Plant a Goddess Garden

Gardening is a magical act. It allows us to take the simplest form of life — a seed — and plant it so that weeks later it will bloom. Plants and magic have been associated for hundreds (if not thousands) of years, so when spring rolls around and you’re planning your seasonal garden, why not set up a special area to dedicate to the goddess of your tradition?

Image of Atlanta Botanical Gardens by Sailn1/Flickr

If you don’t have a big yard to plant, don’t worry. You can still create a special goddess garden using a container.

Selecting a Goddess to Honor

Start by figuring out which goddess you’d like to honor. It’s probably a bad idea to just pick one at random — a better course of action would be to choose one you’ve got some sort of connection to, or that you’ve been interested in learning more about. If your particular tradition honors a certain goddess, or deities of a specific pantheon, that helps make the selection process a little easier.

Choosing the Perfect Spot

Next, figure out where the best place is to locate your goddess garden. Are you working with a vibrant, outdoorsy kind of goddess, like Diana? Perhaps she’d appreciate a spot in the sun. Maybe a water goddess, who would feel at home near your pond? Or perhaps you’re connected to a goddess of darkness, who might prefer a shady spot near the tree line? Obviously, you want to choose an are where plants will grow, but it’s also important to try to select an area where the Divine will feel a sense of home.

If you live in a small area such as an apartment, or if you have limited space, you can still plant a goddess garden. Choose a brightly lit spot on your patio and use containers for gardening, or create a tabletop goddess garden with a large planter.

Planting for the Divine

Your next step should be to determine what sort of plants are associated with the goddess you’re honoring. Think of this garden as a sort of living altar space, and plan accordingly. For example, if your garden is to pay tribute to Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, you might fill the space with seeds for vibrant and colorful carnations, hollyhocks, snapdragons and impatiens. A garden for Bast, the Egyptian cat goddess, might include catnip, members of the mint family, lavender, and lilies (for their playful, cat-like energy). If you choose to honor a goddess of the harvest, you might wish to plant fall-blooming plants, like mums or even root vegetables.

Making Your Garden Sacred

Add decorative touches like statuary, crystals, pretty stones, and other garden ornaments that correspond to your goddess’ attributes. Is your goddess a fire deity, like Pele? Add a fire bowl or candle holder. If your goddess is associated with air and wind, perhaps some wind chimes or a flag would be appropriate. Use your imagination, and take a few moments each day to work on your garden and re-connect with the goddess you are honoring.

Image of Atlanta Botanical Gardens by Sailn1 / Flickr via Creative Commons License (CC BY 2.0)

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Reconnecting With Nature

One of the common themes in many modern Pagan belief systems is that of a connection to the earth, a spirituality that comes from our interaction with the different aspects of the natural world. It can be tricky, in today’s society, to keep our focus on nature. After all, we’re driving to work, watching television, answering our phones, and running around at a breakneck, hectic pace. Technology makes our lives easier, but it’s not hard to lose track of our connection to the land.

Studies have shown that people who spend more time outdoors – and not just outdoors, but unplugged from technology – are generally more relaxed. They feel a greater sense of overall wellness, report lower levels of depression, and experience less stress. Equally important, they’re better equipped, emotionally, to handle stressful situations that do arise. In addition to the mental health benefits, scientists say that being outdoors can be good for you physically.

So, I get that your schedule is busy and you’ve got a lot to do, but you can still make time, even if it’s in small increments, to get back

to nature. Here are five easy ways you can reconnect with the natural world around you.

Go For a Nature Walk

Walking has a lot of physical health benefits, and a 2014 study from the University of Michigan shows that going for walks in a group can be even better for your emotional well-being. According to author Sara Warber, M.D. “Walking is an inexpensive, low risk and accessible form of exercise and it turns out that combined with nature and group settings, it may be a very powerful, under-utilized stress buster. Our findings suggest that something as simple as joining an outdoor walking group may not only improve someone’s daily positive emotions but may also contribute a non-pharmacological approach to serious conditions like depression.” While you’re out walking around, consider doing some wildcrafting!

Go Hiking or Backpacking

If a leisurely stroll through the woods doesn’t sound adventurous enough for you, consider going hiking instead. Depending on where you live, there are numerous trails you tackle. There’s a sense of accomplishment that comes with reaching the end of a trail, and research indicates that there are both physical and mental benefits to hiking. If you’re lucky enough to be in an area that offers primitive camping, try backpacking in with all of your supplies, and spending the night alone under the stars, away from your cell phone and your Netflix subscription. It’ll be good for you.

Do Some Gardening

Ask anyone who gardens why they do it, and chances are good they’ll tell you that it’s partly because they like to grow their own food, and partly because gardening is therapeutic. There’s something very magical about putting your hands into the warm soil of the earth, planting a seed, tending it as it grows, and finally harvesting the results.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that just two and a half hours a week of moderate activity – which gardening qualifies as – can help reduce the risks of numerous health problems. Equally important, though, a 2014 study from the Netherlands reports the first experimental evidence that gardening can promote relief from acute stress.

Get Out and Go Earthing

The idea of “earthing” has become a hot new trend lately. Not because it’s a new practice – plenty of us have been doing it without calling it “earthing” – but because the holistic community has started promoting the value of skin-on-earth contact. Earthing is based upon the idea that for thousands of years, we as human beings have benefited from the contact of our skin on the earth – walking barefoot, lying on the ground, touching dirt with our hands, that sort of thing. Go barefoot when and if you can, go to your local park and lie in the grass for a while, or even go for a swim at a lake or ocean if there’s one nearby.

Play in the Sun

The sun is nature’s antidepressant, and it’s easy to forget, as we go about our daily routines, how much we need sunshine for our physical and mental well being. Sunlight boosts serotonin levels, can help regulate your body’s circadian rhythms – which means you’ll sleep better – and can reduce overall stress.

If you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, sunshine can make a huge difference as well. Go outside whenever you can, even if that’s just for your half-hour lunch break at work, and enjoy yourself. Walk around, sit still, meditate, do whatever – take in the sun’s rays. If you spend your day in an office, sitting near a window can help get some sunshine into your life as well. If you’ve got a beach nearby, try to get out there as often as possible, because it offers all of the best aspects of nature in one convenient location – water, sunshine, and fresh air blowing across the land!

Book Announcement! Wicca Practical Magic Coming May 23!

OMG YOU GUYYYYYYYS.

So I mentioned a while back that I had a Sooper Sekret Project in the works, and now I can officially announce it! My new book, Wicca Practical Magic, will be coming out on May 23, from Althea Press. You can already pre-order it on Amazon!

I’m really excited, because this is something I wish had been available when I first started studying Pagan belief systems. If you’ve read all the Wicca 101 type books, and have no idea how to actually put what you’ve learned into practice, this book is written just for you.

I’ll have more to share in the coming weeks, with all kinds of details – including how you can be part of my street team/ambassador group and score a free digital copy – but for now, just to tease you a bit, here’s a peek at the cover!

Join Me at FPG!!

Are you in Florida, or Florida-adjacent? Join me at Florida Pagan Gathering later this month, from Wednesday April 19 – Sunday April 23! You can still register to attend, if you check out the FPG website.

It’s going to be an amazing event – join me, Jason Mankey, Byron Ballard, Kyrja Withers, Onyx Moon, and more for a full weekend of rituals, workshops, vending, drumming, dancing, and fellowship. There will be some incredible magical music from Brian Henke and Wendy Rule, too!

I’ll be hosting three workshops – come to one, or come to all of them:

Thursday

The Magic of Household Witchcraft
3:00pm – 4:30pm ~ Thunderdome

Patti will be presenting a fun and interactive workshop on The Magic of Household Witchcraft. Topics include household altars, kitchen magic, and how to use mundane items around your house in magical workings. The only thing you need to bring is your creativity and imagination! (All Ages Welcome)

Friday

Raising Pagan Kids in a Not-So-Pagan World
3:00pm – 4:30pm ~ Ancestor’s Glen

Are you trying to navigate the waters of Pagan parenting? Whether your kids are toddlers or teens, we’ll share plenty of ways you can include them in Pagan practice with your family. (All Ages Welcome)

Saturday

Ritual Craft and Spellwork for Solitaries
1:00pm – 2:30pm ~ Blue Room

It’s sometimes tough to work as a solitary practitioner – after all, you haven’t got anyone to work magic with! No worries, though – writing your own ritual or spell doesn’t have to be a disaster. We’ll talk about some basic formulas for creating your own ritual or spell from scratch. (All Ages Welcome)

Come on out to Lake Wales, and let’s celebrate Beltane!

Human Sacrifice in the Ancient World

For many people in the modern world, finding a Pagan belief system is a positive and life-affirming experience. It’s not uncommon for us to find a joy and lightness in our traditions, something that brings light into once was a dark existence. This is indeed a good thing, and what draws many new people into the Pagan community. Unfortunately, the downside of it is that there can sometimes be an unwillingness to accept that not all Pagan cultures in the past were full of light and love and rainbows.

Our ancestors, hundreds of years ago, lived a completely different existence than we do today, and their relationships with their gods were different than ours is today. This means that their guidelines as to what was acceptable spiritual behavior is not the same as those we see as reasonable in the 21st century. As much as we may wish to deny it, or claim that it’s anti-Pagan propaganda, the inescapable truth was that for our ancestors, religious worship sometimes included things that modern Pagans find distasteful.

Sacrifice – both animal and human – was not an uncommon practice in the ancient world, and was generally performed in the context of making an offering to the gods. Animal sacrifice is still practiced today by a few religious groups, but for the purposes of this discussion, we’ll be focusing on ritualized human sacrifice in the ancient world. Obviously, this is a complex and vast topic,
and there’s no way we can cover every single aspect of it, so for now, we’ll be looking at the basics of human sacrificial practices among groups such as the Celts, the Greeks and Romans, and Mesoamerican tribes.

Human Sacrifice in the Celtic World

Although the Celts didn’t leave us much in the way of documentation, we can glean a bit about their practices from writings created by foreign observers. In particular, the works of Pliny the Elder, along with Julius Caesar’s Commentaries, give us some insight into sacrifice in the Celtic world.

Pliny and Caesar make a very big deal about human sacrifice among the Druids. However, keep in mind that both of these men were Romans, writing about the practices of a people who had been more than a little difficult to conquer. In history, not only does the victor get to retain the spoils of war, he also earns the privilege of writing about it afterwards.

That said, while it’s unlikely that the Celts – and specifically, the Druid priest class – was engaging in the massive wholesale slaughter of human beings that Pliny and Caesar suggest, they did utilize human sacrifice on occasion. Caesar describes Celtic funeral customs in his Commentaries, in which the body of the deceased is cremated, and the clan then adds to the fire “everything they reckon to have been precious to the departed, even living creatures…” He suggests that slaves and other dependents might have been tossed in there as well, to join the deceased clansman in the afterlife.

The Wicker Man

Did the Celts really use a Wicker Man? Yuuuup.

Perhaps the best-known summary of Celtic sacrifice is the concept of the wicker man, another practice we know about based on Caesar’s writings. He describes “figures of vast size, the limbs of which formed of osiers they fill with living men, which being set on fire, the men perish enveloped in the flames.” Caesar goes on to explain that the men burned inside one of these structures were often criminals – thieves or robbers, specifically – but in the absence of a criminal sacrifice, the Druids “have recourse to the oblation of even the innocent.”

Author J.A. McCulloch points out in Religion of the Ancient Celts (1911), “Human victims were also offered by way of thanksgiving after victory, and vows were often made before a battle, promising these as well as part of the spoil. For this reason the Celts would never ransom their captives, but offered them in sacrifice, animals captured being immolated along with them.”

Foundation Sacrifice

There also existed, among the Celts, the concept of what scholars called foundation sacrifice. This was, essentially, the sacrifice of an individual before the construction of a new building. In some cases, the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled around the foundation of the structure, and in others, they were actually buried beneath it. There are a number of locations, including Christian churches, in what was once the Celtic world that still have legends and rumors of foundation sacrifices.

In generally all of these cases, scholars believe that human sacrifice was intended to strengthen the connection between man and the Celtic gods, to bridge the gap between the mortal world and the divine realm. Human remains have been found which support the ideas of Pliny and Caesar, and indicate that these bodies were interred in a ritual context. However, we will likely never know the extent of human sacrifice, and academia seems to be divided on whether or not Roman writers exaggerated the number of deaths taking place as propaganda.

Wicker Man image by larajanepark via Flickr / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

A Truth Universally Acknowledged

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” ~ Pride and Prejudice

Many people are surprised to discover that I’m a HUUUUUGE fan of Jane Austen – apparently the public image I present doesn’t quite fit the stereotype of Who Reads Jane Austen, but trust me, she’s my favorite author in the history of ever, and Persuasion is one of the most brilliantly written pieces of English literature that exists today.

“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever." ~ Persuasion

To honor Jane this year, on the 200th anniversary of her death, I thought I’d put together a little something for you over on ThoughtCo: 7 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen

Jane only finished six full length novels, as well as one epistolary novella, before her death at age 41, and left two partially completed manuscripts. But those nine pieces of work have formed the framework of the Regency canon, and set the gold standard by which many of us judge other novels of the era.

In July, it will have been two centuries since Jane died, and yet we’re still seeing endless reprints of her work (I own six different editions of Persuasion, and four of Pride and Prejudice), as well as movies, television miniseries, and even fan clubs. Her writing appears on high school reading lists – Emma should be required reading for any teenager, because Emma is kind of an asshole when we first meet her – and has spawned hundreds of literary adaptations.

"Though the accusation had been eagerly refuted at the time, there were moments of self-examination in which her conscience could not quite acquit her."~ Emma

Never read any Jane? Don’t worry – there’s quite a bit to choose from! If you want to get a better idea of what all that Regency stuff was about, pick up a copy of Jane Austen’s England or What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew to provide a bit of context, and then go forth and dive into Jane’s world!

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Dream Catchers: Totally Not Pagan, You Guys

I love perusing Etsy and Pinterest and getting great ideas and seeing all the clever crafty things that other people are doing to celebrate their spirituality, I really do. But for the love of Zeus’ kidney, y’all. DREAMCATCHERS ARE NOT WICCAN. They’re not even NeoPagan, if we use NeoPagan in the context of “modern Paganism based upon proto-Indo-European religious beliefs.”

Want a dream catcher? Consider the cultural context.

They’re Native American. And while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with appreciating Native American spirituality, it’s completely a terrible idea to appropriate it. In other words, if you’re not Native American, you are lacking the cultural and societal context in which something sacred like a dream catcher actually works.

Now, before you send me an angry email, or comment below with OMG UR SO DUMB DON’T TELL ME WUT TO DO, let me clarify this. Can you create a dream catcher of your own if you want to? Go for it, I’m certainly not going to drive to your house and scold you. I learned how to make them myself, and it’s a fascinating and meditative process. But it’s really important to consider the WHY of the creation. It’s also super important not to cheapen it – in other words, if you want to create one to hang in your home because it calls to you spiritually, that’s great. But if you make one out of plastic and neon and hang a bunch of shitty fake crystals on it and sell it in your Etsy shop as a REAL WICCAN DREAM CATCHER NATIVE CRAFT, it’s possible that some of us will judge the shit out of you.

Taté Walker is Mniconjou Lakota and an enrolled citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, and blogs about issues of interest to Native culture. She says, “The savvy among us know appropriation encourages the dominant culture to forget Natives are modern, contemporary people struggling to overcome nearly 600 years of campaigns to wipe us off the map.”

Walker suggests that if you really want to honor Native culture and show your appreciation for it, there are other ways to do so besides buying a bunch of dream catchers. She has an excellent article on how non-Natives can be allies to the indigenous peoples and their beliefs and practices. In short, she recommends:

  • Supporting Native artists
  • Learning about and backing Native-led movements
  • Calling out appropriation when you see it
  • Supporting non-Native businesses that actively honor Native culture and craftsmanship

Fordham University Law professor Susan Scafidi defines cultural appropriation as “Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission.” This includes, obviously, spiritual objects, such as dream catchers.

Scafidi, author of Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law recommends, in an article over at Jezebel, that you “Consider the 3 S’s: source, significance (or sacredness), and similarity. Has the source community either tacitly or directly invited you to share this particular bit of its culture, and does the community as a whole have a history of harmful exploitation? What’s the cultural significance of the item — is it just an everyday object or image, or is it a religious artifact that requires greater respect? And how similar is the appropriated element to the original — a literal knockoff, or just a nod to a color scheme or silhouette?”

The History Behind Dream Catchers

It is believed that dream catchers originated with the Ojibwe, or Chippewa, peoples of North American. Tribal communities existed primarily around the northern part of the United States and the southern regions of Canada, in particular, around the Great Lakes. Today, the Ojibwe people make up the fourth largest First Nations population in America, and the second largest in Canada. Their history is a long and fascinating one, and the dream catcher stems from one of their earliest legends.

In Chippewa mythology, Spider Woman, who was called Asibikaashi, cared for the people of the land, but especially the children. It was Asibikaashi’s job to teach them the stories of their people, and to keep them safe, but as the population grew and spread, it became harder and harder for her to keep a watchful eye upon everyone. In Spider Woman’s honor, the grandmothers began making webs of their own, made of sinew and plant fibers, wrapped around tear-shaped hoops fashioned from the pliable willow branches that were so abundant.

These handmade spider webs were hung over children’s sleeping areas, to filter out bad dreams and only allow good thoughts to pass through. Feathers were hung at the bottom of the web, and the idea was that the good dreams would travel down the feathers to the child, allowing him or her to ignore the bad ones, trapped in the netting.

According to Native Languages, “During the pan-Indian movement in the 60’s and 70’s, Ojibway dream catchers started to get popular in other Native American tribes, even those in disparate places like the Cherokee, Lakota, and Navajo. So dream catchers aren’t traditional in most Indian cultures, per se, but they’re sort of neo-traditional, like fry bread. Today you see them hanging in lots of places other than a child’s cradleboard or nursery, like the living room or your rearview mirror.”

Today, many Native Americans see the commercial wholesaling of dream catchers as cultural appropriation – again, going back to what non-Natives may see as cultural appreciation, many people of tribal backgrounds see as a way of perpetuating and profiting from stereotypes.

So, does this mean you can’t have a dream catcher if you want one? Not at all – the dream catcher police aren’t going to come over and confiscate it. But, like so many other aspects of modern spirituality, if you’re not a Native American, it’s important to think about not only why you want a dream catcher, but how you go about obtaining it.

Dream Catcher image from lininhamonfredini via Flickr, Licensed through Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-2.0)

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Healing Sounds & Singing Bowls

 

Singing bowls sound amazing!

In many metaphysical disciplines and traditions, sound therapy is used as a healing modality. This is because certain tones, frequencies, and vibrations are associated with healing in a number of belief systems – people have been doing this for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years. Let’s take a look at a few of the most popular methods, and why they’ve become traditional.

Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list, because there’s no way I can cover everything in a single blog post – entire books have been written on the subject – but these are some of the most popular.

In many traditions, instruments like bowls, bells, rain sticks, rattles, and even didgeridoos are used as part of healing practice. Singing bowls are typically found in Eastern mysticism, including Buddhist practice, and are technically a type of bell. Practitioners create sounds by rubbing or striking the rim with a mallet, which is usually made of wood. In many cases, the sounds are made to signal the beginning or end of a meditative period.

A rain stick is a hollow tube, often made of wood, and sealed on the ends. Before it’s sealed shut, the tube is filled with beans or small pebbles, and pins are arranged on the inside surface. What this does is create a rain-like sound when the closed tube is held vertically – I have a rain stick, and it really does sound like falling rain! In central and south America, rain sticks are made from cacti, and in Asia and Africa, they’re’ usually created from dried bamboo. About.com Healing Expert, Phyl Desy, says, “Rain sticks are a sacred instrument used in prayer ceremonies to bring about rain and thunderstorms. The rain stick is also used as a musical instrument.”

This guy is totally multitasking with didgeridoos, drums, and a guitar!

In Australia, you’ve got the didgeridoo, another tube-shaped sound-maker, but unlike the rain stick, it’s open on the ends, and not filled with anything. With its origins in Aboriginal practice, the didgeridoo emits low-frequency vibrations that are believed to bring about healing in the sick. Many people believe that these low vibrations can actually bring about changes in living tissue. Interestingly, studies have indicated that playing the didgeridoo, and not just listening to it, can help treat sleep apnea. Also, it’s really fun to say the word didgeridoo.

Mantras and Chanting

In many metaphysical practices, mantras and chanting are used as part of meditation and ritual. Particularly among those who do chakra work, it’s believed that different types of mantras can be used to unblock the various chakras, or energy vortices in the body.

The theory is that each of the seven chakras has its own vibrational level. By using mantras that are in harmony with the chakras, you can open up your chakras and re-harmonize your body and spirit. Perhaps the best known chakra mantra is Om or Aum, which is associated both with the crown chakra and opening up the third eye, but there are others which can be used depending on which of your chakras you feel may be blocked.

How Does Sound Healing Work?

Sound therapy is being used by metaphysical practitioners to treat a variety of ailments, from stress and behavioral disorders to neurological and musculoskeletal pain. In addition, Eastern mystics have used sound for hundreds of years to reduce anxiety and aid in meditative work.

Sound healing is essentially the use of frequencies and vibrations to heal physical and emotional ailments. Many people believe that each living organism has its own unique resonant frequency, and that if we’re off-kilter physically or mentally, we can change these frequencies with sound healing.

Kathryn Drury Wagner of Spirituality and Health Magazine says, “sound work inhabits a curious space: It has been used for thousands of years—think of overtone chanting from Central Asia, for example—yet, it’s also on the frontiers of modern neuroscience.” Wagner also says that sound therapy, sometimes called brain-wave entrainment, “isn’t without its skeptics, but some research supports it. In 2008, the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine published a review of 20 studies of brain-wave entrainment and patient outcomes. The conclusion was that brain-wave entrainment is an effective tool to use on cognitive functioning deficits, stress, pain, headaches, and premenstrual syndrome. The studies also suggest that sound work can help with behavioral problems.”

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Ribbon Trees & Rag Bushes

offerings

This is an article that originally appeared on my About site, but with the migration to the super-cool new ThoughtCo vertical, some under-performing articles got done away with. However, I was traveling recently and saw a ribbon tree, and it made me want to share this once again.

The history behind the use of ribbon trees is a long and complex one. It’s a practice found in a number of different cultures, so I thought it would be interesting to do a little digging and see how they compare in various places around the world. Although it’s difficult to tell, at least initially, where this practice may have originated, it looks like it’s safe to say that it’s something that happens pretty much globally.

Sometimes called wishing trees, other times called rag bushes, these plants are often decorated by strips of cloth by visitors who want to see their wishes fulfilled. In some areas, these trees are located near sacred springs or holy wells, although that doesn’t appear to always be the case.

Irish Clotties

At the Hill of Tara, which was the home of the High Kings of Ireland, there is a pair of trees growing side by side. It’s not uncommon to see these trees tied with brightly colored pieces of cloth around the Beltane season. The trees – which are hawthorns – are decorated by visitors in early May, and the strips of cloth are known as clotties.

Interestingly, in recent years people have been tying seemingly random bits of detritus – plastic and metal, in particular – to the trees at Tara and the area around the holy well of Kildare. This is a deviation from traditional practice, in which the cloths from a sickbed were tied and hung along with appropriate prayers. As the sickcloths decomposed and biodegraded in the elements, the illness itself was carried away.

There are some belief systems that refer to Ireland’s clottie trees as “Fairy Trees,” but again, this is not part of traditional Irish legend, and appears to be more of a new age type thing.

Chinese Wishing Trees

In Hong Kong, the Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees are a popular destination for tourists, as well as the locals. These large banyan trees are part of a shrine where visitors can burn joss sticks and ask for their prayers to be answered. In the past, there was a practice of writing one’s wish on a piece of paper, tying it to an orange, and tossing it up in the tree. For years, papers hung in the trees, but apparently this became dangerous, because in 2005 a branch fell and caused injuries to several guests.

After that, authorities set up a series of racks on which people can tie their wish papers, in the hopes of allowing the trees a few years of recovery time.

The Hindu Kalpavriksha

In the Hindu religion, the Kalpavriksha is a divine tree that fulfills wishes. This tree of life, or world tree, appears in the Vedic scriptures, and is said to have originated during the churning of the primal waters of the ocean, and was found by Indra, the king of the gods. Indra took the tree home with him and planted it there so he could have it with him at all times. In some Indian villages, individual trees – often fig, coconut or the baobab – are considered Kalpavriksha trees, and are often decorated by residents as a way of asking the gods to grant wishes.

The Walleechu of Argentina

High in the mountains of South America, some indigenous peoples still honor a tree that has been a source of wish fulfillment for many generations. A British missionary wrote the following account:

“Being winter the tree had no leaves, but in their place, numberless threads, by which the various offerings, such as cigars, bread, meat, pieces of cloth, etc., had been suspended. Poor Indians, not having anything better, pull only a thread from their ponchos, and fasten it to the tree. Richer Indians are accustomed to pour spirits and mato into a certain hole, and likewise to smoke upwards, thinking thus to afford all possible gratification to Walleechu.”

Appropriate Offerings

If you’re lucky enough to see a wishing tree or a rag bush somewhere and want to add to it, make sure that anything you hang on it is in fact biodegradable. Blogger and travel writer Rich Rennicks, over at A Trip To Ireland, points out that many people put in a lot of hours trying to save the rag trees at Tara from the damage done by so many years of inappropriate offerings.

Rich says, “Traditionally, people tied strips of linen or cloth to a rag tree as a symbol of their prayer (long before synthetic substances were invented). Over time, these offerings have been replaced by inappropriate modern items (mass cards, glass jars containing candles, coins embedded into the bark, rosaries, dummies/soothers, etc.) and some complete rubbish added by careless people who either didn’t think about their actions or added the first thing they had to hand (nylon string, plastic ribbons, rings, beads, love locks, loom bands, or — strangest of all — socks and underwear–why?). Things that don’t naturally and quickly biodegrade or rot away harm the trees by killing limbs, preventing buds forming and leaves opening, or breaking branches. Over time, others add more bad stuff under the mistaken impression that the items already on the tree are acceptable, and the trees start to weaken and die.”

He suggest small strips of non-synthetic cloth – draped over branches, and not tied – as an acceptable offering that will eventually biodegrade without causing long term damage. Also, colored paper ribbon like crepe, or origami papers are a great option as well.

Ideally, you’ll want to leave the tree intact and healthy for future generations, so if you have a chance to leave anything, consider something non-tangible, like a simple prayer or song describing your wish, cast upon the wind and into the skies.

Image by Jennifer Pickens, licensed through Flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Review: Tarot of the Pirates

I’m a huge fan of pirates — even wrote a kids’ alphabet book about them — so when I saw that there was a pirate Tarot coming out a few years back, I had to have it. Tarot of the Pirates is just plain fun.

Yarr, mateys!

What do I like the most? Frankly, the artwork in this deck is really nifty, and not what you typically see in Tarot artwork. It’s sassy and brash, dark and dangerous, and the imagery is nicely matched to the Tarot card meanings.

The Pirate Tarot deck is one I use a lot when reading for male clients, or for women who are empowered, independent and strong. It’s got a lot of strong masculine energy to it. The artwork takes on a pirate theme that’s a bit campy but still clever and fun — suits are divided into Coins, Oars, Chalices and Swords. The pirates in this deck are not always sanitized or pretty, but down-and-dirty swashbucklers, male and female alike. Images of the moon, sea monsters, sharks, hidden coves and buried treasure abound.

Keep in mind that if you’re looking for historical accuracy, this isn’t the place you’re going to find it. Although most of the pirates are fairly grungy, they’re still representative of a fairly romanticized version of piracy on the high seas. Remember, real pirates were criminals and violent people who did a lot of horrible things to other people.

One thing I’d recommend is just not even bothering with the little white booklet that accompanies the deck. Some of the card meanings seemed sketchy at best, and it almost seemed as though the creators were deliberately trying to take even the more positive, upbeat cards and give them a negative slant, just to keep with the theme of piracy. Honestly, there’s no need for this – the artwork speaks for itself, and a reader will be able to tell from looking at the cards exactly what meaning is before them.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this deck is the level of activity. Characters don’t just sit around waiting for things to happen to them — no, they go out and get what they want, swing from the yardarms, dig up their own treasures, and stage rebellions when needed. It’s a very active rather than a passive sort of deck. In particular, the female characters depicted have a good deal of agency of their own – they’re sexual and sensual, but they’re also in complete control of their own destinies in most of the artwork. It’s a good reliable deck to use for strong, independent people of either gender.

A quick note: if you’re bothered by the sight of bare breasts in your Tarot, you may want to pass on this deck, because there is some mild nudity – not a lot, but some.

Also, keep in mind that with the Tarot of the Pirates, some of the artwork doesn’t translate exactly the way you might expect if you’re used to using Rider-Waite as your default set of meanings. With this deck, you’re probably going to get a better result, and a more accurate reading, if you read intuitively rather than based upon written interpretations.

My main complaint with this deck is that some of the cards are far too similar in appearance to other cards in the deck. You should be able to tell what card you’re looking at simply by looking at the image. If you have to check to make sure it’s This and Not That, that’s definitely a disadvantage to the deck. I won’t spoil it for you by telling you which cards are far too close in appearance, but if you’re a savvy reader, you’ll pick up on a couple of them, particularly in the Major Arcana.

On the whole, though, I do enjoy this deck, particularly because I’m a fan of the comic book style of artwork that’s used. While I definitely wouldn’t suggest it for a novice, if you’ve got some degree of experience in reading Tarot (and, of course, if you enjoy pirate lore), it’s definitely worth picking up and playing around with.