Sacred Journeys

JourneySacred Journeys
By Linda Monsees Stump © 2014

The Pennsylvania Writers’ Night Out group got a bit of a late start on our projects this year. The severe winter in the northeast, with its attendant complications, business travel and house moves of some of our members, kept most of us so busy with life that we didn’t have a great deal of time to sit down and write.

As a result, the theme for this year rather decided itself. We decided to take another look at a topic we’ve considered previously – that of Sacred Journeys. Only this year, we opted to put a different spin on it. Sacred journeys don’t have to involve traveling anywhere, although it certainly can be. It’s more about the concept of finding the sacred within the mundane. It can be sacred space – whether an actual physical place such as a church or forest glade, or perhaps a special place within your own home that gives you that feeling. It can be sacred moments, finding grace during a challenging time. How simple or complex do you need a journey, a place, or even a state of mind to be in order to feel that you’ve achieved the sacred?

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Circle of Thyme – A Skeptic Believes

Circle of Thyme – A Skeptic Believes

By Linda Monsees Stump © 2013

This is the time of year when the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest, and communication with the dead can be easier.  It’s a time for carved pumpkins and telling ghost stories around the fire.  And perhaps you might even see or hear a ghost.

Yet this particular ghost sighting took place on a warm August night, after a day of working in the garden, at a time of year when the shades of those who have gone before were the farthest from our minds.

My husband has always been a skeptic where ghosts were concerned – an open-minded skeptic, to be sure – but a skeptic nonetheless.  He has a very scientific mind and will always look for a logical explanation first.  While he accepted the fact that I believed in the existence of ghosts or spirits, he always commented that I did so because I had personally experienced these phenomena and in situations where they couldn’t be explained away as a hoax or just my imagination.  He often said, “Other people experience paranormal events – why am I not able to?”  At one point, I gently suggested to him that perhaps it was because he wasn’t sure he really wanted to believe.

Some years ago, after I had discovered that we do have at least one resident ghost in our house, he experienced a cold spot in the attic on a 98-degree day.  Our attic is not air conditioned, and it was sweltering – except for that one spot.  Even though he “kind of, sort of” agreed that just maybe there wasn’t an ordinary explanation, he wasn’t totally convinced.  We’ve had a lot of conversations about whether some “ghost sightings” are really that, manifestations of earth-bound spirits who for whatever reason cannot move on, or if they are in fact time slips, where we are able to catch a glimpse into another time and see the people who lived in that period going about their business.

On this summer night, my husband was upstairs in our bedroom.  Movement at the top of the stairs caught his attention, and he looked down the darkened hallway to the bathroom.  He watched as a woman wearing a long cloak came up the stairs and turned to go into the back bedroom, the cloak swirling around her as she turned.  At this point, my husband thought he was seeing me in the velvet cloak I made years ago as part of my medieval garb – as the woman he saw was my height and build, with long hair that looked like mine.  He started down the hallway to ask me what on earth I was doing wearing my Ren Faire garb at 8:30 on a Sunday night.  As he approached the back bedroom, he wondered why I hadn’t turned the light on and, if I was putting the cloak away in the wardrobe, why he hadn’t heard the wardrobe door creak when opened.    He walked into the bedroom, turned the light on himself and started to speak to me…only there was no one there!

He could see I wasn’t in the bathroom, and there was nowhere else I could have gone upstairs without literally running into him.  He came downstairs, to find me sitting at my computer desk.  He just stood there looking at me for a moment, then said, “Hmmm.”

I glanced up at him.  “What do you mean, ‘Hmmm’?”

He shook his head, but didn’t answer my question.  Instead, he asked one of his own.  “Were you just upstairs?”

“No, I’ve been sitting here writing the whole time, why?”

Again he didn’t answer the question.  “And you weren’t walking around in your Ren Faire cloak?”

For a moment, I fought the urge to laugh – it was August, for heaven’s sake, much too hot for a velvet cloak, and I was barefoot and wearing a tank top and jeans.  “No – my cloak’s hanging on the coat tree…where it’s been probably since Ren Faire last year.  Why?”

“Then…I just saw a ghost,” he finally answered, and proceeded to tell me what he saw.

While it was a little startling, he did say it was not a frightening encounter in any way.  He commented that the woman he saw did not glide eerily along, but moved very purposefully – as though she were simply coming up the stairs in her house to do something, perhaps hang up her cloak.  He said the way she moved indicated a familiarity with the house as she had to make two abrupt left turns when she reached the top of the stairs in order to get into the back bedroom.

I’ve long known that we are not alone in the house.  There is a grandmotherly spirit who likes to hang out in my kitchen.  Now I’m curious about the woman my husband saw.  Who was she?  Was she the daughter of the house?  And what happened to her?

I walked past the old borough cemetery with my dog this morning, and wondered IMG_0634whether the graves of the spirits of my house are there.  I am now more than ever determined to research the history of the house and find out.  But as I walked past the graveyard at this season when we take the time to honor and remember those who have crossed over, I whispered, “We know you’re here…you’re not forgotten.”

And the skeptic?  My husband now believes in ghosts – because he has actually seen one – and I think he’s rather pleased that he finally had the chance to experience a paranormal encounter!

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Just a Thought: A Break in Time

Just a Thought

           This Samhain I bring a post from the archives, when I was pondering timing and the manner in which the different realms of the world veil must manage to mesh one time a year.  I was set upon reflecting on the Norns, and how they might celebrate this Sabbat; incorporating a little bit of myth and mystery.  It is just a thought: Perhaps time and the veil between the worlds are actually connected in such a manner that the realm created at the intersection is what makes life appear as if a dream…

A Break in Time                         

By Lady Walking Turtle © 2007

 One of four stately stags startled sideways in response to the rumble below his hooves.  For a moment, the creature seemed as still as a statue, with ears seeming to be chiseled in stone, surveying the earth below.  In an instant the living sculpture turned on a hoof and disappeared into the Eastern night.

“Pesky deer!”  The old woman picked up her skein that had fallen and returned to her

spinning.   Thoughts that she had been pondering for a fortnight were interrupted by annoying pawing above. 

It never failed to amaze the woman how even the most random of moments in life were actually repetitive and rhythmic patterns in a giant web of time.   A century passes as swiftly as images within a dream, interweaving silently into threads of service over millennium after millennium.  Perhaps it was merely an interpretation of dream… for immortals.

She focused once again on the mist behind her spinning wheel and listened subconsciously for the cues in the dark and the return of the deer who would relentlessly pursue the taste of the roots of the Sacred Yggdrasil Tree.  There would be one stag for each of the directions, each keeping the momentum for the interventions that would ensue, thus nourishing another circle of their movements each day.

halloweenmarchsmall11There were two other women who lived under the Great Tree.  They too had their own tasks to be concerned with this evening.  The youngest of the three was immersed in mediation while intermittently marking off lengths of colored cord.  Although the task of assigning time to a human life before it began was shared by all three sisters, today the task was Verdandi’s alone.  Even while she recorded the moments and years of each mortal life with solemnity, she knew they would return at the appointed hour, the marks at the end of their threads.  Once again, they would be reassigned new fibers of possibilities for yet another metered turn of The Great Wheel. 

Verdandi momentarily left her concentration to reflect upon the amount of mold that was beginning to accumulate above her head on a very prominent root, as she usually would before ceasing her activity for a bit of tea.

Skuld would know this too however, and Verdandi turned to see the third of the Norns spreading the white  mud on a stalk of branched roots just under the Well of Urov.  After a few moments mesmerized by her sister systematically covering the veins of the tree growing into the waters below, she returned to her measuring with just a bit of hesitation this night.  Obviously, she had been the only one thinking about tea. 

It was Skuld who was always concerned about spreading the clay too close to the great serpent who napped within the branches of the stalk which grew deep into the underworld Niflhel. When awakened, the snake would begin long hours of arguments with the eagles who guarded the entrance to the well above.  While some of these conversations were most intriguing , this night Skuld longed to begin some new conversations of her own.

Urd, who had placed her hand on the spinner, thus ceasing the forward motion of the trio.  She was the first to put into words what the Sisters of Wryd had been reflecting upon the whole of the day.  It was time to announce the moment they would depart for their holiday this Samhain evening.             

This Halloween/Samhain would be an especially exciting and wondrous celebration.   They had been invited to many a feast, and now the point of decisions had arrived.   As was their custom, the choice of visitations would be somewhat spontaneous, as every other moment of their existence was carefully scheduled and followed without fault.                                       

When the veil between the worlds is the thinnest, the sisters are eased by the turning of time for the length of the celebrations, to set aside their timeless functions and explore the merging parallel worlds of humans and immortals.  Their holiday would allow the very much deserved rest and rejuvenation required for them to serve without tiring…missions refocused and rekindled upon their tasks.

 about the time that Urd was to make a suggestion as to the hour of their departure, Snake most auspiciously animated and began shaking root branches and surrounding energies for attention.   The eagles who had been napping above began ruffling feathers and squawking with enthusiastic verbosity.     

“Settle down My Lord” retorted Urd.  We have some things to discuss, and you too might be interested enough to listen tonight.

Skuld ceased her spreading and pouring, as the roots by the great snake were obviously not to be done now.  “So, when should we leave, and what is to be done in our wake?” 

Verdandi was pondering the mold above her head again, and sighed at the thought that it is never actually totally dealt with anyway.  Once something is completed or accomplished, it becomes in need of doing so all over again.  Her thoughts were understood by Urd who would nod her head and crossed her arms in preparation for a statement.

“I believe that the best moment is always the present moment.  We should leave now and decided just what the necessities are to leave and to take.  Anything left undone will still be awaiting on our return”.  Urd continued, “This year’s celebrations should be with our friends in the North who will be hosting the Great Feast, and we haven’t made it to in years.  What do you think?”

Verdandi and Skuld were nodding their heads in eager anticipation.  “Perfect!”  they himed in unison.  Excitement filled the little chamber under The Great Tree.

Pawing deer interrupted the moment once again, and it would be Urd who now tapped on the greatest root with her skein to ceremoniously remind the deer who was in charge.  She knew however, that this was simply akin to the reminder a parent would offer a child to reflect negative behavior.  Generations of deer had come and gone throughout the ions, and they had become as children to the sisters.  Children who had their own parts to play in moving time and space around.  Still, something had to be done about the gnawing that would occur in their absence.  Some would be regrettable but there would be nothing that could be done about it short of remaining on the watch.  She would spread some extra grain for the deer and hope for the best.

The youngest laid down her lengths of cord, having acknowledged the last soul who had been measured by destiny.  “I for one could use some honey mead, and perhaps some song tonight.  I think I should go above and gather some fall wild greenery for the altar offerings”.

Urd brushed off her voluptuous abdomen, ripe with the future, and reflected upon how much clay she had collected on the makeshift shelf.  “My work is done here also for awhile.  The worst of the mold has been covered and as it will never fully be kept ahead upon, we should resign ourselves to coming back and beginning again.  Perhaps one of the wise ones will have a new brew for improving the power of the clay.”

The eldest turned to address the swans now; “We will bring back for you a new supply of fruits, and some sweet flowers when we return.  You have our appreciation once more for watching the way, and your company these months.”

The swans bowed to the wise woman and ducked heads beneath the water to message the fishes below they would now be alone with Snake while the sisters were absent.  Without reminders from the women, Snake had a tendency to overeat.!”          

As soon as the roots along the ground above had been covered with new soil, extra grain was put out for the deer.  Urd placed reams of yarn around the trunk of the tree as a reminder of the consequences for misbehaving.  The Great Serpent was addressed politely about relentless chatter with the eagles, and requested to refrain from any untoward action regarding the food supply!   The eagles were asked to guard the Well of Urov from above.  A sacred circle of protection was cast about the area…and in a flash…the Sisters of Wyrd cast themselves upon a moonbeam for just a bit of time.

The women arrived at their first celebration in time for the immense harvest banquet to begin.  Ancient sounds and a giant bonfire beckoned them from their usual serious dispositions, and they softened within the energies of their bountiful surroundings.

The Fey folk were present, as well as several mortals who had achieved the highest honors from humans and gods alike.  Nuada the Silver Hand, first king of the Tuatha de’ Danann was greeting guests at the serving line as they arrived, and Ceridwen was serving honey mead to them even before they had a chance to embrace Her.  It was Lugh who would first take Urd’s hand within his and offer his gratefulness for their company this night.  She returned the honor and gratitude and allowed him to direct her to a woman standing just under a willow tree in the shadows.  It would be the Morrigan herself, and for hours the two elders were lost in conversation and laughter.

Verdandi found herself tasting all of the traditional foods laid out this night, and was especially fond of the sugared plums held within a pumpkin carved in the shape of a toad.  A contest for the best ‘brew’ of the season won the coveted place of honor as the punch for the feast, and she and Urd lost no time in understanding the reasons it was the first prize. 

The Faerie Queen herself would address the season of the sun now ended, and the nights of enchantment to come.  Nuada lamented upon the courage that the months to come would grow, but yet how great the opportunities to change the worlds around them this new year to come.  The night air was thick with incense and the glowing joy of a group of friends come together to celebrate without care or remorse.

At midnight, they were all gathered once again around the fire that lapped up for yards amidst the clearing, and the most sacred of ritual was begun. The Crone for the Samhain enactment was always a mystery until the actual ceremony began.  She, who would be coaxed and ritualistically implored not to diminish into the West this year was Urd!  A most revered honor indeed.

As if it had been the most natural of parts, the eldest of the Norns evoked the energy that was the focus of the ritual and a most powerful Sabbat was observed by all participants.  Ancestors were honored, both human and immortal alike.  A background of hypnotic drumming waxed and waned as the incense and smoke hung in the forest air like the mist of the sea.

Although the feast and festivities lasted well into the night, the women would move on to the Scotland and another gathering of kin before the sun had risen.  Skuld had indeed found a new recipe against root rot among the witches of the woods, and Urd had been given wondrous skeins of yarn and threads by a good friend she hadn’t seen in centuries.  Verdandi, having spent much of the evening recalling the concepts of flirting and dancing, had still managed to collect some colorful gossip amidst the folds that weave within the World Veil.  They were all a bit giddy with laughter and light heartedness, and well pleased with their journey thus far. 

At the castle on the grounds near Aberdeen (a favorite place of the women who once had stayed there many centuries long gone), they rested before walking amongst the graves of friends who were anxiously expecting their visits the following evening.  Many were mortals.  The wise ones were always aware of the pain and suffering that humans endure in each carnation, and the reasons why humans required the chance to return again and relive life anew.  It did the women good to be reminded that their service served all involved. 

Throughout the next day they witnessed the colors of their travels, both visually and by touching the vibrations of the Universe.  Loved ones were reunited, if only for a moment, and for the brief fluttering of a heartbeat, even the invisible could be seen.   Spirits were alive, and life was for a time…but a dream.  Moments passed more slowly than usual, and the women found themselves in a different pattern of motion; a very spontaneous free flowing ‘oozing’ of sorts.

Later, as the sisters prepared for their return, and to become the guardians of the fates once again, they shared without words the most important gift received during this Sabbat of renewed faith.  As it had been for ions, they understood that the tasks they performed were blessings bestowed in the form of honor and trust.

Humbled and grateful for their journey, they turned to the East and floated home upon the last moonbeam of the fading night.

  Ready and able to begin a new year of movement.  When the three returned to the Great Tree however, they would discover  some very unexpected mysteries.  The deer had eaten the grains left behind, but had touched not one root in their absence.  Next to the yarns and threads that Urd had placed around the tree, were large bundled skeins of yarn in Red, Black and White…enough for an entire year of weaving.  When they found their way below and surveyed the area, they found Snake napping.  According to the eagles, he had been most unusually on very good behavior while they were gone. 

As Verdandi unwrapped the fruits and flowers they had gathered for the swans, the graceful birds spread their wings and indicated for them to look around at the root system of the Great Tree.  Not a morsel of root rot was evident, even on the largest vein!  No trace of mold was left behind, and the cave beneath the well was as fragrant as the freshest breath of Spring!

The three looked at each other and locked hands forming a tiny circle of happiness.  They decided their homecoming was a sign to sit a bit for a little supper made with the leftovers they had carried back from the feasts, and begin some long awaited conversations free from care or concern…Time had apparently stood still for the period they had been gone, even moving backwards a bit to allow them one more evening to enjoy each other’s company before returning to their tasks.  A most unexpected quirk in the scheme of things!

Later, during a break in their talks while Verdandi was feeding grateful fish still swimming about, she recalled suddenly that the last length of cord she had worked had belonged to a man named Sam King.  He would become the great grandson of a gentleman she once met at a Samhain bonfire of the future (mortal time).  His name had been Sam King also, and he spent the whole of the evening explaining a game he referred to as football to Verdandi.  Although she never quite understood the concept, it was his enthusiastic nature that she remembered now.  The newest of his lineage would enjoy all the length of measurement possible, so that he too could experience this game of jousting without horses or lances throughout his own time on Middle Earth.

 

As always, some messages arrive via strange channels so that she may understand where to actually cut the threads.  This morning that message was received, and as was customary she would know just the right moment to fate exactly the precise hour that each mortal life would end and return.  Instinctively, she knew that Sam Kings’s thread would be of the longest measure possible. It was most interesting that the most unusual were the most memorable.

But, she could attend to pondering the universe a bit later, there was still the last of the honey mead to drink and sweetbreads to enjoy.    Tomorrow would be soon enough to begin the turning of the fates again, care for the Yggdrasil Tree, guard the world axis, monitor arguments between eagles and serpents, and cherish those pesky deer!

Everything was as it should be; as it always is.  There would always be three who would keep it so… 

Have a most wondrous Samhain/Halloween.  Remember to light a candle for the Norns.  They will meet you again by way of the measurement of time, and they always remember the unexpected within the seemingly normal quirks in time.

Posted in Fiction, General Spirituality, Norse legend, Samhain, Spells and Rituals | Leave a comment

Circle of Thyme – The Highlander’s Return

Author’s Note:  Often at Samhain, our Writers’ Night Out group will write ghost stories for the enjoyment of our readers.   I first wrote this short story in 2006.  I was actually working on another piece when I stumbled on a YouTube video that completely gave me goosebumps because I had not heard the song when I wrote the story.  I will provide the link to the video at the end of the piece.

The Highlander’s Return

By Linda Monsees Stump © 2006

             The cottage was all I wanted and more.  Nestled in a remote glen in the Scottish Highlands, the little stone house with its picturesque thatched roof was three miles by a rough but passable track from the nearest village, where I’d stocked up on supplies.  I didn’t mind the isolation, but I did hope there wouldn’t be mice in the thatch.  Above the trees a hawk soared, then plummeted in a screaming dive, while over the mountains storm clouds were beginning to gather. 

Mr. MacRae, the rental agent who’d picked me up in Inverness on behalf of the owner, glanced doubtfully at my wool skirt, tweed coat and heeled pumps, toward the cottage, and then back at me.  “Are ye sure ye’ll be wanting to stay here then, Miss Heyburn?  Ye did say ye didn’t mind the lack of modern conveniences, but it’s no exactly a holiday cottage.  Mr. MacKenzie – that would be Mr. Alasdair, ye ken, no Mr. Alexander – wasna inclined to let the cottage because it’s sae primitive, and ye’ll be alone…”  His voice trailed off and his sandy brows furrowed with concern. 

            “I’ll be fine,” I assured him.  “I can follow the road easily enough to the village, and I’ve camped alone in the Canadian Rockies – at least here I’ll not have to worry about grizzly bears!”

            Mr. MacRae looked as though he were about to say something else, then instead he began unloading my supplies from the Land Rover.  I picked up my suitcase and followed him inside.  The cottage was built in the style of centuries past – a single room with a narrow ladder to the loft.  On one side of the room away from the doorway an old double bed was pushed against the wall, covered with a thick woolen blanket of a tartan I couldn’t identify in the dimness.  Two worn leather chairs flanked the fireplace and there was corner cupboard of some dark wood, a table with two chairs on one side and a high-backed oak settle on the other.  There was no bathroom, only a “necessary” house about fifty yards away.  Primitive was right, I thought, putting my suitcase on the settle. 

My friends in London thought I’d taken leave of my senses to go to Scotland in October.  The weather was unchancy at best, they said, and miserable at worst, and it was no wonder I was still single at twenty-seven if that was my idea of a holiday.  I couldn’t explain what drew me to this wild corner of the Highlands; I just knew I had to go. 

Mr. McRae pottered about while I stowed tea, tinned milk and soups in the corner cupboard, where I found a set of heavy old crockery, clean tea towels and even a teapot.  He climbed down from his inspection of the loft, went out and came back in with his arms full of several dark, brick-like objects.  “Mr. MacKenzie left peat stacked in the shed in back of the house, but I’ve brought enough in for ye to last the night.  Do ye know the way of a peat fire?”  I shook my head, glad that I’d thought to bring a long-handled lighter, a newspaper and a couple of commercial fire-starter logs.  Mr. MacRae patiently showed me how to stack the peats to give them enough air to burn properly. 

At last Mr. MacRae headed back outside.  He paused beside the Land Rover.  “Ye do have a mobile phone with ye, miss?” he asked anxiously.  When I reassured him that I did, he produced a business card and admonished, “Now, if anything frightens ye or ye decide ye dinna want to stay, just ring me up.  I’ll come and fetch ye, nae matter what time of day or night.” 

“Thank you – you’re very kind, but I really don’t mind being by myself.”  He nodded somewhat reluctantly in acceptance and started the engine.  I watched as the vehicle bumped its way down the track and the sounds of its passage faded into the distance.  The wind picked up, sharp and chill, and lowering clouds carried the promise of rain. 

I was alone.  The silence settled around me, peaceful after the traffic and bustle of London.  Around me the majestic mountains brooded over their secrets.   Far away a curlew called, and something splashed in the water of the nearby burn.  Night falls quickly in the Highlands in October, and even as I watched, the sky swiftly deepened from gunmetal grey to indigo to black, the inky darkness broken only by a faint moon shrouded in wisps of cloud.  A stronger gust of wind blew my hair around my face and the first raindrops began to fall.

I turned and went back into the cottage, dropping the bar against the wet night.  The peat fire was burning nicely, and I poured water into an iron pot and suspended it over the fire, then made myself some tea.  After a late lunch in Inverness, I wasn’t hungry for dinner, so I opened a packet of shortbread and had a piece with my tea. 

Deciding to make an early night of it, I undressed, washed my face and brushed my teeth, banked the fire and crawled under the covers.  The ropes supporting the feather mattress creaked a little as I shifted my weight.  The sheets had the line-dried freshness that no tumble-dry can replicate; the wool blanket was soft from wear and smelled faintly of herbs.  The sounds of wind and rain lulled me to sleep.

 

It was a battle cry that woke me, a bloodcurdling, primal sound that seemed to echo through the glen.  I lay frozen with fright for several moments, my heart thudding like a cannonball in my chest.  Through the shutters I saw lightning flash; then a few seconds later came the rumble of thunder.  In a land as old and legend-shrouded as this, it was all too easy to imagine the sounds of ancient battles on a stormy night.  A vivid imagination was one thing, I chided myself, this was quite another.   Just as I came to that sensible decision, I heard it again. 

Tulach Ard!”  The words were Gaelic, and I recognized the war cry of Clan MacKenzie.  The sound made me think of the battlefield at Culloden, which I’d visited only the day before during my stopover in Inverness.  Standing on the bleak, windswept moor, hearing a piper playing a lament, I rested my hand on one of the clan markers.  Looking down, I saw the words “CLAN MACKENZIE” chiseled into the stone and wanted to weep.  I doubt anyone could stand on that killing ground and not be moved by the sheer courage displayed by the highlanders in the face of incredible odds on that April day in 1746. 

I tried to convince myself that it was a product of my subconscious, simply conjuring auditory remnants of a battlefield pilgrimage.  And yet, there were no re-enactors on Culloden Moor during my visit, only the lone piper by the cairn.  Uneasily I recalled Mr. MacRae’s comment about Alasdair MacKenzie’s reluctance to let the cottage.    

All right, I thought briskly.  Perhaps this Alasdair MacKenzie had had second thoughts and, rather than simply tell me he didn’t want to rent the place, decided to frighten me away.  “I don’t scare that easy, MacKenzie,” I said aloud.  The sound of my own voice was blessedly reassuring.  Though I lay waiting tensely in the darkness, the strange cry was not repeated.  After a while, my eyelids drooped again and I slept.

 

This time it was a whisper that woke me.  “Morag?”  

No, I thought, keeping my eyes tightly closed.  I am not going to let my imagination run away with me.  I tried to will myself back to sleep. 

“Morag, mo chridhe.”  My eyes flew open.  The unfamiliar name and the Gaelic endearment spoken in a hoarse whisper that carried all the ache of love and longing brought me fully awake. 

The faint glow of embers from the peat fire lit the room.  The door that I’d barred from the inside stood open to the storm and lightning flashed in the distance.  Thunder growled over the peaks.  A tall, broad-shouldered man stood over my bed.  His russet hair was long and he wore a belted plaid pinned at the shoulder with a bronze brooch in the shape of a strangely familiar stag’s head.  His once-white full-sleeved shirt was stained dark on one side with what appeared to be blood.  He wore a basket-hilted sword and a dirk sheathed at his belt and he looked quite capable of using them.  He leaned toward me and very gently touched my cheek.  His hand was big and calloused…and very cold. 

I gasped.  Any thought that I was only dreaming vanished with the shock of his touch.  I sat up, clutching the tartan blanket to my breast, and drew breath to scream.

The hand that caressed my cheek went at once to his sword hilt, and then dropped to his side at the sight of me.  “A Dhia!” he muttered fiercely.  The scream died in my throat.  The man looked as shocked as I must have, though I could hardly pose a threat to him.  Standing, I’d barely come up to his shoulder, and I had no weapon.  He spoke again, but not in Gaelic this time.  “Dinna fear, lass – I’ll no harm ye.  What’s your name?”

I found my voice.  “Kelsey.  Kelsey Heyburn.  Who are you?”

“Iain Lachlan MacKenzie.”  Now I knew why the stag’s head on his brooch looked familiar.  I’d seen it on the MacKenzie clan badge in a souvenir shop in Inverness.  There was a hint of amusement in his voice as he added, “Ye’re sleeping in my bed.”

I didn’t know what to say to that.  Instead I looked at him more closely.  He couldn’t have been more than thirty, but his eyes were hollowed with weariness and pain had etched deep lines in his face. The stain on his linen shirt was blood.  “You’re hurt!”

He followed my gaze.  “Ye canna help me, Kelsey.”

I stared at him, stricken.  “But you ought to see a doctor.  I could call –”  I thought of my mobile phone and wondered if I could get him to hospital without a car.

“Too late for that, the bloodybacks’ll be following me.  Is she dead, then?”  There was such sadness in his voice that it tore at my heart.  

“Is who dead?” 

“Morag.  My wife.”

“I have no idea.  I don’t know anyone called Morag.  There was no one in the house when Mr. MacRae brought me here.”  Was that why Alasdair MacKenzie hadn’t wanted to let the place? Because the previous tenant had left, and he knew her husband would come looking for her?  For he had come, armed to the teeth, badly hurt and obviously in some kind of trouble.    

“The house was empty?” 

I nodded, adding quickly, “I’m not trespassing – Alasdair MacKenzie said I could stay here.”

Iain smiled grimly.  “Then Morag got away, and the bairn wi’ her.  Cumberland’s men willna find her now.”  Cumberland’s men?  I stared at him, confused.  The only Cumberland I’d ever heard of was the Duke of Cumberland, who commanded the English army at the ill-fated battle of Culloden…over two hundred and fifty years ago. 

I swallowed hard and pushed the tangle of dark hair from my face, which I’m sure must have gone chalk-white, because Iain turned toward the door and said, “I only thought to come home and find Morag – I didna mean to frighten ye, Kelsey.  I give ye my word I’ll no harm ye, even if ye are a Sassenach.  I dinna make war on women and children.”  He spoke of war as an immediate thing, and the shadows in his eyes told me he had seen its horrors up close and very personally.  There was no reason why I should believe the promise of a large, fierce, bloodstained highlander – but I did.   

“Iain, wait.”  My fear gone, I slipped out of bed, shivering a little in my cotton nightdress.  “Sit by the fire and I’ll make some tea.”  He hesitated and I added, “It is your hearth, after all.”  Iain eased his tall frame into one of the leather chairs and stretched his long legs toward the banked peats.  He closed his eyes but I didn’t think he slept.  Following Mr. MacRae’s instructions, I coaxed the fire back to life and swung the iron cauldron over the flames.  I closed the door and slid the bar back into place.  When the water came to the boil, I made the tea and let it steep.  I stirred sugar into a mug for Iain, then poured a cup for myself. 

“Iain?”  I touched his hand and his eyes opened, the clear, deep blue of a Scottish loch.  “The tea’s ready.  Are you hungry?  I could heat up some soup for you, and I’ve bread and butter.  There’s shortbread, too.”

He smiled and the blue eyes crinkled at the corners.  “’Twill do nae good for me now, lass, but I thank ye.”  He cupped his hands round the mug and sighed with pleasure.   I put the plate of shortbread between us and sat down in the other chair.  We sipped our tea and ate the buttery shortbread in companionable silence.

At last he rose.  “I’ll no compromise ye, lass.  I’d best go – I dinna want ye hurt.”

I put up a hand to stay him.  “You gave me your word you wouldn’t harm me.  I give you mine – take your rest in your own bed and I’ll stand watch.  I promise I’ll wake you if anyone comes hunting you.”  There was much I didn’t understand of this rough-hewn stranger, but I couldn’t fear him. 

“Ye’d do that for me after I nearly made ye swoon wi’ fright?”  He seemed genuinely surprised.

I had to look up, but I met his deep blue gaze directly.  “Yes, I would.  You didn’t mean to frighten me and I’m not – frightened now, I mean.  You’re tired, you’ve been hurt.  Go on, Iain, it’s all right, really.”

His big hands gripped my shoulders and I felt the strong clasp of his fingers through the cotton of my nightdress.  He bent his head and his lips touched my forehead, very lightly.  I don’t know how long we stood there, but I was conscious of the feel of his linen shirt beneath my hand, the wool of his plaid against my cheek. 

He released me and I smoothed the sheets, picking up the blanket to cover him.  “Ye keep it.  I’ll do, lass, I’ve my plaid.”  He loosed it from his shoulder and sat down on the bed; somewhere in my mind it registered that the ropes should have creaked, but I didn’t hear them.  He lay on his back, fully dressed, without unbuckling his sword belt.  I knew instinctively that he’d slept many a night with his weapons ready to hand.  I tucked the woolen folds of his plaid around him.  “Ye’re a bonnie lass, Kelsey,” he murmured, “and may God bless ye for your kindness.”   

            His eyes were closing as I smoothed the hair from his brow and laid my palm against his cheek.  “Sleep, Iain.  I’ll watch over you.  You’re home now, and safe.”  I don’t know what made me say it, but they were the right words.  The lines of tension eased from his face and his lips curved in a smile.  Quietly I pulled the chair near the bed and curled up in it, covering myself with the tartan blanket.

            Through the night I watched over him, barely conscious of time passing, aware only of the gallant highlander sleeping in my bed.  The peat fire burned down to embers.  Then, as the first shafts of sunlight pierced the gaps between the shutters, I stretched limbs cramped from being curled in the chair.  I glanced back at the bed, hoping my movement hadn’t awakened Iain.

            He was gone.   

            I blinked.  The door was still barred from within, but Iain had quite simply vanished.  I flung off the blanket and frantically searched the cottage, even climbing to the loft; but he was nowhere to be found.  Shaken, I stared at the bed.  The long impression of Iain’s body was there in the feather mattress, and the indentation of his head on the pillow.  I didn’t want to put into words, even to myself, what I already knew in my heart.  Shivering, I wrapped the blanket round me like a shawl, realizing that it was in the same tartan as Iain’s plaid, only the colors were more vibrant.  Iain.  The room seemed somehow empty without him.  Mechanically I built up the fire again and put water on to boil.  I made tea and took it outside, where I found a seat on a flat rock overlooking the burn.  The storm had passed and the glen looked beautiful in the morning light.  But for the insubstantial evidence of Iain’s presence, I could almost believe I had imagined the events of the night before.

            “Miss Heyburn?” 

            I turned, startled, nearly spilling my tea.  He strode toward me, his plaid swinging as he walked.  The kilt was of the modern variety, and his russet hair fell only to his collar, but the height and broad shoulders were the same, as was the bronze stag’s head brooch that pinned the plaid.  The cup wobbled in my hand and I put it down on the rock.

            “I’m sorry if I startled you.”  The blue eyes that gazed into mine with concern were those I remembered from the firelit cottage.  I couldn’t speak.  “I’m Alexander MacKenzie – I believe you corresponded with my father.”

            “Alexander MacKenzie?” I repeated, studying his face.  The accent was educated, but the soft Highland burr was there nonetheless.

            He grinned.  “In the baptismal registry it’s Alexander Iain Lachlan MacKenzie –but most people call me Alex.”

            The sound of the names I had heard pronounced in just that deep voice only last night gave me a strange feeling of vertigo, of a world shifting out of my control.  “I’m Kelsey.” 

            “Are you sure you’re all right?  Rob MacRae was worried about you up here all alone.  He thought you might have been frightened in the night and asked me to check on you.”

            “Thank you, it’s very kind of you – and please thank Mr. MacRae for me, but I’m fine.  The cottage is lovely.”

            Alex MacKenzie raised a quizzical brow.  “I love the place, but most people would disagree with you – it hasn’t even got running water!”

            I shook my head.  “I can’t explain it, but it’s perfect.  Whoever built it loved it here.”

            Alex gave me a searching look.  “Aye, well, it was built by my many-times great-grandfather, Iain Lachlan MacKenzie.”  The blue eyes sharpened and I was sure my face gave away the fact that I recognized the name.  “He built the cottage for his bride.  Their son Alexander was born here – as you can see, family names carried down through the generations.  It’s because of Iain that we’ve never modernized it.”

            “I’m glad – I hope no one ever changes it.”

            Alex went on almost deliberately, “Iain, along with many others of the clan, rallied to Bonnie Prince Charlie’s standard in the Rising of the ’45.”

            I said quietly, “I thought perhaps he might have.”

            “Ye’ll have heard the battle cries, then.”    Alex’s voice was matter of fact.  I nodded.  “That’s why Rob MacRae was worried about you.  In the months after Prince Charlie’s defeat, those who escaped the aftermath of Culloden hid in the mountains.  When the folk in the glen first started hearing the yells in the night, they thought one of the MacKenzie men had run into the dragoons.  The words were clearly audible and recognized as Tulach Ard, which is the battle cry of our clan.  It was still heard many years later, by then they reckoned it was a ghost.” 

“What happened to Morag?” I had to ask. 

“How did you know of Morag?” Alex demanded sharply.  “Did Rob mention her?”  I shook my head.  He answered, “When the Duke of Cumberland’s men came through, the folk in the glen fled north.  Morag argued against leaving.  She’d promised Iain she’d wait for him. But his brother Alasdair – I told you the family names got carried down – persuaded her for her son’s sake to go north with the rest of the family.  Morag never returned; I guess at some point she learned the truth.  Iain was killed at Culloden… he never came home.”

I couldn’t speak for the lump in my throat.  I turned away so that Alex couldn’t see the tears that welled in my eyes.

But Alex MacKenzie was nothing if not perceptive.  “Damn!” he swore softly.  “I’m sorry, Kelsey.  I didna mean to make ye cry.”  He offered a clean white handkerchief, and I noticed without surprise that the monogram was embellished with the stag’s head of the MacKenzie badge.  

I shook my head.  I got the words out with difficulty.  “Iain did come home.”

“Last night?  Tell me about it.”

I told him.  When I’d finished, I said shakily, “I know it sounds impossible – I could hardly believe it myself.”

Alex cleared his throat.  “Aye, well.  I believe ye,” he said huskily.  Under strong emotion, his accent was the broader Scots of Iain’s.  “The way ye described him fits the period, and from all I’ve been able to learn of him, that’s just what he’d have done.”

“Then you don’t think I’m daft?”

“Not at all.”  He hesitated, and laid a big hand very gently on my shoulder.  “If you must know, I think you brought him home.”

I stared at him.  “Me?  Why do you say that?”

“Look at it.  We’ll never know for sure, but Morag promised to wait for him… Though he was killed at Culloden – you said you saw the great bloodstain on his side – his spirit tried to come home to her.  She wasn’t here, she’d gone north.  The cottage has been empty ever since, though the family always kept it in repair.  Last night Iain found you here.  You weren’t Morag, but you were kind to him and you tried to help him.  I think you gave him the peace he needed for his spirit to be at rest.”    

The tears spilled over onto my cheeks.  Alex seemed to understand.  He didn’t say anything, just drew me into his arms and held me.  I’d never seen him before this morning, but somehow it felt perfectly natural to be in his embrace. 

At last, I looked up to see Alex studying me; the look in his blue eyes made my heart turn over.  I realized suddenly that I was still clad only in my nightdress with the MacKenzie tartan blanket wrapped around me.  I felt my face flame.  He touched my cheek gently, and I felt the echo of Iain’s touch the night before.  But this wasn’t a ghost in a firelit night, this was the light of day and Alex was real.  “Kelsey?  I know I’m moving fast, but it’s right and I think you feel it too – it’s time the MacKenzies come home to the glen.”

I laughed up at him, suddenly full of happiness.  “You know full well that there’s no stove, but I could manage some tea and toast if you’ll build up the fire.” 

Hand in hand we walked to the cottage.  Alex grinned at me and disappeared inside.

I lingered in the doorway, my palm against the sun-warmed stone of the cottage Iain had built.  I could almost feel the big highlander beside me.  “Go in peace, Iain Lachlan MacKenzie,” I whispered at last.  “I will remember you.”

And now…here is the link to the video of the song “Ghosts of Culloden” sung by Scottish singer Isla Grant.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EavpIelNHZ4

Posted in Fiction, Ghosts, Samhain, Scottish history | Leave a comment

Just a Thought: Fall Equinox – A Mabon Ritual by Way of Color Energy

Fall Equinox: A Mabon Ritual by Way of Color Energy

           Copyright Lady Walking Turtle 2005 (revised 2013)

     ThoughtNote: This ritual has been written for those experienced in the Craft.  Minors need to be accompanied by their magickal family.  This is a ‘family friendly’ ritual we have worked many times within our own group.

     In areas of the forest lands, this is time where the leaves begin to turn colors as yet another indication that the Great Wheel of the Year is continuing forward.  In the desert, this is time of the year the Greens appear to be a bit more saturated, and the tortoises and other small creatures are readying themselves for brumation, just as the squirrels and forest folk are doing as well.  Vivid Browns and Yellow Ochre appear to take center stage across the land.

     This is a very special Harvest time, as day and night are equally entwined within the energies of universe.  We may appropriately reflect and be grateful for the blessings and abundance in our lives, as well as decisively determining what must be culled from our lives in preparation for the time of Samhain. 

     The Sun is 1 degree Libra/Cardinal Air/Venus is ruling.  What better time to honor the Goddess for all of our blessings amongst the falling leaves and fruitful days.  When I was a child, I was told that it was Spirit who moved each leaf through the air, and those who ‘see’ autumn event would hear messages upon the Winds.  After many equinoxes, I now know that was a tidbit of wisdom being passed from one generation to another.

     Leaves by the way, ‘appear’; green during the bright months of light when chlorophyll production is most abundant.  It is within a process having to do with photosynthesis and light reflection.  The colors we see in the Fall have been there all the time within each leave of every branch, they are now making their appearance within the matrix of change that must happen for the tree to let go of must be set free in preparation for fresh new change in the Spring.

     As many of us ‘listen’ also by way of that which is visual, we might contemplate attuning ourselves to the messages of the color energies which surround us this time of year for a ritual that celebrates the visual vibrations that Spirit has shared with us as we prepare for lesser light during the day and incorporate the fact that they will still be kept safe within the longer nights to come.

     Setup: Consider an Altar setup, or a shrine dedicated to the energies of the season’s colors and the harvest at hand.  We usually arrange a bouquet of Corn to honor the Yellow, perhaps a Sun Flower wreath to hang above, and attempt to gather all the visual energies of the present as we adorn our place of reflection and worship.  Predominate colors now include all those of the falling leaves and the subtly changing shades and hues that are shifting with the Light.  All the Red, Gold, Orange, Yellow, Green, Browns…the primary and secondary mixing of the Color Wheel in progress.

     The flora and fauna, fruits and vegetables…these make perfect organic (and edible in many cases) adornments.  A bowl of leaves or even a single representation will suffice.

     You will need one Candle of Color (your choice) which will become your Need Fire, and a cauldron or fire safe dish to burn it within.   A package of multiple colors construction paper, scissors, crayons (either the little boxes or a giant bucket filled with a myriad of colors that can be passed around), and cutout patterns you either purchase or prepare yourself as templates for creating your personalized Leaves of the Season.  Also optional, one large disk of paper or wood or cardboard which will be painted or colored Yellow to represent and honor the Sun, and a Violet piece of cloth that will symbolically be used later in the ritual.  Also a Sage sticks and lighter, an oil of choice, perhaps one prepared especially for the occasion. 

     Request that each of your guests bring with them (or you may gather these yourself) a Pine Cone or an Acorn; you may purchase them at craft and hobby stores should you not live in an area where they are abundantly presenting themselves.  You might consider (this is a color ritual after all) suggesting your participants dress and adorn themselves in the colors and representations of the season as well.  A most excellent occasion for chaplets of leaves and ribbons for the girls, or considering the seasons color abundance when contributing to the potluck Feast that will follow.

     Just a thought for next year whilst we are working on this year: Be like the squirrels and gather your acorns (or any ritual necessities) ahead of time for the coming seasons whenever possible as you might need to keep extra supplies on hands for those who couldn’t contribute or did not find what they were in search of.  Of Note: Did you know that an older squirrel will share his winter stash with a younger squirrel should he have not gather enough for the winter?  We should all ponder the lesson of the squirrel while we are celebrating this season as well.

     Place all the cones and acorns in a portable bowl that will be passed around.  You will want to have your Cakes and Ale (again, consider them by way of Color) and other set up for ritual prepared before you begin.

    Consider ‘warm’ music today.   Perhaps the tonal voices of the Reds, Oranges, Yellows, and Green is always a balancer; keys of C, A# (B flat), G or A signatures.  Or any music that you perceive flows with the season.

     This ritual seems to always work best done in of doors in case of winds (you will be working with paper pieces), but it is your choice as always and weather permitting.  Drumming and flute music seem to work for many manner of celebrations. 

     We usually assign those who will be guiding the ritual ahead of time, or you may ask for volunteers for the procedures when all have arrived.

      Preparation:

>Cleanse and consecrate your area in your usual manner.  

>If you have an altar devotion that works best for you, do so now.  Otherwise visualize Gathering and Stirring and Focusing the Energies of Color at your altar or shrine.

>Create Sacred Space.  Carry each of the Elements in representation around your area.  You may use the bowl of cones and acorns for Earth, your templates of cut leaves for Air, your Need Fire candle for Fire, and your Ale for Water.  We then carry the Cauldron for Spirit.  As the members proceed to each direction, visualize the color representations and associations that swirl around this day.

>If you will be casting a Circle this day (we do on all Sabbats), the following aims for Warm colors and that side of the Color Wheel of Gaia.  Therefore, do not rush; breathe in the vibrations of the warmth of the visual vibrations while constructing your circle. 

>You may choose to all be within the circle when it is cast, or cast the circle and cut a door for members to enter, each being censed and anointed as they do.  If you will all be within the circle area, the Sage stick may be passed around and each person can cense themselves, or this may be done with two members as one then follows and anoint each in turn.

>Choose or select a person to read the information between the procedures and honoring that have been separated in italics.

     This will be a Three Pass Procedure: The first pass within the energy of Red, the second Orange, the third Yellow…

                  Casting of the Three Circles of Color

     “Oh Circle of Power, resonate with Energy this hour.  Bring forth the source of the key and the mystery of Color.  Arise now the foundation from which our ancestors bled.  From the depths of the warmth flow the hidden rays of the Red!

     Oh Circle of Power, resonate with Energy this hour.  Bring forth the source of the key and the mystery of Color.  Arise now the connection of substance and the bonds of courage.  From the glow that is hidden forms vibrant rays of the Orange!

     Oh Circle of Power, resonate with Energy this hour.  Bring forth the source of the key and the mystery of Color.  Arise now the beams from which the ceiling will bellow.  From the heavens and stars form the bright rays of Yellow!

    This Circle of Color is now cast!”

>If you have members outside of the circle, cut the door and cense and anoint them now.  Close the door when all have arrived.

>If you generally Call the Quarters, these will mirror the vibrations from which you cast your circle.  It is your choice whether you begin in the North or East.  The following begins in the North.  Adjust accordingly.

     “To the Guardians of the North and the Element of Earth, Send forth the Energies of that which is constant and the Color of Turf.  To the land of The Stone and the paths of the keen, we welcome the Gnomes and the balance of Green!

     To the Guardians of the East and the element of Air, Send forth the Energies of the free, and the Color of the Fair.  To the land of the key and might of the humble, we welcome the Sylphs and the light within the Yellow!

      To the Guardians of the South and Element of Water, Send forth the Energies of Change and the Colors of Desire.  To the land of our oaths, from whence our nourishment is fed, we welcome the Salamanders and the heat of the Red!

     To the Guardians of the West and the Element of Water, Send forth the Energies of Change and your color to stir.  To the land of transformation, traveled by bravery and courage, we welcome the Undines and the potency of the Orange!”

>Draw Down the Moon per your usual manner.  You might visualize Her in all her glorious colors as you do.  White and Light are the lenses for your visual vibrations.

>Read your Charge of the Goddess; you might consider a Charge of the God as well as this is an Equinox.  Visualizing them respectively in White and Black would be very appropriate, as well as acknowledgement of the Balance this time presents for us.

>Invocation of Warm Energy:

     “Hail Mother of Color and the mystery of this vibration; I invoke now your energies in this time of joy and celebration.

     Please send now the cords of Yellow, Orange, Red and Green; that I may connect with the One and know more than is seen!”

>The purpose of this ritual is to attune ourselves to the energies of the harvest and honor all the gifts we have been bestowed, including that of Color.  Some of these colors will soon be fading from our lives until the winter’s equinox.  Many of our seasonal foods and weathers as well.  We will reach into ourselves today and draw these same energies from within.  In acknowledgement of the changes to come, we will prepare for the cooler season and its own colors by giving thanks to Spirit by way of representational offerings we will each fashion with gratitude.

                 Honoring the Turning Leaves of the Season Offering

     “Since imitation will most definitely be a higher form of flattery this day, we will show are love and gratitude for our blessings by creating our own ‘Turning Leaves’.  This is your opportunity to physically and spiritually “Paint with all the colors of the Winds” (1)

     You will have the opportunity to color with intent that which you will become as well as that which you must now harvest or cull in preparation for the season to come.  In attuning ourselves by way of Color, we also connect to all that we have absorbed and learned since we received our very first box of crayons or water colors.  This is a very good thing!”

>Pass out the papers, colors and scissors.  Obviously, there will be sharing that will occur, very much in the same manner as those squirrels!  This might be a good time to begin that music if it hasn’t been playing softly already.  Remember that you really did learn everything you need to perform this offering in Kindergarten, so all is well. 

>Commence creating your personal ‘Turning Leaf’.  This is your offering to embrace the balance in life and to bravely flow into the season ahead.  Pour out your feelings in color energy on your leaf or leaves. 

>You might consider creating two leaves; one for the acceptance of Change, and one for your commitment to overcome an obstacle or issue that stands in your way.  Both will convey to Spirit your intent to continue your path of becoming who you were meant to become.  One for what you will let go as well should you have the time to create three.

>Everyone will be instructed to stand and stretch and then to Ground and Center

>Deep breathe.  Find your Still Point.

>Contemplate that which you are offering (promising to Spirit and to yourself).

                 Sharing the Bounty of the Season with Others

>This is where all those Pine cones and acorns come into play.  Pass the bowel filled with both around the circle, each retrieving either a cone or an acorn. 

>After each has selected, the meaning of choice is revealed…

     If you selected a Pine cone, then there is an adult someplace in your sphere who requires your assistance and some of the abundance he or she is without.

     If you selected an acorn, then there is a child or young person someplace in your sphere who requires the same.

     You have been charged with accomplishing this private opportunity to create positive change before the last harvest at Samhain/or Halloween.   You need not share your challenge or when it was accomplished.  You, the person you assisted and Spirit will know.

     You might consider as a group ‘adopting’ a family in need and each contribute when you are able to share your blessings and harvest.  Think of this Sharing Offering as the Color Blue.  Think of it as a higher form communication/healing/learning/seeing with your heart and soul and not just with your eyes. 

              The Covering of the Warm Colors and an Invitation to the Cool

 >Bring forth the Yellow disk and the Violet cloth

     As a gesture of acceptance that the Light is changing and we must bid farewell for a time to our warm colors, ‘cover’ the Yellow with its compliment the Violet which will quell and balance, allow us to know that all Color is held safely within the longer nights to come.  Seek out the Violets on the winds and then upon the snows of the winter.  Remember the Yellow that is nestled within the shadows.

     If the group has a favorite song or chant, this is where you will all join hands and sing or chant.  Drumming and music always most welcome as well.

                            Cakes and Ale

     As we are family friendly, we usually choose White (the presence of all color) grape juice (Purple Grape Juice would be appropriate as well) and colored ‘cakes’.  You will have made your own selections as per your usual practices.

>Perform the Symbolic Great Rite with your chalice or ale vessel

>Communion:

               “As the Shades are to the Hues, so is the Light to the Dark.  Together they are the visual energy of the One.”  Share your ale with one another.

              “AS the day brings us all the colors of the Light, so the night holds safe all the vibrations of sight!”  Share your cakes with one another.

>Thank Spirit for your blessings and the opportunities to create change

>Close the Quarters if you Opened/Called them:

          “To the Guardians of the North and the Element of Earth, we give thanks that You sent forth the Energies of that which is constant and the Color of Turf.  To the land of The Stone and the paths of the keen, we bid farewell and thank the Gnomes and the balance of Green!

     To the Guardians of the East and the element of Air, we give thanks that you sent forth the Energies of the free, and the Color of the Fair.  To the land of the key and might of the humble, we bid farewell and thank the Sylphs and the light within the Yellow!

      To the Guardians of the South and Element of Water, we give thanks that you sent forth the Energies of Change and the Colors of Desire.  To the land of our oaths, from whence our nourishment is fed, we bid farewell and thank the Salamanders and the heat of the Red!

     To the Guardians of the West and the Element of Water, we give thanks you sent forth the Energies of Change and your color to stir.  To the land of transformation, traveled by bravery and courage, we bid farewell and thank the Undines and the potency of the Orange!”

>Circle Closing:  The Circle will be released by reversing the colors of the casting and subsequently creating a ‘Puddle’ of Color which will lifted by the person who cast the circle and then passed Widdershins (counter clockwise) around the circle of united friends to absorb and take with them for use when they need to redraw from the Well of Color.

     “This circle continues on as the never ending energy that flows through us and emanates from us.  From this day we will grow within the colors we also keep safe within our hearts and shadows of our memories.  We will reflect them to those around us when they are needed.  Go now and paint palates upon the life and path that you walk!  So mote it be!

>Hugs

>Feasting

>Attend to the libation bowl

>Attend to the critter alter you will begin to assist those squirrels and other creatures to prepare for the months to come as well.

Happy Trails and Blessed Mabon and Fall Equinox to all!

Posted in General Spirituality, Practical Magick, Spells and Rituals, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Circle of Thyme – Making Smudge Sticks

Circle of Thyme – Making Smudge Sticks

By Linda Monsees Stump © 2013

 CircleI love working with herbs, but I’m not the most coordinated individual on the planet.  Nerve damage in one hand takes my klutziness to a new level.  I never know what I’m going to drop…or when – so any creative activity requiring manual dexterity is always an adventure!  Recently at a friend’s house, a group of us were over-dipping candles and rolling them in an herbal mixture.  My hands weren’t cooperating to roll fast enough to get the candle coated properly before the wax cooled.  Of course, I had to have help from my coordinated friend, who had the candle rolled and dipped before I could bend my fingers to grasp the candle in the first place!  Sigh.

However, my small garden was exploding with purple sage and lavender, and the pots of lemon balm and peppermint were overflowing.  I even had some of the St. John’s wort that could be cut.  Harvesting the herbal bounty on a sunny afternoon was great fun, 08-24-2013 HerbHarvest3while tiny white butterflies flitted around my head.  I set aside some of the herbs for drying to use in sachets, potpourri and, in the case of the peppermint, tea.  I bagged the now-dried lavender from my first harvest and was thrilled to see how much I have!

I’ve wanted to make my own smudge sticks for a while.  A smudge stick is a bundle of herbs that are wrapped fresh and allowed to dry, then burned and the smoke used for purification and protection.  Using scented smoke in this way is common to many religions and cultures around the world.  Plants that are often used include sage, lavender, peppermint, cedar, mugwort and lemon balm.  Native American tribes used different herbs depending on their purpose.  I used purple sage, lavender, peppermint and lemon balm, as that’s what I had in the garden. 

Sage has always been considered a purifying herb, and represents wisdom, healing, wish manifestation and attraction of money.  Mint is a protection herb, bringing ease in travel; it also has prosperity associations.  Lemon balm has been used to treat influenza and anxiety and has a very bright citrusy scent.  Lavender has been used to purify, being added to the rushes strewn on floors in medieval times.  It has also been used in the treatment of headaches, anxiety, depression and insomnia.  Although some use lavender as a powerful banishing herb, I find it to be a very strong protection herb.  Perhaps because my mother loved the scent, I associate it with home, hearth, maternal love and safety in addition to its other benefits.

I found instructions for making smudge sticks on the internet and it looked like a relatively easy project.  And since I don’t have a great deal of free time these days, it didn’t seem as though it would be as time-consuming as other projects, like lotion making.

Interestingly, the first challenge to even starting the project was to find a very basic ingredient:  string.  We didn’t have any in the house.  We went to the hardware store, a craft store, no string.  I finally found it in the kitchen section of Wegmans, of all places!

Finally – I had the string, and I had the harvested herbs.  I laid everything out on 08-24-2013 SmudgeBundlethe counter to begin.  I cut what I thought were reasonable size pieces, thinking they might condense a bit in the wrapping or drying.  I combined a mixture of sage, peppermint and lemon balm, and a few sprigs of lavender.  I put the pieces together with the cut ends at the bottom and got ready to wrap the string, leaving two inches free at the bottom to tie off once I’d wrapped up the bundle and back down.

Oops…second challenge!  While I was trying to hold the string and the bundle of herbs in place with my left hand to wrap the string with my right (the one in better shape!), the nerves in my left hand refused to play along and I dropped the lot!  There were herbs everywhere, and my cat came to investigate, evidently thinking that with such inviting smells, surely I must have brought in catnip for her.  I hadn’t, since I wasn’t intending to put catnip in the smudge sticks…so after cleaning up my spill, I had to go satisfy the kitty craving.  Then, back to the smudge sticks-to-be.

This time, I held the bundle in my right hand and, 08-24-2013 SmudgeSticksWrappedmore clumsily, wrapped with my left.  The result didn’t look as neat as the picture in the instructions, but at least I didn’t have herbs all over the floor!  It also looked a bit too long.  The second one went a little better, and by the third I was getting the hang of it.  I started making them a bit smaller, too, which seemed to help.  I ended up with seven smudge sticks when I was finished.

I let them dry for two weeks before taking this photo, and I will probably let 09-08-2013 SmudgeSticksDrythem dry for a few more weeks before actually attempting to burn one.

If you are looking for an herbal project that doesn’t take several hours, this is a fun, fragrant one to try.  Good luck!

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Circle of Thyme – A Summer Garden Journal

Circle of Thyme – A Summer Garden Journal

By Linda Monsees Stump © 2013

I have been in a busy audit season at work since May involving quite a bit of business travel, and we are on baby-watch, waiting anxiously for our eldest daughter to give birth to our second grandchild, who has decided to take her sweet time in arriving!

All this hasn’t left me much time in the garden.  I’ve managed to control the weeds and do some planting in the late spring.  We put in another mandevilla for the trellis to replace one that didn’t survive the winter.   I also planted peppermint in a pot, since it has the 06-09-2013 Peppermint1tendency to completely take over my small garden plot – which was already getting crowded!  Somehow I ended up with two hostas in the garden which I hadn’t planted there – but since they were thriving, I decided not to disturb them right now.  Perhaps I’ll try to transplant them after they finish blooming.  The purple sage decided to annex the space06-09-2013 Sage1 vacated by the lemon verbena, and was growing like crazy.  I was sad that the lemon verbena didn’t make it, even though it was expected.  It should be wintered indoors – which I couldn’t do because my cat would eat it – or in a greenhouse, which I don’t have.  I found some lemon balm and planted that in a pot; it’s thriving, as is the peppermint, so maybe I can figure out some kind of covering this winter.

A few weeks ago I went out to harvest my first bunch of lavender for the season…and stopped.  Two baby rabbits – probably the second litter of the season – were busy having their breakfast and finding something delectable in the grass.  Not wanting to disturb IMG_0465them, I slowly went back inside.  Other tasks kept me busy throughout the day, followed by a phone call from my daughter, and I didn’t get my lavender harvested.  Unfortunately, a severe thunderstorm and pelting rain that week beat down the lavender to the point where I was worried that the fragrant stalks would be ruined.  I waited to allow the plans to dry out a bit after the storm before attempting to harvest anything.  Fortunately I was able to get quite a bit from my two plants, and the stalks are drying nicely, waiting to be used in some type of herbal concoction yet to be determined.

This year I planted St. John’s wort, which I’ve never had in my garden before, and catnip.  My cat loves fresh catnip, so having a ready supply for her keeps her in kitty bliss.  St. John’s wort is one of the old herbs mentioned in Culpeper and in medieval herbals.  My marigolds are producing colorful blooms that will be dried and added to potpourri or sachets for color and all around positive energy.

Someone recently asked me where I got the name for my column, Circle of Thyme.  Several years ago, my local writers’ group was given the assignment to write a how-to article that would be posted online.  I wrote about a joint lotion-making venture with my youngest daughter.  The reader response to that article told me that there are a lot of people out there like me – they have an interest in herbs and aromatherapy, but they don’t have large blocks of time to work with it, and the instructions for some of the more complicated concoctions were occasionally intimidating, especially if they included adding magick to the mix.  Later we progressed to an e-newsletter format for posting to group founder Silver RavenWolf’s web site, and we each had to come up with a regular column in addition to our seasonal stories and poetry.  I was asked to do a column on what the group had come to call my “Lotions and Potions” – herbal crafts with the added ingredient of magick.

The idea was daunting at first.  I wasn’t a trained herbalist or certified in aromatherapy.  I wasn’t even good at gardening, for heaven’s sake!  While I would love to potter about concocting all sorts of marvelous salves, tinctures and botanical blends, the reality of my life is a job that requires me to frequently put in long hours.  When I get home, I haven’t got the time or the energy to begin a complicated process.  So how was I going to come up with meaningful articles to publish on schedule?  And what on earth was I going to call the column?  “Lotions and Potions” seemed a little too contrived.

I fretted over this while trying to find an herbal remedy for my older daughter, who was battling a bout of respiratory problems.  My research led me to thyme, which is known to be good for cleansing the lungs and clearing out phlegm.  Although vaccines have done away with the need to worry about whooping cough, at one time it was used to treat that disease.  It can be used in tincture for respiratory infections and asthma.  Unfortunately, the tincture would take at least three weeks before it was ready for consumption, so in this instance it wasn’t much use to my daughter.  I didn’t have the time to make the tincture of thyme.  Frustrated, I thought if I was really any good at this, I’d have had a ready-made pharmacopoeia handy.  The absurdity of the idea made me laugh – my daughter lives two hundred miles away, so even if I had every tincture, infusion or salve known to man on hand, it wouldn’t have done her any good!

Then suddenly everything came full circle.  I realized the secret was already in that first article – and why I’d received such a positive response.  I had found a way to learn more about the magickal, medicinal properties of plants and the manner in which they promote well-being, and to do so in the time constraints under which I personally had to operate.  And in my research for my daughter, I found the title for my column.  Places where wild thyme grows are said to be powerful energy centers on the earth.  So, then, my little columns would become A Circle of Thyme – a place where people could read of simple, effective herbal projects and see their own power grow with the confidence that they can enjoy the everyday magick of aromatherapy.

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