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What’s in a spiritual name? How to choose a new pagan name

I’ve had a difficult relationship with my name since childhood. In the fourth grade, we were given the opportunity to take on new identities for our Old West social studies unit. I became Victoria. I remember trying on different names in the mirror. While combing my hair I’d repeat them as I gazed into my own eyes (how witchy of me…) and tested names like Vanessa or Serena. By the end of elementary school, I had switched from using my given name to “Lucy,” my middle name, and this stuck through high school.

Shortly after college, I began using my Hebrew name in some online spaces. It didn’t fit me any better than my legal name did but I liked that it was, in essence, spiritual and ancestral. It connected me to my Jewish heritage. I was raised in a semi-secular household, so it was one of the only shreds of a Jewish spiritual life I really had. But I wasn’t spiritually Jewish. I was pagan. I had been engaged with paganism and books on witchcraft long before I could really conceive what I was getting into! Yet, even as my spiritual life matured, I never truly considered taking a pagan name. That all changed after my daughter was born and I, once again, confronted how much weight I place into names.

Poem: “Me” – January 2017

There are countless spiritual teachings around names found in human cultures. Across those cultures, names are consistently recognized to carry not only meaning but power too. Indeed, magic is often thought to be spoken. A name is an extension of that magic. There have been a series of studies in recent years that show people are also affected by their name, with everything from a person’s personality to their physical appearance able to be altered. Some cultures traditionally bestow a single person with multiple names. These may be names that are for a specific purpose. Some names are used with outsiders, spoken only within the family unit, between child and parent, or with one’s spouse or spiritual leader. 

My husband and I took this to heart when we were exploring names for our daughter. We ultimately gave her three legal names: a first name and two middle names, all chosen for the magic they carry. But she also has a fourth name we use for her at home, a Hebrew one that, like Sarai Ora, connects her to her Jewish heritage – even if we don’t actively participate in that spiritual system. 

If I could rename myself, I wouldso why not? If I’m being honest, my childhood self would be surprised that I’m approaching 30 and have yet to legally change my name. But I haven’t come across the one that fits me, nor encapsulates the woman I want to become. No matter how many times my ten year old self muttered Vanessa in the mirror, I’m not a Vanessa. I’m not a Lucy. Nor am I a Sarai. 

Most pagans who have a spiritual community, whether they’re druids or witches, are given the opportunity to take a new name upon completion of the first year or so of their studies. Of course, not everyone is keen to take this on. Some choose to take the name of their patron deity as a new “surname,” while others choose entirely new names to use within their grove, coven, or circle. As a solitary practitioner, I’ve never had someone kick down my door and declare that I’m ready to take a name. If someone had, I’m sure I would’ve taken the opportunity!

How does a solitary witch, pagan, or druid take a new name?

1. Choose wisely

The first decision needs to be a private one. This name is going to be yours, so take time to consider more than face value of the name or what others may think. I’d say that a “good” name for a pagan is one that feels accurate to your personality and your soulself. To me, a spiritual name is something that encapsulates your essence, while also encouraging the playfulness and mundane reality of being a human being.

Many pagans, as I mentioned before, tend to select the name of a deity or mythological figure they work with and adapt it into their name. Other pagans choose words from the natural world to craft something unique, such as Silver RavenWolf. Many name lists online suggest names from the natural world, too, or celestial bodies.

But practicing an earth religion doesn’t mean your name choices need to be limited to options derived from nature. Being pagan is also about exploring the depth of archetypes and psychospiritual experiences that make up our fascinating inner world. Thus, names that evoke those archetypes, myths, heroes, or memories are beautiful choices, whether they’re from the collective experience or personal experience.

2. Take your time connecting with your new name

Before making a ritual of it, I’d recommend you keep your newly decided name to yourself for at least a few lunar cycles. If you’re truly ready to keep this name for a long time, this practice shouldn’t be too much of an interruption. Speak your new pagan aloud often, especially in the mirror, in the bath, or late at night. Allow yourself time to see if the connection is genuine.

Of course, waiting any length of time isn’t required. Personally, I find that my mental state can seriously influence my likes and dislikes, and my mental state can change pretty easily with the seasons. I’m a very different animal in winter than I am in the summer! I’d wait awhile just to be sure that the many versions of myself that I experience and express can wear the name.

If you’ve had an idea for a name for awhile, you could consider testing it with a few friends or others close to you before committing fully.

3. Make it official!

There are basically three ways of doing this. If you’re part of a grove, coven, or other pagan group or community, check with them if there are any rituals they have in place to facilitate your “re-birth” into this new name and identity. Chances are, they have this – or might even expect it of you at the one year mark!

On the other hand, if you’re a solitary practitioner (like me) you’re on your own. There are a variety of rituals to suit whichever path you follow. I’ve come across more than one ritual for lightworks, witches, druids, and other neo pagans. Because I haven’t engaged with any of these myself, I won’t link them here. Don’t fret! They’re easy to find and abundant.

If you’re not comfortable sourcing a ritual and performing it yourself, you could always reach out to a temple, circle, or grove that offers ritual services to non members. Expect a fee or be prepared to offer a small donation.

The path to choose my own name

Looking back over the last ten years, I’ve been dedicated to my path in a way. I want to recognize the woman I’m becoming, the druid I feel called to be, with a name that reflects it. And I haven’t found a name yet, but I’m looking.

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Discover the folk magic of blackberry brambles under the Wine Moon

The full moon of September is in Pisces, my favorite full moon of the year. It’s also known as the Wine Moon. As the equinox comes and goes, now is the time to preserve the fruit harvest of summer – and wine or juice is a great way to do just that. When better to brew than under a full moon?  

Today I want to introduce a particularly sacred plant to this full moon and this time of year. Whether or not you celebrate Mabon or the equinox more generally, the lore, herbal, and folk magic uses of this plant are interesting on their own. What plant you may ask? That would be the bramble, or common blackberry vine.

When I was growing up, we spent the first week of September collecting baskets and baskets of berries from the vines that grew along the forest edge by our home. I’d bring the baskets to my mother who made jams and preserves over the stove, which we would then indulge in throughout the winter and spring seasons. Blackberry season is wrapping up around here, with most branches bare of fruit. I missed them this year. (But will be making wine from grapes instead!)

In the British Isles, it was generally prohibited to pick or eat blackberries after October 10 or September 29th – whenever Michaelmas was celebrated. After that date, the berries were said to have the devil’s spit on them from when St Michael tossed the devil from heaven and into the bush. There are many versions of this, like the devil’s cloven hoof causes the berries to rot or he drags his black cape over the branches making them deadly. 

In a more practical sense, this is typically when the berries have passed their peak. It’s why they were considered poisonous come October, devil or no devil. 

Blackberry vines or brambles have been a sacred plant for thousands of years. The Europeans of the Neolithic age saw them as a representation of vital life force energy, while in more contemporary nature spirituality the plant is associated with the Mother Goddess for its spiraling shape. From the Ancient Greeks to the Ancient Celts, blackberries have been used to treat all manner of wounds and ills. The leaves, roots, and berries have been used in wrappings, tinctures, and elixirs to treat burns, sore throats, bronchitis, bug bites, and even gout. In Scotland, gnawing on the cane could help with asthma. An Anglo Saxon charm called for cutting the tips of one’s hair and sprinkling them among new blackberries for hair growth. Like most plants, the medicinal and magical uses were many. 

The goddess Brigid has many holy wells which often have bramble vines growing around them or nearby. This may be why blackberry wine or juice is used in Imbolc ritual. Leaves from these brambles are also said to cure wounds. Nine, in fact. 

Now, you may be wondering why the blackberry vine or bramble is considered a magical tree. Some consider it a weed for its tendency to just grow wildly on its own. To put it simply, to the Celts anything with a woody stem was effectively a tree – so the folk magic and lore around the bramble is as detailed as any other. According to Celtic legend, the bramble was brought to Ireland by none other than the Tuatha De Danann. Sandra Kynes, in her book Whispers from the Woods, speculates that the plant’s spiraling nature may have had some influence in Celtic interlacing design work. 

But not all origin stories of the blackberry bush were as benevolent. In the Balkans the bramble was thought to be the devil’s attempt at planting and harvesting grapes. He failed and ended up with the prickly blackberry bush instead.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Yet the bramble widely represents to human beings a promise of fertility, wealth, and happiness. This is evident in the way the bramble offers not only abundance at harvest time but also the opportunity for us to store the fruits of each year in a variety of ways – as wine, jam, dried leaves – that we can then use to both heal and satiate us through the colder months. 

Like the blackberry vines of my childhood, the bramble tends to grow along the edges of places – like stone quarries, forests, or holy wells. It isn’t typically cultivated like other crops but grows wild and aggressive in the natural environment, sheltering creatures like birds in its prickly nest. 

Planetary associations of the Moon and Venus thus make sense, as the Moon is associated with comforts of home while Venus brings wealth. But because of its prickly nature and tendency to grow at the edges of thickets or dark places, the bramble has a variety of associations with the spirit world and afterlife to it too. Some examples include:

  • Dreaming of picking blackberries could be a sign of an upcoming illness
  • Some thought the bramble was the plant used to make the thorny crown worn by Jesus
  • Spirits can be invoked at the site of a bramble
  • Vines were planted in cemeteries to protect the grave
  • Burning the leaves of blackberry could ward off evil spirits and was done in bridal chambers to protect the newlywed
  • In East Anglia, blackberry canes were used to make spirit flails

Between this lore and our knowledge of some traditional medicinal uses of the plant, we can reach the natural conclusion that bramble is overall feminine, cooling, and ruled by water with strong protective associations. Bramble can offer comfort even in painful situations. Despite the thorn, it offers a berry. The flowers of bramble offer a promise of fruit to soon follow, which makes them exceptional tokens or ingredients in love magic

In my view, the bramble seems to act as a barrier between our world and the supernatural or otherworlds. It assists us in keeping away spirits who may do us harm when we are particularly vulnerable, such as times of illness, when we are wounded, or when we are in liminal spaces in nature. 

Gods and Goddesses of Bramble

As I mentioned earlier, Brigid is pretty directly associated with Bramble, as are Dagda and Danu. It has also been called sacred to deities such as Hathor, Poseidon, Dionysus, Freya, Osiris, and Branwen. 

Further Reading

If you’re interested in the medicinal uses of the blackberry vine, be sure to find a trusted resource because while bramble is generally safe, there is a chance of cyanide exposure if you burn the leaves at the wrong point in the drying cycle.

Does blackberry grow where you live? If so, do you have any family traditions or folklore around it? Do you harvest the berries or make any wine or preserves? I’d be interested to hear about your relationship with the blackberry! 

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When Nanna, Norse Goddess of Love, called to me

Two years ago I met the goddess Nanna for the first time. 

Everybody experiences a connection with divinity differently. This isn’t true only in pagan polytheism but for anyone, Christian to Hindu. Anyone who pursues a relationship with (a) god, goddess, or spirit is going to have a different method of communication with that being. 

For me, deities have always entered my consciousness through dream visions. This is partially why I call myself a dreamworker; I’m better able to connect with other realms from the dreamscape than I am able to from woken consciousness. Some people may have the ability of clairaudience, the ability to hear a deity speak. Others may find communication with spirit at its strongest through automatic writing. For me, it’s dreams. 

And that is where Nanna introduced herself.

I knew nothing about Norse paganism. I’ve mentioned before that I’m of a Jewish background on my mother’s side. My mother’s father, however, was Scottish. His family came from the Scottish highlands to America. I’m one of many people who have found Scotland’s landscapes so beautiful that it arises a homesickness within. But exploring Scottish or Celtic folklore or spiritual traditions was not something that interested me. My grandfather wasn’t a good man, and I felt that if I embraced that part of my heritage I was also embracing him. I didn’t want to make him, as an ancestor, vibrant in my practice by engaging with my Scottish heritage. 

Even so, figures like Freyja, the Morrigan, or Bride (Brigid) have attracted my attention. But I never picked up a book or studied these pantheons. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want anything to do with the connection I had to that land because I had it through my grandfather.  (Now, of course, I’ve grown passed this. I’ve discovered that the Scottish highlands in particular offer a fantastic mix of Norse, Irish, and local Scottish lore. In the highlands can be found a tapestry of practices that emerged from centuries of Northern European travel, trade, conquest, and settlements.)

Instead, I embraced other roots and traditions. I studied mythologies of the desert and fertile crescent, seeking to trace both a bloodline and a spiritual line to figures like Qetesh, Asherah, and Ishtar.

Then Nanna came.

Photo by Dagmara Dombrovska on Pexels.com

The dreamvision from Odin and Nanna

Two years ago, while I was living in Japan, I was out with my husband and a close friend. We were bar hopping, dancing, and doing the usual wandering of the city that we did on the weekends. Rather than take a taxi home at 3am, our friend opened up her home to us for the night. We went back to her place, and I passed out hard on the futon. 

My dreams were normal and, as usually, mildly lucid. Fragments of reality and fantasy wove into one another, creating silly narratives that I was half aware were dreams but enjoyed for their spunk. 

In the final dream before I awoke, I was standing over a bunch of salmon in the grocery store. I was arguing with my husband about which one we should barbeque for a party the next day. I heard something crackle like thunder above me. I looked up and saw a bearded man with an old, ancient face peering back down on me.

He appeared massive from where I stood – easily the size of a cloud! The crevices in his skin and the tangles of his hair reminded me of the enchanted forest coloring books my mother collected. His body was aged almost like tree bark, almost like an old human man, but something was just… different. Ethereal.  

I observed him for a few moments. Then I told this man I was busy. I (melodramatically) turned my back to him and tried to continue the discussion over salmon with my husband.

But he reached down from above and grabbed me by the shoulders with just two fingers – again, he was massive – and lifted me up out of the grocery store. When he did so, I felt my consciousness leave the dream itself. I entered into a new space, and saw the dream paused on the other side of a tear in space.

I don’t want to call where I went the astral plane, because in many ways I don’t think it was; but there was something very real about it as a realm. It was dark, a little chilly, but not discomforting. There were glittering stars that seemed more like fireflies in the distance. He placed me on a kind of silver platform and, when I did, I became fully aware of myself. I was fully aware that I was no longer dreaming.

I knew my body was on the futon at my friend’s house, fast asleep. I knew it was likely nearing dawn. This realm was familiar to me, but unexplored; I felt that I had stood on that platform many times. 

The old man tapped a rod that hung suspended in space. When he did, a tapestry unrolled rapidly. It descended and descended. The length and size of the images was similar to semitrucks or the front of a large barn. I faced both he and the tapestry as if they were monuments.

The tapestry was white linen, with black silky illustrations embroidered into the cloth. A hint of color was there, as if it had faded long ago. The illustrations were of faces and figures I didn’t recognize. Each individual was arranged within columns but connected across the design by a labyrinth of tree roots, vines, and geometric patterns.

About a third of the way down the tapestry in the middle column, the old man pointed to an illustration of himself. He was missing an eye and holding an orb. I finally understood who he was.

Oh, you’re Odin.”

He pulled his massive hand away from the tapestry and nodded without saying a word. 

“What am I doing here?” My tone was certainly annoyed. I didn’t, at the time, have a good opinion of Odin. While I knew his myth and appreciated it, my opinion had been tainted by the many white supremacists who worship him. I felt immediately defensive. It was as if I were waiting for him to say something that would allow me to cast blame on him for the actions of his followers. In retrospect, I know this was very childish of my dream self to do. But I believe the gods are empathetic to the hypervigilence of people on earth around social issues.

Anyway, I very rudely asked again: “What am I doing here? I’m busy, what do you want?” 

Further down the tapestry, off to the left, he pointed to another illustration. This one was of a woman. She had long, dark hair that went to her knees. The sides were pulled up into small ties just above and behind her ears. She had a soft, youthful face. 

“This is Nanna,” Odin said. 

I laughed at him. “Inanna is nothing like that.” 

“This is Nanna,” he said again. 

Annoyed, I crossed my arms and said, “No, Inanna is a Mesopotamian goddess. She is far more fierce than this flowergirl.” (Cringeworthy, I know. But one’s dreamself is often a bit immature as 12th housey.)

But Odin didn’t flinch. He did not care that I was standing there, this puny little thing, backtalking. He did pull away, though. And when he did, the illustration began to move.

From the embroidered linen the woman emerged in full color. She was ethereal, unbound, and almost glowing with light. Her hair was dark brown with the front gathered into little burlap-like ribbons, and her dress was a gorgeous shade of blue. She was very simple in appearance, humble even, and smiled at me.

“I am Nanna.” She said this slowly, enough for me to now understand that Odin wasn’t saying Inanna – but Nanna. 

I stared at her in awe. She opened her mouth to speak again – and I woke up. 

Making sense of the encounter

My husband and my friend were already awake. They were in the kitchen making eggs and coffee. It was 6am according to the clock on the wall. We’d hardly slept at all – just three hours at most.

I reached for my phone and kept my back to them. I wanted privacy to search the internet about who the hell this “Nanna” figure was.

I didn’t know what to make of the dream, I had never heard of Nanna before nor did I know anything, really, about Norse gods beyond Odin’s mission to hang in a tree. Well, I knew that Freyja was a general badass with a cat-drawn chariot too. But otherwise, I had nothing to go on.

Of course, my phone was dead. I asked for a charger, ate breakfast, and tried to make small talk. But my mind was just racing. 

As we were getting ready to leave for Sunday shopping, I did a quick search of just her name. My heart about burst out of my body when Wikipedia confirmed for me that yes, indeed, there is a Norse goddess named Nanna. 

I waited until I was home that afternoon to lay down and read about her. I was expecting tons of articles and myths and encyclopedia entries. But I found nothing.

Again and again came up the same set of facts about Nanna: that she was the wife of Baldr, that she died of grief, that archaeologists had found a hair comb with what may be an inscription to her on it. Some people tried linking her to Inanna, but the connection has been dismissed. End.

I’ve spoken before about why love goddesses seem to come to beginner pagans and polytheists. My thesis is essentially that their expression of the divine feminine is absent from Western spiritual culture, and our thirst for that wisdom is so great that love goddesses are our first healer by necessity.

As I explore the lore and spiritual planes of the Scottish highlands, I’m embracing the complexity of ancestry and reincarnation. I wonder now if this was a hand extended to me by Nanna as I began again. I made an offering to her the following day and I have considered more than once making an altar to her in my home. So far, I haven’t. But in sharing this story, I think I’ve changed my mind.

There is so little information about Nanna available to us in the 21st century. I suppose the best way for me to learn about her is going to have to be working with her myself.

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As we face mounting natural disasters, is believing in many gods really so radical?

Autumn tastes bitter this year. Another summer of hurricanes, heat waves, and floods that were “once in a lifetime.” In reality, this was another summer of climate change. Many of us feel helpless in the face of these complex ecological problems. Natural disasters are frightening because they exist beyond our control and, often, common understanding. But an animist, neo pagan mindset helps me make sense of these events and find purpose.

I have a friend who was raised Muslim. As a teenager he followed an agnosticism that eventually led to a pessimistic, atheist worldview. He sees religion as violent at worst and a psychological c I have a friend who was raised in a Muslim household, but as a teenager soon rebelled. He followed an inclination for agnosticism that eventually led him to a pessimistic, atheist worldview. Now, he sees religion as violent at worst and a psychological crutch at best. To him, religion is a way to make sense of things; a way to feel like existence isn’t meaningless; a method to create social cohesion; a tool with which to coerce. My pagan-ness humors him, though. To be a druid in the 21st century is “woo woo.” It’s “crazy.” And that’s that.

Some people may find it hard to maintain a friendship with someone who sees their spiritual practice as a fantasy world, but I think most neo pagans are accustomed to this. Neo paganism is stigmatized such that we must tolerate judgment, however casual, in most social spaces. You may be asked something like:

“But you don’t honestly think they’re real, right?’

“So, how do you decide which gods are real and aren’t?”

“Do you, like, pray to them? Do they talk to you?”

“Just don’t do any witchcraft on me,” they’ll add with an uncomfortable laugh.

Yet, it isn’t particularly strange to believe in the sublime animation of all nature. It isn’t uncommon to see or believe in the souls of nonhuman species, whether as an extrasensory knowing or from looking deeply into the eyes of a horse. I couldn’t even begin to count how many conversations I’ve had that went something like this:

“I just have to believe my dog has a soul,” they’ll say after the passing of a beloved pet.

“Of course they do,” I’ll say. Just like every whale, bear, or tree, I’ll add quietly in my mind.

Perhaps they’ll agree with this sentiment, too.

Even so, when neo pagans share with others that they actively acknowledge (not even necessarily worship!) the existence of personified souls in nature, people are confused. They may be humored like my friend by such a magical view of the world. Indeed, my pagan practice has become a running joke among us and some of our mutual friends.

There is a disconnect between belief in the “soul” or “spirit” of nonhuman nature and belief in nature religion. I think that it makes most people uncomfortable to confront this hypocrisy, probably because it comes with some responsibility to acknowledge one’s own soul in a profoundly different way than our culture presently allows for. Acknowledgement of this hypocrisy also asks a person to answer the question of what does and doesn’t constitute a “soul.” If one can believe in the soul of their family dog, can they acknowledge, too, the soul of the old oak on their property? The granite mountains on the edge of town? The winds that come in from the harbor?

Wind and clouds, tree frog and fern, soil and stone – I have no doubt that these are conscious or, indeed, spirited beings. To live an authentically animist worldview, though, has preoccupied my mind with the inhumanity of our modern systems of being. No matter how we pick apart human existence at this moment in time, capitalism is the chief transgressor. Capitalism is the clear cancer on which natural disasters are reacting. But this post isn’t about capitalism – it’s about living with its effects as an animist pagan.

When I consider Hurricane Ida as an expression of rage from Thor or Set, the message from nature is clear: our behavior is angering the gods. Our behavior, our pollution and consumerism, is damaging the natural world. Rising sea levels feel like an echo of the Great Flood Myth found in numerous cultures, another clear warning that we may lose our civilization to deluge. Florida may yet be a new Atlantis (minus the incredible technological advancements, of course).

An animist worldview demands that we change our economic habits immediately to be more ethical and conscious of our shared environment. Personification of nature helps me personally be more accountable to the changes I want to see. Because the ocean is a god, I deeper spiritual level of commitment has arisen to my low-plastic pledge. Because the apple tree in my yard is sacred to Pomona, I feel commitment to caring for and harvesting its fruits well.

Notions of deep ecology aren’t particularly unwelcome from everyday people. Indeed, most people find them quaint, idyllic, maybe primitive. But when these very spirits of sacred nature – rivers, storms – are personified into deities, conversation changes.

I don’t choose to believe in many gods out of a desire to make my experience of life more magical or fantastic. There are people who do, and I don’t want to discount that desire as invalid – it is! – but my unshakeable pagan animism comes from a more desperate need: survival.

For me, it is as primal as it is intellectual, as spiritual as it is practical. And I don’t think neo paganism is as radical or “crazy” as the public makes it out to be.

So, what can you do?

  1. Define your animism.
    Examine your immediate environment – home, neighborhood, town, and bioregion. What does and doesn’t feel as though it has a soul? It’s easy to react to musings on this question with rationality, logic, or modern science. Put that aside for now – this is a question of what feels, to you as an animal in the environment yourself, is alive with consciousness.
  2. How do you interact with these beings?
    In what ways are you interacting with the environment and, thus, the conscious beings within them? Do you greet the wildlife and trees in your area, and honor their right to b present.
  3. Could you personify these beings?
    Experiment with understanding something like the sky itself as a personified sky spirit. This may take the form of a sky deity like Hathor or something else.
  4. What changes can you make to your lifestyle?
    These changes may be more in line with your beliefs in a sustainable, ethical world. They may be spiritual in nature. In the same way that I have committed to a low-plastic lifestyle because of my personification/understanding of the ocean as a god, what commitments could you make?

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I want my daughter to feel the land love her

I’m not sure what keeps drawing me back to animism.

People have described the call as a profound connection, a comfort, a sense of holiness. Wandering any mossy forest or looking up at the cliffs of a waterfall, I do feel those things. Yet I remain unsatisfied with the language.

When I was thirteen, my mom and I took an impromptu road trip through Oregon. We spent one night at a cottage on the Columbia – a little ADU, essentially, of a farm. We arrived just before sundown to fields of tall, golden grass. The farmer greeted us with a basket of fruit, bread, and jams from local shops in town. My mom opened the windows to let the autumn breeze in, and chatted with him. I went outside to listen to the twenty or so new songs I had loaded on my iPod shuffle.

My daughter Isidora
My daughter, Isidora, at five months

Perhaps it was the combination of a picturesque Oregon autumn and piano in my earbuds that moved me to tears.

Maybe it was a sudden appreciation for the quality time with my mom when she was in her best years.

Perhaps it was the growing awareness of myself as an aging human being who was no longer a child.

Whatever it was, as I walked through the fields towards a woodland, I felt older. I felt wizened. I felt grateful. I felt held by the landscape, as if she herself were observing me in this mundane yet sacred moment as a young woman at a bed and breakfast while road tripping with her mother.

It wasn’t the first time I was overwhelmed by a deep trust in nature, nor the last. I think most childhoods offer the experience of an unburdened trust in nature.

But it is the same time of year – early September – as the road trip we took so long ago. And I remember that farm, those golden grasses, my mother’s face, the shape of the clouds, and the colors of sunset. I remember the smell of water. I remember feeling the spiritual presence of these things at 13, a magically potent age, and the awareness of my own growth into womanhood. All in a moment. All in a place. All in the presence of earth spirits.

As I interact with my six month old daughter, I can’t help but imagine what faraway places I’ll take her to. I imagine tucked away mountain towns and charming agricultural communities. I imagine places with and without people. I imagine using my own best years to give her opportunities to love the land, and feel it love her in return.

Ah — maybe that’s the thing that keeps drawing me back to animism. Love. Love and reciprocity.

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Finding the gods among their sacred trees

The whole of nature is sacred, but is sectioned into kingdoms, parts, biomes, and ecosystems that are honored as part of the greater whole. The ancient gods are typically associated with one or more of these parts. Sometimes they are honored entire bioregions and other times a very peculiar tree. Neo pagans typically refer to this phenomenon simply as an “association.” Dionysus is “associated” with the grapevine, Diana is “associated” with the forest, Belenos is “associated” with the sun.

As I’ve grown in my own spiritual quest, this language has increasingly irritated me. Why? Well, it’s simply unsatisfactory. I’m left with far too many questions!

  • When a sacred feature is “associated” with a god/dess, how do reconstructionist neo pagans determine whether it is to be given as an offering or left alone in the natural world?
  • When is a natural entity or formation – such as a tree, a meadow, or a mountain – seen as an embodiment of the god/dess themself?
  • When a location, flora, or fauna is associated with multiple gods within a culture or pantheon, what connection is illustrated by a common association?

I firmly believe that gods and goddesses, whether seen as deity, idol, archetype, or sacred psychology, speak through the natural world. Joseph Campbell wrote extensively on whether this clairaudience with divinity is a common, shared construct created by homo sapiens. Many others see the gods as autonomous spirits living in other dimensions or planes of reality. Whatever they are (or aren’t), their presence in nature’s phenomena is indisputable.

But what about trees?

In my yard, there are pear, apple, and cherry trees. There’s also an abundant grapevine with an aggressive need to encircle the front garden. Each of these trees are subtle, distinct individuals. I’m able to meditate with them individually and seek their medicine.

Yet they each are able to offer counsel, wisdom, and insight in alignment with the gods. Through the kindness of the grapevine, I am able to speak gratitude to Dionysus and have my message delivered. I’m able to sit below the dark branches and draw guidance directly from Asherah.

While it is my personal experience that trees have unique souls, they aren’t indifferent to the gods to which they are associated. I am able to approach a trio of birch trees in a marsh and speak with them, but I am also able to rely on their support to reach Arianrhod. It’s almost as if they are portals, messengers, or ambassadors, yet this role isn’t their primary purpose. It’s simply an aspect of their interconnection with the wider bioregion and, thus, the gods of nature.

Reading about the Greek nymphs helped me illustrate this observation. The dryads and hamadryads are spoken of as a collective with autonomy, yet every now and then an individual dryad is named and features prominently in a myth. Many dryads, along with Pan, resided in Arcadia. As people, heroes, or other gods pass through, there may be a romantic entanglement with a dryad. The dryads may act on behalf of the gods. They are individual beings, living full lives, yet are intimately tied to their ecosystem, bioregion, and god/dess.

In the same way that trees give freely to humans, from fruit to timber to shade, so too do the gods of nature. We are held and supported by natural systems and have learned to thrive according to them. Trees have done the same, in bioregions from the scorching desert of Set to the far north of Skadi. With their roots in the underworld and branches reaching for the heavens, they mirror our own spiritual striving. Their long lifespans bear witness to our generations. Trees have souls. Perhaps they aren’t always as dynamic and personified as the nymphs of Greek lore. Indeed, some cultures recognize the souls of trees as demonic – particularly in the case of trees which no longer bear fruit. Malevolent, neutral, or benevolent, the connection between a tree and the “Beingness” of a supernatural entity is near universal.

Trees offer a depth of their own wisdom and medicine. Through this, they can offer us connection and communication with the gods to whom they are sacred.

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Promise of the Tulip: a Springtime Tarot Spread

Over the weekend we visited Skagit Valley in Washington for the annual Tulip Festival. I hadn’t been since I was a child and my heart was aching to get outside to enjoy springtime in a safe, pandemic-friendly way. That day also happened to be our daughter’s one month mark and we were able to celebrate her in a field of colors. (We also visited the co-op and grabbed some fruit and veggie starters for our garden – but more on that later. )

While enjoying the stunning beauty of the tulips among strangers, I was struck by how little I actually knew about their origin, history, and magickal purposes. I’ve used dried tulip petals in protection charms before – grinding them down with a little pink Himalayan salt makes an effective (though short lived) ward – but beyond that I wasn’t well informed. Our yard has tulips growing throughout in a variety of colors, so knowing their uses and energy became a top priority for me by the time we got home.

Reading up on the tulip, I learned all kinds of curious facts, like they’re originally from Central Asia, associated with martyrdom and protest in Iran, and their petals are edible. What really stayed in my heart, though, was their association with love in the context of their perennial nature. Tulips store their energies in their bulbs, and are happy to reinvent themselves genetically to suit aesthetic tastes and new environments. This flexibility and hardiness is a bit of a contrast to their rigid yet delicate appearance, reminding me of pointe ballet dancers.

About the Spread

I developed this tarot spread to represent the promise of the tulip to return the following year. Their glorious burst of beauty in bloom is indeed short lived, but returns next year with even more to bare. I made this with the mind of how we’re going to sow love in our home. We’re new homeowners, and we’re trying to fix up our place but are struggling with just how to do so; do we make changes that we’ll enjoy for years to come, or do we make changes that future buyers would love if we choose to sell in a year or two? See, we don’t know how long we want to be here – we’re very tempted to move back to Japan or England – and every decision on our cottage feels consequential to any potential exit strategies.

What long-term projects are you pouring your love into? That’s what this spread is here to help with.

  1. The love to be sown
    How can you best sow your love and energy into the project, job, or relationship? What “love language” needs to be spoken?
  2. Influences from the past
    What previous habits, struggles, or lessons are cycling back around? What echo from previous years is influencing the project, job, or relationship before you?
  3. New perspectives to bring
    Time has passed since those previous influences and going forward requires a new perspective. What perspective or mindset do you need to take on? What should your mental mood board look like?
  4. The bloom that awaits
    Just waiting to be divinely loved, this is the reward that awaits you long-term. This is the love you will sow.

This spread settled my fears and hesitations with working on our home, and reminded me to be completely present in the moment. It’s ours now, and we should pour our own aesthetics, needs, and love into it. The next owners can do as they wish when the time comes – whenever that may be.

What about you?

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How I discovered Green Witchcraft as the path for me

It’s not that I didn’t engage in witchcraft – I’ve kept a spellbook since I was 13. But some of my best childhood memories were of wandering the yard to meditate with old cottonwood and apple trees. I’ve devoted my spiritual life since I was a girl to communication with tree souls, the gods, and animal spirits.

I’ve thought of myself as a pagan before a witch, a priestess before a magician, an animist before a spellcaster.

When I joined the British Druid Order on the beginner course in 2019, I was delighted with the teachings, the stories, and the concepts presented in the curriculum. It had the spiritual ecology I was looking for, but I still felt a crushing grief about the climate and environmental degradation. I realized that what I was looking for was not necessarily a belief system that I could personally identify with, but a toolkit for me to draw upon when I need to engage in action.

I’ve decided that green witchcraft might just be that toolkit I was looking for all along. I haven’t done a formal dedication ritual yet (I think I’ll save that for Beltane), but I have spent the last year reading, learning, and exploring if this is really what I want to do. I’m not one to embark on a new magickal or spiritual journey lightly!

Despite some of the drawbacks and critiques I have of green witchcraft, ultimately these four reasons are guiding me to take the plunge.

  1. Caregiving from Seed to Sprout

    In essence, green witchcraft is an opportunity to re-wild one’s psyche through caring for a variety of vegetation from seed to sprout.

    This was actually one reason I had decided that green witchcraft was not the path for me. Green witches are expected to have green thumbs. Of course, there isn’t an expectation to wake up one day and build something on par with A Secret Garden – a window planter of herbs would probably do. But I do not have a green thumb, and I’ve moved internationally so many times in the last six years that keeping anything more than a succulent or two has been impossible.

    But this tenet of green witchcraft is essentially what I’m looking for as an eco-pagan and environmentalist. My primary critique of modern life is that we see nature as not only separate from us, but in perpetual servitude to our needs and consumption habits. The green witch’s garden not only pushes back against this but goes a step further by incorporating natural methods of pest prevention or irrigation.

  2. Aligning Humanity with the Environment

    Green witchcraft doesn’t rely on any specific tools. It emphasizes the use of natural, organic materials that can be found on a forest walk, the seaside, or a desert canyon. Like many eco-pagans, I’ve become increasingly frustrated (and at times disgusted) with how magick, wicca, and paganism has become commodified. There are levels of tolerance to this, though. Some people don’t mind the plastic tools or hyper-witchy aesthetics flooding their Instagram feeds. At least we all came together and drew the line at Sephora’s witch kit in 2018.

    However you feel or don’t feel (I for one do have a love for aesthetic witchcraft…), I’m proud to be on the first steps of a path that actively promotes disengagement with materials that are produced unsustainably or unethically. I believe the best magick comes directly from the source, that a river pebble is as powerful as aura quartz.

  3. Animism

    As I mentioned, honoring tree souls is foundational to my spiritual life. Green witchcraft recognizes the oversouls and individual personalities of plant and animal species. This recognition leaves plenty of room for interpretation and differing approaches. Some green witches are very involved with the good people (faeries), others follow the Green Man, and still others are animists from the perspective of an indigenous spiritual tradition.

    Nature is varied and wild. One doesn’t need to look far to see that. I appreciate that green witchcraft doesn’t place firm boundaries on how one should or shouldn’t interpret the spiritual realms and personalities that animate the natural world; this inclusivity is crucial.

  4. Folk Magic

    As an eclectic pagan from Jewish heritage married to a southerner, there are many traditions that enter our household. We have a variety of symbols, totems, books, and habits that are sourced from Ancient Egypt to the Canaanites, from medieval Scotland to New Orleans Vodou. These in combination with our own invented traditions, learned habits, and good luck practices given to us by our family line have created a very colorful tapestry of associations and beliefs.

    There can be contradictions and conflicts among these – that’s the essential risk of an eclectic pagan path. But it’s important to me that any tradition I follow or engage with leaves space for nuance, variation, and the magic offered by other paths. Green witchcraft embraces folk magic and localized traditions. There isn’t a dogma or list of no-nos that you might find in other witchcraft traditions.

Truthfully, one reason I never fully identified with the term “witch” or devoted myself to magickal study was that I didn’t see the purpose of it. I’ve always held an attitude of attracting what I desire in life through a magnetic pull energetically or, when in great need, calling upon a god or goddess for assistance in manifesting or healing. The spells I have done were deeply intertwined with those deity relationships and energetic balances: I cannot think of a single spell I’ve ever done that did not call upon a god or goddess for blessing, help, and direction. This, combined with astral plane work, divination, and general engagement with spirit realms led me to adopt the identifier of hedge witch for years as a placeholder.

Yet, again and again I came across green witchcraft in my studies and found myself giving it an approving nod. It wasn’t until we were shut inside during the pandemic that I sat down and explored why I felt that magickal path – above all others – to be worth considering. It took some journaling, research, and experimentation, but I’m thrilled to begin something that I know will be a challenge and fulfilling. I’m so excited to eventually call myself a Green Witch.

First installment of documenting my journey