Magical Buffet Mythology: Tlazolteotl

by Rebecca
illustrated by Will Hobbs

I like duality deities. I don’t know why, I just do. Perhaps it’s just true, opposites attract. All those creation/destruction deities just float my boat. So you can understand how excited I was when I discovered Tlazolteotl.

Tlazolteotl is the Aztec goddess of purification and filth. She gets you dirty, she gets you clean. Dirty, as in disease, dirt, and vices like gambling or adultery, and clean, as in steam baths and forgiving disease caused by misdeeds, particularly of a sexual nature (wink, wink). Tlazolteotl is a patroness of adulterers and midwives. I like this lady, she’s loaded with opposites! She inspires desires and forgives you when you indulge in them. Nice, right?

Tlazolteotl is sometimes depicted wearing the skin of a human sacrifice, a headdress that has a spindle of cotton, and carrying a grass broom. Other times she is naked and squatting, as if giving birth.

Through a priest you can confess your sins to Tlazolteotl, who will forgive them (she is known as She Who Eats Sin). There is a catch, unlike in other faiths that feature confession, you can only confess to Tlazolteotl once in your life. So you had better save it for a real doozey or when you’re very old!

The Nature of Reality

By Bob Makransky
(This essay originally appeared in the May 2009 Magical Almanac Ezine. Used here with the author’s permission.)

It’s difficult to understand what magic is without understanding the nature of the self and reality. This is not an irrelevant question which is best relegated to Philosophy 101 – meaningless, empty talk which philosophers debate about endlessly to no purpose. Rather, understanding what the self and reality really are cuts to the very heart of magic. It’s a question of everyday life, of where we focus our moment-to-moment attention. It is by scrutinizing this question and not allowing themselves to be fooled by superficial appearances that magicians obtain whatever advantage they have over most people, not by supernormal powers. It’s a sad commentary on the state of our society that the antics of so-called celebrities, and the latest fashions, buzz-words, and gadgets, are much more important to most people than the questions, “Who am I?”, “What am I?”, and “What the hell is going on here?”

A fundamental principle of magic is that reality – what we experience when we are awake – is but a specialized form of dreaming. Dreaming came first evolutionarily, and being awake is a later adaptation, rather than vice versa. We believe that what we experience when we are awake is real. However, it is also true that we believe that what we experience when we are asleep is real – at least while we are still dreaming. It is merely the belief that what we are experiencing is real that makes it real. This seems to be a very difficult point for people to understand. We indeed create our own realities. There is no outside reality impinging upon us, in spite of superficial appearances to the contrary. What we experience as the outside world, or reality, is no more real than the dreams we had last night.

Why then does the world that we experience while we are awake seem so real? This is due to our constant thinking, our constant inner dialogue, which holds our waking reality together for us. If our self-referent thinking stops, so too does our reality.

If you objectively examine the contents of your inventory of habitual thoughts you will discover that most of them consist of thoughts of glory – receiving approval and approbation from other people, and shame – hatred of your looks, your actions, and your feelings. Glory and shame are two sides of the same coin: the me-me-me coin. If you stop thinking these thoughts, then the “me” – the sense of a separated, continuing self who is alternately exalted and debased – ceases as well. When this lower self collapses, so too does the so-called real world.

There are other societies, magical societies, in which people don’t think as much as we do. The reality the members of these societies experience in their daily lives is more magical than ours is. The world of the Mayan Indians of Guatemala is a good example. Freidel-Schele-Parker, in their book Maya Cosmos, contrast the Spanish and Mayan world-views through their respective descriptions of the decisive battle in which Pedro Alvarado defeated Tecun Uman, the leader of the Kiche Mayans, on February 22, 1524:

“According to Alvarado, this was just another battle among many. In a letter to Cortez, he said that several thousand Kiche warriors approached his troops while they were taking a break for food and water. They let the Indians close the distance. Then they attacked and routed the Indian army, pursuing them until they were trapped against a mountain. … He mentioned that one of the Kiche chiefs was killed, but he did not even record his name. The Kiche account is told as if a totally different series of events had unfolded.”

The Kiche Mayan version is a battle between the magic and gods of the Mayan Indians and the magic and gods of the Spanish: the Virgin Mary and her attendant angels. In the Kiche version, Tecun Uman assembled an army of 8000 warriors to oppose the 700-man Spanish army, then he used magic to transform himself into an eagle and flew against Alvarado, but “he could not kill him because a very fair maiden defended him; they were anxious to enter, but as soon as they saw this maiden they fell to the earth and they could not get up from the ground, and then came many footless birds, and those birds had surrounded the maiden, and the Indians wanted to kill the maiden and those footless birds defended her and blinded them.”

Whose version of the battle is correct? The Spanish themselves credited their God and the protection of the Virgin Mary with their stunning victories against overwhelming odds, even if they weren’t able to get the same visual take on the thing that the Mayans got. Modern historians, whose worldview is even less magical than the sixteenth century Spanish view, try to explain the outcome in purely materialistic terms. From the magicians’ point of view, none of these views are correct; or rather, they all are, because people create their own realities based on what their social training and personal experience of the world have led them to expect. The reason why most modern people experience so little magic in their lives is because they’ve trained themselves to be closed-up and insensitive, and to expect life to be routine and dull.

Our constant thinking, and the customary moods and concerns which this thinking conjures up, is a screen which keeps our intuitive perception of the world under wraps. Without this screen the world becomes vivid and magical, teeming with life and meaning. My book Magical Living describes a simple technique for following feelings and for opening ourselves to the magic of the world. When following feelings we shift from the closed-up mindset of thinking awareness into a state of enhanced awareness in which we can feel what plants are feeling, sense emanations of power from the earth, interact with spirits, and so on. The world of enhanced awareness is a world of constant surprises and delight. However you couldn’t balance a checkbook or interview effectively for a job in this state. The point is that what blocks our magical perception of the world is our fear; and our anger; and our fear of our anger; and our anger at our fearfulness; etc. etc. That is our constant inner dialogue. This is the reality which most of us have created for ourselves.

In actual fact, there is nothing out there whatsoever. Reality actually consists of nothingness. Any reality which we perceive is our own invention: a gloss over the basic stuff of the universe, which is void. The Buddhists call this Shunyata, or emptiness. It’s sort of like the fact that a movie is actually colored celluloid with light passing through it. Now if we can go one step further and imagine that even the colored celluloid and light don’t exist either, then we’ve got a picture of what’s really going on. God doesn’t exist; the universe doesn’t exist; existence doesn’t exist. This happens to be the truth; but since truth doesn’t exist either, we may as well just let the subject lay.

Magic, in fact, is the only logical, reasonable, rational worldview since it is completely illogical, unreasonable, and irrational. An important principle of magic is that magic is a false view of reality, since reality can’t be viewed. It cannot be comprehended with the mind, by thinking. It can, however, be glimpsed with the feelings, by direct knowing.

It is important to understand what the self really is if we expect to understand what reality is. The myth of a separated lower self – a body – and the myth of an external reality arise together. These are two ways of looking at the same basic falsehood. In actual fact we are not separated from the world, and the world is not outside of us.

What fools us is our linear view of time. We mistakenly believe that things happen to us, and then we react to them. For example, first we get laid off from our job, and then we feel depressed and helpless. However from the magical point of view, the decision to feel depressed and helpless is primary – is made “first”. The getting laid off is conjured up “later” to justify our feelings of self-pity. Face it: there are lots of options – feelings we could conceivably feel in any given situation. For example, if we get laid off we could just as easily feel relieved, glad that one’s over, hopefully looking forward to a new career. The choice to feel self-pity about what happens to us is always a free choice.

The choice to feel self-pity at the things which happen to us – as if we didn’t bring them to us in the first place – is what creates the illusion of a separated self at odds with an outside reality. What we consider our self is just self-pity. Since this point is the entire basis of magical training, it bears repeating: the lower self is nothing more than self-pity, and when self-pity is eradicated the lower self dissolves also.

If we’re going to understand this point of view we have to get over our prejudice, which is all it is, about time being linear. The fact is that time is not linear. Survivors of near death experiences often report having seen every single event that ever happened to them during their lives flash by them in no time at all. Sometimes they report seeing everything that ever happened to them zip by, but still being able to see each scene discretely, in a few seconds’ time. Others report seeing each individual event of their entire lives in one, complete take. In any case, it would seem that we experience the thought forms of our lives twice: once in linear fashion over a lifetime, and then in a non-linear fashion at the moment of death.

This idea that time can be non-linear is easiest to see in dreams. Dream time is sequential, but not linear in the same sense in which waking time is linear. Dream time doesn’t have the same cause-and-effect inexorability that waking time has. This is because there is less importance in dreams, so everything is more here-and-now. We don’t feel moods and concerns as acutely in dream time as we do when we’re awake because we don’t think so much. Things happen too fast and too intensely in dreams to dwell upon. Everything is just too vivid and too now.

Infants and young children are basically doing what we adults would consider dreaming even while awake. Being awake – and our sense of linear time – are something we learn as we grow up. That’s why it seems to us that childhood lasted forever (while we were still children): because our sense of the passage of time wasn’t yet fully formed. Linear time is a byproduct of our ability to think.

In life-threatening situations, such as while we are having an automobile accident, or during a big earthquake, time slows way down. We can see everything that is happening with great clarity, in great detail, as if it were unfolding in slow motion. This slow motion perception of time is closer to the truth. It is more like dream time perception and less like our normal, everyday, gloss-over-things-quickly-and-superficially perception of time. However, we are incapable of acting in the normal way in this slow motion perception of time because we can’t think. If we are going to act or react in this frame of mind, we can only do so on intent, on our gut-level instinct, not on thought. Therefore the slow motion perception is not as useful in performing all the humdrum tasks of everyday life as is normal time perception; but it is the more useful form of perception in the practice of magic, where decisions have to be made faster than normal thinking allows.

When time slows down enough we lose our sense of separated selfhood and move into altered states of consciousness. Indeed, “timelessness” is how people usually describe such states. Altered states can occur due to shock, psychedelic drugs, or even spirits. Some spirits have the power to temporarily erase our self-pity so that we experience a state of selfless grace. Enlightenment is such a state – people who are enlightened can move into and out of timelessness and selflessness at will, by focusing their attention one way or the other. But even enlightened people don’t exist in a state of nirvana all day long. They have normal lives to lead too, and altered states are not particularly functional in everyday society.

Normal, everyday life is the battleground, the place where the real work has to be done, the place where it all begins and ends. Altered states can be inspiring, can give us a glimpse of the goal we are shooting for, but they are always temporary. The goal is to bring an awareness of timelessness and selflessness into the routines of our everyday lives. We do this by detaching from the self-important, self-pitying me-me-me with its endless fluster of moods and concerns.

The essential tenet of magic is that you create your own reality. This means that the things which happen to us are attracted by our moods and concerns. It’s only by controlling our moods and concerns, our thinking, that we can control our reality. Of course, this is a lot easier said than done. Our moods and concerns have a tremendous momentum of their own. To turn back that tide means to literally rewrite our personal history and to let go of the past; to release our expectations and let go of the future.

There are ways of doing this. One technique in particular, recapitulation, involves reliving our memories to discharge the energy pent up in them. There are also many other techniques for self-transformation. These usually take years and years of dedicated practice before we start seeing concrete results: controlling our realities by controlling our moods and concerns, our moment-to-moment thinking and moods.

The purpose of Creative Visualization is to take a short-cut to creating your own reality, without all the years of work. Creative Visualization is described in detail in my book Thought Forms. The point is that the difference between the magician’s reality and most people’s reality is that the magician makes a thoughtful, informed choice of what his or her reality will be. Most people, on the other hand, accept willy-nilly, unquestioningly, the version of reality inculcated by their society – their parents, teachers, church, government, academia, and the media. Neither is right or wrong, it’s all Shunyata, emptiness; but one choice leads to freedom, and the other leads to slavery.

About the author:
Bob Makransky is a systems analyst, computer programmer and professional astrologer. He lives on a farm in highland Guatemala where he is a Mayan priest and is head of the local blueberry growers’ association. Check out his free downloadable Mayan Horoscope software, free downloadable Planetary Hours calculator, free downloadable Primary Directions / celestial sphere mathematics textbook, complete instructions on how to channel by automatic writing and how to run past life regressions, articles, books, stories, cartoons, etc. etc. at www.dearbrutus.com.

Drawing Down the Spirits

Are you ready to have your mind blown? Seriously, are you looking for a book that will force you to confront and/or reevaluate your thoughts on the very prospect of God or Gods themselves? Then you must, I repeat must, get your hands on a copy of “Drawing Down the Spirits: The Traditions and Techniques of Spirit Possession” by Kenaz Filan and Raven Kaldera.

Where to begin? First, I like the authors’ honesty and straight forward nature. There are ample texts out there that study the phenomena of spirit possession, the cultures that practice it, etc. Most of it is written from a perspective of trying to dissect it, to figure out why practitioners believe it’s happening and what’s really going on. This makes for intriguing reading. The authors here make it clear that this is not that kind of book.

The metaphysical preconceptions underlying this book are quite simple. The authors believe that possession is a real phenomenon; we also see the spirit world(s) as a real place, and that at least some instances of possession involve the displacement of the horse’s ego by an outside entity. We acknowledge scientific method as a useful tool, but we do not limit ourselves to this method, nor do we believe it can explain all possessions.

(These guys would get along with LeShan and his theories on the study of the paranormal.)

So with that out on the table by page 34, you might be inclined to think that “Drawing Down the Spirits” is going to become an odd how-to book, or a long winded retelling of first hand experiences. Boy howdy would you be wrong!

The book opens with a fantastically well written, in depth look at the history of spirit possession. This involves a retelling of the history of Spiritualism, Edgar Cayce, Madame Blavastky and Theosophy, and JZ Knight and Ramtha. This all leads into a geographical history lesson in spirit possession that covers Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Oceania. I would gladly have purchased this book for the historical overview alone.

What follows is a compelling look at everything from what constitutes a genuine possession to cosmologies to safety tips to seriously, anything and everything you could ever want to know about spirit possession. Really, anything.

This book presents itself to the reader as a practical look at the phenomenon of spirit possession, and it is, but what really appealed to me was that it is impossible to read “Drawing Down the Spirits” and not spend some time thinking about your thoughts and relationships with God and/or Gods. Hidden within this informative, straight forward text, is a philosophical discourse that is fascinating. Once you open this book, you’ll find it hard to put down.

10 Questions with Alaric Albertsson

1. First, clarify for my readers, you follow the path of a Saxon Pagan. What are the Saxons? Does this differ from Celtic or Nordic paths?

Both “Saxon” and “Anglo-Saxon” are collective terms for the Germanic tribes that immigrated to Britain from the 3rd to 6th centuries. Their language and culture were similar to those of the Norse, although there are distinct differences. As Brian Branston points out in The Lost Gods of England (Thames and Hudson, 1957), the Saxon god Woden appears vastly different than the warrior-god described in the Norse Eddas. The Saxons were unrelated to the British Celts, although both cultures almost surely adopted some customs from each other.

2. What drew you to the spirituality of the Saxons?

This has been a long, spiraling journey for me. The first Pagans I met invoked Saxon gods and goddesses in their rituals. That was back in 1971. Over the years I explored and experimented with many expressions of Paganism, but I kept circling back like a moth around a flame. Buckland’s The Tree, a Saxon variation of Wicca, came out in 1974 and drew me back to the Anglo-Saxon gods, but it wasn’t what I was searching for. I believe that my gods – Ing Fréa in particular – have guided me over the years in my quest to reclaim Saxon spirituality.

3. What made you decide to write a book?

You’ll have to blame Christopher Penczak for that. Several years ago, while we were both at the Between the Worlds gathering, Christopher encouraged me to write a book about Saxon spirituality. At first I was hesitant, but after I played around with the idea for a while I realized that I wanted to write a book for people like myself – for that boy who was looking for guidance in the early 1970’s, and for those like him who are looking for guidance now. That’s when I began to seriously write Travels Through Middle Earth. And Christopher has been supportive and encouraging throughout this entire epic adventure. He has become a dear friend.

4. Your book is called “Travels Through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan”. What is the connection between Saxon spirituality and Tolkien?

Professor Tolkien’s stories were inspired by Saxon spirituality. His fictional wizard Gandalf was modeled after the god Woden, so if you’ve seen the movies you have a pretty good idea of Woden’s personality and nature. His elves and dwarves and orcs are incarnate personifications of Saxon spirits. The names and entire language used by the Rohirrim is Old English. And “Middle Earth” itself is simply the Saxon term (middangeard) for the physical world we live in.

I do think it’s important, though, to distinguish between Tolkien’s novels and true Saxon spirituality. Gandalf is a powerful being in The Lord of the Rings, but he is not a god. Woden, who inspired the character of Gandalf, is the leader of the Saxon gods.

5. Geek question! Who’s your favorite character from the Lord of the Rings books?

I would have to say the hobbits of the Fellowship, all four of them: Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin. They weren’t grand and flashy, and they had a hard time fully comprehending the events unfolding around them, but through it all they remained loyal to one another. Characters like Aragorn and Legolas were noble heirs, but the hobbits were plain folk, loyalty to each other with no thought of glory or reward.

6. I know it’s a waste of question, but I just want to say I’ve never consumed or even considered mead, but now that I’ve read a whole chapter of your book dedicated to it I totally want to try some.

Be sure to try a few varieties. “Mead” is as broad a term as “wine” and can vary as much as Dom Perignon does from Mogan David.

7. What challenges do you see facing the Pagan community? How can the community resolve those issues?

I think the biggest challenge we face – and we have been challenged by this for as long as I’ve been Pagan – is a tendency to believe in One True Path. Face it, most of us are still first-generation Pagans, and part of our baggage is the One Way Syndrome. I believe the central defining quality of Paganism is, or should be, an acceptance that there are many gods and many paths. My way is the best way for me. It may not be the best way for you. Superficially we all seem to agree with this, but on other levels I constantly see people behaving towards others in ugly, judgmental ways.

8. Where can someone learn more about Saxon spirituality? (After they’ve read your book, of course.)

For an enjoyable read I highly recommend Brian Bates’ The Real Middle Earth (Palgrave MacMillan, 2002). And although it’s a bit dry, the classic is Branston’s The Lost Gods of England. You might also want to check out Galina Krasskova’s Exploring the Northern Tradition (New Page, 2005).

9. What’s next?

You probably noticed the topic of magic was limited to one brief chapter in Travels Through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan. That was intentional. I believe too many Pagan books today place an inordinate emphasis on magic. I believe there is a hunger for alternative spirituality that doesn’t necessarily involve casting spells or raising power. So my first book focused on developing a personal spirituality, with only a cursory look at magic.

My current project is tentatively titled Wyrdworking: The Path of a Saxon Sorcerer. This is the magic book. But I sincerely hope readers who want to explore runes and worts and galdor will first build a solid spiritual foundation with what I’ve presented in Travels Through Middle Earth.

Initially I’d planned to write a separate rune book that would be sold with a deck of Anglo-Saxon rune cards. But Llewellyn turned down the card deck, and I don’t think I can sell a book about runes when the runes themselves aren’t available (the Anglo-Saxon runes have nine more characters than the commonly sold Elder Futhark runes). So I’m mashing the rune book together with the magic book. I’m pretty excited about it. Wyrdworking will be packed full of useful material for the aspiring Saxon sorcerer.

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.

Where can I find a publisher for a very nice deck of Anglo-Saxon rune cards? The man who did the art work for the deck has put in countless hours to ensure that each card illustrated the meaning of the relevant passage in the Anglo Saxon Rune Poem. I really want to see this deck eventually reach its intended audience. Maybe one of your subscribers has the answer?

One place you might want to contact is US Games, they publish loads of awesome decks (many of which get reviewed here on the website). Also, you could always save up some cash, maybe find a few investors, and publish the deck yourself. Thanks to the wonders of the world wide web, you can reach an international market fairly easily.

About the Alaric:
Alaric Albertsson is the author of “Travels Through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagon”. To learn more about Alaric visit his website.

No, No, It’s Not October

As you may remember, last October I profiled Breast Cancer Action’s “Think Before You Pink” campaign. I had every intention of doing that again this October, and probably will, but something has come to my attention that can’t wait 4 months, it can’t wait four weeks, four hours, or four minutes.

Let me attempt to sum up a complex issue. What it comes down is this; corporations can hold the patent rights to genes. I found it a bit concerning when I learned this was being done with regards to food (you know, a corporation holds the patent on a gene to some super corn or what have you) but I became alarmed when I realized that a single corporation holds the patent rights to the human genes linked to cancer. Seriously, I can’t make this shit up.

What does it mean for a single corporation to hold the rights to the genes? Well, for starters, any science lab, university, or outside corporation has to pay Myriad (the corporation with the patent) for access to the gene for testing and experimentation. That makes it harder and more expensive for research to be done by anyone other than Myriad. Also, because they own the rights to the genes, they also own the rights to certain tests. This means it’s difficult to impossible for a woman to get a second opinion with regards to the test results.

It means research is limited and access is expensive and difficult to get. I’m not a scientist, but I suspect this all falls under the category of “Bad Things”, unless you’re a scientist working for Myriad, in which case, rock on.

Fortunately, the “Bad Girls of Breast Cancer” are on the job! Breast Cancer Action has joined up with the ACLU to file a lawsuit challenging the legality of patenting “human breast genes”. As far as I’m aware, Breast Cancer Action is the only breast cancer organization that has taken to arms against this dangerous situation.

If you would like to help, I encourage you to visit Breast Cancer Action’s website and make a donation. I know money is tight for most of us, but even $10 shows that you care and support their fight. Another way to help is to visit the ACLU’s website and make a donation to help them in all their fights to help Americans hold onto and regain their civil liberties.

Do me a favor; take 5 minutes to watch the following video. Thanks. (Next post will be something fun and possibly magic related…promise.)

And to prove I mean what I say, this email just showed up in my inbox (some of the content has been edited for privacy).

Please note that this donation will appear on your credit card statement as Network for Good, which processed this donation on behalf of Breast Cancer Action.

Your contribution is tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. You may save or print this receipt for your records. This email certifies that you have made this donation as a charitable contribution and you are not receiving any goods or services in return. This receipt may be useful to you when completing your tax return.

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Base Donation Amount: $15.00
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Okay Bourdain, Now I Get It

If you’re like me, you love watching “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel with Anthony Bourdain. And if you do watch, you know that Bourdain has a thing for Vietnam, and even more specifically a Vietnamese noodle soup called pho (pronounced fuh, like duh with an f). Every time he’s anywhere in Vietnam you get treated to watching him and his cohorts slurping down this soup while an elaborate voice over explains why this is the soup to end all soups (I suspect the voice overs are because he doesn’t want to stop eating to discuss.).

Now many of my readers live in large cities and I suspect getting yourself a bowl of pho isn’t too rough if there’s any kind of Vietnamese population where you live. With a little research I found two places about 30 minutes from where I live that serve pho, so I picked the one that had good reviews for its pho and was located somewhere I felt confident I could find. So, at the end of May, for my birthday, my husband took me there for lunch so I could finally try pho.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with pho, let me break it down for you, at least in respect to what I had. It’s a very complex broth soup, in the case of what I had, beef broth, that has rice noodles, a variety of onions (yes, there was heart burn, exquisite, delicious heart burn), and since I ordered the pho bo, which is pho with thinly sliced beef, there was a load of thin slices of beef in there. On the side you’re given a variety of things to add to customize the pho to your tastes. I got a plate with fresh bean sprouts, lime, hot peppers and basil, and a small dish that had a spicy chili sauce and I think fish sauce.

Never having had pho before, I first had a few tastes of it without adding anything. It was a yummy soup that tasted exotic and yet oddly familiar. Vietnam meets childhood broth soup. After a few tastes I decided the lime would be good in it and squeezed the wedge into the bowl. Also, since I like bean sprouts I put a bunch of those in right away. Not being able to handle overly spicy food I opted to skip the fresh hot peppers and I didn’t love the idea of fresh basil in the broth so I skipped on that. Since basil is a staple, I’m sure it tastes fine; it just didn’t seem to click for me. I enjoyed the pho like that for a while and then decided it was time to try out the sauces. I tasted both sauces, and the chili sauce was very spicy. I put in a healthy dollop of the fish sauce and a tiny touch of the chili sauce. For me, this is when the soup went from good to awesome. Ironically, my husband doesn’t care for fish sauce, so for him it went from awesome to okay.

And that’s how I enjoyed my pho bo. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but at the same time I couldn’t work up the near fanatical adoration for it that Bourdain possesses. I ate half the bowl and took the other half home. End of story? Guess again.

Once I was home, I kept thinking about the pho bo in my refrigerator. I thought about it so much that despite having a filling dinner I found myself heating up a small bowl of it for a snack later that night. And once it was gone, that’s when it began. I would find pho sneaking into my mind a lot. I found myself looking at the calendar, trying to figure out when I could get down to that restaurant again for more. And that’s when I realized what Bourdain was talking about, pho gets inside you, and I’m not just talking about in your belly when you eat it. It’s combination of home-cooked noodle soup memories from your childhood laced with exotic flavors from another land…it’s a heady mix indeed.

So yes Bourdain, now I get it.

Post Script: I recently got to go back for more pho. This time I had pho tom, which has shrimp instead of beef. Delicious!

Tree Medicine, Magic, and Lore: Birch

By Ellen Evert Hopman
Illustration by Will Hobbs

The Birch tree (along with Willow, Aspen, Poplar, and Linden) is one of the quintessentially feminine trees of ancient European culture. Interestingly Birch is also regarded as feminine by Native American nations who have traditionally used her wood for canoes, to make paper, and for carrying bags and prayer baskets.

Birch trees are associated mystically with new beginnings. They are one of the first trees to take hold in an area where the ground has been disturbed and were one of the earliest trees to appear after the retreat of the last Ice Age.

The ancient Indo-European word for Birch is associated with the words; “it shines, glitter, flash, shimmer, brilliance, brightness, white and bright” in several modern languages. Birch has traditionally been known as “the way shower” because of Her bright, white bark. In a dark forest Birch always shows the way.

Birch is generally regarded as a Goddess tree. Use Her energy to put yourself in touch with the feminine aspect of the universe and within yourself. Birch is always practical, clean, and well organized. In some ancient cultures She was regarded as the Cosmic World Tree. Birch trees were used as Shamanic “Sky Ladders” in Lapland and Siberia. With the aid of a trance inducing drum beat one could travel astrally up Her branches into the Sky World.

The Gaelic word for Birch, Beith, is closely related to Bith (existence, enduring, constant) and with Bithe (womanly, feminine). Birch is the traditional wood for the May Pole in Celtic areas and in Wales the May Pole was always made from a living tree.

Birch wood was used in Scandinavia to carve rune sets for divination and in Ireland to carve Ogham inscriptions (the Ogham is the native pre-Roman alphabet whose letters are called by tree names). Twigs of Birch were used to light the sacred Beltaine (May Eve) fires.

Scandinavian couples would celebrate May Day by making love in a Birch forest. Birch forests were sacred to Frigga, Goddess of fertility and love. The legendary Celtic lovers Diarmid and Grainne slept in Birch branch huts as they fled their pursuers. Birch trees and Linden trees were commonly offered as sacrifices in Druidic groves.

Birch leaves taken in tea are laxative as well as healing to mouth sores, kidney and bladder sediment, gout, and rheumatism. A strong brew of the leaves, twigs and bark added to the bath will help eczema, psoriasis, and other moist, skin eruptions. Birch tea is relaxing and sedative. Black and yellow Birch have the best flavor.

Native American herbalists have used a yellow fungus that grows on Birch tops to heal tumors for millennia. Modern medicine has only recently discovered this “wonder drug” for use in cancer treatments.

about the author:

Ellen Evert Hopman is a Druid Priestess, herbalist and author of “Priestess of the Forest: A Druid Journey”, “A Druids Herbal – Of Sacred Tree Medicine”, “Walking the World in Wonder – A Children’s Herbal” and other volumes. Visit her website for more!











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Carmichael, Alexander, Carmina Gadelica, Hymns and Incantations; Floris Books, Edinburgh 1992

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Evans-Wentz, W.Y., The Fairy Faith In Celtic Countries; Citadel Press, New York, NY 1990

Farrar, Janet and Stewart, The Witch’s Goddess; Phoenix Publishing Inc, Custer, WA 98240

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Friedrich, Paul, Proto-Indo-European Trees; The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL 1970

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Grieve, M., A Modern Herbal, Dover Publications Inc., New York, NY 1971

Hoagland, Kathleen, 1,000 Years of Irish Poetry, The Gaelic and the Anglo-Irish Poets From Pagan Times To The Present; The Devin-Adair Company, Old Greenwich, CT 1981

Hopman, Ellen Evert, A Druids Herbal For The Sacred Earth Year; Inner Traditions/Destiny Books, Rochester, VT 1995

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The Halo – That Glow!

by Rebecca
illustrated by Will Hobbs

What is a halo? Well, according to my sources (known as Wikipedia.org), “A halo is an optical phenomenon that appears near or around the Sun or Moon, and sometimes near other strong light sources such as street lights. There are many types of optical halos, but they are mostly caused by ice crystals in cold cirrus clouds located high in the upper troposphere. The particular shape and orientation of the crystals is responsible for the type of halo observed. Light is reflected and refracted by the ice crystals and may split up into colors because of dispersion, similarly to the rainbow.” Let’s face it, although cool, that’s not what any of us think of when we’re asked “What is a halo?”

It’s that gold circle that floats above an angel’s head, duh. However, let’s take a little time to explore how it got there.

If you take a little time to think about it, you’ll realize you’ve seen haloes other places besides atop an angel’s head. Haloes were originally depicted as flat discs behind an individuals head, not floating above like these days. A flat golden disc is a sun, right? You got it, the Egyptian sun god Ra and Mithras, an ancient pre-Christianity sun god, both are depicted with haloes. So here you have a bunch of pre-Christianity/pagan deities running around with haloes, what’s an emerging religion to do?

That’s right, get themselves some haloes. Pagans, including Buddhists and Hindus, worship deities with haloes, so haloes must be part of their divinity. Once determined that a halo symbolizes sanctity, divinity, and light, all kinds of folks were getting them: Jesus, Mary, saints, popes, emperors, anyone who needs to be shown with the glow of the divine, including angels.

That, combined with a trend towards more realistic details in art, created the floating rings of light above the head.

By the way, when the whole body is surrounded in a glowing aura, for example as Jesus is often depicted, that’s not a halo, it’s a mandorla. Many people associate this full body halo as an indication of power, divine or otherwise. Like this, for example…..

See, he’s got the “glow”. Perhaps he’s got his chi working. Although technically that wasn’t a true mandorla. Mandorlas are almond shaped. But I think you’ll agree that was more fun!

If you have a little time, the Wikipedia entry about haloes is an interesting look at religion influencing art influencing religion. Here’s the link.

And for those of you who suddenly find yourself thinking, I should totally watch the movie “The Last Dragon” (where the clip above came from), let me remind you why that’s not really necessary.

Too cheesy…..
Must navigate away from page…..

Summer Solstice & Spiritual Meltdown: How to Keep Your Cool When Life’s Hot!

By Lady Passion, HPS, Coven Oldenwilde
(this article also appears in the June issue of Oracle 20/20 magazine, reprinted here with the author’s permission)

I’ve taught magic to folks for 17 years or so, and thus as High Priestess, often born the brunt of pseudo-psychotic rants from those calling themselves sincere Seekers one second, yet who take offense over the flimsiest of pretexts, inexplicably act suspicious, make outlandish, erroneous accusations, and burn the very bridges they previously claimed to want to build with “folks of like mind.”

Although such can happen at any time when people who think they’re mature enough to handle the imbed conditioning or regret that mastering magic provokes in aspirants, I’ve noted that such often happens near or during Litha Sabbat celebrations held every June 21st or 22nd.

Why should this be? Why do tempers flare during a season of freedom, a gathering immersed in natural bliss? Because the Sun’s high in the sky.

Many seem as unaware of the incredible impact that the Sun exerts on their emotions as they are of their prejudices and motivations. Taught as they are that the Earth’s electro magnetic shield protects them from the majority of solar rays, they nonetheless doublethink dismiss their need for ever-higher degrees of sunscreen. They deny the mind blowing might of the Sun’s real exertion, and thus pay it as little heed as they do the sway their birth and rising signs have on their temperament, goals, and actions.

Traditionally, countries wait for winter’s passing to begin or resume war. Heat can make the blood and brain seem to boil. Heat can make you feel crazed, sticky with sweat that seeps unbidden from ever pore, as if your body’s leaking salt tears bemoaning its fate. If enough time passes without relent, flash-point anger can occur, leading to ‘crimes of passion,’ friendship split, or even sparking revolution.

Witches fight an uphill battle to help keep folks sane amidst arbitrary societal demands for money or selfish pursuits. And Covens know that the seasons ebb and flow, sometimes gently, sometimes mutable, even extreme. But other groups may be surprised when the cohesiveness they enjoyed in winter is cast off by one of their number when summer arrives.

When flowers and showers give way to summer doldrums (those ‘dog days’ of steam when the air itself holds its breath and seems too parched to cry out for rain), doubt sets up, begetting recrimination. The group’s work suddenly feels under attack, their accomplishments thrust in jeopardy, and friendships can quickly falter just when folks are supposed to be enjoying Nature again.

Perhaps liberals involved in spiritual groups are particularly vulnerable to letting detractors think what they will — to shrug off insults. And true, if someone nurses their resentments, prefers to not to be disabused of their notions rather than express them in hopes of resolving them, there’s little that truth to the contrary can do to prevent them from crashing in flames.

Of course it’s unfair that a group ever put one person on the hot seat, as such practically guarantees rancor. But private talks often end in traded rants as well, without witnesses as to what was said, and although discussing problems by passing around a talking stick seems egalitarian, things can still deteriorate into focusing on negatives rather than positives.

It’s wise to anticipate arguments, for they will arise. So as summer waxes and tempers threaten to fray, be magically prepared to prevent catastrophic conflict, and use wise ways mitigate their impact.

• When in doubt, don’t. If you feel on the brink of ballistic, enact the Witchy Power to Be Silent. Anger abates with time, and you may end up glad you held your peace, and proud that you didn’t explode over some silly perceived provocation.

• When in doubt, divine. Do a reading and ask the God/desses Pax (peace), Concordia (concord), or Eirene (tranquility) for guidance. Tarot cards and other magical methods may reveal that your ire is baseless, or explain secret stressors responsible for others’.

• Cool down with water and herbs. Bathe in a sachet of lavender buds, chamomile flowers, and basil while imbibing cannabis sativa.

• Promote harmony with food. Serve passionflower tea, apricots, Brazil nuts, ginger, licorice, raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries, and peas.

• Wear cool colors and gems. Becalming colors include blue, green, and pink. Gentle gemstones include aquamarine, iolite, peridot, jade, blue topaz, and rose quartz. Your gem choice should depend on the message you want to send: To evoke tenderness and elicit sympathy, wear lapis lazuli. For love and loyalty, wear sapphire. For friendship, wear turquoise. To prevent emotional hurt, wear a reflective hematite pendant. To prevent confusion or misunderstanding, don’t don mutable stones such as diamond, alexandrite, or agate.

• Wear a protective talisman. A pentagram can protect your feelings with the power of the five Elements. A Hand of Fatima charm is a similar, but filigreed alternative. The 13 symbol Italian Cimaruta can grant even more protection. To prevent a “circular argument”, don’t wear a spiral or round Amorite fossil amulet.

• Play conducive music. Songs in the major modes of Ionian (Sun, scale C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C, to dispel gloom) and Mixolydian (Jupiter, scale G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G, for optimism) or minor Phrygian (Venus, scale E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E, to calm) work wonders.

• Avert fights. Infuse the air with apple or cypress essential oil. Make a bouquet of sky blue aster flowers, pansies, poppies, roses, thyme, tulips, or violets.

• Avoid bickering on Tuesday. Violence is prone on this day sacred to the war God Mars. Foster friendship on Fridays, the day sacred to the love Goddess Venus.

You’ll find a galore of more spiritual solutions in The Goodly Spellbook: Olde Spells For Modern Problems.

About the Author:
Lady Passion is High Priestess of Coven Oldenwilde in Asheville, N.C. & co-author, The Goodly Spellbook: Olde Spells For Modern Problems. She may be contacted via: www.wiccans.org and www.oldenwilde.org.

The Spirit of Youth: A Review of “Spirited”

Often times when reading a book about magical practices I tend towards reading past the how-to and getting to the magic user themselves. I’ve always been described as a people person, but at the end of the day, I’m just nosey and prefer to learn about magic practicing individuals so much more than about the magic they practice. Try saying that line 5 times fast! With this in mind, I must say I truly enjoyed Gede Parma’s book “Spirited: Taking Paganism Beyond the Circle”.

“Spirited” gives me a perspective that I hadn’t encountered before, and that is one of youth. Parma has been a practicing Witch since he was 12 years-old. If “Spirited” is a reflection of his writing skills and insights now, I cannot wait to see what he has to share 20 years from now. Parma’s book is knowledgeable, insightful, full of personal anecdotes, and laced with a passion and idealism that only comes with youth.

“Spirited” covers any topic you could imagine: dealing with peers and schools, performing rituals, solitary practices verses covencraft, Pagan ethics, and more. The thorough nature of “Spirited” paired with the youth of its author provides a perspective making this book useful not only to other teenagers, but to any adult who wants a better understanding of the youth in the Pagan community. I would say this is a must read to anyone who considers themselves a leader in the Pagan community, or is working towards becoming a High Priest or High Priestess.