Make a Group of Yard Ghosts

When I moved a year ago, I discovered that while I had about five boxes of Yule decor, I had over two dozen boxes of Halloweenery – it’s my favorite time of year! And this is one of my favorite decorations to put out – every fall, random strangers would stop and take pictures of my front yard, because of all the Halloween nonsense, and this group of ghosts was always a huge hit. Here’s how you can make your own, with about $20 worth of random supplies.

Ain’t no party like a ghost party!!

For each ghost, you’ll need the following:

  • 1 4-foot length of 2″ PVC pipe, cut with a 45′ angle on one end
  • 1 plastic pumpkin
  • 2 lightweight plastic tablecloths (54 x108″)
  • 1 large zip tie
  • Black electrical tape

Pound the PVC pipe into the ground, as far as it needs to go to be stable. Invert the plastic pumpkin and place it upside down over the top of the PVC pipe to form the head – it’s a good idea to stuff the pumpkin with plastic grocery sacks or an old towel to keep it from flipping around.

Place one plastic tablecloth (usually these are available for a dollar or less at party stores) over the pumpkin longways to cover the head and form the arms. Place the other tablecloth over the pumpkin, crossing the first tablecloth, to cover the head and form the ghost’s front and back.

Use the plastic zip tie to form the neck, and secure your tablecloths in place. Cut small pieces of electrical tape to give your ghosts facial expressions. To connect your ghosts to one another, simply tie them together at the arms, to make it look like they’re holding hands.

For fun variations, make them in different colors, or attach hats to them with a staple gun.

 

Saturday Spellwork: Money Magic

For hundreds of years, people have used magic to bring abundance and wealth of one type or another into their lives. Let’s look at some of the various customs involving money around the world.

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In parts of the Ozarks, it is believed that you’ll soon receive a letter with money in it if a honey bee buzzes around your head, according to Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic and Folklore. There is also a legend, in some parts of Missouri, that if you see bubbles in your coffee, if you can drink them all before they disappear, a large sum of money is coming your way.

There’s a legend in some parts of Appalachia that if you burn onion peels rather than just throwing them away, you’ll never be poor.

In Hoodoo, there are numerous potions and “tricks” designed to bring money into your life. Jim Haskins says in his book Voodoo and Hoodoo that burning green candles anointed with money-drawing incense works well, and if you own a business, money oil is a good way to increase your abundance.

The use of a lodestone is found in some magical traditions as a way to attract money. The lodestone is “fed” with magnetic sand that is drawn to it — as money is drawn to your wallet.

This practice has been dated back as far as the days of ancient Rome — prostitutes figured out that carrying a lodestone as an amulet would attract the wealthier clients.

A practicing witch who asked to be identified as Eowynne says that in her family, which hails from Cornwall, England, there is an unusual custom involving babies and money. When a baby is six months old, she is given a large silver coin to hold onto. If the child is able to grasp the coin without dropping it, she’ll have no trouble attracting money as an adult. If she drops the coin, then she’ll have a hard time holding onto her cash when she grows up (important safety tip – if you’re going to have a baby hold a coin, watch to make sure it doesn’t become a snack).

Russia is the home of a superstition that scattered money draws even more wealth. Leave coins lying around in various places around your home — in drawers, under the bed, the back of the closet, etc. — and even more abundance will come your way.

Carry a Buckeye nut in your pocket to bring money your way at the gaming table or at the races.

Bay leaf, cinquefoil, Tonka bean, sunflower, and pennyroyal are also herbs associated with money magic.

In Magika Hiera: Ancient Greek Magic and Religion, author Christopher Faraone describes how a combination of amulets and incantations would have been used to draw money — as well as other things — towards someone.

How Many Pagans Are in a Group?

A reader says, I recently talked to a friend of mine who is in a coven – the group is Pagan but I don’t believe they’re specifically Wiccan – and told her I was interested in joining the group. She told me that the high priestess has set a limit that she’ll only have [number] people in the coven, and even if someone new is interested, they won’t take any more than that. Is this a red flag that means I should stay away from this group?

Image by Stonehenge Stone Circle via Flickr

Actually, no, it’s really not, as long as all the other aspects of the group are things that work for you. There may be any number of reasons that the high priestess (HPs) may have set this guideline. Let’s look at a couple of possibilities:

  • The leader(s) of the group may feel that this number – seven, thirteen, twenty, whatever it may be – is the maximum amount of people that she can manage effectively. Remember, a HPs is not just showing up for two hours to lead a ritual once a month – she’s also managing the group’s finances, making lesson plans if it’s a teaching coven, writing new rituals so everything is always fresh, studying and reading new material to share with the group, acting as a mentor and counselor, mediating potential disputes between members, and so on. If she’s concerned that trying to manage any more than X Number will lead to chaos – or at the very least, a less meaningful experience for existing members – then she’s wise to know her own limits. It’s also possible that the group’s constraints are due to limited physical space – if they meet in a room that only fits six people comfortably, a responsible HPs isn’t going to invite ten people in.
  • The group’s tradition may have determined that their number – again, whatever it is – is magically tied to their tradition. In some groups, particularly Neowiccan covens, thirteen is considered a perfectly magical number of people to have. In others, it may be nine, since nine is also considered a power number in Numerology. Regardless, there may be a magical significance behind the number, so it could be more than arbitrary.
  • It may be that the group only accepts members at certain times of the year. One coven I know of only takes new seekers in at the time of a blue moon, as sort of a play on the phrase “once in a blue moon.” This means the rest of the year, no matter what, their membership is closed to any new people.

If your friend’s group maintains a wait list, or at the very least, a contact list of interested prospective members, make sure the leaders have your name – this way, if someone does leave the group and will be replaced, the HPs can reach out to you to see if you’re still interested. All other things being equal, don’t let a limited membership roster scare you off.

It’s not uncommon to encounter, and it’s not a warning sign at all.

Image by Stonehenge Stone Circle Creative Commons License CC by 2.0 via Flickr 

Pagan Clergy and Confidentiality

A reader asks, “What guidelines are there in Pagan religions for clergy in matters of confidentiality? I am an ordained Pagan priest, and a member of the community has come to me with a problem. If I get involved, someone will end up in jail. However, if I don’t speak out, someone else will continue to be victimized. I don’t want to violate anyone’s trust, but I can’t stand by and see someone hurt. How do you think I should proceed?

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You know, this is a slippery slope that clergy of all religions have walked for centuries. There is certainly a need for confidentiality with any religious leader. After all, if we, as clergy, are to offer effective counsel to those who ask for it, those folks have to know that we will not betray their confidence.

On the other hand, there’s the matter of doing what’s right. If someone is being harmed, and you know about it, most Pagan traditions would argue that you have a responsibility to speak up and put a stop to it.

When someone comes to me in confidence and asks to speak to me as a priestess, it’s typically because they need advice. They’re trying to decide what to do about a potential job change, they want to know if they should go back to school, they need help communicating with their spouse or partner more effectively, and so on. It’s rare that anyone has come to me with anything as dramatic as what you’re describing, but here’s what I would probably do in your circumstances.

First, I’d ask myself why the person chose to confide in me. Do they just want someone to talk to? Are they hoping I’ll offer advice? If someone is in danger – either the person I’m speaking with, or someone they know – and they’ve come to me with their concerns, it’s because they want help.

Next, I’d figure out the seriousness of the issue, and how it impacts the individual or the community at large. If someone comes to me and tells me they’ve just been diagnosed with a fatal disease, or that they’re in recovery for addiction, that’s no one’s business but their own. There is no reason to share that with anyone – and chances are that they just want someone to listen to them.

I’m happy to do that.

On the other hand, if someone were to come to me and tell me they know their neighbor is abusing a child, or that their brother has killed someone and hidden the crime, then we’re talking about not only an ethical and moral obligation here, but a legal one as well. While you can’t be forced to speak out, most traditions would argue that it’s your responsibility to do so.

Also, depending on what state you live in, there may be laws that require you to report certain situations, regardless of your status as an ordained clergy person. For example, in some states, anyone who has knowledge of the abuse of a child is required to report it to law enforcement, no matter who they are.

Finally, in any of the cases above, I would counsel the individual to seek help with law enforcement or other appropriate agencies. Perhaps you could sit with them and offer support while they make that phone call, or while they speak with social workers, and so forth. I’ve driven a battered woman and her children to a shelter, because she was afraid to do it herself, and couldn’t take that step on her own. Empowering someone else to ask for help is often what they need you to do.

There’s a great article from back in 1985 by Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune, in which she described the dilemma of a pastor who was made aware that a teenage girl in his congregation was being sexually abused by her father. Although the girl was terrified, the pastor told her how glad he was that she had come to him with this information. He also told her that although she didn’t want anyone to know what was happening to her, the only way to stop her father from hurting her was to get other people involved. After much discussion, she finally understood that if she wanted to be safe, other people had to help too – and she called Children’s Services from the pastor’s office. The father was charged and convicted, and later went into treatment. The girl herself was able to get counseling from a qualified mental health professional. The pastor was able to help the girl to help herself, and so did not violate the trust she had placed in him.

Certainly, I would say if you believe a crime is being or has been committed, you’ve got a responsibility to the victim to make sure they get help. Because not every case is the same, you’ll have to weigh the balance of your obligation for confidentiality against your role as a leader and helper of the community. It’s all part of being clergy, and it isn’t always easy. However, if you follow your ethical guidelines, and those of your particular tradition, you’ll be far better equipped to make the right decision.

A Reaping Blessing for the Earth

This past weekend, I had the privilege of presenting a workshop at Dayton Pagan Pride Day, which was one of the best PPD events I’ve ever attended. This year’s theme was Walking Our Earthen Path, and main ritual was hosted by Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary. This was the first time I’ve met Selena in person, although I’ve been following her online for years, and she is an absolutely delightful human being.

Selena invited the presenters to participate in main ritual, and asked each of us to contribute an invocation or chant focusing on the theme of celebrating the earth. Since it’s nearly Mabon, the fall equinox, I wrote an invocation looking at the blessings of the earth during the reaping season. During ritual, I delivered a shorter, abridged version of this, because there were time constraints, but I wanted to share it with you in its entirety here, because it’s a solid way to mark the move into the harvest season as the land around us begins to die. It started off sort of loosely inspired by a prayer included in the Carmina Gadelica, but then took on a life of its own as I was writing it.

You’re welcome to use this in your personal rituals as you wish, and tweak if you need to – all I ask is that if you choose to share it on your own pages, that you include a link back to this page, as well as credit to me.

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Reaping Blessing for the Earth

As the rise of the sun bursts bold and bright over the fields
And the corn and crops sway high in the morning light
I will go forth with my sickle and basket beneath my arm
And I will reap that which I have sown

As the sun moves higher in the morning sky
Burning and blazing across my back
I will move along the rows, cutting and threshing,
Grateful for the bounty of my fields

As the noonday sun glitters high and hot overhead
I will set my sickle down,
Counting my blessings as I fill my basket
And wiping the sweat from my brow

As the shadows begin to grow, gray and long,
The sun traveling nomadic from east to west,
The cool winds of the north move across my fields,
Towards the torrid heat of a far-off south

And I will give thanks to my gods
And to the Mother herself, for her blessings and her bounty,
Her beauty and abundance, and the graces and gifts she bestows upon me

And as my crops growing in the ground
Begin to darken and die in the deepening dusk,
I know that I have much gratitude to give

For each ridge and plain and field
For each sickle and scythe
For each ear in the basket
For each stalk in the sheaf

And I will rejoice in the earth’s blessings on each maiden and youth,
And I will rejoice in the earth’s blessings on each healer and warrior
And I will rejoice in the earth’s blessings on each crone and sage
And I will rejoice in the earth’s blessings on the living and the dead
As I bring my harvest home.

Sept. 21: Nutting Day

Around the middle of September, the nut season starts. Hazelnuts ripen in the hedges, and they have long been connected to folklore and legends. Hazel is associated to the Celtic tree month of Coll, from August 5 to September 1, and the very word Coll means “the life force inside you.”

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Hazelnuts are connected to wisdom and protection, and are often found near sacred wells and magical springs. Hazelnuts can be used in workings related to divination and dowsing – tie a ripe one onto a string and use it as a pendulum!

In the British Isles, September 14 was the day when children would forage in the woods to collect hazelnuts, because this is when they are supposed to be perfectly ripe. In some legends, young maidens who go out a-nutting are in danger of becoming pregnant without benefit of marriage — this is probably less due to the fertility associations of nuts and more to the fact that Nutting Day gave you a chance to be alone in the woods with your lover.

If you worked as a lacemaker, Nutting Day had a special significance. From this day until Shrove Tuesday in the spring, you could use a candle to light your work.

Lacemakers spent long hours working at their craft for little pay, and because of the precise nature of their job, their eyes were often tired and achy by the end of the day. They were often advised to bathe their eyes in gin, which stung, but refreshed them enough that they could work a few more hours. The use of a candle permitted them to work longer during the dark winter months.

September 21 is sometimes called the Devil’s Nutting Day, and it was the date on which mortals should never gather nuts.

In some areas of Britain, nuts were not to be picked on Sundays, either. There’s a story in the Warwickshire area that the devil himself was out gathering hazelnuts when he accidentally met the Virgin Mary (the story doesn’t explain why Mary might have been wandering around in Warwickshire, but hey, it’s an old story). He was so startled to see her that he dropped his bag of nuts, which turned into a hill called the Devil’s Nightcap.

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Persephone & Demeter

Where I live, fall has rolled in already – a bit unusually early, in fact. Normally here in Middle Earth, we’re still pretty sunny and warm until late September, but the hurricane in Texas brought us rain and cool temps last weekend, and it’s rather looking like autumn is here to stay.

One of my favorite myths is that of Persephone and her mother, Demeter, because their story explains the changing of the seasonal cycles.

Ohhh, gurrl, don’t eat those seeds! Image by Einlaudung_zum_Essen from CC0 via Canva

Demeter was a goddess of grain and of the harvest in ancient Greece. Her daughter, Persephone, caught the eye of Hades, god of the underworld. When Hades abducted Persephone and took her back to the underworld, Demeter’s grief caused the crops on earth to die and go dormant. By the time she finally recovered her daughter, Persephone had eaten six pomegranate seeds, and so was doomed to spend six months of the year in the underworld.

These six months are the time when the earth dies, beginning at the time of the autumn equinox. Each year, Demeter mourns the loss of her daughter for six months. At Ostara, the greening of the earth begins once more and life begins anew.

In some interpretations of the story, Persephone is not held in the underworld against her will. Instead, she chooses to stay there for six months each year so that she can bring a little bit of brightness and light to the souls doomed to spend eternity with Hades.

Saturday Spellwork: Magical Wood Correspondences

In many magical traditions, wood is assigned various properties that make it useful for ritual and spellwork. By using these correspondences, you can include different woods in your magical workings. Keep in mind, this is not an exhaustive list and there are plenty of other woods that are not included here. Also, some people find that they find a particular wood resonates with them in a way that is completely different than the standard assigned correspondence. If that’s the case for you, it’s okay – use the wood in a way that best makes sense to you.

Keep in mind that some of these woods are magical in multiple ways – many of them are included in the Nine Sacred Woods of the Bonfire, and some feature in the Celtic Tree Calendar as well.

Alder

The Alder is associated with making spiritual decisions, magic relating to prophecy and divination, and getting in touch with your own intuitive processes and abilities. Alder flowers and twigs are known as charms to be used in Faerie magic. Whistles were once made out of Alder shoots to call upon Air spirits, so it’s an ideal wood for making a pipe or flute if you’re musically inclined. The Alder represents the evolving spirit.

Apple

Apple wood dries strong and sturdy. Because of the apple tree’s association with immortality and the divine, it is often used in tools such as Ogham staves, which can be used for prophecy and divination. Apple is also strongly tied to abundance and bounty, due in no small part to its connection with orchards and the harvest season.

Ash

In Norse lore, Odin hung from Yggdrasil, the World Tree, for nine days and nights so that he might be granted wisdom. Yggdrasil was an ash tree, and since the time of Odin’s ordeal, the ash has often been associated with divination and knowledge. In some Celtic legends, it is also seen as a tree sacred to the god Lugh, who is celebrated at Lughnasadh. Because of its close association not only with the Divine but with knowledge, Ash can be worked with for any number of spells, rituals, and other workings. Associated with ocean rituals, magical potency, prophetic dreams and spiritual journeys, the Ash can be used for making magical (and mundane) tools — these are said to be more productive than tools made from other wood. Use an Ash branch to make a magical staff, broom or wand.

Bamboo

The bamboo plant lives a long time, and will just continue growing until it is harvested. Because of this, some Pacific Island tribes regard it as a symbol of longevity and life, and include bamboo in some creation stories. In some parts of the Philippines, bamboo crosses are placed in the fields to bring hearty crops in at harvest time. In parts of India, bamboo symbolizes friendship. It was also used to form spears and longbows. Because of this, some magical traditions associate bamboo with strength and the warrior’s path. In Japan, bamboo walls are believed to protect Shinto shrines from evil spirits.

Birch
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When a forested area burns, Birch is the first tree to grow back, and thus is associated with rebirth and regeneration. Workings using Birch add momentum and a bit of extra “oomph” to new endeavors. The Birch is also associated with magic done for creativity and fertility, as well as healing and protection. It is the first month in the Celtic tree calendar, following the Winter Solstice, and is related to the Ogham symbol Beith. Use Birch branches to craft your own besom for magical workings, and in spells and rituals related to enchantments, renewal, purification, fresh starts and new beginnings.

Elder

Although the Elder can be damaged easily, it recovers quickly and springs back to life, which makes Elder a great wood for workings related to creativity and renewal. It is connected to both  beginnings and endings, births and deaths, and rejuvenation. Elder is also said to protect against demons and other negative entities. Use in magic connected to Faeries and other nature spirits.

Hazel

Hazel is often associated in Celtic lore with sacred wells and magical springs containing the salmon of knowledge. It’s often associated with workings related to wisdom and knowledge, dowsing and divination, and dream journeys. Hazel was a handy tree to have around. It was used by many English pilgrims to make staffs for use upon the road — not only was it a sturdy walking stick, it also provided a modicum of self-defense for weary travelers. Certainly, it could have been used as well for ritual. Hazel was used in weaving of baskets by medieval folk, and the leaves were fed to cattle because it was believed this would increase the cow’s supply of milk.

Hawthorn

The Hawthorn is associated with magic related to masculine power, business decisions, making professional connections. The Hawthorn is also associated with the realm of Faerie, and when the Hawthorn grows in tandem with an Ash and Oak, it is said to attract the Fae. This prickly-thorned tree, one of the nine sacred woods of the bonfire, is associated with cleansing, protection and defense. Tie a thorn with a red ribbon and use it as a protective amulet in your home, or place a bundle of thorns under a baby’s crib to keep bad energy away.

Maple
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Maple is often associated with healing modalities, both physical and spiritual. Unlike many other woods, which are typically considered either masculine or feminine, Maple draws on the qualities of both. It is associated with a wide variety of aspects, including beauty and art, intellectual pursuits, and wisdom. Considered in some magical traditions to be a “traveler’s wood,” Maple is a powerful wood for those who are always in motion, both mentally and physically, and can be used to help bring focus to a situation.

Oak

The mighty Oak is strong, powerful, and typically towering over all of its neighbors. The Oak King rules over the summer months, and this tree was sacred to the Druids. The Celts called this month Duir, which some scholars believe to mean “door”, the root word of “Druid”. The Oak is connected with spells for protection and strength, fertility, money and success, and good fortune. In many pre-Christian societies, the Oak was often associated with the leaders of the gods — Zeus, Thor, Jupiter, and so forth. The strength and masculinity of the Oak was honored through the worship of these gods.

Pine

This evergreen was once known as the “sweetest of wood”, and its needles can be brewed into tea which provides a good source of Vitamin C. Pine is associated with clarity of vision, and alleviation of guilt. In Scotland, the Pine was a symbol of the warrior, and in some stories it was planted over the graves of those fallen in battle.

Rowan
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Known by the Celts as the Ogham symbol Luis (pronounced loush), the Rowan is associated with astral travel, personal power, and success. A charm carved into a bit of a Rowan twig will protect the wearer from harm. The Norsemen were known to have used Rowan branches as rune staves of protection. In some countries, Rowan is planted in graveyards to prevent the dead from lingering around too long. Rowan is also associated with the Celtic hearth goddess Brighid.

Willow

A Willow planted near your home will help ward away danger, particularly the type that stems from natural disaster such as flooding or storms. They offer protection, and are often found planted near cemeteries. In addition to its use as a healing herb, Willow was also harvested for wicker work. Baskets, small curricles, and even bee hives were constructed with this bendable, flexible wood. This wood is related to healing, growth of knowledge, nurturing and women’s mysteries, and is represented by the Celtic Ogham symbol Saille.

Yew

The Yew is known as a marker of death and endings. This evergreen tree has leaves that are attached in a spiral pattern to the twigs. Because of its unusual growth pattern, in which new growth forms inside the old, the Yew is strongly tied to rebirth and new life following death. It is also connected to periods of great transition – not necessarily good or bad, but definitely significant.

Mabon Apple Butter

Ok, I admit that I have a weird obsession with apple picking. Every fall, I go off to the local apple orchard and spent an hour or two finding the ABSOLUTE BESTEST APPLES EVER and dropping them in a basket, and before I know it I have like eight bushels of them and my kids kids are all NO MOM OMG PLEASE NO MORE APPLES.

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I mean, really, you can only do so much with apples before everyone gets tired of seeing, eating, and smelling them. So, obviously, there’s some mason jar activity involved, but one of the things I love to make is apple butter. I like this because it uses up a lot of apples, and also IT’S FLIPPIN’ DELICIOUS Y’ALL. Basically, I make a ton of applesauce, and then turn it around and make the applesauce into apple butter.

Plus, the cool thing is that in many pantheons, the apple is a symbol of the Divine. Apple trees are representative of wisdom and guidance. You can use your crock pot to make apple butter – it’s a delicious treat all year long, and if you make it in the fall with fresh apple sauce, you can preserve it to eat later on. Enjoy this tasty spread on warm bread, or just straight from the jar!

Karen Samuels, over at Lehigh Valley History, has some fascinating insight on the history of apple butter. It’s not an ancient recipe by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s one that solved a problem that faced early American settlers: lack of refrigeration. Karen says, “Apple butter is an American invention and attributed to the Pennsylvania German settlers, dating as far back as the mid 1700s. Before they could rely on refrigeration, the local farmers had to sugar cure then smoke meat, pickle vegetables and dry fruit. The Pennsylvania Germans noted that applesauce became rancid before the end of winter. They found with a longer cooking process of the apples and cider they could produce a tasty condiment that could get them through the winter and longer… Some people claim that apple butter can last several years. The higher concentration of sugar gives apple butter a much longer shelf life than applesauce.”

A number of Midwestern towns and cities continue to celebrate their apple butter even to this day – places like Ohio’s historic Roscoe Village and Grand Rapids, as well as Missouri’s Kimmswick and Waterville PA all have annual apple butter festivals.

To make your own apple butter, you’ll need basic canning supplies like Mason jars with lids, a pair of tongs, and a big pot to get started. This recipe should yield you about ten pints of apple butter.

You’ll Need:
  • 9 quarts of applesauce
  • 2 C. apple cider
  • 3 Tbs. ground cinnamon
  • 1 Tbs, ground cloves
  • 1 Tbs. nutmeg
  • 3 C. sugar (more if you like really sweet apple butter)

You can make this recipe with homemade or store-bought applesauce. Homemade tastes far better, so if you’ve never made your own applesauce, check out this Applesauce recipe.

Fill a crock pot with as much applesauce as it takes to bring you about an inch from the top — this will NOT hold all of the applesauce, unless you have a REALLY big crock pot, but that’s okay. It should take about half the applesauce if you use a 5-quart crock like I do.

Add 1 C. of the cider, half the cinnamon, half the cloves and nutmeg, and 1 1/2 C. of the sugar. Set the crock pot on Low, and cover. Allow the applesauce to cook on low setting for about 8 – 12 hours.

Around the 10-hour point, check the amount of applesauce in the pot. It should have reduced significantly by now, so add in the remaining quarts of applesauce, spices, cider and sugar. Mix thoroughly to blend with the applesauce that’s already in the pot, and allow to simmer for a few more hours, until the applesauce has reduced to a nice, thick brown apple butter.

Optional – use a hand-held mixer to blend the apple butter into a creamy, smooth texture.

Finally, can the apple butter using the following steps: Home Canning Basics, so you’ll have apple butter that lasts for months in your pantry.

Serve your apple butter with a loaf of warm, soft bread, or eat it straight from the jar!

Blasphemy and Paganism

Here’s one from Ye Olde Magical Mail Bagge: A reader says, “I was at a Pagan event last month, and dropped a candle – I seriously thought I was going to set my robe on fire. I said, “Oh my goddess!” and was immediately jumped on by a woman who scolded me for being blasphemous. I told her that I didn’t think my goddess really cared if I said something like that, but she told me that “taking the goddess’ name in vain” was wrong. This sounds an awful lot like Christianity, which I left recently. Am I missing something? Is there really a rule that says I can’t say “oh my goddess” if I feel like it?”

You said WHAAAAAT??? Image by Christels from CC0 via Canva

No shit, y’all, if I had a dollar for every time someone tried to make someone else Pagan A Different Way, I could legit quit my day job.

The concept of blasphemy is one that’s common to the Abrahamic faiths, but is not widely found in other religions. For many religions, certain words are never used, because it’s considered blasphemous to do so. In some orthodox branches of Judaism, one is not permitted to write the name of God – if you’re jotting down His name, you might write it as G-d, to avoid being seen as blasphemous.

The dictionary defines blasphemy as disrespect – or at the very least, irreverence – towards something sacred or holy. Much like sin and obscenity, disrespect is typically in the eye of the beholder. In the Abrahamic religions, the criteria are pretty well established as part of doctrine. For Catholics, as an example, the sin of blasphemy includes blasphemy against the Holy Spirit — the questioning of whether the actions of the Holy Spirit might be attributed to some other being or entity.

Some groups take blasphemy to an even more strict level. For example, in Islam, it’s seen as disrespectful to draw a picture of the prophet Mohammad, and you could easily find yourself under a fatwa if you scribble out a cartoon with his image. Certain fundamentalist Christian groups see the celebration of any religious holiday with secular aspects as blasphemous — colored eggs at Easter, or Santa Claus during Christmas would fall under this heading.

But here’s the big thing: if you’re not part of a religion, it’s unreasonable for members of that religion to hold you to that religion’s standards. In other words, Jews don’t expect non-Jews to never write out the word “God,” because it’s a rule for them, that’s found in their holy writings. So, why would a member of one Pagan group think it’s okay to tell non-members to follow the group’s rules?

In many Pagan religions the deities are not seen as stern taskmasters, or angry old men who rule through fear rather than love. In fact, some – although certainly not all – Pagan gods and goddesses are a lot of fun — they are often viewed as having a bit of a sense of humor, and not concerning themselves overmuch with the day to day activities of their worshipers, unless we specifically address them.

 

So here’s the question for you — do you think the goddess of your tradition finds it disrespectful for you to say “oh my goddess” when you drop a candle? Do you think that it so enrages her that she’s going to stop what she’s doing and somehow make you suffer? Or do you think maybe she’s having a little giggle over the whole thing, and then going on about her business? Or maybe, just maybe, she really doesn’t notice at all, and if she does, she maybe doesn’t give a damn because she’s busy doing Goddess Things?

You’re going to encounter fundamentalists in every religion — and that includes Paganism. Don’t let a negative experience with one of them color your entire perception of Pagan spirituality. You’ll meet far more people who believe that the gods have a sense of humor, and that they don’t especially care if you blurt out “oh my goddess” when you’re about to set your ritual robe on fire. Honor your deities the way your heart calls you to do, and don’t let anyone bully you about it.