The History of Tarot

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By Lori Nicole Evans

Updated 8/16/2019

Free for use in educational and not-for-profit endeavors.

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The first known deck of playing cards came from the 800’s in China, for something that was called the ‘Leaf Game.’ Other forms were called ‘Money Cards’ and were often used in gambling. Card games didn’t become popular until woodblock printing technology made them easier to obtain. Before then, it was mostly a leisure activity for the wealthy. Europe didn’t see playing cards until the 14th century, and these decks were called trionfi, and later as tarocchi or tarock. The original purpose of these decks were to play the games that may have come from Egypt, who had been playing with cards since the 11th century.

4-suited decks like the modern playing cards were first seen in 1365 in Southern Europe. All decks of cards were hand painted, so they are thought to have been very rare until the invention of the printing press in the mid-1400s. Although a Dominican preacher spoke against the evil inherent in cards in a sermon in the 15th century (chiefly owing to their use in gambling), no routine condemnations of Tarot were found during its early history.

There are claims that Tarot, as a method of divination (sometimes referred to as “The Game of Man” or more formally as Taromancy), has ties to ancient Egypt, the Kabbalah, Indian Tantra, the I-Ching, among many others, though no documented evidence of such origins or of the usage of Tarot for divination are scholarly proven before the 18th century. They weren’t widely used for divination at all until 1750, first in Italy. However, the designers of Tarot decks pulled from all of these sources.

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The ‘Sola Busca Tarot’ is the earliest known example of a 78-card Tarot card deck. It is the first known tarot deck to be structured this way, with 56 cards in the four standard suits (Minor Arcana, as called by occultists) and 22 trump or Major Arcana cards. Most contemporary occult tarot decks emulate this structure. It was created by an unknown artist and engraved onto metal in the late 15th century.

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The French ‘Tarot of Marseilles’ is considered the basis for the design of all future Tarot decks. It is a collective name referring to a variety of closely related designs that were being made in the city of Marseilles in the south of France, a city that was a center of playing card manufacturing. Controversial images such as La Papesse have spawned controversies from the Renaissance to the present because of its portrayal of a female pope. There is no solid historical evidence of a female pope, but this card may be based around the mythical Pope Joan, who was said to have reigned for a few years in the mid-800’s.

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The French occultist Etteilla was the first to issue a revised Tarot deck specifically designed for occult purposes around 1789, publishing his ideas on the correspondences between Tarot, astrology, and the four classical elements and four humors. In keeping with the misplaced belief of the time that such cards were derived from the ‘Book of Thoth,’ a term for many ancient Egyptian texts supposed to have been written by Thoth, the Egyptian god of writing and knowledge. Etteilla’s Tarot deck contained themes related to ancient Egypt. He wrote the first book on the methods of divination using Tarot.

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The ‘Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot’ deck, the first ever in English, was originally published in 1910 by the William Rider & Son Company (who had published Bram Stroker’s ‘Dracula’) when Western interest in all things occult was verging on mania. It is one of the most popular Tarot decks in use for divination in the English-speaking world and is largely the reason any of us know about Tarot today.

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Drawn by Pamela Colman Smith, British-born visual artist who studied art in New York City and lived in Jamaica, from the instructions of Andrew Edward Waite, American-born Christian occult scholar and writer living in London. We refer to this deck as the ‘Rider Tarot’, the ‘Rider-Waite Tarot,’ and ‘Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot.’ It’s all the same deck. Smith did not benefit monetarily from her artwork nor the deck’s popularity, so adding her name has been a posthumous way of acknowledging her contribution.

Waite and Smith knew one another from past experience with the Hermetic Society of the Golden Dawn, the first western Occultist organization of its kind to admit women. This secret society was founded in London in 1888 by Freemasons Dr. William Wynn Westcott and Samuel Liddell and was devoted to the study and practice of the occult, metaphysics, alchemy, geomancy, astrology, scrying, astral travel, and paranormal activities. It had absorbed much of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia and Order of the Golden and Rosy Cross traditions, and was one of the largest single influences on 20th-century Western occultism, such as Wicca and Thelema.

Other members included Bram Stoker, William Butler Yeats, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Aleister Crowley, who considered Waite his arch nemesis. Crowley referred to him as the villainous “Arthwate” in his novel ‘Moonchild’ and referred to him as “Dead Waite” in his magazine ‘Equinox.’ Supposedly, even H.P. Lovecraft based the villainous wizard in his short story “The Thing on the Doorstep,” called Ephraim Waite, on Waite.

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As a note, Crowley even designed his own Tarot as part of his Thelema philosophy, the ‘Thoth Tarot,’ published much later in 1969 after his death, based on plans and artwork made during the 1930s and 1940s with Lady Frieda Harris. He changed many names, symbols and Hebrew letter associations from Waite’s version, like ‘Strength’ became ‘Lust’ and ‘Justice’ became ‘Adjustment.’ He wrote ‘The Book of Thoth‘ as an accompaniment.

It is suspected that Waite was disliked because he was highly pragmatic for an occultist, and favored mysticism over practical magic. He was not a trained scholar and his writing was dry, yet he advanced quickly within the Golden Dawn despite Crowley believing that Waite simply did not understand the nature of magic.

Magic:

The art that purports to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural.
The practice of using charms, spells, or rituals to attempt to produce supernatural effects or control events in nature.

Mysticism:

A spiritual discipline aiming at union with the divine through deep meditation or trancelike contemplation.
Any belief in the existence of realities beyond perceptual or intellectual apprehension but central to being and directly accessible by intuition.

The schism between mysticism and magic was one of a myriad of reasons the Golden Dawn fell apart by 1899.

The Western, English-speaking world largely owes our knowledge of Tarot in any form to Waite, who dedicated his life to collecting the liturgies, rites and ceremonial words of many secret societies. He probably joined more secret societies than anyone else before or since: on the 4th of March, 1903, he wrote in his diary: “If my receptions go on at this rate, I look shortly to be the most initiated man in Europe.” In 1902 alone, he joined at least nine different secret societies: the Holy Royal Arch, the Knights Templar, the Knights of Malta, the Swedenborgian Rite, the Mark Degree, the Red Cross of Constantine, the Secret Monitor, the Ancient and Accepted Rite, and the Early Grand Scottish Rite.

Waite was a collector, an organizer, and had a keen sense of patterns. He believed that all the knowledge of occultism came from a hidden, original practice of Christianity from before the Bible was written. When the Golden Dawn split up due to constant power struggles, Waite founded the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, which was supposed to be Christian and mystical, rather than pagan and magical, and it combined elements from Masonic, Kabbalistic, Alchemical, and Tarotic tradition in its rituals.

When designing his own tarot to go along with a book he was writing on Tarot divination (‘The Pictorial Key to the Tarot’), Waite did extensive research on the history, interpretations, and traditions behind all the symbols he included. The subtext of the book was “Being Fragments of a Secret Tradition under the Veil of Divination.” This suggests, again, that Waite’s interest was in the esoteric liturgy and power words, and he used Tarot as a means of connecting them all.

The structure of his deck is very similar to Etteilla’s: 4 suits, Major and Minor Arcana, with influences from astrology and the four elements. Despite being a Christian, Waite actually toned down the Christian imagery in his cards from predecessors. The Pope became the Hierophant, the Papess became the Empress. He had both the Major and Minor Arcana cards illustrated, which previous Tarot decks did not do,as he wanted to appeal to the art world.

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Much of the philosophy and symbols in the cards came directly from the writings of Éliphas Lévi, a socialist French occult author and ceremonial magician, and one of the key founders of Western magic. His highly independent magical teachings were free from obvious fanaticisms: he had nothing to sell, and did not pretend to be the initiate of some ancient or fictitious secret society. He incorporated the Tarot into his magical system, and as a result the Tarot has been an important part of the paraphernalia of Western magicians. He had a deep impact on the magic of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and Crowley. He was also the first to declare that a pentagram or five-pointed star with one point down and two points up represents evil, while a pentagram with one point up and two points down represents good. Lévi’s ideas also influenced Helena Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society.

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American Paul Foster Case began his studies of Tarot at the age of 16 in 1900, when visiting occultist Claude Bragdon asked him if he knew what the origin of playing cards were. After finding the connection to Tarot in his father’s library, he was hooked. He also tried practicing Pranayama Yoga through what written instructions he could find, and the experience left him with the strong belief that occult knowledge should only be studied under informed guidance.

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Case founded the Builders of the Adytum (B.O.T.A.) in 1939, which was dedicated to spreading the knowledge of the Western Mysteries across the world in the form of supervised correspondence courses. He had begun writing this curriculum back in 1922, called ‘The Ageless Wisdom.’

The Tarot,’ published in 1947, was his magnum opus of nearly 50 years of intense study of the Qabalah/Kabbalah, the Tree of Life, Gematria, Sound and Color, Alchemy, and Astrology. It was written as a guide to the hidden symbols within B.O.T.A.’s own variation of the ‘Rider-Waite-Smith’ deck. Their black and white deck is designed to be colored by the owner, so that each deck takes on their own personality and power.

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B.O.T.A.’s Tarot,’ designed by Case and drawn by artist Jessie Burns Parke, corrects what Case believed were mistakes or blinds on Waite’s part. He wanted the cards to be a more comprehensive book of wisdom, and included some symbols that were otherwise considered too advanced for the uninitiated.

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Case also published for the first time the Hebrew letter associations of the Golden Dawn, and the Tarot Tableau, a layout of the Major Arcana that showcases their connections and dissimilarities.

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Swiss Psychologist Carl Jung, well known for his work on analytical psychology, took his own views to the study of Tarot. Jung, though largely a skeptic and a believer in synchronicities (the concept that all events, however meaningful and unexpected, are coincidences), had an interest in the paranormal and occult. He even studied alchemy, which he saw as a metaphor for psychological and personal growth.

In 1933, Jung gave a lecture on active imagination, in which he spoke about Tarot. He said “they are psychological images, symbols with which one plays, as the unconscious seems to play with its contents. They combine in certain ways, and the different combinations correspond to the playful development of events in the history of mankind. […] Those are sort of archetypal ideas, of a differentiated nature, which mingle with the ordinary constituents of the flow of the unconscious, and therefore it is applicable for an intuitive method that has the purpose of understanding the flow of life, possibly even predicting future events, at all events lending itself to the reading of the conditions of the present moment.”

Essentially, he felt that the symbols of the cards related to all humanity in a deeply psychological way, and so could be used to access the subconscious. Once one understood the present moment, then predicting the future was a clear logical jump.

Though he did not start learning to read Tarot until the 1950s and did not go far, his own deck preference was Grimaud’s ‘Ancien Tarot de Marseille,’ a precise reproduction of the historic ‘Tarot de Marseilles’ created in 1760 by Nicholas Conver. He felt its alchemical symbology resonated best with him.

Near the end of his life, Jung wondered how it might be possible to distinguish true paranormal events with synchromatic ones. This particular conundrum continues today, as no undeniable test has ever been designed.

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Nowadays, Tarot has many thousands of different forms and functions. Decks are designed for artistic purposes, intuitive reading, decision-making, fortune telling, personal growth and inspiration, motivation, meditation, to connect with a particular energy or deity, and as part of a game. Writers may use it for ideas for their characters are going through, or what may happen next in the plot. An artist could use it to gain inspiration for their next piece or uncover the reason behind a creative block. Tarot can be used in spells and will manifestation.

The possibilities are endless and entirely at the whim of the user. Tarot is a tool, and in your hands for your use.

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Designing Love Spells

Hello fellow Pagans! With Valentine’s Day approaching, I want to discuss love spells and introduce my guidelines to writing your own working.

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Love spells can be powerful, and they can also backfire is unexpected ways. You have to design them with very clear and moral intent. At no point should you take power or free will away from the subject of your spell. This means you may not make decisions for them or force them to love you (or anyone else). You may not cause them to see you dishonestly. These are some of the trickiest workings to design because you must be precise, articulate, and above all, ethical!

(Note: Black magic love spells exist, and it is up to the individual witch to choose their own path. This article does not cover those workings, which are risky and not to be used lightly.)

So what can you do? You can design a spell that opens their heart to possibilities, and that let’s them see you in a fresh and clear light. You can also do a complimentary spell to help present yourself with your best, but still honest, foot forward.
If you do not have a specific person in mind, you can focus the spell on drawing in kindred spirits, while encouraging yourself to step out of your comfort zone to be most visible. Again, the gods have a sense of humor, so be precise in what you are looking for or you may have unexpected results.

My tips to you on writing a working is to be mindful of your intentions, considerate in your approach towards the other person/potentials, and vigilant against laziness on your part. The better engineered a spell is for your goals, the better the results.
All spells require some real-life complimentary action. If you find a spell that doesn’t, I’d be wary, or you can use it as a framework to design your own. Some real-life actions for love spells could be: increasing how many people you ask out; attending singles events; talking more to the object of your affection; and self care. Spells are enhancments to the mundane world. They will not do the heavy lifting for you. You must do all the things necessary, from putting yourself out there to taking care of yourself so that you can present your best and truest self.

You may want to fit in your patron diety/energy. I would research their connections to love and socializing, as well as self care. Hone in on it, as it may not be obvious. For example, your diety may not be directly related to love, but it a real kicker for honest communication and community. Or perhaps they are all about courage. You can take that and weave it in in the appropriate part. Some love dieties may sound like an obvious choice, like Aphrodite, but be aware of her stories and how this goddess of beauty approaches love and whether that fits with your goals.

If you have multiple dieties you wish to work with, that is up to you to design appropriately. Some people never “mix pantheons,” or in otherwords mix dieties from different cultures, and you should be aware of the relationship between the respective dieties (this may not be direct) as well as their status levels. Some dieties don’t care, others want their due.

When it comes to designing a working, I am a very practical witch and rarely indulge in rhyme or grand, dramatic bits, but You Do You! Do what feels right for you. Sometimes a rhyming scheme makes the whole thing feel stronger, or an eloquent call to the gods sets the right headspace.

There are no rules beyond what you choose to accept.

This is a general guideline I have written for designing a working or spell:

  1. Meditation, in which intents and goals are analyzed carefully with a mind towards ethics and karma
  2. Divination, in which you seek outside advice on the situation
    Research, in which you assess dieties/energies you wish to work with, whether sacred space or casting a circle is necessary, and other intellectual work; also, if you have a specific person in mind, learning about them and whether they have a patron diety
  3. Voice, in which you closely tie the words of your spell to those intentions and goals, being mindful of loopholes and vagueness
  4. Earthly Work, in which you guard against laziness and do the mundane tasks necessary to reach those goals, including but not limited to self care, socializing, nourishing connections, putting yourself “out there,” and any other practices you have set for yourself
  5. Offerings, in which you pay appropriate homage to your chosen dieties
    Question Everything, in which you pause regularly to readjust the spells, check for ethical violations, and reassess your needs
  6. Intuition, in which you perform your working as you see fit, for what feels correct and natural to you
  7. Pay Attention to Results, in which you take notice of any synchronicities or changes, both within yourself as well as without, and alter your working accordingly
  8. Give Thanks, in which you give credit to the dieties or energies you worked with for results

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I have compiled a list of some common tools and methods used in love spells, which you are free to utilize as you wish.

  • Planting seeds as a way of planting yourself in the mind of someone, nourishing those connections by growing the plant
  • Creating a charm or talisman to wear to increase magnetism and social courage
  • Creating a talisman to attract a specific kind of person, utlizing items like a sugar crystal for sweetness, diopside for practical intelligence, and an emerald for communication.
  • Candle magic: a flame for passion, physical and intellectual
  • Doing a cleansing to release old connections no longer serving you
  • Rose quartz beads to attract love, and black crystals such as onyx or tourmaline to repel negativity
  • Choosing a scent that gives you mental clarity, such as cinnamon, mint, lemon, or rosemary, and meditating regularly with it to help you see clearly the effects of your spell as well as reassess goal.

Best of luck!

Yuletide Drinks

Happy Solstice and Joyous Yule! We have a full moon this year, so we’re staying up all night as a vigil for the coming sun!

We’re going to touch on three seasonal drinks here. First is a special infused brandy that we are going to save until next year, and hopefully will become an annual tradition. Second is a brief look at mulling spices. Last, we finish our Winter Solstice vigil with a hot spiced Chai and plan to watch the sun rise!

For our Solstice Brandy, you will need a gallon jar with lid, and many spices! Be creative, if you like certain flavors and not others. I only put in a couple cloves, for example. Some people add dried seasonal berries, like elderberries!

  • 1.75 liter brandy (cheap is fine)
  • 4 oranges, quartered (any variety you like)
  • 8 inches of cinnamon sticks
  • 24 peppercorns
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 3 cardamon pods (lightly crushed)
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 2 juniper berries
  • 1 cup raw sugar
  • 1 inch ginger, sliced in half

Put the sugar in the jar first, just for ease of layering, then add everything else, and the brandy last. Seal it up, give it a good shake now and then throughout the year. Ideally put it somewhere out of direct light.

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We made two batches. We had three types of oranges, including those pretty pink Cara Cara ones.

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I’m very excited to try these next year! They live on the Hestia altar at my friend’s house.

Now for a quickie on mulling spices!

We did not use these tonight, but since my friend keeps her own blend on hand for mulling cider or wine, I asked to share her recipe.

Mulling Spices:

  • 3 or 4 Cinnamon sticks
  • 4 Tbsp whole cloves
  • 4 Tbsp whole allspice
  • 4 Tbsp whole cardamom
  • 4 Tbsp whole star anise
  • 4 Tbsp dried orange peel (optional)

Use a few tablespoons or a small handful with 1-2 bottle(s) red wine (or equivalent volume apple cider) in a low slow cooker, or a pot on low-med heat. Add 1 medium orange, sliced, to the simmering wine/cider. We also prefer adding 1/4 cup brown or raw sugar.

Now then, some hot spiced Chai!

I love Chai. I love it iced or hot, sweet or spicy. This one has a nice balance. We made it vegan using coconut milk, but you can use half and half or whole milk easily for a rich treat!

Chai Spice Ingredients:

  • 3 Tbsp whole cardamom pods (lightly crushed)
  • 3 Tbsp whole allspice
  • 3 Tbsp black peppercorns
  • 3 red chili pods
  • 4 star anise
  • 4 cinnamon sticks (roughly 12″)
  • 0.5 inch fresh ginger root, peeled

Simmer in a pot either loose or in large tea/muslin bags, in 4-5 quarts (we’re guessing, to be honest) water with:

  • 3 tbsp loose black tea (or, in our case, 5 black tea bags)

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Simmer for about a half hour. Strain. Add ~3/4 cup honey, or to taste, whisk till it dissolves. Then complete the drink with a can of full fat coconut milk (or half and half) and 1 tsp vanilla extract.

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By the way, if you love Chai flavors, you can mix these spices in sugar and leave them to infuse! Then you can strain them or blend in a food processor (way easier) and use in any recipe you’d use white sugar in.

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We’re currently enjoying some cold leftovers with our hot Chai, watching a baking show. We’ve got a few more hours to go before Sunrise, so we may try a guided meditation (there are several on YouTube for the Winter Solstice).

Much love, and merry meet!

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Edit: We made it!

Spelled Shortbread Cookies

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Cookie Prep from December 2017

My latest baking obsession has been cookies.  Most especially, shortbread cookies!  A fan of persnickety recipes (for some reason), I love the delicacy of shortbread.  It’s actually a very simple recipe, it only requires some patience.  What’s especially nice about this simple treat is how easy it is to add spells and magical ingredients.

Shortbread dates back to at least the 12th century, originating as leftover yeast bread roll dough, sweetened and spiced, that was twice-baked to a hard round.  Eventually, butter replaced the yeast, and the first published recipe for the kind of cookie we’re used to was in 1736 in ‘Mrs. McLintock’s Receipts for Cookery and Pastry-Work.’  This recipe likely used oat flour and was more biscuit-like than we’re used to.

Queen Mary of Scots is credited with refining and popularizing shortbread, adding caraway seeds for flavor.

Now the basic modern shortbread recipe is pretty simple.  Butter, sugar, and flour.  My favorite recipe uses confectioners’ (powdered) sugar, a bit of vanilla extract, and some salt if you are using unsalted butter.

Check out the recipe here https://www.marthastewart.com/332945/shortbread-cookies

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Now what about making spelled cookies?

Note:  Something I like to do when I am making magical food is to light a candle during the whole process.  It sets up a sacred space for myself.  I usually use a simple, unscented white jar candle that will last a long time.  When I am not actively working on the food, like if the cookie dough is chilling overnight, I will snuff it out, but re-light it whenever I’m back to it.

Now, then.  The really important part here is to consider both your intention as well as taste.  Shortbread is a light flavor with a tender bite, so do not overwhelm it with a variety of new ingredients.

Here are some flavor options that would be popular.  Use culinary grade herbs/spices, and DO NOT use essential oils.  If using flavor extracts, make sure they are pure and actually contain the natural ingredient.

  • Almond – Loving, Boosts Fertility, Good Luck, Beauty, and Overcoming Addictions.
  • Caraway – Loving, Protecting, Sensuality, and giving Peace of Mind.
  • Cinnamon – Prosperity, Success, Strength, and Healing.
  • Cranberry – Loving, Passionate, Healing, Positive Energy, Courage, and Will to Action.
  • Ginger – Energizing and Passionate.
  • Lavender – Healing, Purifying, Loving, and Boosts Fertility.  Lavender is a strong flavor so use sparingly, and sprinkle some on top.
  • Lemon – Purifying, Loving, and can turn away the Evil Eye or unfriendly spells.  Adding juice would add too much liquid to the recipe, so instead, use the zest of the rind.
  • Nutmeg – Healing, Good Luck, and Clairvoyance.
  • Orange – Inspiring, Courage, Loving, Strengthening, and Healing.
  • Rose – Happiness, Loving, Protection, and Good Luck.
  • Rosemary – Remembrance, Purifying, and Healing.
  • Vanilla – Soothing, Empowering, Loving, and Good Luck.

So for a good combination example, the spice trio of ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg would be especially Healing, strengthened by the ginger.

An example of one using fruit would be these Cranberry Orange Shortbread cookies.  https://www.momontimeout.com/cranberry-orange-shortbread-cookies-recipe/  This combo with the almond extract is great for enhancing loving relationships, passion and courage in all endeavors, and healing.

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On top of adding herbs, spices, or fruit, you can also boost your intentions with the right shapes or indented marks.  Again, intent is what matters here.  If you are creating a protection spell, then choose a design that makes you think of that.  It could be simple – circle-shaped, because the shield you are building is an orb.  Maybe you are wanting to share love and affection, so a heart shape is classic.  A solid, rectangular brick shape might be perfect for a grounding cookie after a ritual.  You could also carefully draw sigils or runes on the precut dough after it’s been placed on the cookie sheet.

There are many excellent sigil-makers on the internet if you want something custom to your needs.  Otherwise there are many premade sigils and bind-runes to be found.  The more information you can find on a symbol before using it, the better.  If you can see why each mark was made, you can feel more confident in using it for your spell.

An example of nicely defined and explained bind-runes is here https://www.imsteppingaside.com/?p=1002

Video on making your own bind rune: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpAr5CGUnGA

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One guide to designing your own sigils: http://sigildaily.com/activating-rituals/

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There are excellent cookie-cutter makers on Etsy if you want to have one made with your design, if you plan on making them regularly (or for something special).

If you don’t want to mark the cookies directly, you can write it out on a small bit of paper and let it burn in the oven, or over the stove by your candle, while the cookies bake.

Now once those cookies are just barely done and not browned, and set out to cool off the baking sheet, you can add your own energy and blessing.  Here, again, it is up to you to determine what feels correct for the situation.  There are so many prayers for blessing food out there, from a wide variety of Neo Pagan methods to traditional Christian to any culture you are from.  You can use visualization techniques to draw in energy into the cookies, and create a protective shield around them.

Even how to you present your cookies can work into the spell.  Wrapping them in certain colors, including some special flowers, or a written note or poem.  It’s the whole package, and you can go as elaborate as feel correct to you.

Here is one of the cookie packages I made for last year’s holiday season to give out to neighbors.  I wanted something homey and comfortable, not too showy.  Also made sure to include all ingredients in my note.  Hope to see what you create!

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Making a Decorative Altar Piece

Written by guest writer Gekkou!

117_1542125032625.jpegHello! My name is Gekkou and I’m an eclectic pagan with largely Wiccan leanings. I’m also a fiber artist, and earlier this year I was asked to make a decorative doily-type-thing for an altar. I’m going to talk about the process of making it and my thoughts as I went along.

It’s crocheted using mostly cotton crochet thread that I was given as part of a de-stash (for the non-fiber-obsessed: de-stashing is getting rid of some or all of your fiber ‘stash’), along with some random soft white stuff that came in an anonymous ball and that I suspect is high-end wool. Mostly my choice of supplies was driven by thrift – what can I make with what I have on hand? If I had decided to purchase supplies, I likely would have gone with more vibrant, jewel-tone colors, but it was interesting to see how this turned out.

For my theme, I decided to go with the five elements typical in Wicca and elsewhere – Air, Fire, Water, Earth, and Spirit. These also have traditionally-associated colors, and I matched these as closely as I could to what was available – yellow Air, red Fire, light blue Water, grass green Earth, and white Spirit. I assigned crochet thread to the first four, and the soft white possibly-wool to Spirit, thinking of the light, intangible aspect of this element.

The center star was the only part of this design that I used a pattern for, and it can be found on Raverly (link: https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/holey-star). I didn’t follow it exactly, but did something very similar. In my coven’s tradition we assign particular elements to the points of the pentacle, and I arranged them accordingly here. I don’t often work with crochet thread, and it was challenging to work with such a small slippery piece initially. Patience required!

I knew that I wanted to surround the pentacle with a pentagon. In order to do so, I’d need to increase only at the points of the star, while also ensuring that I had the right amount of stitches along the sides. Too few and it would turn into a bowl; too many and it would ruffle. This involved a lot of trial and error and ripping back to start over, especially in the inner rounds.

I used the tan crochet thread as a sort of boundary to delineate the sections. Once I’d framed the pentacle, I had to decide on the order of the colors. Eventually I settled on an order that seemed to reflect the physical world: first there is earth, with water upon it, then warmth (fire) that you feel in the air. You might also switch the order to have fire in the center, representing the magma beneath the earth.

As I worked with the colors, I found myself applying additional meaning to them. The bright green was similar to the new leaves as we moved towards spring. The paleness of the blue put me in mind of the icy chill of the waters in the PNW where I live, and the frost that still occasionally covered the ground in the February mornings.

Once I figured out the amount of stitches that I needed for the first round of the pentagon, applying the increases at the corners became easier. The rounds were worked in double crochet, and to accentuate the corners I did one triple crochet around the front of the post (link: http://www.redheart.com/how-to/articles/ultimate-guide-crochet-post-stitches). This created a raised line at each corner, leading to the center. Everything leads to the center…

Then I faced my next (self-imposed) challenge: I didn’t want the finished piece to be pentagonal, just the center. So I had to figure out a way to round out the shape somehow. Another border of tan comprised of single crochet over chains and double crochet, and I went on to Spirit.

It was interesting transitioning from the slippery crochet thread to the more grippy possibly-wool, and that outside edge also took a lot of ripping back and re-doing to figure out (thankfully the yarn was forgiving). I wanted it nice and thick, like an atmosphere around a planet, and I made it in four rows: small single crochet, stout half-double crochet, taller double crochet, and even taller triple crochet. This made the inside row dense, and the outside row lighter – although this was Spirit, I was still thinking of the atmosphere and how the oxygen thins out the higher you get. Given the linguistic similarities between spirit and breath (inspire, etc.) it wasn’t too much of a stretch.

When I finished working up the piece, it was time to block it. Blocking is, very simply, the process of wetting fibers and arranging and securing the project so that when it dries it stays the way you want it to (ahaha. ideally). I was a bit worried as I went into it, as even with all the ripping and re-doing it was still rippling and curling around itself, as pieces like this are wont to do. And there’s a saying…if you’re hoping you can fix it with blocking, you probably can’t. However, the fiber gods smiled upon me, and when I unpinned it from my foam blocking piece it stayed flat! Some of the white edging has a bit of a ruffle, but it’s easily smoothed over.

I hope you enjoyed this foray into my creative process, and maybe are inspired to create something of your own. There’s something special about handmade altar pieces, regardless of skill level – something about the amount of yourself involved in the item’s becoming, perhaps. It’s called Craft for a reason…

Happy Crafting!