PSA: Don’t Forget Self-Care!!

self-care - fire

Oh look, it’s another PSA (and all in the same week)!! This time my friends, I’d self-care - on edgelike to ask you all how you’re feeling. So how are things?

You see I’m asking because I’ve noticed that a fair few people seem to be either a little overwrought and on edge, or feeling completely drained at the moment. It’s beginning to look a little bit like people are feeling somewhat overloaded.

Signs of Overload

We’ve all been to places where we’ve felt a bit off, right? Or felt the change in subtle energies with the waxing and waning of the moon? This is because we humans, even those of us who try to cling to the physical, tend to react to the energy in our environments. And there are any number of environmental factors that can kick up the energy in a place and leave you feeling…off. (This is what I mean by “overload”.)

self-care - aloneSome of the most common environmental factors that lead to this are things like “psychic impressions” left by horrid historical events; the influence of celestial bodies (as the aforementioned example of the lunar cycle); the time of year (liminal points especially); strong emotions from other humans; and especially strong emotions from other humans en masse. Of course, the degree to which these things will affect you very much depends on your personal level of sensitivity, and the most sensitive and empathic typically themselves more acutely affected than others.

If this is you, you may find yourself feeling on edge or particularly emotional (when you have no discernible reason to be so). You may also feel as though there are too many things going on, a sensation like you’re somehow running out of time, or like you just can’t settle. Conversely, you may feel inexplicably exhausted and drained (likely from the effort of trying to process the overload). And while we’re on the subject, how are you sleeping? Because if you’re on the “inexplicably antsy” end of the spectrum, I’m betting you’re also not sleeping for shit either – at least not without help.

Here is where self-care comes in. So what kind of self-care can you practice when the causes are from more subtle sources?

Discernment

Your first step is to take a deep breath and try to figure out what’s going on. The question you need to ask yourself here is if these emotions are really yours (ie intrinsic to you), or if you are reacting to something external.

In some cases, this is simple. For example, if you have only just started to feel like this after entering an environment but feel fine when you leave, then that can be a pretty clear indicator that the cause was external. However in other cases, this is where self-knowledge comes in and knowing the shape of your own thoughts. For those of you who regularly practice meditation, this is probably relatively easy for you. For those of you who aren’t there yet though, this is where grounding and centering can be helpful.

Grounding and Centering

From the perspective of self-care, or “psychic first aid” (or whatever the hell else you want to call it), grounding allows you to rid yourself of excess energy, and centering helps you to restore your balance. If you suspect overload and are not sure if what you are experiencing is external or not then try grounding and centering. It’s a great way of shifting that excess energy into the earth, giving you the space you need to take stock and figure out your next move.

Feel better now? Then the cause was likely external.self-care - grounding
Feel about the same? You need to look within.

Many forms of grounding and centering involve some kind of tree visualization, during which the person envisions themselves as a tree with roots sinking down into the earth and branches reaching up to the heavens. However, if you’re not really in a place where you can do that because you’re just too wired, I have a kickass alternative that a friend of mine came up that is great for kinesthetic types (thanks Becky!).

Becky’s method is based on the realization that the iron in our bodies is a match for the iron within the earth, and the iron that is to be found in space (which created some of humankind’s earliest iron artifacts). Leveraging the principle of “like attracts like”, Becky’s method involves concentrating on, and feeling for the iron in one’s own bloodstream, then mentally feeling out and reaching for the like substance in the earth, and in the skies above. If you do it right, it should make you feel like someone just opened a sluice, like that excess is draining out, and like you’re suddenly more present.

Shielding

So you’ve grounded and centered, and figured out that you’re getting reamed by whatever the hell is going on where you are. Now what?

Now you shield in order to minimize if not outright stop the factors causing the overload from getting through. Depending on how extreme the conditions are where you are, you may need to keep an eye on and redo your shields as needed. Here, I would advise you to see these shields as being “in addition to” whatever else you use for defense (if you do). This is more like ‘magical sunblock’ as opposed to hardcore defenses.

So how do you crack out the magical sunblock for a bit of continued sanity?

self-care discoball
This disco ball is so extra.

One of the most commonly touted methods is the “disco ball” method, in which the individual visualizes themselves within a disco ball. Of course, you’re not only visualizing here, but also willing this to be so. It won’t work unless you’re fully invested.

With the disco ball, the idea is that the outer mirrors reflect away anything unwanted, thus leaving the person within protected and insulated. Give it a try, and see how you feel. How does the imagery work in your head? Because this is the funny thing about this kind of skill: not all imagery works equally in all people. This makes sense because not all people get equally invested in the same things, and like I said, you need to be invested. So if this is you, you need to find imagery representative of the same principles then work to build that imagery. Just be aware though that how you build your shields can affect how others perceive and react to you. I know some who prefer to create their shields out of a kind of woven net rather than an impenetrable and reflective surface as they believe that that degree of shielding impedes their ability to work.

Purification

Finally, don’t forget purification. In my opinion, purification is one of those massively important but generally somewhat neglected practices among modern Pagan practitioners. Which is a pity because we pick up so much dreck in our lives that it’s pretty easy to become somewhat bogged down and heavy. This is where purification comes in, both for homes and individuals.

Keeping your home clean is your most basic home purification, but it’s also self-care purificationgood to try and burn purifying récels (incense) around your home such as either mugwort, or a rosemary/vervain/juniper mixture. This smoke can also be used for the self too (I like to burn it in a cast iron Dutch oven and just stand over it so that I’m enveloped by the smoke).
Taking cleansing baths with cleansing herbs like rosemary or birch is also helpful; saltwater is also good. I also like to keep herb oils on hand for emergency situations – hyssop oil is good for this.

These are clearly not the only purification methods that you can use; I could write an entire post just on purification (and I may just do so at some point). This whole post is intended as more of a rough and ready survival guide (and reminder to take care of you).

Well, the gym is calling (more self-care), and I’ve got to angry-run on a treadmill. Be well.

Maran, Nightwalkers, and Elves, Oh My! (Part Two)

In the first part of this post, I discussed the importance of dream, the various kinds of beings that were thought to attack sleepers, and what symptoms of those attacks were thought to look like in OE sources. In this part, I’m going to discuss the charms themselves and how we can use them in modern practice to hopefully sleep undisturbed.

 

Charms and Herbs: The Magico-Medical Prescription

The Old English charms are referred to as being magico-medical for good reason. Because unlike modern medicine which only seeks to treat the physical causes of disease, the Early English also recognized non-physical or”spiritual” causes of disease/illness, and tailored their treatments accordingly. So among the charms, you will find everything from recipes to treat physiological ailments, to charms that combined magical acts, verbal formulae, or both. Here follows a short overview of the relevant charms with analysis of the commonalities between the charms and how they may be used.

Bald’s Leechbook II, section 65, ff. 107v-108r – Wið ælfe 7 wiþ unc?þum s?dsan

This is one of the more general charms against elves and ‘strange/unusual’ s?dsa, or “magic” (again, cognate with “Seiðr”). Kitson suggests that the ingredients of this charm betray a foreign origin for the charm, but one that has been adapted to native tradition (Hall 120).

Against an elf/against elves and against unknown/strange/unusual s?dsa, crumble myrrh into wine and the same amount of white frankincense and shave a piece of jet [the stone] into that wine, drink on three mornings, fasting at night, or nine, or twelve.

 

L?cnunga, section 29, ff. 137r -138r

This is the holy/blessed drink against ælfs?den and against all tribulations of the enemy (Hall 120-121)

I only include this title as a matter of interest and to add to the evidence demonstrating the collocation of ælfs?den with f?ondes costunga. I largely agree with Richard North in Heathen Gods in OE Literature that this is more of an exorcism charm that might have been employed against those considered to be ylfig or “engaged with an elf”. As such, further detail is not particularly relevant for the purposes of this post.

 

Leechbook III, section 41, ff. 120v-121r: Wyrc g?de sealfe wiþ f?ondes costunga

Make a good salve against the tribulations of the enemy: bishopwort, lupin, viper’s bugloss,

strawberry stalk, the cloved lesser celandine, eorðr?ma, blackberry, pennyroyal, wormwood, pound all those plants; boil in good butter, strain through a cloth; place under the altar; sing nine masses over them; then smear nightwalkers - betonythe person with it generously on the temples, and above the eyes and on the top of the head and the breast and under the arms. This salve is good against each tribulation of the enemy and ælfs?den and Lent-illness.

 

Leechbook I, section 64, f. 52v: Læced?mas wiþ ælcre l?odr?nan 7 ælfs?denne

Prescriptions against every l?odr?ne and ælfs?den, being a charm, powder, drinks and a salve, for fevers: and if the illness should be upon livestock; and if the illness should happen to a person or a mære should ride and happen; in all 7 remedies

If a mære should ride a person: take lupin and garlic and betony and incense; bind in fawn-skin; the person should have this on him and he should walk wearing these plants

 

Leechbook III, section 61, f. 123: Wið ælfcynne

nightwalkers - garlicMake a salve against ælfcynne and a night-walker and for/against those people whom the devil has sex with: take hops(?), wormwood, bishopwort, lupin, vervain, henbane, h?rewyrt, viper’s bugloss, stalk of whortleberry, (?)crow garlic, garlic, seed of goosegrass, cockle and fennel. Put these plants in a vessel, place under an altar, sing 9 masses over them; boil in butter and in sheep’s fat; put in plenty of holy salt; strain through a cloth. Throw the plants into running water. If any evil tribulation or an ælf or a night-walker happens to a person, smear his face with this salve and put it on his eyes and where his body is sore/in pain, and burn incense about him and sign [with the cross] often; his problem will soon be better.

As you can see from the above charms, treatment/prevention of attack by maran/night-walkers/elves generally takes the form of a salve to be applied to certain parts of the body (but especially parts of the face). There are some commonalities in both the herbs and methodology employed, and while no one of the herb charms are one hundred percent clear, I believe it is possible to pull the most common herbs from these charms when recreating our own salves.

From these charms, bishopwort (betony), lupin (suggested to be lupinus albus), viper’s bugloss, wormwood, garlic, and some kind of berry stalk seem to be the most common. Most of them are also quite accessible to modern people. These herbs are then taken and made into a salve either before or after having 9 masses sung over them while positioned under the altar.

From my own survey of the use of numbers in the L?cnunga, the number 9 tends to be associated with banishing or driving out. So in order to create a ‘Heathenized’ version of this charm, I would simply ensure that the herbs I use for my salve would be under an altar during 9 rites of similar purpose to the mass. These would potentially be rites that combine aspects of consecration, seeking divine favor, and empowerment – in whatever form you’d like that to take for your tradition.

Equally, Leechbook I, section 64 suggests that a kind of amulet can be made that is not unlike a hoodoo hand. Again, we see the use of garlic, betony, and lupin. However, there is also the addition of ‘incense’ – which sounds quite vague until you look at other Leechbook cures in which incense is also a recommended. Interestingly, these cures (found in Leechbook III, section 62) also involve elves – more specifically how to cure forms of ‘elfsickness’.

In these charms, the healer is advised to prepare incense in a rather specific way and then burn it in the environment where the patient is in order to ‘smoke out’ the elf/illness. The instructions should look at least a little familiar by now.


Take a handful of each, bind all of the herbs in cloth, dip into hallowed spring-water three times. After this, against that (illness), lay these herbs under an altar and let them be sung over.

This suggests that this process of purification and laying under and altar is important to the success of the charm, and so I recommend that should you decide to try these charms, you find a way to incorporate this stage of purification/consecration and empowerment. As for the herbs for incense, I would recommend that you again choose from herbs mentioned previously in similar charms.

 

The Münchener Nachtsegen Charm

The following charm is not OE, but I include it here for its usefulness. Alb here means ‘elf’, and in Austria it was believed that the ‘alb’ was the soul of an evil woman under a spell by which she was compelled to leave her body and go out and torment people by night (LeCouteux 100)

Alb, or also elbelin [little alb]
you shall remain no longer
alb’s sister and father,
you shall go out over the gate;
alb’s mother,
trute [female monster] and mar,

you shall go out to the roof-ridge!

Let the mare not oppress me,

let the trute not pinche me

let the mare not ride me,
let the mare not mount me!

Alb with your crooked nose,
I forbid you to blow on [people]

(Hall 125-126)

 

Final Word

Hopefully the importance of dream to the Pagan/Heathen mindset has been made clear over the course of these past two posts. As I’ve written before, dream is something that I believe we need to fight for and reclaim.

However, few things as powerful as dream, come without any accompanying hazards. When we open these doors, when we invite in what was once chased back, we are often doing so half-blind. We have a lot of sources on various Heathen and Pagan worldviews, however none of them can tell us things like what it was to actually fear things like elves or faeries. None of them can tell us what it was actually like to live in such a populated and enchanted world; that is for us to [re]discover for ourselves. And there are few things more terrifying than the thought of  being attacked by something that cannot be fought while already in a vulnerable state.

Sleep well!

Sources

Alaric Hall – Elves in Anglo-Saxon England: Matters of Belief, Health, Gender and Identity

Karen Jolly – Popular Religion in Late Saxon England: Elf Charms in Context

Claude LeCouteux – Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages
 Stephen Pollington – Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plant-Lore and Healing

Step Away from the White Sage!

As far as cleansing and purifying herbs go, I’ve never really liked white sage (despite its many recommendations). It does the job of course, but it does it rather too well for my liking -I honestly can’t see that as a good thing. And this really isn’t an issue of one Heathen taking umbrage with smudging either. After all, I can point to parts of Bald’s Leechbook in which smudging, or ‘recelsian‘(1) is a recommended treatment for various afflictions (of an arguably magical nature).

No, my problem with white sage is far more complex than that.

Over the years of having many homes in many different places, I’ve found several things to be true: upkeep is alwaysWhite Sage - salvia preferable to repair, it’s the little things that make a home, and the home is like an ecosystem shared between the various beings (both seen and unseen) that inhabit it.

In my home, there’s myself, my human family, my dog, two cats, and various ancestors, Aelfe, and cofgodas to take into consideration. Between us, we maintain relationships built over years and continued over continents. Again and again, we’ve moved and gone through the process of cleaning, unpacking, and (re) building our shrines in each place. Again and again, we’ve made offerings, invited our wights to join us, offered to the wights of the new place, and so on and so forth. If there’s one thing this kind of nomadic life does though, it’s build appreciation of those you travel and move with. As much as you might make friends in a place, your most important bonds are to your more immediate kin group, be that kin living or dead, human or otherwise.

Cleaning and Cleansing

By now, it’s probably become obvious that when I talk about ‘upkeep’, and a home ‘ecosystem’, my words have a double entendre. That I’m not purely talking about upkeep in the mundane ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ kind of sense, or necessarily referring purely to the various layers of organisms and microorganisms that make up a space (any space) on this planet. So, what do I mean by this kind of ‘upkeep’? And how does that have anything to do with white sage?

Over the years I’ve heard a lot about the more sacred side of housekeeping, and talk of ‘women’s roles’ in Heathenry. First of all, I’m going to dispense with the idea that this is purely the domain of women, living in a clean environment is the concern of everyone that lives in that place. We all know that if you don’t keep a home clean to a certain standard, then the inhabitants will get sick, insect populations will move in – in short, the place will become unhealthy.

It will become unhael.

Ah, haelu, that old chestnut!

For something to be hael, it’s means that it’s not only healthy, but whole, lucky, and holy. A place that is unhealthy to inhabit, that is unhael, is by definition, unlucky, lacking in something, and…I don’t want to say ‘unholy’, but for those of us that believe in things like hauntings, it’s no coincidence that there is a correlation between negative hauntings and unhael living spaces.

When you clean, you aren’t just removing physical dirt, this kind of upkeep isn’t purely about dominance over the dust motes, or staying on top of the washing up. It isn’t even purely about physical health. It’s about luck and creating a place where holiness might reside from time to time. You want to live in a home in which gods and ancestors would not be insulted to go when invited.

‘May I be pure, that I might enter the sacred,
May I enter the sacred, that I might attain the holy,
May I attain the holy, that I might be blessed in all things’
(2)

Whether it be cleaning with regular cleaning materials, or making your own that are also infused with protective herbs, cleaning is also cleansing.

But just as you don’t want to clean so much that people end up living in some antibacterial, sterile lab of a house, you also don’t want to manage your home’s ecosystem so tightly that the good things go too (which I feel is the case with white sage). Not to make the comparison between the Holy Powers and dirt, but we humans are healthier when living somewhere that isn’t sterile, the spider on the wall kills the disease-carrying fly, and it’s always better to have and keep good relations with neighbours and helpful wights in the home.

If the home ecosystem were a human stomach, white sage would be a course of antibiotics, and the wights would be your helpful gut microbiota.

It’s too indiscriminate for my liking. Far better, in my opinion, is Mugwort.

Remember, Mugwort…

White Sage - MugwortNamed the ‘Oldest of herbs’, Mugwort is said to stand against three and thirty, against poison and contagion, and against ‘the loathsome one that roams the land'(3). She’s valued in healing traditions around the globe, and is called upon to stand against infection and cysts, to chase out the menses that will not come, as a tonic, and in great enough quantities, she has enough similarities with her sister, Wormwood, that she can also affect perception.

But given her power, when it comes to more ‘spiritual’ forms of cleansing, Mugwort is often forgotten and neglected in favour of white sage, even by Germanic Heathens. Which is a real shame as she works wonderfully in home made floor wash, as recels (incense/smudging), and brewed as a tea to use as a spray. In the Nine Herbs Charm, we’re told specifically that Mugwort stands against three and thirty, which to me, suggests that she’s far more discriminating in her action and that she only stands against those that are attacking (while preserving your home ‘ecosystem’, thus leaving your ancestors, cofgodas, Aelfe etc. unmolested and able to help keep your home safe from all kinds of nasties!).

Mugwort can also be paired with vervain, garlic, or wormwood for greater effect.

All of which, as far as I’m concerned, makes her far more valuable for use in the home.

References:
1. Bald’s Leechbook, III. 61, 62
2. Ceisiwr Serith – Deep Ancestors
3. http://www.heorot.dk/woden-9herbs-i.html