Ever had an evening when you just really needed some witch time, but there was nothing special going on that day?
In related news, my friend J and I designed an ad hoc Cleansing Ritual using stuff we had in the kitchen! Hurrah for kitchen witchery! We are all about practical forms of practice. You do not need expensive tools, special ingredients, or occult rituals. You can create your own magic by will and practicality. You apply your magic to everything you do, no matter how mundane or small.
It was a great, intimate experience and felt very bonding; not just the ritual itself with water being poured over our naked bodies under the sky, but planning it as well. We sat in the living room and chatted about how we were feeling the need for some ceremony, but it was late Sunday night so everything is closed, the moon was neither full nor new, and no online searches revealed an uncommon pagan bit of importance to the day. It was just a random evening with a good friend at their place.
We had two very large jars, in which we brewed a strong sage and mint tea with a quartz crystal in the water while seeping. We also added salt, which plays another role later. We filtered it through a coffee filter (admittedly first we thought a thin hand cloth would be fine, but it took too long).
As the tea cooled, we planned the rest of the ritual. Being outdoors felt right. We would do our own short version of a quarter call inside first, with the full jars on the altar (that we built on the coffee table with what was on hand). Then we would get our fingers wet with a bowl of fresh water (hand painted by my friend), then rub salt over our hands and rinse them in the water. Then outdoors, nude, for the finale, before coming back in and closing the circle.
The quarter call was amusing and genuine. I haven’t been to that many rituals yet, whereas my friend had a great deal of experience. So our improvised lines for each quarter reflected that, but it was joyful and open-hearted. We talked a little about each direction and it’s meanings, including how that pertained to our journey in this rite. Air, inspiration and intellect. Fire, the passion and will to make it happen. Earth, the stubborn strength to see it through. Water, the emotion and meaning behind it all.
We also shared our private thoughts on why a cleansing felt healthy for us individually at this time. I had a wish to release a lot of impatience on my part, and ask the Lord and Lady to help keep my head on my shoulders when it came to adding projects to my list. I imagine they had a chuckle.
Stepping out into the cold of a Pacific Northwest February evening, in the semi privacy of the dark backyard, I felt very alive with purpose, if also a bit giggly. We hadn’t needed anything dramatic or elaborate; just us and a little help from the spice cabinet and we were making our own magic.
We decided we would pour the herbal water over each other one at a time, rather than on ourselves at once. We felt like priestesses blessing one another. The water was warm and smelled green and felt wonderful streaming down our bodies in the chill air. It was a precious moment to share together.
Have you ever created a little ritual of your own for no special purpose other than your own calling to it? Isn’t it beautiful how we can create magic with very little?
We’ll post a more elaborate article on Witches’ Balls later, but for the meantime, I wanted to show these ones I made as gifts. Witches’ Balls are like little ornamental spells or prayers. Based on the combination of items inside, it casts out your intentions into the recipients’ environment.
These can be an excellent way to remind yourself of your intentions for the coming year. Create a ball that speaks to you and your needs – be realistic, and don’t overburden yourself with weighty goals. Place the ornament somewhere you will see it daily. Reflect on what the contents mean, and use it as a meditation guide.
I made these with the help of my 11 year old stepdaughter, so this can be a great family project.
Ingredients included cinnamon and tourmaline, which work well together; lavender; fir; rowan berries; cloves; and mustard seeds. The overall hope is for a healthy, positive home, rich and enduring family relations, and personal clarity.
The people who received them were not all pagans, but found them very beautiful. My stepdaughter remarked that they should open them up once just to smell the contents, which were just divine!
Today I’m making a big wreath to hang on the front of our house for Yule. First of all, I want to complain a little about my husband B teasing me for often saying “reef” because my Arizona drawl comes out now and then. He’s just a butt.
Anyhow, not content with a normal, store bought wreath, I went a bit wild and collected all kinds of plants, dried fruits, and spices for this project. I’ll go into the spiritual meanings behind all these supplies, and show you how to make your own! Feel free to jump ahead if you want to get right to the crafting
Many of these items I found online, often on Etsy. Some from local craft stores. A few things, like fresh fir boughs, I could get from my local garden shop (Branches in Federal Way), or my own backyard. The fruit I dried myself. I did pick up some fake red holly berries and some dried lavender, but I ended up not using them.
Juniper has been part of a purification incense for homes in preparation for Beltane. It is an herb of health and healing, a ward against disease and negative energies.
Fir is a sacred tree of life and can grant access to great wisdom.
Another tree of life is Cedar, which has been used to scent sacrifices and fumigate temples. It is connected to Odin and sanctifies magical objects. It is said to attract fortune and drive away negativity.
Lemon leaves (and rind) are often used in love spells; particularly of a sort to help people get over a past relationship and find new love. The leaves are noted for reflecting back the evil eye.
Boxwood (or Box) is particularly powerful for animal magic. Adding this herb extends your spell’s workings to include any pets and livestock.
Magnolia has a special affinity for the Wheel of Fortune tarot card. The scent of magnolia flowers or oil can help one when studying that particular card. The leaves are a symbol of lasting health and permanence.
The lotus is associated with The Hanged Man tarot card, and is sacred to beings that move between the worlds. It protects, it purifies, and consecrates any place it is set, especially as incense. It is well revered throughout the Middle and Far East.
Pomegranates have a sacred magical history of both Hebrew and pagan origins. It is considered a symbol of fertility in the Far East, particularly feminine. You can find them on the High Priestess and Empress tarot cards, and they are also associated with the Judgement card. As a gift, they are a wish for abundance and creative fertility. Opened and eaten, it connects you to the feminine goddesses, and may open you to contemplation of the more profound and deep mysteries. Drying whole pomegranates takes time and a dry space to leave them be while they do so.
I also mentioned cinnamon, “a symbol of love, and tied to The Lovers tarot card, as well as being a visionary and purifying substance. It has been used as incense in temples even in ancient China. Wearing cinnamon can inspire good fortune, concentration, and correct mindset for ritual work.”
Star Anise is “also used as a temple incense. It is excellent for invoking your chosen deities while dispelling negative energies. It is connected to the tarot card of The Fool, in his joyous trust of the now. This can even bring peace to those nearing death.”
So let’s get started finally!
I used a 24″ metal wreath form I bought at Michael’s (<$5), but you aren’t limited to that. Grapevine wreaths are great for an all natural look, or there are foam circles, but I find them a bit cumbersome, though you can wrap them in ribbon and it can look very pretty. You may be able to find a base wreath to use at thrift shops, though you may have to remove the glitzy decorations to “Paganize” it. Your call!
Begin by gathering your materials and trimming them into usable small-medium branches, and stacking them in as tidy of piles as you can. Having everything prepped ahead of time helps a lot, but if you want to dive right in, just expect lots of pausing to cut.
For the base I’m using fir, cedar, boxwood, and lemon leaves.
Take your form, and attach some floral wire sturdily (I used a thin gauge for ease of movement). There’s no special art or technique to this. You will be placing small bundles on the form, wrapping wire around it, then moving to the next overlapping bundle. The wire doesn’t get cut till the very end. It’s a pretty streamlined process.
So gather up your first artistic bundle. As you can see, my arrangement is not overly large for the size of my form, but will cover it. Don’t worry about being too big, as you can trim it later. Here I have layered fir branches with juniper and cedar.
Wrap the wire a couple times around for security, tucking underneath the bit you want above the wire to hide it, then on to the next bundle. My next bundle adds the lemon leaves. There isn’t a special method, you really just go with what appeals to you and feel balanced.
You can choose to make each bundle identical, or mix up the pattern in a way that pleases you aesthetically. I plan on making an asymmetrical arrangement, with the pomegranates, oranges, and lotus pods clustered to one side.
You can always go back and add more after you’ve completed the circle, if you think an area is lacking.
Connecting the ends together is easier than it looks, and by the time you’ve reached it, you will have a good sense of how to tuck the ends under the first bundle neatly. Cut the wire leaving a few inches, and secure it well.
Take the time now to tidy up your workstation. Put away the plants you are done with, clean up the space, and then bring out the decorations. In my case, I am using pomegranates, oranges, lotus pods, magnolia leaves, cinnamon sticks, and star anise.
You will want a hot glue gun to attach your decorations. Again, you may be entirely symmetrical, you can go minimalist, load it up wildly, or do something asymmetrical (my choice). It’s your darn wreath and you get to do whatever appeals to your aesthetic!
Don’t glue right away. Lay them out in their places, take a picture, study it a bit and rearrange to your taste before you heat up the glue gun.
The magnolia leaves (dark green and waxy) get tucked in here and there to add fullness, and fill in any gaps. It’s easier to use the smaller ones, cause they get really big. I have a bunch of large ones left over, so we’re going to have to do some spellwork or something with those!
Finally, I added some star anise in random spots that felt a little unadorned and bare, as well as the center of the most prominent orange slice.
If you make a wreath, please show me! I’d love to see what other people come up with.
For Yule, I’m decorating my house in garlands of cranberries, dried orange slices, cinnamon sticks, and star anise, and making a wreath that I will post on next. There is also a pine cone garland, I’ll talk about that briefly at the end. This is not only a nice old fashioned and natural way to deck the halls, it smells nice, and has some lovely magical properties to brighten the season.
Cranberries have an interesting and familiar bit of Finnish lore to them. The maiden goddess Marjatta ate a cranberry and by doing so, conceived a child. She was sent away in disgrace for bearing a fatherless child. Homeless, she gave birth in a stable. Fortunately, the baby is adopted by Väinämöinen, son of the father of oceans and an air goddess, hero of many Finnish legends. Cranberries were regularly used to decorate trees for Yule, as they keep and dry well on a cord and retain their bright color.
My orange slices I dried using a technique mentioned below. They are a fruit of love and fertility, and a just reward for victories. They strengthen seekers of quests.
Cinnamon is also a symbol of love, and tied to The Lovers tarot card, as well as being a visionary and purifying substance. It has been used as incense in temples even in ancient China. Wearing cinnamon can inspire good fortune, concentration, and correct mindset for ritual work.
Star anise is also used as a temple incense. It is excellent for invoking your chosen deities while dispelling negative energies. It is connected to the tarot card of The Fool, in his joyous trust of the now. This can even bring peace to those nearing death.
The string I used is a cotton embroidery thread, because I wanted durability. The color matters a little, as there are invariably some gaps here and there when they are strung up. Stick with 100% cotton or non-mercerized material – basically, something that would break apart if ingested by an animal or small child. You will also need a needle large enough for your thread (in my case, since I opted for a thicker string than your standard sewing thread, I used an embroidery needle and a needle threader).
I bought two standard packages of fresh cranberries, and only used about half of each because I was cherry picking the best ones for the garland. That amount got me the 4′ multi-item strand, and about 9′ of straight cranberry garland. They go far. I used them straight out of the bag, but you can rinse and dry them first if you prefer.
I dried out about 4 navel oranges’ worth of slices (the peel on the unused ends can be used for other purposes), but for a garland one is enough. You can also use Mandarin oranges if you prefer smaller slices. I just wanted them for extra projects since they will keep. Slice them thinly and evenly, about 1/4″ thick (you can see I wasn’t precise about this, do better than me), so they dry out completely. Put them in a dehydrator for 135° (or per machine instructions) and check then every two hours until they are done (or be lazy like me and just leave them overnight). A second method of drying is to use the oven on a very low temperature with the door cracked to let out moisture.
You can find less expensive whole star anise and cinnamon sticks at ethnic grocery stores, bulk natural food stores, and of course, online. Depending on the pattern you end up going with, you may not need very many. I only used star anise on the ends, for example.
To begin, plan out the space you will be hanging the garland. You want to measure out the length of string, and add a couple feet if you are tying in cinnamon sticks and star anise. Its better to be a bit too long and need to trim, but in worst case, you can tie on extra string and hide the knot inside a cranberry. Length does mean dealing with all that cord while your stringing your materials, so be methodical so you don’t get tangled up. Work out tangles gently, use the tip of your needle to pry knots open.
Decide on a pattern. I used: 5 cranberries, 1 cinnamon, 5 cranberries, 1 cinnamon, 1 orange, 1 cinnamon, and repeat.
Start with a loop wide enough for whatever you might be planning to attach it to. This is also something you can fix post production if you absolutely have to, but it’s a pain and doesn’t usually look as tidy. Then just below the loop’s knot, I like to start with a star anise. I don’t know why but it’s become tradition for me to have them at each end. You want to wrap string around a couple times at different angles to get between different points in the star, them double knotting it for security.
Thread your needle, and you can bring a lot of the excess string through to shorten the length the cranberries have to go. Just let it out as needed. Firm cranberries work best. Be careful running them down the thread! Too fast or without care can cause the string to saw right through them.
Tying the cinnamon sticks is the most tiresome part for me, but they add so much in terms of aesthetic and scent that they are worth the effort. I do one tie on them just to get them in place, and hold them there with one finger while trying the second knot to secure it. Sometimes it still isn’t taunt enough so I do a second loop and double knot. It doesn’t need to be super tight if you can’t manage it. One option is to add a drop of hot glue to really make sure it stays. Depends how “all natural” you want to go.
When you reach the end, tie on another star anise, and make a loop. Trim excess. The garland does not need any topcoat or protective spray – left hanging it will dry nicely, so long as the environment is not humid.
I also made one of just cranberries to hang across the window. Even my stepdaughter (11) was able to string a few of them with ease.
Now you may have noticed a pine cone garland as well. I did not make that myself, as I could not find access to pine cones I could gather. I would have to buy them anyhow, so I bought a premade garland. But if you have pine cones and want to do it yourself, you can check out one method of doing so at The Magic Onions: How to Make a Pinecone Garland.
Written by Lori Evans December 2017, updated December 2019.
A number of events are connected to the Yuletide season and the Jul/Yule Feast: the Winter Solstice (the longest night of the year, referred to as the “Tekufat Tevet” in the Talmud, and in the Northern Hemisphere is on December 20 or 21), the Roman Saturnalia, and of course, Christmas. Many other cultures have also recognized the winter solstice and celebrate it in their own way, such as the Dōngzhì Festival in China.
Yuletide specifically comes from the Germanic people of Northern Europe. It was a celebration during the Wild Hunt, a period lasting from mid-November to early January (a time of storms and unpredictable weather), when it was believed that the fae, supernatural beings, and even the dead, would come out in great numbers to parade in hunting parties through the woods or across the sky. There are variations of the Wild Hunt all throughout Europe, with different deities and deceased local historical figures of note as the leaders of the party. Some of the more recognizable of those would be Odin, Wodun, Fionn mac Cumhaill, King Arthur, and the Devil.
Modern Wicca tends to attribute leadership of the hunt to the Greek goddess Hecate, patron of crossroads, ghosts, sorcery, entrances, and a whole lot else. She is a protective goddess, one that could bestow blessings on the family house that worshiped her, or give solemn guidance to those facing difficult decisions.
Midwinter was very much a serious time, when the world was getting dangerous and the gods and the undead (Draugr) were about. In Old Norse, one name for the gods was “Yule-Beings.” The most important business deals and marriages were brokered, and it was an auspicious time for oaths.
Throughout Europe, evergreens were hung over doors and windows, as their greenery in a time of bleak cold was believed to ward off negative energies and illness. Greenery was even important to the Ancient Egyptians, who used green palms during this time when their sun god Ra was just starting to recover from his annual illness. Evergreens represented the sun god Baldor to the Scandinavians, and Saturn to the Romans.
We have our good friends the Brothers Grimm, Jacob Ludwig Karl and Wilhelm Carl, German folklorists and philologists, to thank for much of what we understand about the old winter traditions, from their research and complications published in the 1810’s. They supposed that before Christianity, the Wild Hunt was when these otherworldly beings would come and bring good tidings and fortune to the people of Earth, but after Christianity was introduced, the tales about it turned it into a darker, more devilish phenomenon. Even glimpsing this darker version of the gathering was a portend of doom, war, and death.
So let’s stick with the original idea, which is still full of notable trickery. In Germany, for example, if one came across the Wilde Jagd, if you weren’t immediately snatched up or killed, you had a few options. Opposing the hunters would mean death, but if you helped the hunt along, you would be rewarded – yet can we ever trust a gift of the fae? If they gave you a portion of the hunt, it would invariably be cursed and you’d be stuck with it forever till you managed to find someone capable of removing the bane. So you should ask for salt, which the retinue cannot supply, and this forces them to take it back. The wisest choice seems to be standing and just waiting for them to pass.
There are many new ideas for ways to celebrate the Wild Hunt, including races through the woods at night. Most of us are more likely to focus on the Yule Feast itself, which is a three day celebration starting on the Winter Solstice. From this, we eventually, though Christianization, get our modern Christmas.
Modern Christmas doesn’t look very much like Odin’s Yule, which was a time of increased supernatural activity and when the dead were close to the living. All sorts of domesticated animals would be slaughtered, the sacrificial blood spread over the altars and worshipers, and the meats cooked and devoured, along with great quantities of ale. Toasts would be made to the gods Odin, Freyr, and Njörðr (the dearly departed), and in general for prosperity and good harvests. There was usually gift-giving, but it was usually of practical items, like lamps and wax apples to keep out the dark.
A large log would be burned constantly through the night, later symbolically represented by a more manageably sized and decorated Yule Log (and then later by fancifully decorate cakes), or as in Germany, by bringing in a small tree to decorate (Tannenbaum). Supposedly, 16th-century Protestant reformer Martin Luther was the first to put candles on the tree, having been inspired by seeing the stars through the trees outside.
We take further traditions from the Roman Saturnalia, a seven day festival to the sun and agricultural god Saturn. This time of merrymaking and gift-giving even included special privileges for slaves, and the opportunity to enjoy otherwise forbidden activities such as gambling. When Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, much of this was subdued.
In modern times, we recognize Yule as the period of twelve days after the Winter Solstice. Neopaganism usually celebrates with a meal, gift-giving, and an overnight vigil. While old-school traditional meats such as boar and goat are rarely used, you can see resemblances in the Christmas ham or beef roast.
Christmas celebrations were seen as largely pagan in nature, for a time that Puritans believed was sacred and serious. In 1659 in Massachusetts in America, it was illegal to mark the occasion with anything other than a church service. It took the wildly popular and fashionable Queen Victoria in the late 1840’s to change the minds of America, ushering in Christmas trees and festive decorations.
Some people still hand make their tree ornaments, sometimes from all natural materials, like dried fruit, wood, flour, and clay. They may make spiced, hot drinks, and wassail (going around the neighborhood with their drinks and singing carols).
This is a period for happiness as well as reflection, a time to come together, and plan ahead. It is an excellent time to begin new ongoing projects, like journaling, keeping a calendar, or making a time capsule for next year.
Written by Lori Evans December 2017, updated December 2019.