It doesn’t take a witch to utilize the purifying power of smoke. In fact, the fragrant scent of smoke created by incense has a long history that goes back thousands of years. Throughout its history it has been used to mask the sometimes-odorous scent of human habitation; to purify sacred or religious sanctuaries; to carry prayers; chase away malevolent spirits; to elevate meditative states; or for healing purposes. So greatly sought after were the ingredients for incense that a network of trading routes linking the Mediterranean world with sources for exotic spices, barks, seed, flowers and resins from throughout Northeastern Africa, India and beyond, flourished between the 7th century BC and the 2nd century AD.
There are two types of incense- You are probably most familiar with combustible incense that is made up of an aromatic material (natural and/or artificial) combined with a combustible binding material and is shaped into cones or rolled onto sticks. Noncombustible incense is made up of loosely ground aromatic plant material, resins and/or essential oils that releases its smoke when sprinkled onto a hot ember (typically an incense charcoal tablet) in a censor or a heat-proof container. What’s great about noncombustible incense is that it’s easy to make, you’re in control of the ingredients and you can specialize in blends that fit your intentions.
Before you begin make sure you have a few simple tools:
A mortar and pestle (or an electric grinder)
Measuring devices so you can easily replicate your blends
Journal or index cards for recording recipes
Jars for storage
Below is a list of a few common tree resins, essential oils and other plant-based materials used in making incense to get you started- or you can try out some of my recipes listed at the end.
Allspice: Dried berries from trees in the myrtle family native to Central and South America. Its spicy aroma lends well to blends for luck, energy, mental clarity and prosperity.
Amber: Fossilized pine resin which has a camphor-like scent. Most on the market today are not true amber. Used in incense to draw love and healing.
Benzoin: Dark brown with an antiseptic scent, benzoin is a resin from the bark of trees in the genus Styrax. Use for clarity, purification and prosperity.
Cedar: I use cedar tips from our local Western Red Cedars- but wood, bark or leafy material may be used from any variety of cedars. Use in incense blends for calm, spirituality, healing and denoting sacred space.
Copal: This resin from the copal tree is seen as white, yellow or pale orange in color and has a piney-citrusy scent and is native to the Mexico and Central America. It is used for incense for healing and purification. Copal has been used in religious and magical ceremonies in the America’s for thousands of years and is a great replacement for Frankincense in incense recipes.
Basil: Popular in cuisine worldwide, some 35 species of this aromatic herb are native to central Africa and Southeast Asia. It’s sweet-spicy scent is used in blends for improving memory, to cleanse and purify and to induce calm.
Bay: Another pantry staple, Bay leaves are from several trees in the Lauraceace family native to Southeast Asia and South America. They can be used in mixes to promote healing, sharpen psychic abilities, protection and purification.
Bergamot: This favorite essential oil of mine comes from beautiful small flowers with a minty-lemony fragrance that can be used in mixes for prosperity and wealth and to promote mental clarity.
Clove: Dried flower buds from the small bushy trees of Myrtaceae family native to the Moluccas Islands and Indonesia, their intensely spicy scent works well in blends for strength, love, protection purification and prosperity.
Cinnamon: The inner bark from several varieties of trees of the genus Cinnamomum grow in Sri Lanka, India and Burma. Cinnamon sticks or powder can be used in creating blends and are found in your local grocery store. Use cinnamon in mixes for courage, love and prosperity.
Dragon’s Blood: Resin from the fruit of the Clamamus draconis climbing palm tree, dragon’s blood has been used in ritual for thousands of years in India. With it’s strong, spicy scent use in blends for love, purification, strength and meditation.
Frankincense: From the resin of the Boswellia tree, frankincense has a woody, spicy scent that may reduce anxiety and aid in sleep. Frankincense can also be used in mixes for purification, grounding and cleansing.
Juniper: A common ingredient in Tibetan incense, the berries, bark and wood of this member of the Cupressaceae family have a calming and relaxing effect and has been used to sharpen mental clarity, protection and to raise spiritual energy.
Lavender: This Mediterranean favorite is easily attainable and the dried flower buds or essential oil can be used in creating incense blends. The smoke of lavender creates a calming peaceful atmosphere and can also be used in mixes for loving vibes, to induce sleep, meditation, purification and healing.
Mint: This popular and prolific herb native to Europe and the Middle East, can be used in mixes to aid in meditation, stimulate mental clarity and aid in psychic awareness, for love, peaceful vibes and to aid in sleep.
Orange peel: Dried Citrus can add an uplifting scent to your incense blends and can be used in blends for mental clarity, luck, joy, or to raise energy.
Patchouli: This earthy scented favorite works well in blends for money, sex and physical energy.
Pine: The essential oil or resin (plant material can be used also) is typically from the species Pinus sylvestris. Can be used as a substitute for copal or frankincense in blends and is used for healing, cleansing, strength and grounding.
Rose petals: The lovely dried petals of the rose can be used in incense blends for love and healing and to promote a peaceful vibe.
Rosemary: A popular woody perennial herb from the Mediterranean, it can be used in mixes for peace of mind, luck, to stimulate mental clarity, protection, healing and to designate spiritual space.
Sage: Aromatic evergreen shrubs of the Salvia family, traditionally used by Native Southwestern North American tribes for use during sweat lodge ceremonies. Use in mixes for cleansing, promoting spirituality, increased memory and healing.
Sandalwood: The rich and mysterious scent of this wood is widely used in religious incenses. It is used in incense for healing, spirituality, protection and exorcism.
Thyme: with a warm, slightly bitter scent, the leaves of this small woody herb of the Labiatae family lends well to blends for health, healing, strength and purification.
Vanilla: the warm scent of vanilla adds calming vibes to any mix. Also add to mixes for love, mental clarity and to soothe anxiety.
Ylang-ylang: Oil from this beautifully scented flower that is native to the Philippines is easily accessible and can be used in incense for love.
Time to Unwind (blend for calm or meditation)
1-part lavender buds
Heart of a Dragon (blend for courage)
2-parts dragon’s blood
1-part cinnamon bark
Love Spell (blend for loving vibes)
1-part rose petals
1/2-part cinnamon bark
A few drops of ylang-ylang essential oil
Lucky Me (blend for luck)
2-parts dried orange peel
1/2-part ground nutmeg
A few drops of vanilla essential oil
¼ part lavender
¼ part patchouli
Warrior Blend (strength and courage)
2 parts dragon’s blood
¼ part clove
¼ part cinnamon
Images courtesy of Acorne photography
Black Salt is a staple in any witch's arsenal. Used for protection, banishing pesky unwanted spirits (or guests), ridding bad habits and/or negativity and hex breaking, this is something I always have on hand and it only takes minutes to make.
You will need:
Equal parts Sea Salt and
Charcoal (I use alder because of its association with protection, strength and battle)
Mortar and Pestle or
Rolling Pin and a Plastic Baggie or a Coffee Grinder
Commonly used for lending a smoky flavor to meats, fish or cheese, alder chips can be picked up for just a few dollars online or anywhere barbecue supplies are sold. If you have alder growing in your neighborhood, gather a few dropped branches or ask the tree to gift you a few branches.
Burn the wood down in a wood-pit, barbecue, fireplace or wood stove until you have lovely blackened charcoal. Let cool for 24 hours.
(Remember- You don't have to use alder, you can always use wood from a tree that resonates with you.)
Use your mortar and pestle, a coffee grinder or (as I like to do because it's cleaner) put the charcoal in a baggie and use a rolling pin to reduce the charcoal to ash.
Now take equal parts ash and sea salt and mix.
That's it! Bless it in your own way and store in an airtight container.
In August, we will use our black salt to make mini Witches Protection Bottles- so stay tuned.
Nature is my church- so when I enter the bower of my sacred forest, I like to take with me simple, easy to transport supplies for ritual. One of my must haves is a small, portable altar that looks lovely, keeps everything together and ensures I'm not catching the local flora on fire.
They can also be used as part of your home or garden altars- and if you choose to give your leaf a 'cupped,' shape, they can be used as containers for your crystals or other magickal supplies- you are only limited to your imagination! A word of caution- these are not intended to be used for food- nor are they dishwasher or microwave safe. That being said- here's how to make them!
Altar Leaves Supply List
This will make two 6x8 inch (ish) leaves
4-5 parts fast drying cement (I'm using Rapid Set Cement All)
1 part water
Acrylic craft paint (your choice of color- I like brown or black to give it an aged patina)
1"-2" soft-bristle paintbrush
Some kind of sealer to protect your creation- (I am using Modge Podge for this demonstration- but a nice spray-on sealer works great)
A bag of sand
Plastic garbage liners
Fresh leaves (Leaves that work best are cabbage, hosta, rhubarb, pumpkin, elephant ear, gourd, cucumber, fig- basically any leaf that has good veining and a lot of substance so it can hold up to the casting process)
In my photo you will notice a mole hill. This is not only a demonstration of a fun project- but a lesson on how to take life's lemons and make lemonade. Mole hills in my yard are not a favorite of mine- but I'm going to be utilizing them to help mold my leaf castings. If I didn't have mole hills in my yard to use for this project, I would be laying out a garbage liner and using the sand from the supply list to mound on top.
When shaping your mound, keep in mind that this will determine the inside slope of your leaf. If you want it cupped (like a traditional leaf casting for a bird bath) you will want a rounder mound. If you are a making a flatter casting to use as a small altar, flatten out the mound. I like to give it a slight curve because it looks more natural.
After you have formed your mound, place another plastic liner on top. Place the leaf so the underside of the leaf is showing.
Put on gloves and mix the rapid drying cement and water a little at a time until you get a brownie-batter consistency.
We are working with quick drying cement- so you will want to work quickly. Start pressing the cement on the center of the leaf making it about 1/2" thick and tapering down to about 1/4" .
Let your leaf set for about 30 minutes to dry. When it feels solid, lift up from the mound and gently peel away the leaf. Let cure for 24 hours.
After it has cured for 24 hours, Use a 1 or 2" soft bristle paintbrush to paint the entire surface of the leaf. Make sure to really press the paint into the veins. Now quickly use a damp rag to wipe off the surface of your leaf. We are wanting to give it an aged appearance- so leave paint in the veins and on the edges. Remember- you don't have to use this painting technique- Be creative. When you are finished painting your leaf- let dry completely.
Use a brush on or spray on sealer to give your creation a little extra protection.
Bless it in your own way and enjoy.
Close your eyes, if you will, and try and visualize the perfect magickal garden space. What did you see? A formal garden with perfectly trimmed topiaries and rose bushes that encircle your ritual space. How about an old-fashioned vegetable garden with a pumpkin patch and a scarecrow? Maybe you visualized yourself sipping herbal brews in an English cottage garden or studying up on spell work in a tropical garden where the scent of jasmine bewitches you. And still, others may visualize an amazing herb garden just steps from their kitchen- or a gothic Witch’s garden tangled with mystery and secret knowledge.
What about desert inspired gardens? Where the element of fire sets our hearts ablaze or a shady woodland setting where faerie energy can be felt just under the fern fronds and moss makes a cool carpet for our dancing feet? There is also something enchanting about a snow-covered landscape that sparkles under moonlight- reminding us to take the time to tend the garden that is our inner self. Gardens are as varied as the Witches who tend them- be it an amazing array of potted plantings on a balcony or a field of wild flowers- the most important aspect of your magickal garden is that it feeds your soul.
Connection with our Ancestors I have written a lot about seed saving and plant sharing because I feel it is not only an important way produce food that is better adapted to your region, but to connect us with our ancestors. Be it a cutting from your grandmother’s prized rose or seeds that have been passed down for generations, for me, part of the magick of my own garden is that it’s a place where I can feel my ancestors near me.
Another way to connect may be more ‘historical’ in nature. Take a look at an old grimoire, receipt book or an herbal almanac- Are you drawn to these plants because of their medicinal/historical or magickal values? Growing your own magickal plants is a great hands-on way of learning more about the craft and connecting with long gone hedge-witches and cunning folk who walked between the worlds in days gone by.
Connection with Nature Being a part of life’s process helps us to understand that our connectivity with nature is truly a symbiotic one- We lovingly tend to the earth to grow our own food, which in turn helps sustain us. Flowers, shrubs, trees or water features that we add to our landscapes are not only beautiful, but provide food, water and shelter for other creatures, attract pollinators, and provide oxygen.
As magickal practitioners you may notice more faerie activity. The blessing of nature spirits are abundant when we are in sync with our natural surroundings.
Earthing (grounding) Being in contact with the earth has calming effects that may lower stress and help improve sleep. Magickally, it helps to balance and equalize the flow of energy and avoid negative side-effects unbalanced energy can have on your spell-work. Plunging your witchy hands into the soil is a great earthing technique- in fact, recent studies show that there is a soil microbe called Mycobacterium vaccae which has the same mood enhancing effect as anti-depressants.
Bare footing is another way to make that contact with earth’s balancing energy. Wiggling your toes in fresh upturned soil or walking on fresh spring grass are great ways to ground and create a sense of ease.
How about tilting your face to the breeze? Let the element of Air blow away negativity and stimulate your creativity.
Balance your energy by dipping your feet in a stream, lake or other body of water. Dance in the rain or simply sit by a garden water feature and let the trickling sound of water cleanse and equalize your spirit.
Sense of Accomplishment As I look at the jars of dried flowers and herbs that line my witchy pantry, I can take pride in the knowledge that I cultivated my magickal ingredients myself. I like knowing what went into the cultivation of my garden- everything from the compost that the seeds are propagated in- to the astrological timing of when they were sowed and the moon phase of when the plants were harvested is all under my control and contributes to, not only the success of my plants, but to the success of my spell crafting.
You can customize your magickal herbal needs. What are your magickal needs? Would you like to make your own smudge sticks? Adding white sage to your garden sounds good. Maybe you want to work with lunar energy- how about growing lemon balm, gardenia or willow. Okay- maybe you just want something simple like- the all-purpose Witches herb, Yarrow. No problem. Growing your own means you can customize your garden to fit your needs
A place for meditation and ritual. This is your sanctuary. Learn to take advantage of focal points, such as a favorite tree, vine, water feature or view that soothes you. And learn how to create a sense of safety and enclosure to make your ritual space comfortable and maybe give it just a hint of mystery.
Make Your Own Pagan Prayer Flags
Here is a fun project that will add a little whimsy to your magickal garden space. And the best part, you don't need a sewing machine.
You will need:
4-5 Fat Quarters 18"x21" (colors or patterns of your choosing) These can be found in the quilting section of any craft/hobby or fabric store.
2- 4 yards of ribbon or twine (depending on how long you want your flags)
2 yards of black felt (I like to have plenty to work with in case of mistakes)
Pinking shears or scissors (I use pinking shears to control fraying- this will leave your flags with a zig-zagged edge)
no-sew fabric glue (look for water-proof if you live in a wet climate)
Lay out your fat quarters. These will make four panels each that end up roughly 9"X10". You can use up to three of each color for your panels, but hold one out and cut into 2" strips. these will be used as the streamers that go in between the panels.
Once you have all of your flag panels and streamers cut out, make sure to iron them so they lay nice and flat and set aside.
Now for the creative part! Use the black felt to cut out a symbol that resonates to you for each flag panel. This is a good time to get the kids involved and let them help with the designs or the cutting (if they're old enough). Don't get stressed out if you're feeling artistically challenged, cut out bold, simple patterns like moons, stars, cauldrons or simple representations of the God and Goddess. You don't have to mess around with Celtic knots if you don't want to.
Once you have all of your felt pieces cut out, lay one on top of each panel- make sure they are centered, and then using the fabric glue, glue onto the panels and let dry for a couple of hours.
When the panels are dry, it's time to attach them to your ribbon or twine. Lay out your ribbon (you might want to use plastic sheeting or newsprint to lay under it if you're worried about getting glue on carpeting) and place the flags and streamers in a manner that is pleasing to you. Remember to leave enough room at each end for tying.
Glue each panel and streamer in place and let dry overnight.
Is there anything sweeter than a young child tucking a homemade faerie dwelling beneath the shade of an old tree, surrounded by ferns and sweetly scented violets?
This was a past time all three of my children and I took part in every single spring. The bases of our faerie homes began their lives as milk jugs, juice cartons or plastic garden pots- but by the time we were done embellishing these discarded items with forest treasures such as, twigs, moss, leaves, stones, cones and flowers found scattered across our property, they were works of art that were fit for... well, a faerie!
It was my youngest child, Chloe, who wanted to work magickally with the spirits of nature- and she was a natural, so I didn't want to discourage it. But faeries are spirit beings who have a moral code very different from our own, and when offended, can become very, shall we say... mischievous. This can difficult for children to understand, especially for someone (like my daughter), who feels at ease with their particular energy. So, after a bit of research and consultation from a friend who was very experienced with working with the spirits of nature, here is a lists of dos and don'ts for mixing kids with the Fae:
My Faerie Garden Favorites
Honeysuckle: A beautiful climbing plant with trumpeted flowers. Use in spells for prosperity and psychic powers.
Fern: There are thousands of varieties that can grow in many different habitats. They are an enchanting to choice to add charm to your faerie garden. Use in magick for protection, luck, prosperity and rain making.
Columbine: An old-fashioned perennial that is a faerie favorite. In magick, use columbine for love and courage.
Forget-Me-Not: Their ting flowers grow in clusters of blue, white and pink flowers. According to folklore, these flowers have the power to unlock secret treasures guarded by the spirits of nature. Use in magick for love and devotion.
Foxglove: A classic faerie plant that if planted by your door, provides protection. Also use in magick for divination.
Pansies: A merry little flower that will add charm to your faerie garden, and it is said, attracts parades of trooping faeries. Use in magick for love and focus.
Working with the Fae can be rewarding for both you and your children. And remember, if you're lucky enough to wake up one night to the tinkling sound of bells and ethereal voices softly singing, you have pleased the faeries and you are truly blessed.
For more information about raising a magickal family in a modern world, check out: The Magickal Family:Pagan Living in Harmony with Nature.
Be Thankful for Who You Are
"The sun grows weary and autumn's chill breath clings to the alder and maple. Children chase tumbling leaves under a Harvest Moon as the last canned goods are stored. The hearth calls to me... Time to rest." (The Magickal Family)
Autumn equinox (or Mabon) is upon us. During this time, day and night are once again equal, and we (as Pagans), celebrate the second harvest (or the Witch's Thanksgiving). For most of us who work the land, this marks the end of our harvest season- and with all of the labor done, it's time to celebrate and be thankful.
At our home, the Witch's Thanksgiving is celebrated in true Martha Stewart style. September is typically one of our driest months in the Pacific Northwest, so we set up our traditional feast under a large maple near the Sauk River complete with candles and buckets of sunflowers.
Our feast includes what anyone may find at a traditional Thanksgiving meal- but there is one rule we abide by, and that is everything prepared must contain local or homegrown ingredients (flour and sugar are my exceptions).
A fun project to share during your Mabon feast with visiting guests, or the little ones in the family, are Poetry Masks. These masks are made to wear as an artistic expression of who we are on the inside- conveying the message that our inner qualities are more important than our physical appearance. And there's nothing better to be thankful for than what sets us apart from the rest of the world.
You will need:
1 white cardstock or plastic mask per person
Ribbon or a Popsicle stick (to secure the mask if using ribbon or to glue on the bottom as a handle if using the stick)
Fine-tipped permanent markers (black plus any other colors for decorating)
Decorations: colorful feathers, sequins, plastic jewels, natural material, glitter, felt... you get the picture
Before the fun of decorating, use the black marker to write on the mask quotes, words, song lyrics, or poetry that describe you in a positive way.
Now for the fun! Use those craft supplies to create an artistic picture of you. Are you a true nature baby? Use leaves and twigs or small cones to show your style. Maybe you love the water- how about small shells and scales using shiny paper.
When your done, attach your Popsicle stick to the bottom or punch holes on each side to tie ribbon.
The example I made (pictured below and modeled by my daughter, Chloe) is pretty low-key. But I think it describes me quite nicely. I used words, symbols and a few herbs that express me magickally and creatively.
After everyone is done, hold them up (or tie them on) and try this blessing:
This mask I wear portrays the potential in me,
A symbol of the beauty I want everyone to see.
As I say these words, help me bloom and grow.
Let me be an example to others- as above, so below
(Poetry Masks and other great ideas can be found in "The Magickal Family: Pagan Living in Harmony with Nature" published by Llewellyn Worldwide)