. If my mysterious benefactor is reading this, you have my gratitude. Feral Witchcraft: Reclaim Your Right to Practice a Witchcraft Sharp of Tooth and Claw came just as Covid-19 became a pandemic. While some of the content was more of a review for me as a long-time practitioner, I’ve found that cycling back is just as useful as progressing forward. Reflection is a powerful tool, and Althaea returned to that again and again with thoughtful journal prompts. Revisiting some basic energy work during the weekly exercises initially was like sitting down with an old friend. I actually found it comforting during this uncertain period of our history. Speaking of friends, the course came with weekly discussions via Discord. These were fun, engaging, and insightful. As the weeks progressed, I learned new methods of experiencing energy flow that truly blew me away. The author inspired me with new perspectives and methods on such topics as thresholds, containing your energy, and warding, and I’ve returned to them since. While the course is currently unavailable, Althaea offers many self-paced opportunities that may interest you. They’re thoughtful, well-organized, and deeply needed in our community.

Rosc Poetry

On Sunday, I attended an online class all about the Irish tradition of rosc poetry through Irish Pagan School. The instructor, Geraldine Moorkens Byrne, is both an Irish poet (File) and a practitioner of traditional Irish magic, or Draiocht Ceoil. I learned so much from this course as both a polytheist, student of Druidry, and writer. Byrne very generously shared culture and language relating to one of the most potent forms of indigenous Irish magic – the rosc poetic tradition. If you’ve read much Irish mythology or history, you’re aware of the power and prestige possessed by the File. Particularly feared was their ability to satire and maim an unjust person’s reputation. Byrne explored the history and characteristics of rosc poems as magical tools, and discussed how modern practitioners can respectfully utilize them in matters of social justice and advocacy. This was such a powerful course that will deepen and guide me on my path. I’ve said this before, but I’ll repeat myself – if your spirituality is inspired by Irish culture, you absolutely must get over to Irish Pagan School and check it out.

Liminal Times at Liminal Spaces

During the intense heat of last week, I followed the wisdom of so many other creatures and hid in the shade. If I wasn’t under my porch writing, I was inside… writing, reading, or lounging around like a wet noodle. I found that I woke up, mentally, physically, and spiritually, at dusk.

When the sun began dipping toward the horizon, the temperatures lowered slightly. It is a liminal time – not quite day or night. I ventured into the open areas to admire wildflowers and harvest mullein. I made offerings to the land and sang songs.

Not the best photo, but you can just see a fox dashing by! Photo by M. A. Phillips 2020

In what has become a near daily activity, I mounted the hill to peer through the wrought-iron fence into the cemetery. It started because I needed to water the hawthorn sapling I planted and improve her chances of surviving the drought. In working to nurture a plant and establish a relationship, I found myself surrounded by dragonflies and, later, fireflies. As the sky grew purple, the foxes appeared. They, too, come out at dusk. If I was quiet, I could admire them from one to two feet away as they walked along the fence to sniff chipmunk burrows. Sometimes they noticed me. They cocked their heads and continued on when they realized I posed no threat. It’s been absolutely wild and wonderful to see them most evenings, and I feel privileged to observe my often unseen neighbors in this way. I whispered gratitude to the land, gratitude to live near a liminal space – the boundary between my home and cemetery.

It is where death and life mingle.

It is both wild and tame.

I meet them there.