Category Archives: Festivals & Sabbats

forest-spirit-fest1

Forest Spirit Fest

By | Animism, Cooking, Ethnobotany, Events, Festivals & Sabbats, Herbalism | 44 Comments

The Shaman, the Poisoner, and I arrived at Raven’s Nest when the sun was at its height in the blue sky. As we set up our tents and the axe throwing targets, we quickly discovered how the camp site got its name; ravens circled with loud croaks and the flapping of their great black wings. The Poisoner croaked back, having a conversation with a particularly large grandfather raven. It was a pleasant discovery for all in attendance at the festival as Tynehead Park is in the middle of a booming, ever-expanding city.  Unlike crows, ravens do not like cities or people, preferring wild places. The park is likely one of the last hideouts for all the wild creatures that once spilled out over the land where rows of suburban houses and box stores now rule. We also learned many of the park’s serpent names are not coincidence either – there are plenty of snakes to be found! Tynehead is most well known for its Serpentine River full of salmon. The salmon have attracted black bears, coyotes, ravens, eagles, and all manner of smaller creatures creating a wonderful biodiversity which the city folk don’t seem to appreciate as they keep trying to remove the bears.

Caution Bears

Forest Spirit Fest kicked off with a tree walk through the park hosted by The Shaman (aka Grant) with me helping where I could. We were introduced to Alder, Hawthorn, Big Leaf Maple, Vine Maple, Western Red Cedar, Western Hemlock, Willow, Oak, Birch, Crab Apple, Bitter Cherry, Western Beaked Hazel, Black Cottonwood, and more. There were great old cedar stumps so big around it would’ve taken the group of us to hug them, logged long ago, but still intact and many were hollow so we could go inside. They would make excellent forts or fairy houses. The tops of the stumps were covered in opportunistic Western Hemlock and Red Huckleberry saplings as decaying Red Cedar is one of the best natural fertilizers in the forest.

Serpent's Hollow

As much as I am in love with all of the trees, there is a great English Oak hidden away in Tynehead Park and I’m glad we visited it on the tree walk. It is the biggest oak I’ve seen in my province as they don’t do well here. The ground is bare underneath its heavy branches which touch the ground, making it perfect for ritual and its perimetre is surrounded by its much smaller children creating a ring of oaks, a mini grove. The red-berried Hawthorn trees and the Oak are not native to the Pacific Northwest. Once upon a time, a century or more ago, Tynehead was the site of vast farmer’s fields. The farmer must’ve been from the UK or Europe as he brought Blackthorn and Hawthorn trees with him to use as traditional hedges between the fields instead of fencing. The great Oak must’ve been close to a house once upon a time, though it is long since gone. The forest was so cool and shady, it was a shock to come back to the hot and sunny open meadow of the camp site after the walk.

The Great English Oak

After the walk my wonderful friend and festival co-host Dianne hosted a discussion on making herbal elixirs and had quite the rapt audience, enjoying the shade and the forest. I wish I could’ve listened in, but I had to set up the site for the big event of the evening. There were a few surprises at Forest Spirit Fest that only close family and friends knew about. Before the feast that night, The Poisoner and I were to be handfasted surrounded by family and friends in a beautiful forest ceremony performed by my good friend Nikiah (many of you know her as the bee priestess, but she is also a professional wedding officiant at Red Moon Ceremonies). My family had flown in from Ontario and we had friends come from as far away as Vancouver Island, Washington, the Okanagan, and the Kootenays. The Poisoner and I’s hearts could have burst from being surrounded by such a large crowd of people who had only love for us.

My father gave me away with a big grin on his face and the ceremony started. Heads wreathed in hawthorn, the Poisoner and I first left an offering of whiskey, bread, and cheese in the trees for the outdwellers who were not welcome inside the circle. Then we left a similar offering inside the circle for the Ancestors. A skein of red wool was passed person to person and then wound around the altar to bind the circle and us inside it. The Poisoner and I walk around the inside of the circle to our elders and gave them hugs while they bestowed blessings upon us – some with humour and some with tears. The beautiful ceremony Nikiah had written then began.

She bound our hands with the handfasting cord and revealed our second surprise to the crowd: three cords spun together – one for me, one for him, and one for our baby – a pleasant but intentional surprise we discovered after we’d planned our handfasting. If you’ve been wondering why I’ve been quiet, not crafting as much, and seemingly ill, it’s because I’ve mostly been hiding in bed with not-so-fun morning sickness for the past few months. Surprise! Most people in attendance were!

Handfasting Collage

While our hands were bound Nikiah splashed us with fresh sprigs of wild sage dipped in water. She smudged us with a bird wing.  She had us light our egg-shaped hearth candle with a beeswax taper. She fed us blackberries dipped in honey and de-alcoholized mead from a traditional Scots Quaich. She spoke beautiful blessings to us both. Suddenly we heard the loud flapping of wings, and the huge grandfather raven flew low, right over The Poisoner and I, letting out a loud pleased croaked. We laughed in delight and thanked him for his blessing, a blessing from the ancestors. And then we jumped the broom (which we had forgotten, but luckily a friend had gifted us a beautiful one by chance that day). They say we jump the broom to sweep away the old and make way for the new, but really it’s a phallic symbol and in old European folklore, if a woman crossed over a broom, it was believed she’d get pregnant — too late!

Still bound, The Poisoner and I walk around the circle with an offering of chocolate heart cookies and delicious mead from a bull’s horn to all our guests. “May you never hunger, may you never thirst!” Many gave us their blessings and all gave us big smiles. And then it was done. “Time to feast!” I shouted to everyone’s glee. And feast we did – what a potluck! And what cakes! Both Nikiah and another very good friend of ours had made us cakes – four in total! It was a lucky thing though as we ended up needing them all to feed the crowd. Chocolate beet, spiced carrot, vanilla, and sponge cake.

The Handfasting Cakes

The tables were covered in green cloths and decorated with lanterns, canning jars full of wild flowers, and pots of every herb imaginable which my Auntie had brought. More lanterns hung from the picnic shelter, creating a soft glow at sunset. Jan lit the bonfire and we all celebrated by its warmth with food and drink and excellent company.

The next morning Nikiah hosted her honey bee workshop in a great bell tent decorated with red blankets and saris and goodies from her beehive.  The tent was packed to the gills with people who wanted to learn about the unfortunate plight of the modern honey bee as well as their importance, their sacredness, and their long history of coexistence with humans. It was a wonderful workshop, full of excellent lore, a delicious honey tasting, and a simple meditation.

After lunch Dianne, Seb, and I hosted a Pacific Northwest native plant walk also covering wild herbalism 101. We had quite the turnout! It wasn’t a short walk, but they were all troopers and we had them identifying plants on their own by the end. It was sad to see that many areas of the park had been allowed to be overrun by invasives like Himalayan blackberry and jewelweed, but it could’ve been worse. Even though it had been a very dry season and most flowers and fruits were now gone, we lucked out finding bolete mushrooms, nettles, herb robert, false lily of the valley, false solomon’s seal, skunk cabbage, some seriously prolific wild comfrey, as well as covering tree medicine and many edibles. Dianne’s forté is wild medicines, Seb is a pro when it comes to edibles, and I know a lot about traditional magico-religious uses of native plants. Between the three of us, we managed to fill in the gaps in each other’s knowledge resulting in well-rounded teachings.

When we returned from our plant walk we received another surprise. Catamara, the host of the Esoteric Book Conference had come to visit with a good friend of hers as she just happened to be in town that weekend DJing. It was lovely to meet more fellow occultists and we had some lively discussions before they had to run off to the gig. If you’re a bibliophile within driving distance to Seattle I highly recommend the conference. It’s affordable and entrance to the esoteric art show and book fair is free.

In the afternoon there was a discussion on home brewing, and distilling to make essential oils and hydrosols. At the same time was an informal fire-starting workshop. Jan taught the adults how to start a fire with a bow and drill and the Shaman taught the kids how to start a fire with flint and steel. No matter what age you are, I don’t think one ever tires of lighting things on fire.

Forager's Feat Appetizers

Fire Roasted Quails in Blackcurrant Sauce

That evening we had a truly impressive forager’s feast – a potluck of wild and local foods everyone had brought. There were moose burgers, venison and herb sausages on buns with mustard, fire roasted quails in black currant sauce, elk and juniper salami, wild boar salami, duck proscuitto, and a local cheese platter. There were homemade wild jams and pickles, salal berry muffins, piles of tiny wild plums, Seb’s amazing from scratch blackberry jello, homemade wild fruit syrups we made sodas with, and so much more. We ate until we were so full of meat we resembled a pack of wolves with fat bellies after having gorged on a deer. We socialized, drummed, and danced around the fire that night, the children cooking us marshmallows and delicious smores for desert.

In the morning, we woke up, ate bacon, and then began the take down and clean up of the site. It went faster than we could’ve hoped with all the campers pitching in. Seb and I took the wildflowers from my handfasting, a bottle of mead, and a pile of wild seed biscuits to a hidden, mossy and old Hawthorn grove Dianne had discovered and left them there as an offering of thanks to the genius loci of the forest for letting us share their land for the weekend. We all hugged and made our farewells and hit the road home. I was very sad to leave the forest and all the wonderful people at the festival, old friends and new. We had such a good time and received such good feedback that Dianne and I will host another Forest Spirit Fest next year, either in the same form, or at a bigger site with cabins and showers. The big difference will be that next year the Poisoner and I will be coming with a tiny new baby.

Tree Spirit in Tynehead Park

A Month of Magical Mischief

A Month of Magical Mischief

By | Events, Festivals & Sabbats, Storytelling, Witchcraft & Magic | 16 Comments

I have been gone for so long, in the woods, in the mountains, by waters fast and deep. It is all a blur now. Faces smiling and laughing and talking. Bodies swaying to drums by fire and star light. Our hair and clothes smelling of fire and smoke, earth and cedar. For once I am almost lost for words. My storyteller’s tongue was tied for days after while my mind and heart caught up with all that happened in the past month. Where have I been? It is spring, summer is a comin’ in and winter’s gone away-o. Where else do we untamed ones go when the sun shines and the earth is blanketed in green once more?

Where have all the witches gone?
Over hill and under stone.
You shall not find them inside a house,
but if you are quiet as a mouse
and walk softly on the forest floor,
you will find them at the otherworld’s door
by grove, sea, and crossroad, places of power,
working their magic at the appointed hour.
No, you shall not find them inside a home;
in the wilds is where they roam.

Beltuinn gifts for the Bear
Beltuinn is always a big event in my local community. We placed offerings of woods into the bonefire and invoked our gods. We poured the ashes of our dead and of 20 years of fires into the pit. The May Queen passed on her crown of flowers and twisted hazel wand. The Stag King was killed in single combat in the field before us all, naked, his body carried away solemnly by the men into the forest. The King is dead! Long live the King! The new Stag rides the maypole and hunts down his bride and they are wed. The twenty-two foot maypole is risen, the luscious redhead and I dug its entrance into the earth, the women crying out in pleasure as the men lower it into the pit. The colourful ribbons spill down and we dance, weaving the feminine and masculine together in spirit and song.

In the darkness of night we build a wicker man to represent our dead king. He is large and tall, the flames leap and devour him, rising high above our heads. The Bear looks at me and then runs and jumps the fire. He collides head-first with a morris dancer and his sharp staff. Blood into the fire and blood covering my hand, trickling down my arm as I hold the wound closed. Blood on the earth and blood on the leaves. The land isn’t satisfied with twenty years of dry wicker men. We dance, we drum, we drink blackberry mead and damiana liqueur. We massage each other with flying ointments of bear and bird fats. Cloven fruits are offered with mischievous eyes. We disappear into the woods. I come home blooded, broken, and bruised, my feet stained with sacred ashes and my dark hair tangled with leaves. I sleep and when I awake it is time to run away again, this time to a river surrounded by mountains for a large gathering of shamans.

The drive to the BC Shamanic Conference site is like entering another world, all ocean, mountains, and islands as far as the eye can see. The title of this year’s event is Return to the Forest and what a beautiful, blooming forest we returned to. The arbutus and the elders were in flower – white against green and red. So much love, smiles, and hugs upon arrival and it would continue on for the whole week. I was overwhelmed with love and my heart broke open. Such wondrous people come to this event each year.

The fire ceremony is my favourite ritual. If the local shamans had a god it would be Grandfather Fire. The lightning is called down until the flame leaps up and it is passed around and then placed in the sacred fire pit, decorated with spices into mandalas of red and saffron yellow. We are all given bundles of sacred woods to offer to the fire. “Grandfather Fire, I offer you the wood of the sacred cherry tree!” He devours the woods and grows bigger and bigger, hotter and hotter until it is unbearable to stand too close. We shout in celebration at his arrival. We drum and dance, breathe fire with rum, and pass around cigars, blessing each other with smoke and rolling them up the women’s bared thighs. Florida water and rose water are thrown in the air over us. We dance until we are covered in sweat and it boils from the heat. I pour red wine into the elder’s hands and he places them over my breasts and then covers me in powdered red cedar so it looks like I am covered in blood from cheek to navel.

That night I help the Wiccans put on their traditional NROOGD ritual and perform the tale of Cerridwen’s cauldron and the birth of Taliesin. A bridge is built between the Pagan and Shamanic communities. We are not so different. The shamans laugh and chant and spiral dance. They adore the greeting dance and kisses, eyes shining in the firelight. Fantastical animals hung from tall poles and people donning animal masks and costumes form a procession sunwise around the fire; raven, owl, heron, eagle, salmon, goat, bear… The people dance, leap, and mimic the animals they bear.

A First Nations hereditary chief came down from the mountains in the north to speak to us, to build a bridge of his own. His voice was loud and strong, his purpose clear. It didn’t matter how much he once disliked us and our ancestors for taking the land and destroying families and tribes. We are all destroying our world and he wants his grandchildren to have a future and knows we must all work together for it to be so. Don’t we all want the same thing? For there to be a planet of beauty and kindness left for our descendants? He beat his drum and sang louder than I had ever heard anyone sing like the inhuman song of a mountain or a rushing river.

I taught of the traditional ritual entheogens of Europe titled “Rediscovering Ancestral Plant Wisdom“. I taught why and how they were used by our ancestors and why and how we should use them today. I took away fear, hoping to replace it instead with respect and reverence for belladonna, datura, henbane, mandrake, monkshood, mugwort, wormwood and yew. Many had never heard of or used these plants before. At the end of the lecture and discussion I gave them a choice of smoking mugwort or using an ointment of mandrake or wormwood and then we all lay down in the warm sun while my friend Nikiah beat her drum. We went on a plant journey to meet the spirit of the plant and to seek its wisdom, sharing our experiences after. I was in awe of what a good reaction I received from everyone, how detailed and vivid their journeys were, how they felt the strong pull to work with plant spirits.

My friend Nikiah taught of sacred beekeeping and told us to listen to the message of the bees. We are destroying nature and the bees have been trying to show us. We need to listen and make things better for them, for us, and our children. We listened to a recording of the inside of a beehive, we inhaled the deliciousness of beeswax and the smokey vanilla sweetness of propolis resin, we tasted honeys, propolis tincture, bee pollen, and mead, and we bathed ourself in honeyed water. We journeyed to meet the bees and received wisdom and advice.

I went for a long hike deep in the woods along the river with Michael Dunning. He is a dark Scottish pixie full of fire and mischief. I named the plants and trees for him as we spoke of magic, initiations, our communities, our lives, and our shared connection to Scotland the sacred Yew tree. The air was sweetly fragrant with balm of gilead resin in the air and false lily of the valley low to the ground. I saw its broad leaves rustle and reached in to the darkness, pulling out a large, fat american toad. I have never seen a toad so big. I released it to the leaves and river-wet ground once more. We took it as a good sign. At the end of the conference, the Bear gifted Michael the yew and wolf bone ritual blade we’d made together. A fitting gift for such a teacher.

I lost a dear family friend while at the conference and so Christina Pratt’s ancestor ritual held very deep meaning for me. That day and all that night it poured rain for the first time all week. Pouring down tears of the dead, tears of the descendants. I let out all my sorrow and grief, burning it in the fire and cooling it with soothing water. We all dressed in white, faces painted white, and became the dead — the dead to our descendants so far ahead of us in the future. Beautiful mandalas of white powder around Grandfather Fire decorated with branches of cedar and white tea lights. We sang sweet songs in Gaelic, hands over our hearts, and then we drummed and we danced in joy becoming the living once more. I stayed up late talking softly by the fire with good people.

I came home with mead poured over my feet and rosewater down my back. My hair smelled of tobacco and woodsmoke and the hem of my dress soaked with water and earth. I did not sleep the last few days of the conference. I stayed up so late each night not wanting it to end, dancing or smoking damiana and rose petals with others. I went home with my heart and soul beaming love from all I’d received and I shared that love with my mother and grandmother on Mother’s Day when I returned.

Lake Sasamat

I blinked and it was time to head once more into the woods, this time to Lake Sasamat in the mountains for the Gathering for Life on Earth Festival. Many times we danced around the fire by the lake to drumming under the stars. Many times we hid under the porch by a smaller fire, laughing and talking, the lovely Kerri playing her fiddle. I remember the men and women, naked, painted each other with red ochre and blue woad and how the men carried a bull skull and the women a horse. We processed to the fire, to the lake and we invoked the Dagda and Macha into the skulls. We danced and we sang, faster and louder until a painted warrior fiercely drove a sword into the centre of the fire at the climax. We ran to the dock and lept into the cold waters of the lake, shouting and laughing, the blue pigment disappearing from my skin. The sword stayed in the fire all weekend long, eventually bending and twisting, like the ancient swords found in bogs left as offerings by our ancestors, until we let it slip into the lake showered with milk, ale, barley, pollen, and flower petals. The Coru Cathubodua recited a prayer for peace, prosperity, sovereignty, good actions, happy children, happy land… It was beautiful, like a cool salve on an angry wound.

I remember the men and women splitting up for the mystery rituals. The men shapeshifting and teaching brotherhood, the women calling the Queens of old to find the power within ourselves to be warriors in our lives, to be strong, to know we are not alone. I cast the circle with my bear drum and a booming voice. We invoked Hekate to be our gatekeeper and guardian, burying offerings of honey, spirits, pollen, and flowers for her in the earth at the foot of the altar of rocks and rotting logs covered in the she-wolf hide and mare skull. We passed a cup of my strawberry liqueur and invoked the Queens long dead, following the river of blood back through time to speak to them. We spoke blessings for each other, for ourselves, and for our descendants. We danced with weapons around a fire to the beat of drums – some with daggers, some with swords or spears, and others with axes. We howled like wolves and owls. Some women cried, some women laughed. We left the circle, heads held high for each and every one of us is a Queen. We walked toward the lake to meet the men. We sang them songs of beauty and of the moon and met them, each sex standing in a line facing each other. The women sang to them a chant of Thorn’s: “We are beauty and we are darkness. We are light and we are change.” Then we looked at each other in silence for a moment, the moon and stars in our eyes. “Attack!” I shouted and, much to their delight, we showered the men with kisses.

There was axe throwing and archery, bellydancers, musicians, and then all strange manner of vendors and fortune tellers at the goblin market – some trading rune and tarot readings or goods for songs and memories instead of money. There were temples consecrated to Aphrodite and Pan, gods and ancestors invoked, and many an offering to the spirits of the land and the lake buried and poured on stones. It was the simple things I loved most: swimming in the cold lake with nymphs and the honey covered kisses by the fires at night. It was both chaotic and beautiful. I have much love for my community and the magic that happens when we all come together. I came home smelling of elderflowers, honey, cedar, mud, and lake water. I do not wish to wash my clothes now, for how they smell of forests, fires, and flowers, but soon will come June and summer and more adventures.

serpents-eggs

Of Serpents, Eggs, and Spiral Dances

By | Festivals & Sabbats, Folk Magic, Witchcraft & Magic | 11 Comments

Brighid and the Cailleach's altar

My friends arrived from all over the Lower Mainland (witches, heathens, mystics, thelemites, hermetics, shamans…) for my Imbolc ritual Sunday afternoon. I’d decorated the hall, with its view of the forest, by setting up an altar for Brighid and the Cailleach strewn with evergreen branches and budding Indian Plum from the woods flanked at each side by wolf and bear hides. Brighid had a bottle of spring water and the Cailleach a bottle of melted snow. Brighid’s had bull and deer skulls and Old Woman a large bear skull and shed deer antlers. I surrounded both with candles and offerings.

Although Imbolc is often associated with Brighid, it equally belongs to Old Woman. I thought it best to include her and leave her offerings lest we end up with a situation like Briar Roses’ parents and the uninvited dark fairy in Sleeping Beauty. As my Scots ancestors associated this festival with serpents in their form as land spirits, we performed a snake-themed ritual with spiral dances and egg offerings.

Serpent of the Year

My friend and elder Fritz visited last week and explained to my friends and I that he saw the wheel of the year not as a wheel, but as an undulating serpent. The solstices and equinoxes are very hard to find exact dates for without scientific equipment, but the cross quarter days are easy; you can see the days lengthen or shorten and feel the heat or the cold change. Samhuinn is when we notice the days are shorter and darker – we know winter is coming and the spirits of the dead with it. Imbolc is important because it is when we can first notice the days getting lighter and longer again after the darkness of the Midwinter. This alone causes the spirit to lighten and hope to spring, but here in the Pacific Northwest there are also buds on a few early trees and the green shoots of cold-hardened plants popping up, revealing the earth is still full of life.

Deer skull and juniper

We circled before the altar and I cast a caim around us with my Rowan wand and an incantations derived from the Carmina Gadelica:

“Dark is yonder town and dark those within.
We will go as the white swan,
kings and queens among them.
We will go in likeness of stag,
in likeness of serpent,
in likeness of bear.
Stronger will it be within us
than within all people.”

I smudged everyone with burning cedar, juniper, and western hemlock. I blessed some water with evergreen needles and a silver ring and had everyone dip in their fingers and cleanse themselves while the drummers beat out a tune on their djembes and frame drums. We passed around the drinking horn filled with a good, blood-red wine. The drummers moved to the middle and we spiral danced around and between them chanting “earth my body, water my blood, air my breath, and fire my spirit.” Around and through we wove and spiraled and undulated like a serpent’s body, dancing, shouting, singing, stomping… Then we rattled and drummed and shouted some more, making all the noise we could to wake up the sleeping land spirit under our feet. Everyone knelt on the floor and we slapped it with our open palms, creating rhythms while calling to the land:

“Today is the day of Bride;
The serpent shall come from the hole,
We will not molest the serpent,
Nor will the serpent molest us.”

Offerings for the spirits

Around Imbolc is when many of the ancient Pagan cultures had a festival to say farewell to the dead. With the light returning, it is also time for the dead to return to their dark realm. All the women took up brooms and we swept the floor of the hall, sweeping the dead out the door. Behind us came bearers with offerings from the altar of organic tobacco, milk, honey, and whiskey which we left at the roots of a fir tree outside the door. The dead were now the outdwellers with offerings to appease them, still loved, but no longer free to roam the realm of the living.

Offerings for the Rowan tree

Lastly, everyone chose an egg, delicate and raw. We whispered our wishes and dreams and healing blessings through their shells and gently placed them in a basket lined with soft hemlock branches. Those who were willing to brave the rain followed me into the forest for a pilgrimage to the old Rowan tree near the dirt crossroad. Through brambles, bracken, and fallen branches we went; like a trooping fairy rade.  Everyone helped to carefully tuck the eggs at the Rowan’s roots along with apples and a great pomegranate (the raccoons will surely love us). Then back we went to the hall to join the rest and feast, drink hot tea and coffee, and drum and dance some more. We licked Nikiah’s honey off our fingers and devoured smoky bacon chips and homemade treats.

It was a beautiful and magical day with friends and I feel so blessed to have such a community of people.  Thank you so much to Lynda who took all the photos because I forgot my camera at home!

Slàinte mhòr everyone!

Eggs at the roots of the Rowan tree

Related Posts:

Western Gate Samhain Festival

Western Gate Samhain Festival

By | Events, Festivals & Sabbats, Necromancy, Witchcraft & Magic | 10 Comments

Driving into the Okanagan

Last weekend I hopped in the Shaman’s truck with Mel and Kerri and after meeting up with more friends we all drove up North together to the Okanagan stopping in Hope to have lunch with Huntress and Thicket along the way to the Western Gate Samhain Festival. Once we reached the dry sagebrush steppe we pulled over hoping to harvest some pungent wild sagebrush but only found the much less fragrant yellow rabbitbrush which the two shamans harvested and wrapped into smudge wands right away to dry. The sky was big, the clouds dramatic, and the wind chill with the bite of winter.

Harvesting Yellow Rabbitbush by the road

We arrived in Kelowna in the late afternoon at a lovely old Unitarian Church near the lake with a large labyrinth painted onto its beautiful hardwood floor. We helped set up the space for the Celtic concert that night and then everyone sat down for Amelia Hogan’s Gaelic songs workshop. We had a bit of trouble with the pronunciation, but eventually we began to sound harmonious singing together in Irish Gaelic.

The concert started off with the gorgeous voice of Kerri Joy accompanied by her violin and guitar. She sang bawdy, dirty songs that had people dancing and also haunting songs causing goosebumps and shivers. Then it was Amelia’s turn to sing traditional Irish songs of sorrow and joy with the help of Brendan Myer’s voice and guitar and Kerri’s violin. It was a night of simply beautiful music. After the concert all the musicians sat in a big circle with drums, guitars, banjos, violins, keyboards, rattles, and all manner of instruments, jamming together to create lively tunes. It could have been cacophonous with so many playing, but instead it was amazing with everyone getting up to dance to the inspired music.

Lovely ladies dancing to the musicians jamming

Bright and early the next morning was the opening ritual of beautiful liturgy inviting the Beloved and Mighty Dead to come and be with us for the weekend and join in our celebrations. Afterwards I hosted my workshop on ancestor worship teaching everyone how to practice it within their own comfort level ranging from family shrines to raising the spirits of the dead for necromancy. Everyone shared their stories and practices with one another, fleshing out my own material.

Main Festival Altar

The main festival altar

My little table of witchy wares

My vending table of altar pieces, illustrations, and flying ointments

Altar for my ancestor ritual and bone throwing divination

Right after my workshop we jumped into an ancestor ritual. I had everyone spiral down to the gates of the underworld asking Owl to open the door and guide the dead to us that we may ask for their blessing and give them offerings. Everyone passed around the bowls of honey, holy water, strawberry vodka, and tobacco which we then gifted to the ancestors, burning a small amount of each on the charcoal. One thing our own Pagan ancestors most commonly asked of their dead was news of the future – who would die, have children, get married, what the weather would be like, and other such questions – and so I asked the ancestors to answer our questions through the throwing of bones.

Offerings of honey, water, alcohol and tobacco for the ancestors

Burning incense and a black candle for the dead

I taught everyone a simple form of bone throwing to answer yes or no questions based on divination with Saxon wands. There was one large bone aligned North to South representing the World Tree with the right side of the bone being masculine and positive and the left side being feminine and negative. Three long bones meant yes and three shorter ones meant no. Before each person threw them, I had them hold the six bones in their hand, think of their question, breathe onto the bones, pull one out without looking, and then cast the bones over the large World Tree bone. Then I interpreted each person’s casting as simply as I could. Both my workshop and ritual seemed to be a big hit and I am very thankful for everyone’s feedback.

Altar to the Morrigan

After lunch Morpheus, with the help of Moon and Amelia, gave a talk about working with the goddess Morrigan, followed by Brendan Myers talk on the Pagan roots of virtue. That evening the priesthood of Coru Cathubodua performed a ritual evoking the Morrigan with a Gaulish chant they’d taught us earlier. Morpheus drew her down in a possessory rite; her breath heavy, screaming, her pale eyes like fire, her voice husky and loud unlike her normal voice, soft and sweet. Some were scared, but everyone held strong. The Morrigan called us all to be heroes, to act heroically in our lives for ourselves and others. She called our bloodlines to us, going back into the far reaches of time – all the heroes that came before us. Together, in a room of seventy that was truly thousands upon thousands, we blessed a sword to be offered to the land in order to bring back sovereignty to our land and its people. The Morrigan left, we grounded and rested.

At night we feasted with our dead, singing to them, eating with them, and toasting to them with home brewed mead. After the feast, in the dark of night, we all lit our lanterns and made the walk to the lake in a long procession to bring a bone bundle blessed by us all to the lake to release our dead to the underworld journey. Some of us sang and chanted, dancing wildly. We received quite the looks from the muggles walking by on the street – some staring, some trying not to, and children dancing along to our songs and drums.

Lantern procession along Okanagan Lake

When we arrived at the lake there was a fire dancer waiting for us, dancing with fingers aflame, spinning fire, and breathing fire to our drumming. When everyone arrived the Shaman spoke his piece and through the hide-wrapped bundle of bones into the lake where it promptly disappeared instead of floating as bones are wont to do.

Fire Dancer at the lake for the lantern procession

Coru Cathubodua honouring the ancestors at the lake

Coru Cathubodua Priesthood honouring the ancestors by the lake

Back we walked to the Unitarian Church, playing music and dancing until we had no energy left and all disappeared to our various hotels and homestays to sleep. The next morning we returned and Brendan, grinning mischeviously, took me to Morpheus and told her he’d found someone to offer the blessed sword to the lake. They’d been looking for someone born in British Columbia with strong ties to it to throw the sword as many had come from far away or were born elsewhere. Surprised, I agreed, and again we all made the procession to the lake, this time in the grey light of morning to the bird sanctuary at the end of a rocky point. I threw it with all my might into the deep waters. It was done. We all walked back to the hall for more talks and workshops – this time on environmental awareness and the origin and crafting of crane bags.

The closing ritual was hosted by the Druid’s Hearth — a beautiful ending to an amazing weekend. Words cannot express the importance of community and the love and joy that everyone experienced. I am so grateful to our host Andrea for organizing the festival and pulling together such an amazing crew of presenters, ritualists, musicians, and volunteers. It was hard to go home without that lovely community coming with me. I hope this event continues on in future incarnations as it was truly something.

Lake Okanagan

Festival Info:

Presenters:

writing-teaching-news2

Writing & Teaching News

By | Artwork, Events, Festivals & Sabbats, Herbalism | 9 Comments

My article in Witches & Pagans MagazineBesides being incredibly busy and trying to stay sane, I’ve also been up to various projects for publication and scheduling workshops and rituals for 2013. After having a crazy day, I was more than delighted to find my copies of the new Witches & Pagans air issue in my mailbox.  I wrote and illustrated an article for it titled “The Girl Who Found a Feather: A Journey into the Magic of Birds” exploring the mythology of birds and feathers as well as how to incorporate feathers into magic and ritual. Considering my bone collecting, you must have guessed my own feather and wing collection is quite massive… They are the ritual tool I use the most with my bear and deer drums running a close second.

I was also delighted to read the humourous article “The Magic of ’63: In which Goddess-palooza turns out to be a ‘civilized religion after all” by my good friend, local elder, and Pagan academic Fritz Muntean (some of you may remember him from The Pomegranate). He smashes preconceptions of early neoPaganism’s roots in North America (as he was there making our history) while also making us laugh at ourselves.

The Magick of Air issue is now available for purchase or download here: BBI Media Store

My article and illustrations in Witches & Pagans Magazine

In other news I somehow managed to snag a presenter’s spot for next year’s Medicine of the People (formerly known as Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference) hosted by Kiva Rose in Arizona. It’s a wild celebration of Western herbalism, folk medicine, animism, music, and wonder. Two of my workshops were accepted and so I will be teaching a class on animistic herbalism and another on crafting bioregional incense.

I was invited to host the main ritual for The Witches’ Sabbat at Raven’s Knoll outside of Ottawa, Ontario July 2013. It will be a Luciferian-themed ritual in honour of the horned sabbat lord and fueled by wormwood — absinthe, ointment, and incense.

As if that weren’t enough, my workshop proposal for next year’s BC Shamanic Conference was accepted (after being voluntold to submit one). This year’s theme is “Return to the Forest” and I will be teaching a workshop and ritual called “Rediscovering Ancestral Plant Wisdom” (aka teaching the shamans how to use European psychoactive plants). Registration is already almost full for my class, so if you are interested – register now! It’s a pricey conference because it’s a week-long with heated cabins and fully catered, but you only need to pay $50 minimum to register and the rest can be done in installments. My friends Nikiah, Seb, Fritz, Mel, and Grant (aka “The Shaman”) will also be presenting workshops and rituals and the international presenters include Finnish bear shaman Christiana Harle and Michael Dunning of Yew Shamanism.

This weekend I’m off to the Western Gate Samhain Festival in Kelowna, BC to teach a workshop on ancestor worship and to host an ancestral ritual afterwards. Friday there’s a Celtic Concert and Jam with three talented performers and the rest of the weekend will be full of talks, rituals, and community magic. I hear there’s still a handful of tickets available, so if you’re within driving distance – go for it! Did I mention Brendan Myers and Morpheus Ravenna (from American Mystic) will be there?