Category Archives: Charms and Talismans

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On Serendipity and Iron

By | Charms and Talismans, Folk Magic | 12 Comments

The other day I had a serendipitous morning of finding datura and brugmansia plants at a local nursery and the ladies who work there gave me all the seeds they’d collected after hearing about the pain ointments I make with them. Shortly after, I had another “hmm this can’t be coincidence” encounter. I went to a local farmers’ market to get some of my favourite pig’s lard and lye soap from a local blacksmith and went home with the recipe and a traditional Irish “nine irons” amulet instead. He learned how to make them online, but after bringing them to a farmers’ market last year, a local little old Irish lady made a happy fuss over them and gushed out lore form her childhood. She told him the farmers and farm hands would put the amulet on their belts before going to work the farm or go into the woods and at the end of the day would hang it up by the door or over the bed. It was for luck and protection and was used in folk magic charms of healing, curse breaking, and keeping away evil spirits and fairies. The amulet seemed to have the biggest popularity in the 1800s, but the old woman told him no one was really making them anymore. He sent me home with a homemade pamphlet of its folk uses.

The nine amulets from right to left: Skillet, saw, plow coulter, spade, plowshare, cross, axe, horseshoe nail, and shovel. The skillet was heated to red to ward off enemies, the saw and axe ward off evil spirits, the plow coulter and plowshare were used to soothe children who had trouble sleeping, the shovel and spade were used to find lost or stolen property, the cross to bless holy water and protect from spirits, and a horseshoe nail was worn for good luck.

Nine Irons Amulet compared with Viking Amulets

This is a farmer’s charm, crafted and consecrated by a local blacksmith who is also a farmer, made with re-used iron from antique farm tools. What blew me away even more about its magical potency is how much it resembles early Scandinavian tool amulets from archaeological digs. The one on the left is an 8th century piece found in Hesselbjerg, Denmark and the axe head amulet on the right is from the same time period. I saw many such amulets with different every day tools on them at the touring Vikings exhibit at a museum when it was in Victoria; some for the gods, some just for luck and protection like the nine irons amulet. The possibility of a connection between Ireland and Scandinavia fascinates me as my father’s father is Black Irish and the Lawless name supposedly originated from the southeast coast of Ireland where Vikings raided mercilessly…

I love seeing folk practices with early modern and ancient roots still in use here in the Ottawa Valley. I told the blacksmith if he were alive a couple centuries ago he’d be as good as the village priest: blessing babies, consecrating tools and amulets, and protecting people from curses and evil fairies. “And don’t forget the old practice of marrying people over the anvil,” he added. I told him my friends found a dried cat purposely sealed into the wall of their home when they were renovating. He told me when he was renovating an old house in the Glebe in Ottawa he pulled up the lintel of the front door, which hadn’t been moved since the house was built, and found a corked witch bottle with hair in it and an old leather shoe.  The blacksmith isn’t even Pagan, he is just a local farmer. Magic is bizarrely normal out here and my rural area is full of ghosts, vampires, fairies, witches, folk magic, and epic crossroads superstitions that the Irish, Scottish, Polish, and German settlers brought with them. My curiosity is only just wetted, now to hone the blade with more research on local folk magic and folk belief.

Blacksmithing images by Steve Ford Elliot and Jorge Royan.

Related Post:

The Shrine at the Crossroad

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The Heretic’s Rosary Project

By | Black Arts Foundry, Charms and Talismans | 8 Comments

The Heretic’s Rosary Project was two months in the making. The idea came first; to deconstruct and de-consecrate antique and vintage catholic rosaries and add talismans, charms, and animal relics that simply screamed folklore and witchcraft. Then it was quite the task to collect the right rosaries and the most interesting pieces, some old, some new, and some I made myself.

Chari Vari Anghanger Goat and Deer Chari Vari Anghanger There were late nights of sketching ideas and sorting through my beading stash and aptly named “box of dead things”. With thought and care each individual rosary came to life, rebirthed from something old and forgotten to something new and full of talismanic power.

Rosewood Cimaruta Rosary The last step was to have my two handsome friends, a witch and a shapeshifter, drive up from Washington state to stay over for a weekend visit during Imbolc. I fed them and plied them with mead and goodies and in return they agreed to model the rosaries for me. We had a fun visit of late nights conversing on topics of religion, mythology, magic, spirits, and spells. I was sad to see them return home, but know we’ll get into mischief again some time soon.

Below are the final proofs of the rosary photo shoot for my shop Black Arts Foundry. Feast your eyes upon the sexyness… and the rosaries too. Each heretic’s rosary has sold, but never fear, more are sure to come in the near future.

Models layering multiple rosaries

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Tveir Hrafnar: Sorcery in Silver

By | Charms and Talismans, Reviews & Interviews | 7 Comments

Ifirst encountered Aidan Wachter last summer when he sent me a very sweet email complimenting my writings and art and sharing his datura anecdotes. We continued to send emails back and forth on magic, poison plant stories, and resources… and then he opened his shop Tveir Hrafnar. I was floored. I swooned. Occult jewelery is big right now, in fact it’s gone mainstream thanks to collaborations between talented designers like Ovate with Joanna Szkiela and Sisters of the Black Moon with Bloodmilk. Animal skull pendants and occult symbols from popular designers can be seen around the necks of your favourite musicians and characters in many tv series and movies.

But Aidan isn’t following these trends — his jewelery is another esoteric creature altogether. While all the big name designers are casting their pieces in silver and bronze from moulds, Aidan is sitting at his workbench practicing old school cold cut-and-file silversmithing. The result: time-consuming, intricately cut and layered pieces of silver forming high-end magical talismans. Each one is made from scratch by hand from start to finish by a sorcerer’s hands, intended to be worn by other magicians. Each one is full of magical symbolism inspired by alchemy, sigils, chaos magic, traditional witchcraft, runic magic, and mythology.

Hekate's Key by Tveir Hrafnar

It is a potent and powerful thing to own and wear a talisman made with magical intent by a sorcerer for a fellow sorcerer rather than a piece of jewelry crafted for the mass market. I feel lucky to possess two of Aidan’s pieces: Hekate’s Key (a large oval talisman with a skeleton key between waxing and waning crescent moons) and a Berkana Rune (a smaller square talisman for me to wear while pregnant for protection and blessing). My husband the Poisoner (who also practices cut-and-file silversmithing and was very impressed by Aidan’s work), proudly wears Saturn’s Sickle along with the inverted pentagram inside a pentagon he smithed himself. I layer Tveir Hrafnar’s pieces with my favourite raven skull and serpent pendants, usually while wearing black (of course).

Whether you’ve heard of Tveir Hrafnar or have seen Aidan around the web on social media – maybe you’ve been curious about the man and magician behind the talismans as well as how they are crafted. Well, you’re in luck as he agreed to an interview!

Berkana Rune by Tveir Hrafnar

“I am a talismanic jeweler. I work in sterling silver, hand crafting tools for Magicians, Witches, Pagans, Heathens and occultists.

Aidan WachterI have been aware of the living nature of the world since I was a child. In my youth I began looking into animism, magic, and related subjects in an effort to bridge the gap between how those around me described the world and my own experience of it. I accept that the nature of our reality is mystery, is magical, and is very much alive and responsive to those who dwell within it- human or otherwise. It is my aim to create tools and ornaments to support the practices of those who choose to live in direct contact with these ‘others’.

I live and work in the hardwood forests of Tennessee.”

~ Aidan Wachter


Sarah Anne Lawless: How did you get your start in magic? What paths and people inspired you?

Aidan Wachter: I had a ‘classic’ (from a folk magic or shamanic POV) start: a number of nasty illnesses, fever deliria, kind of things. A major initiatory experience happened when I was 11, but I had no idea what it was at the time. Figured that out a lot later!

But I got my start in actually studying magick via punk rock.

One night when I was 15, a friend and I found a phone number in a book of matches left for us by another group of weirdos and punks at a coffee shop (the Denny’s kind of place, not the modern version) that we hung out in. We called the number, got invited over, and I discovered the more intellectual side of the world and met a magickian and Thelemite for the first time. I also heard a record called Force The Hand Of Chance by Psychick TV. This led to contacting Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth in 1982 and getting The Grey Book from them. That was the start.

As for available authors…earliest on were Max Freedom Long, Starhawk, Paul Huson, and Crowley — though I didn’t really ‘get’ the Crowley for some time. I worked in a number of bookstores, and had a lot of access to the current crop of authors. I read The Way of Wyrd by Brian Bates, and Rune Games by Osborne and Longland. Gardner and Valiente, Justine Glass. I know I read Earth Power by Scott Cunningham, and some Buckland.

Talismans by Tveir Hrafnar

In 1987 I actually became a member of the O.T.O. through a guy I met on a bus carrying a Datura plant in a pot. He gave me a whole pile of Crowley and Golden Dawn info, and most importantly, Liber Null and Psychonaut by Peter J. Carroll. From that point on I became very driven to understand the mechanics of my spiritual/mystical experiences – as I mentioned, I was very prone to odd mystical states in my youth. I finally joined up with TOPY at around the same time, and studied with Gabriel Carrillo of Bloodrose for several months. Gabriel taught me a number of hugely useful things.

I was interested in deconstruction of the self and really trying to get a handle on the nature of my universe rather than a particular religion or system per se. It made me a bad member of any group. I eventually started calling what I did sorcery as I didn’t feel like I could claim any particular group as mine — sorcery was a largely unused term at the time.

Silver and Fret Saws

SAL: Which came first, the silversmithing or the sorcery? What led you to combining the two crafts?

AW: Sorcery came first by a big margin!

The silver happened this way: I moved to New Orleans in 1992 knowing only one person. One morning, about two weeks after I got there, I woke up a total wreck after sleeping for a couple of hours with a burning imperative to ride to the café on the Tulane Campus for coffee. RIGHT FUCKING NOW! I’m not stupid, so I did. It was mid summer in New Orleans, and it was horribly hot and humid. I arrive a tattooed mess of sweat, no shirt on — what would be the point? I am riding across the quad and I see a man and a woman sitting at a table outside the café. They were clearly weird. They had amazing Buddhist tattoos! I knew I was there to meet them. They appeared to feel the same. I dropped the bike with them, said “I need some coffee”. I came back with a cup and sat down and introduced myself. We spent a huge part of the next 9 months together. They were Mark Defrates and Pamela Daley and they were Symbolic Jewelers. As I recall, I got Mark back into magickal practice. He had practiced at some point before but was mostly inactive, focused on Tibetan Buddhism. Several years later I learned to make jewelry in their shop. I stared making pentagrams and Thor’s hammers and such. So sorcery and silver have been combined from the start for me.

Saturn's Sickle by Tveir HrafnarSAL: Your work is a wonderful rarity in that it caters to occultists, sorcerers, and traditional witches who most jewelers ignore in favour of the much bigger market of neopagans. Was this intentional or were you simply following your influences and passions?

AW: Mostly following my passions and influences. I am self centered in my art and would rather make what speaks to me than what I think the market would buy. It’s a ‘go for what you know’ kind of thing. Hopefully there are enough folks out there with similar aesthetics and interests to keep things rolling.

That said as a jeweler I am primarily called to power and beauty as expressions of Spirit and Will and won’t exclude any source. I believe that magick and sorcery are natural outgrowths of the human experience. I’m an animist and see these divisions of religious or spiritual practice as performing different functions within the larger organism that is the world.

SAL: Can you walk us through the making of one silver talisman by hand and how your process is different from jewelers who use casts and moulding processes?

AW: I am actually working on a few blog posts about this, but essentially and grossly simplified. It works like this: imagine you had some construction paper, scissors, a knife, and glue. You can cut out all sorts of cool shapes, right? Wild stuff even, like what Hagen Von Tulien does with his Occult Psaligraphy? It’s like cutting out paper dolls, or snowflakes. This is what I do with sheet silver: I create a design, make a template of it, and then cut out all the elements with very small drill bits and saw blades. These get cleaned up with sandpaper and files, and then soldered together. After that it is just a lot of work with the files and sandpaper to get it looking like the finished product.

Those genius people who can carve wax can make more sculptural forms- say you want a three dimensional ring of a toad with scales (why it has scales I am not exactly sure!) — a skilled wax carver can make you that toad, with each scale etched with great detail. They can then make a mold, which is filled with molten silver. At it’s very best, with wax casting you get something unbelievably exquisite. More often it is about economy of scale as it’s a great way to do mass production work. Once you have a mold you just order what you need from your casting service and clean it up. I’ve worked in that way, and it simply isn’t enjoyable to me. It feels like factory work. It can be less expensive and less time consuming, but I seriously enjoy building these things one at a time. I like knowing I am making this exact piece for a particular person. It matters to me that I am making what I hope will be a loved tool for another practitioner.

It also frees me up to do a lot of custom work, which is awesome.

Horns of the Moon - Finished Pendant

SAL: If some lucky person was to visit your home and studio in the forest of West Tennessee, what would they see and experience? What would a day in the life of Aidan look like?

AW: First if they were like everyone else, they would try to use Google Maps and get hopelessly lost! I live way out in the boonies. Cell phones sort of work, if you stand near that tree over there and the planets and clouds are aligned just right.

What they would experience:

Trees! Hardwood trees everywhere! Hickories and Oaks of all kinds. Sweetgum, Tulip Poplar, Beech, Dogwood, Cedars. In season, the roads are edged with wildflowers: Passionflower, Honeysuckle, Plantain and Dandelion. A creek runs along the road. Lots of raptors: vultures, hawks, owls, and the occasional eagles. There are millions of smaller birds. Untold numbers of small rodents: mice, voles, moles, squirrels, kangaroo rats, possum, raccoons. Frogs, snakes, salamanders, turtles.  A goodly number of cows. I never knew how many varieties of bees and wasps there were! Packs of coyotes run the night, screaming. There are a lot of deer, and turkeys. It’s fabulous. And lots of ticks and mosquitoes and chiggers and other biters, which are not!

The WorkbenchThe Silversmith’s Workbench

Hallmarking ToolsHallmarking Tools

My day? Up with the Sun, meditate with the cat, make my morning offerings. Have a chat with the Spirits. Read, have coffee, and then into the shop to plan the days work. Design something! Make something! Mail something!

First meal at around 11 or noon, then (in the cold seasons) take the house dogs out to go see the chickens and the chicken dogs. In the summer this happens fist thing or it’s too damn hot! Do some work outside gardening or such if the weather and insects allow. Then back to the shop until it is time to make dinner. Post dinner is usually a movie with my wife.

It would probably be incredibly boring for many — we live a fairly reclusive, very quiet life. I am very happy if I don’t have to leave our immediate area more than once a month. I love it!

SAL: What has been the best reward so far of being a talismanic silversmith?

AW: Meeting cool practitioners from all over the world! No question on that.

SAL: Do you have a favourite piece that you’ve made?

AW: Definitely my Zos Kia pendant. Austin Osman Spare has been an immense influence on me. It happened very fast, and I was really stunned at how well it came out.

ZOS Kia in ProgressZOS Kia Talisman in Progress

SAL: What new projects do you currently have in the works?

AW: I am working on a very limited edition piece for Aeon Sophia Press that is really gorgeous. I am also working on a collaboration that I hope goes well enough to continue for the long run with an artist I really dig. I just started an actual written blog, Hotel Vast Horizon, which I am enjoying a lot. I haven’t written much since the mid ‘90’s and it is good for me to do it.


Like what you’ve seen and read? You can find Aidan here:

And… just to be an extra-evil temptress, did you know Aidan accepts custom work?

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The Girl Who Found a Feather

By | Animism, Bones & Blood, Charms and Talismans, Spirit Work, Storytelling, Witchcraft & Magic | 8 Comments

A Journey into the Magic of Birds and Feathers

Originally published in issue 25 of Witches & Pagans Magazine, September 2012.

The story of Raven stealing the sun was always my favourite as a child. The idea of that great black bird creating humans and stealing fire and light for us humans made perfect sense to my little head stuck in a book of Native folktales from the Pacific Northwest. There’s no proof, but I would highly suspect my early love of fairy and folk tales may be what led to me becoming an animist, worshipping nature and all its creatures with awe and wonder. That and my earthy backwoods parents who like to live away from cities and talk to plants and animals I’m sure.  Along with folktales, I fell in love with birds at a young age and quickly claimed my mother’s field guide to North American birds as my own. I remember memorizing their names and the colours and patterns of their feathers. I loved to watch them from my window and out in nature and listen to all their songs from the beautiful ones of robins to the cacophonous croaking of crows and ravens.

Birds are deeply magical creatures. They are reptiles who, instead of dying with the rest of the long-dead dinosaurs, transformed themselves by growing feathers, taking flight, and surviving to become an entirely new creature made of air itself with their feathers, hollow bones, and reversed lungs. Feathers are essentially the fur or hair of reptiles, reptiles who have been around millions of years longer than we humans with their sharp, ancient, reptilian brains which we are only just beginning to comprehend the intricacy and intelligence of today (although I think our ancestors knew better). There’s very ancient and powerful spirits flying above our heads in the form of these winged creatures of the sky. In some Pagan pantheons it can be difficult to separate a god from an animal such as Bran and Raven, Perun and Eagle, Thoth and Ibis. I like to think the worship of gods may have started out as animal worship and over time our wild shape-shifting animal deities evolved to be more human in appearance as we left the wilds and animism behind for cities and agriculture. If such a thing were true than birds would be the oldest of our ancestor’s gods.

The Feather Bearer by Sarah Anne Lawless

The Feather Collector

I don’t dare admit the size of my feather collection as it has become a large beast of all colours, stripes, and spots with long flight feathers, soft breast feathers, and beautiful wings. It all started innocently enough with a large feather I had found in the wilds of the North while hunting along riverbanks for bones and stones as a child. I didn’t know anything of feathers’ history of sacred use, but I knew they were special and treated feathers I found with much care over many moves across province and country collecting more along the way. It seems I am always collecting feathers; feathers of light, feathers of dark, feathers of song, feathers to carry prayers, feathers to banish, feathers to bless and heal, and feathers to fly between all three realms of earth, sea, and sky. Some feathers I found along my walks in the wild forests of impossible tall cedars and hemlocks along the Pacific Northwest coast; little hints of movement and colour against brown earth and dead leaves turning out to be feathers of tail, wing, or down shed from the many different birds haunting the woods. Other feathers and wings I sought myself from hunters and taxidermists.

The majority of my feathers came to me as gifts for, you see, once you tell people you collect feathers they tell everyone they know and suddenly feathers are slipped into cards for you or handed to you in bundles – the proud collectors beaming with smiles and saying “I found these for you”. My mother, who lives on an 83 acre homestead, sends me feathers from her chickens, from ducks that swim in the marsh, from wild turkeys and grouse in the forest, and from the birds that come daily to devour seed and suet at her bird feeders. My sister sends me feathers from her African Grey parrot tucked in birthday cards and now are tucked in one of my hats. My Pagan friends, who also collect feathers, trade and gift feathers and wings to me. People started requesting specific feathers from me for use in their own spiritual practices – which I usually just happened to have. Soon, what started as an innocent collection turned into a role and, before I knew it, I had become the feather collector.

The Bone Collector

Of course it’s only natural for people finding feathers for you to escalate into people calling you to say they found a dead bird and do you want it and if not what they should do with it. Shortly after this you end up as the very eccentric witch whose freezer becomes a temporary morgue for panicking dead-bird-finding members of your local Pagan community. I was already looking quite strange enough leaving chicken guts on my roof for the crows of my neighbourhood alongside the usual feeders of sunflower seeds and beef suet. Without looking or intending too, I started to find dead birds as well – apparently the gods and spirits heard I was collecting feathers and wanted to give me more of a challenge to see what I would do. When life gives you lemons, or dead birds, you make something of it. I decided I would honour these sacred creatures, who I had held in awe as powerful spirits for so long, and do right by them. I became a bone collector: not one who kills things for bones, but one who collects the bones of creatures already dead (whether naturally or killed by another animal or a vehicle), and reverences them through burial or the crafting of sacred ritual tools. I had lived on a farm and was used to burying animals who didn’t make it and I had grown up in the North with fishing and hunting. I was a cook for many years and trained in butchery and preservation. I made the possibly controversial decision to delve into death work and taxidermy as part of my spiritual practice.

Owl Fetish by Sarah Anne Lawless

The birds that had been dead too long and were a danger to health were reverentially buried whole in the woods or in planters if their bones would be kept and cleaned.  Protected and threatened species were also buried whole to return to the wild forest they belong to; their bones left alone to turn to dust  and then to forest earth. Birds that had been dead only a day or two I processed like I would a chicken or turkey on the farm after first being frozen to kill any mites and other pests. After performing a ritual of release of the soul and smudging the little creatures with smoke, wearing gloves, a mask, and an apron, I kept the wings, tail fans, and some feathers from the body and put them between layers of borax, cornmeal, salt, or a mixture thereof to dry. If the skull wasn’t damaged I buried it with the rest of the body, in a ritual with offerings of the bird’s preferred foods, to be dug up months later for the bones which would then be whitened and sterilized in hydrogen peroxide for a couple of days before they were ready for ceremonial use. I met other collectors of bones and feathers and together we shared our rites and different practices of cleaning, preservation, and crafting. I felt a little less creepy and eccentric knowing there were others out there with a love and passion for birds who had also become bone collectors and ritual tool makers thanks to what was at first an innocent collection of feathers. Spending time with them was, and still is, dear to me and working together we found more birds and I amassed even more feathers.

The Ritual Tool Maker

What was I to do with all these feathers I had collected from childhood into adulthood? Some of you may be asking that very same question about your own feathers. Ever the practical witch, I knew I had to discover their sacred uses, their magico-religious history, and put them to work – for it is in the doing and the practice of magical things that I truly learn my art. I read every book and article I could get my hands on about ancient and modern ritual tools and ritual costumes. I looked at endless images of the sacred art of Animistic and Pagan cultures. And I found feathers everywhere: feathers buried as offerings to gods and spirits by the Native tribes where I live and by my ancestors across the pond in Scotland; feathers painted onto frame drums and cave walls; ancient art and sculptures of winged supernatural beings called psychopomps; feathers stitched onto the ritual robes, headdresses, and masks of shamans from the British Isles across to the Far East and from the Pacific Northwest down to the jungles of South America; feathers tied to shamans’ staffs, wands, drum beaters, and ritual pipes; and feathers crafted into fetiches and charms like dream catchers, spirit traps, and the handspun witches’ ladder curses of English and Italian witches. Wherever I looked I saw that I was not alone in holding birds as sacred and having strong desires to incorporate their feathers into ceremonial tools to be used in my magic and ritual. I was only doing what every other animistic magician across cultures and times  had done: surrounded themselves with feathers.

I took up charm making and ritual tool making becoming a skilled carver of wood and bone. I hung feathers from spirit traps, rowan crosses, and other charms of protection. I tied feathers to wooden staffs and wands I carved from sacred woods which I had ritually harvested in the forest. I started crafting fetiches of bird skulls, bones, and feathers for other magicians to tie to their staffs and beloved ritual tools. I hung feathers from ritual masks or painstakingly covered their faces in layers of feathers. I designed smudge fans of feathers and wings attached to handles of bone and wood. Most importantly, I began using feathers as tools in my own magic and ritual.

The Feather

Wood and Wing Smudge Fan by Sarah Anne LawlessI use a feather in my ceremonies to invoke the element of air in place of the usual athame, sword, or wand. The long and razor-tipped flight feathers are the best-suited to be used in ritual in place of an athame or sword for casting a circle and cutting it down again as well as to protect from and banish spirits and to cut energy as with a ritual blade.  Along with the feather, I use earth collected from the forest to invoke the earth element, local spring or sea water to invoke the water element, and a candle flame for the fire element. I find having all the elements themselves present in ritual over symbols of them leads to powerful experiences full of spirits, especially when I perform rituals outdoors.

For a simple prayer, breathe on a feather to activate and charge it and then whisper your petition or blessing across its surface. Set the feather free into the wind to carry it to the spirits like you would blow the down of a dandelion wish into a breeze.

A traditional offering to nature spirits is the feather down of a bird covered with red ochre or a red juice like pomegranate or beet, to mimic the blood that would’ve once been used, and left in a shallow pit in the earth. It is also an excellent offering to ancestral spirits and underworld deities.

The Smudge Fan

The smudge fan can be just a simple but beautiful wing or feather up to an elaborate tool with a wood, leather, bone or stone handle and sometimes carvings or gemstones. They aren’t just used for fanning the smoke of incense and smudging herbs – wing or feather smudge fans can be used to cleanse and bless sacred space for ritual in place of sweeping with a besom. Feathers and smudge fans can be used to energetically cleanse and heal people by running feathers over their body to sweep away what needs to be released or by using the feathers to control the flow of smudge smoke around their body so it touches and fumigates every part of them and their spirit, not overlooking the soles of the feet. Smudging with feathers can also be used to cleanse objects (talismans, ritual tools, statuary, etc), altars, temple rooms, an entire house, an outdoor ritual space, and even your car to cleanse and purify to remove any past or present negative influences, and, of course, to chase away any evil spirits.

The Staff

Magician's Staff by Sarah Anne LawlessThe staff is a symbol of the World Tree the bridge or axis between the worlds found in man cultures’ mythologies. It is used to aid in travelling between worlds acting as a shaman or spirit-worker’s horse to the Otherworld granting them the ability to travel anywhere between the upper world, middle world, and underworld. Not a literal horse, but a horse as in a symbol of transportation, in this case to the spirit world. Think of the staff as having your own personal World Tree or, at least, a key to the real one. Feathers are tied to the staff to symbolize wings and flight – the spirit-worker’s soul taking flight and leaving the body. Birds and the air element rule travel and communication and the staff is used to aid in communion with the spirit world and for one’s soul to fly there. Feathers and bells also just happen to look gorgeous streaming from a wooden stave on leather or ribbons maybe with your main animal guide’s head carved at the top or a fetiche of a bird skull with feathers tied to it… but I digress. Hold on to your staff when you invoke your gods and spirits, when you pray, and when you wish to stand between worlds and see and hear spirits. Tap your staff on earth, stone, or water to open doors to the Otherworld.

The Headdress

The shamans of many animistic cultures wear headdresses of feathers to symbolize their mind’s connection to their soul, the higher level of awareness and intelligence that comes with it, the attainment of divine wisdom, and to aid in their communication with the supernatural beings of the spirit world (2). To mimic this practice tuck a feather in your hair when meditating at your altar, when invoking spirits and gods during ritual, and when travelling between worlds. If you have short hair or no hair, hold a feather to your forehead over your third eye after charging it with breath instead. Another option is to craft a bird mask with feathers to use in your rituals of spirit work and shape-shifting. Or, to kill two birds with one stone, you could make a hooded feathered cloak for yourself.

The Feather Cloak

In my chasing down of animistic ritual tools I found feathered ritual costumes are common in shamanism around the world. The feathers are sewn or tied to clothing still symbolizing the shaman’s connection to the spirit world and ability to travel there. There are ancient Irish legends describing the feathered cloaks of shaman-like magicians, layer upon layer of white and black feathers covering hood and shoulders, and their spotted bird masks which they together used to leave their bodies and shape-shift into birds to travel far distances quickly, to spy on their enemies, and to travel to the Otherworld (3). Make your own feathered cloak by sewing feathers onto a wool cloak or ritual robe.

The Witches’ Ladder

A witch’s ladder, or witches garland, is a fetiche charm from folk magic and examples of its use have been found in England and Italy by folklorists in the late 1800s (5). This charm is thought to be traditionally used for cursing, but can be applied to blessing and other spell work too. It’s name gives away its purpose which is to allow the intent of the witch’s spell to “climb” to the spirit world via the feathers so it may be heard and manifest in our world. The process of creating one involves spinning a thick cord with feathers twisted into it during the act of hand spinning on a drop spindle. If you have no idea how to hand spin it is a common practice today to braid a witch’s ladder instead. In your magical working you can use any colour of thread and feathers to correspond to the purpose of your spell, such as peacock feathers with blue wool to protect from the evil eye or black chicken feathers with black wool for a curse. To stop the charm’s effectiveness you must unravel your spinning or braiding or throw the charm into running water.

Witch's Ladder by Sarah Anne Lawless

The Dream Walker

Now that I had my feathered ritual tools and knowledge of the sacred meanings and uses of feathers, it was time to work with them.  For me magic and ritual are mainly an internal thing. I do most of both in the Otherworld so the most natural next step for me was dreams. I am a dreamer. I dream of messages and the future for myself and others. I also practice dream walking: using dreams as a bridge to travel between worlds when one is between the states of consciousness and unconsciousness.  I go dream walking to speak to spirits but also to shape-shift and to fly. Feathers aid in all these things; feathers hanging from the dream catchers over my bed and feathers tucked under my pillow. I started dreaming of birds and feathers, of finding impossible large and soft Raven feathers, of grooming a family of thrushes, and of being surrounded by a council of owls. One of my most memorable dreams was when three birds native to the forest where I lived visited me. The messengers came to me together and gave me of their feathers; the softest silence of Screech Owl feathers, the jewelled blackness of Crow feathers, and the camouflage cloak of Red-Tailed Hawk feathers.

Screech Owl left its feathers on the stone wall of a cave for me. Owl is the messenger of the underworld. Owl belongs to Old Woman as the White Bone Mother, guardian of the gate and crossroads of the underworld. Owl serves her as messenger of death and psychopomp for the spirits of the dead. Owl is silent as a ghost; revelling in the darkness of night and its mysteries. Owl brings messages from her mistress and from the dead. Owl helps you to travel to and from the underworld safely and its ability to see in the dark can light your way in the blackest depths.

Crow Stang by Sarah Anne LawlessCrow shed its feathers for me on the green grass beneath the trees. Crow is messenger of the middle world. Crow belongs to Old Woman as the trickster witch-hag lost in the ancient woods. Crows are creatures of the daytime and scavengers eating the leftovers of hunters and warriors. Crows are not of death and darkness (though they follow it closely for scraps), but are tricksters, humour, curiosity, family, and fellowship. Crows are reflections and shadows of we humans. They are territorial guardians and watchers for the other creatures of the earth warning of dangers, predators, bad weather, outsiders, bad luck, and misfortunes. This is where their bad reputation comes from, but they’re just trying to help. Crow is messenger of the creatures and spirits of the middle world; of the animals, plants, wights, and elemental forces all around us every day.

Red-Tailed Hawk dropped its feathers for me from high in the sunny blue sky and they slowly floated down to my feet. Hawk, flying ever so high, is messenger of the upperworld and of is deities and spirits. Hawk belongs to the Sun and Mercurial spirits. Hawks deliver messages pertaining to the bigger picture, ones that will affect your life and your spiritual path. When hawk brings you a message it is time to borrow its sharp all-seeing eyes and fly high enough with its strong wings to view a situation or path from above and understand the full picture – the past, present, and future. Other times Hawk delivers messages to and from the gods and spirits of the upperworld. Belonging to the upperworld doesn’t mean sweetness and light though; Hawk is a predator and a warrior after all.

All three messengers belong to the crossroad and World Tree. Winged mercurial beings are they. Now, thanks to this dream, when one of the three come to me with news of the three realms I will know what kind of message they bring and from where and whom it comes. Now when one of the three comes for me I will know for whence we ride.

When you dream of finding a feather, or of a bird gifting you of its feathers, it can mean many things: that you need that magic or medicine of that bird in your life right now (or alternately that you’ve mastered their particular medicine), that the bird is offering to be a spirit guide, or that the bird has a message for you from gods or spirits. When you have such dreams pay attention to what specific species of bird the feather is from, where you found the feather, and what you do, if anything, with the feather in your dream whether it be actions, rituals, or the crafting of magical tools. To receive messages in dreams from your spirits or to have prophetic dreams, put a bundle of your spirit guide’s feathers under you pillow or mattress at night when you go to sleep. The feathers of underworld and water birds are the most-suited to this for their connections to the subconscious and the emotions which are linked to the dream world.

The Psychopomp

The psychopomp is a bird shape-shifting magician who acts as a guide or transporter of the souls of the dead. In my magical work with birds I had become a psychopomp of their dead with my rites aiding in the release of their souls to their underworld journey by treating them with love and reverence in death and by using their feathers to aid in the underworld journey of other spirits.

Psychopomps are a very ancient idea found in many different mythologies as magicians and supernatural beings. In myths, folktales, and legends around the world birds most commonly enact the role of messenger between our world and the spirit world, mortals and deities, the living and the dead. Many culture’s folklore describes birds as being the spirits of the dead visiting this world or travelling on their way to the underworld and so were held sacred because any bird could possibly be housing the spirit of one’s ancestor. Their role as psychopomps gives our feathered friends an association with the ancestors as well as deities – the underworld and the upperworld – death and rebirth. Further associations with this death-role can be found in myths of bird women harvesting the souls of the dead as the Valkyrie of the Norse, the Russian Rusalka, the Slavic Vila, the Greek Harpies and Sirens, all often associated with ravens and swans, who also share similarities with the Baobhan Sith, Badbh, and The Morrigan of the Gaels who are female crow and raven spirits associated with death and soul-harvesting. These supernatural psychopomps can often be found serving chthonic goddesses like the Norns, Persephone, and Baba Yaga.

I swear when I collect the small light bodies of dead birds, and carry out my funerary rites for them, that I can hear the flapping of wings following me and sometimes I wonder if they are the swan and raven wings of these psychopomp spirits or the deities they serve.

The Bird Woman

And so here I am still on my journey with birds surrounded by feathers, still ever learning from them of their languages, their behaviours, their omens and messages; still working with them to strengthen my practices of bone collecting, spirit-flight, dream walking, shape-shifting, psychopompery, and the creation of sacred ritual tools. My feather collection will never dwindle as, even though some I gift and some I turn into tools for other magical practitioners, my friends the birds will always lay more feathers across my path. Next time you pick up a feather on your journey through this life, I wonder, where will it take you?

References

  1. Andrews, Ted. Animal-Speak. Llewellyn Publications: St. Paul, MN, 1994.
  2. Eliade, Mircea. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Princeton University Press: Princeton, 2004.
  3. Harris-Logan, Stuart A. Singing With Blackbirds: The Survival of Primal Celtic Shamanism in Later Folk Traditions. Grey House in the Woods: United Kingdom, 2005.
  4. Illes, Judika. Encyclopedia of Spirits. HarperCollins: New York, 2009.
  5. Valiente, Doreen. An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present. St Martin’s Press: New York, 1973.

Appendixes

I. Disclaimer and Legal Note

Do not attempt to handle dead wildlife with your bare hands, especially if you do not know how long the animal has been dead. Animals can carry diseases and parasites that may be harmful to us if touched or breathed in and much care should be taken. Educate yourself and children about how to handle dead wildlife to avoid illness and legal issues.

Many migratory songbirds, raptors, and endangered species are protected and the possession of their feathers can be regulated or prohibited with penalties of fines and jail time. Permits for legally scavenging and possessing dead bird parts are given by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. In Canada  permits are dispensed by the Provinces’ individual ministries of wildlife and natural resources.


II. Caring for Feathers

Feathers found in the wilds, farms, and cities should be cleaned before being put to sacred use. I put feathers and wings new to my collection in the freezer first for 2-3 days to kill any mites or other unwanted pests. Some feathers may need a bit of washing to remove dirt and bird droppings. Gently wipe them with a soft, warm, damp cloth until clean and then carefully brush them back into place if disarrayed before leaving to dry. After being frozen and cleaned, put your feathers into a mix of borax and salt to sterilize and completely dry them; start with a layer then lay down the feathers on top and gently add another layer of the mixture so as not to harm the feathers to keep their shape. The feathers of wings should be fanned out before drying so the wings remain open. Some people pin the wings open on a wooden board and others weigh them down once spread open with borax, salt, or cornmeal or a mixture thereof. After a couple of weeks for individual feathers or a 1-2 months for wings, remove them from the mixture and carefully shake out and brush off all remaining particulates. Now your feathers are ready to use for magic and ritual.

Feathers can be stored in a vase or lidless jar of a suitable height. When your most sacred feathered tools wrap them in a cloth of a natural fibre such as linen, silk, cotton, or wool, and place them in a wooden box or drawer laying down. Cedar is an excellent wood for feather storage as it naturally repels insect pests, but you can also craft a sachet of cedar wood chips as well as other insect repellent herbs like mugwort and yarrow to store with your feathers and protect them. With proper care and storage your feathers might even outlast you.


III. Birds & Deities

  • Crow/Raven – Apollo, Athena, Baba Yaga, Badbh Catha, Baobhan Sith, Bran, Branwen, Lugh/Llew, Macha, Morrigan, Nephthys, Odin, and the Valkyrie
  • Crane/Heron/Egret/Ibis – Aoife, Ariadne, Esus, Frigg, Hekate, Manannan mac Lir, and Thoth
  • Dove – Aphrodite, Hera, and Yemaya
  • Eagle – Lugh/Llew and Zeus
  • Goose – Aphrodite, Hathor, Holle/Hulda, and Nicnevin
  • Hawk – Freyja and Horus
  • Owl – Ares, Athena, Baba Yaga, Blodeuwedd, Ereshkigal, Lakshmi, Lilith, and Santa Muerta
  • Peacock – Hera and Yemaya
  • Robin – Green Man, Puck, Robin Goodfellow
  • Swallow – Aphrodite and Freyja
  • Swan – Aphrodite, Brighid, Caer Ibormeith, Norns, Rusalka/Vila, and the Valkyrie
  • Vulture – Ares, Athena, Brighid, and Nephthys

Article and illustrations © 2012 Sarah Anne Lawless. Do not copy or use this article or its artwork without the express permission of the author.

hekate-ritual-bundle

Hekate Ritual Bundles

By | Charms and Talismans, Folk Magic, Witchcraft & Magic | 22 Comments

Cleansing the herb and snake specimens with palo santoSome believe that fetishes and medicine bundles belong to Shamanism or Vodou and Hoodoo alone, but Witchcraft and fetishism have long been mixed bedfellows. We need only to look at all the artefacts and charms in the Boscastle Witchcraft Museum to see this is so.  A fetish can be anything from a simple bird foot or skull to a more elaborately crafted doll, pouch, or bottle. It is any object believed to have its own spirit we can communicate with and work with in our magic and rites. As an animist I believe everything has a spirit – even the tools I use to contact other spirits. Because of this, fetishes need to be cared for, fed energy and offerings, and kept in a safe and sacred place when not in use.

This week I pulled out my leather, my sewing kit, and my specimens of poisons and bone to craft fetishes used to aid in working with the dark goddess Hekate. I cut up squares of raw black silk, laid them upon the pelt of a black wolf, and filled each square with specimens of mandrake, monkshood, yew, and snake skin and bones. I cleansed them with the fragrant smoke of palo santo and then tied them up into little bundles with black cotton thread.

Original crossroad sigils in black walnut ink

I’d been playing with creating sigils this past week and chose a simple crossroad and key sigil to include in the bundles. I pulled out my magical inks and my calligraphy dip pens and set to work. The symbol is meant to open doors between the worlds and to access the World Tree.

I stitched up pouches of softest black leather, folding the corners into the center and sewing them with black silk. I stitched a leather tie onto the corner of the flap to wrap up the bundle with. I cut slits into the pouches and laced more ties through them, adding bone skull beads to the ends and used the ties to bind antique keys to the bundles. I made the keys removable so they can be used in ritual.

Contents of the Hekate Ritual Bundles

Tucking all the specimens inside the bundle

Now that the pouches and their contents were ready, I carefully tucked all the sacred specimens and the folded sigil inside and then carefully and tightly wrapped up each bundle, tucking the end of the tie back into itself.

Wrap up the bundle nice and tight

And the bundles were ready, simple and elegant. They can be carried during ritual, whether it is for Hekate, the dark moon, or the ancestors and the underworld. They can be used to open a door between the worlds by laying out the the sigil with the key on top – in the woods, a graveyard, or on your altar. They can be carried, tucked in a pocket, or laid on an altar to aid in working with the dead. Whether these Hekate bundles are used for necromancy, transvection, or rites of the dark goddess, they will well serve the witch who keeps them with care and employs them often. I hope I’ve inspired you to create your own fetishes for your arts of Witchcraft. May the flame between the horns guide your hands in the forging.

Hekate Ritual Bundle

TO HEKATE

by Yakov Rabinovich from The Rotting Goddess

Pre-Christian, pre-Olympian, pre-Titanic Hecate
world-tree planted in Asia Minor
gate-guard of the worlds,
keyholder to the three reams,
gross seated mother, lions at your sides,
fostering nurse of all that’s young,
female heap of big fat attributes,
cruel, non-rational mistress
of slain corn-kings, sacrificed children,
castrated temple-males;

you glide into Greece after Troy’s fall,
Hecate-Enodia riding down from Thessaly,
leading the angry horde of ghosts,
planted yourself at the crossroads;
your torch began to smoke, then flared up,
making night noon —
world-tree Hecate, your roots reach Hell’s
downmost altitude to suck the power
of the buried dead. Eater of filth,
goddess of darkness, grimly silently
munching on corpses, Hecate,
regaled with incense of goat-fat, baboon-shit,
garlic; honored with gutted puppies
and rubbish rites;

Hecate, in your oakleaf crown shaking reptile dreadlocks,
around you hellhounds yowling sharp and shrill,
so meadows tremble, river-nymphs scream,
their waters rush backwards up the stream-bed
and dive affrighted down their own fountains;

with witches I dance around you,
naked, snake necklaced,
hair in the wind, gashing blood from arms:
sex-crazed hags with false teeth and hair,
young girls, gloriously pornographic,
stir the cauldron of ugly oddities,
throw in magic salads gathered in the graveyard–
a brew with power to draw babes screaming
into existence, or hurl them howling hence.
The witches lay hold of you, Hecate, World-tree,
shake, make tremble on your branches
the planets suspended
like rare and fragile fruit.