The winter solstice, Yule, is rapidly approaching. Many Pagans celebrate Yule, and while I was researching the holiday, I wondered where the traditions came from. I knew a few things, such as that the Yule log and wassailing came from Norse culture. But when I researched more, I found out that Yule is an amalgamation of several cultures, from Roman to Egyptian to modern-day Christmas.
This post is an exploration of modern-day Yule. I’ll go into the history of where certain celebrations came from and how they gathered to create the holiday. Then, I’ll discuss how you can celebrate Yule today.
NOTE: For this post, I will call ancient Pagans “Pagans” and modern Pagans “NeoPagans.” I don’t usually do this, but I’m making an exception for clarity.
The Ancient Germanic Jól
The first written record of Yule we have comes from fourth-century Germany. During that time, the Yule festival began after the first day of autumn. In the tenth century, Haakon the Good of Norway shortened Yule to 12 days at the end of the year. The ancient calendar did not encompass 365 days, so the 12 “extra” days became the celebration.
The word Yule comes from the Old Norse jól and Old English ġēol. It was pretty clearly a Pagan holiday. One name for Odin, jólfaðr, literally means “Yule Father.” The holiday celebrated the winter solstice, and it was a time to make oaths, such as marriages and rulership.
The Old Norse practiced a form of trick-or-treating on Yule. Children would ask their neighbors for treats such as figgy pudding. For dinner, communities would traditionally eat boar (ham), wine, and nog.
In the Middle Ages, people practiced wassailing. It was similar to Christmas caroling where people would sing at neighbors’ doorsteps with a wassail bowl. The bowl was filled with some kind of drink, usually cider, wine, or ale blended with honey and spices. They offered their drink in return for gifts.
Ancient Pagans also believed that the trees slept through autumn. During Yule, they would pick orchards and lay them near trees to “wake them up.” Mistletoes were considered to be sacred and a symbol of Freya. If they spotted a mistletoe, the ancients would let it fall onto a white cloth. Then, they would give parts of the mistletoe to each household to ward off evil.
The Yule Log
The Yule log is perhaps the most well-known holiday tradition. And no, we’re not talking about the French dessert. We’re talking about a log that is burned throughout Yuletide. Today, NeoPagans often decorate logs and place candles in them in honor of the tradition.
For the ancient Norse, however, the Yule log was an entire tree. Communities would take great care to choose a sacred tree to chop down. After cutting off the branches, they would haul the trunk into a long hallway. Instead of lighting the entire tree on fire, they only lit the end. Over time, the ancients would push the trunk into the fire, burning the entire thing throughout the 12 days of Yule. In Holland, Pagans gathered the tree’s ashes and placed them under their bed for protection.
The Roman Festival Saturnalia
The ancient Romans had their own solstice festival, Saturnalia, which went from December 17th to December 23rd. There are many interesting facts about Saturnalia, but I’m going to focus on the factors that likely influenced modern-day Christmas and Yule.
Saturnalia is widely credited as the origin of “Christmas cheer.” The holiday was created to imitate the rule of the Titan Saturn (Cronos in Greek), who governed a golden age. During this time, the Romans practice “role reversal” where their usual societal rules did not matter. Slaves ate with their masters, wars would go on pause, and all political squabbles would cease.
Partying and gift-giving were huge aspects of Saturnalia. On December 19th, the Romans would give each other sigillaria, or gag-gifts. For regular gifts, children often received toys, and adults could get expensive gifts such as a farm animal. A common gift was a cerei, a wax candle that signified the sun returning after the solstice.
People decorated their homes with greenery and wore colorful clothes called synthesis during dinner.. Singing, dancing, gambling, and playing games were common celebrations, as well as large feasts. I’m sure that you can see the similarities between Saturnalia and modern-day Christmas/Yule.
The Ancient Egyptian Winter Solstice
The ancient Egyptians also celebrated the winter solstice. For them, the return of the sun was closely associated with their sun God, Horus. However, in the Middle Kingdom, this festival celebrated the births of five deities over five days: Osiris, Horus, Set, Isis, and Nephthys.
I want to address the common myth that Horus was born on December 25th. This is incorrect. According to Plutarch, Horus was born on the winter solstice, which can land between December 20th and December 22nd depending on the year. Although these dates are close, they should not be conflated.
The Egyptians frequently associated deities and pharaohs with the sun. They built their shrines so that the sun would rise in between two pillars on the solstice. They knew that they could not live without the sun and welcomed it back in winter.
The Mysterious Origin Of Christmas Trees
Although some NeoPagans say that Christmas trees were appropriated from Paganism, the truth is not so black-and-white. Historians still aren’t sure where the Christmas tree tradition began. However, we do know that ancients from several cultures decorated with evergreens.
The ancient Celts used to decorate temples with green boughs, the plant of the sun God, Baldr. The boughs symbolized everlasting lift and the return of the sun. The ancient Egyptians also placed greenery over doors and windows to ward off malicious spirits and illness.
So when did people start hauling trees indoors? Historians still aren’t sure. The first record of a decorated Christmas tree came from Martin Luther, the 16th-century leader of the Protestant Reformation. Luther reportedly came up with the idea to place candles near a tree after lights outside of his church.
Many historians believe that people were likely bringing trees indoors for many years before Martin Luther. Perhaps Luther was the first well-known figure to decorate a tree. But as for where Christmas trees come from, we’re not quite sure.
Did Christians Steal Christmas?
The claim that Christians stole Christmas from the Pagans is everywhere, especially in Pagan communities. I can’t talk about the history of Yule without addressing these accusations.
First off, the claim that December 25th came from the winter solstice is not entirely correct. In the second century, Clement of Alexandria claimed that Mary conceived Christ on March 25th (the same day as his future death). Therefore, Jesus was born nine months later, on December 25th.
When missionaries aimed to convert Pagan populations, this date came in handy. The most effect method of conversion was to take previous holidays, locations, and figures and change them from Pagan to Christian. Although Christmas was already being celebrated, it was close enough to the winter solstice that the celebration made sense to many Pagans.
In my opinion, the most common misconception about the Christian conversion is how long it took. Many people assume that conversation was quick; it wasn’t. Conversion took hundreds of years. In the Norse, Nordic, and Celtic countries, areas were constantly being taken over by Viking clans before returning to missionaries. So one area would become Pagan, then Christian, then Pagan again over hundreds of years.
This is why we see so many Pagan traditions blended into Christian ones. People took old Pagan celebrations, such as decorating with evergreens, and continued them with a different religion. On top of that, the government eventually became Christian, and it enforced how people should celebrate holidays.
Now, I’m not trying to relieve the missionaries from blame. They absolutely forced people to convert, and there are cases where the word “stealing” is appropriate. For instance, in Ireland, the Goddess Brigid was so popular that missionaries transformed Her into Saint Brigid. But for Christmas, I personally believe that the answer is more complicated than “Christians stole it.” The Christian holiday already existed, and Yule traditions eventually blended in and became Christian.
Wiccan Yule and the Holly and Oak Kings
In Wicca, Yule is a Sabbat, or a celebration of the sun. In some traditions, Yule honors the rebirth of the Horned God. The God passed away on Samhain (Halloween) and is reborn on Yule.
In other traditions, Wiccans celebrate the legend of the Holly King and the Oak King. Although some claim that this myth is ancient, we have no record of it before Robert Graves’ 1948 book The White Goddess. Graves compared the legend to other myths such as Lugh and Balor and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Similar comparisons came from the 1890 book The Golden Bough by anthropologist Sir James George Frazer, but the Oak and Holly Kings story did not arise until later.
According to the story, the Holly King and Oak King battle throughout the year. The Holly King represents darkness and gains power during the autumn equinox. On Yule, the Oak King, which represents light, overthrows the Holly King. In some traditions, these kings are aspects of the Horned God, and the Oak King fights for the Goddess.
How to Celebrate Yule Today
You might have read about all of these traditions and gotten confused. How can we celebrate modern-day Yule when it has so many origins from so many cultures? Fortunately, many of these holidays have overlap, and we can decide which traditions we want to celebrate.
How do you celebrate Yule? Did I miss any facts or traditions? Are you reading this on the holiday or before? Let me know in the comments below!
Last November, I was speaking to a dead soul whose grave I had tended to in the past. He was a World War I vet with a sweet wife who would only let his squadron use his nickname. He warned me that a close family member would soon pass away unexpectedly.
I presumed that he meant my grandfather, who had been struggling from brain cancer, but I was wrong. My great aunt passed away that next week. She had died overnight from an undiagnosed medical condition. For me, it was a groundbreaking moment in my spirit work journey.
This year, I spent my November trying to learn spirit work again after six months of no practice.
Spirit work is like a muscle that you consistently need to stretch. If you haven’t practiced it in a while (which happens; that’s life), then you might need to start from the basics. Meanwhile, some people have never tried spirit work and need some beginner tips.
It’s no secret that people learn spirit work differently. I personally began with energy work, but others have never done energy work and prefer to use divination only. Since I first contacted spirits 13 years ago, I have learned that what worked for me may not benefit others. Here, I’ve created a list of techniques for beginner and returning spirit workers. I hope that at least one of these methods can kickstart your journey.
Let’s start with what my magic teacher showed me: energy work. It is the practice of sensing the energies of objects and living beings. If you can feel the energies of stones, pets, and trees, then you will eventually sense the energies of spirits.
Start with a small object. I recommend using one that can fit in the palm of your hand, such as a coin, crystal, or small jar. Place it on a table, and hover your hand a few centimeters above it. Don’t touch it.
Close your eyes. What do you feel underneath your hand? A tingling? A coolness? A burning? Focus on what you feel and write it down.
Next, try this with another object. I personally recommend using a bowl of water because water has a distinct energy that many people can sense. Repeat the exercise.
The more you do this, the better you’ll get. Try it with trees, dirt, or even your bookshelf. Jot down what every object’s energy feels like. Over time, you will learn to distinguish a plant from a crystal, a table from a person, or a living entity from a non-living entity.
In the occult community, there is a lot of debate over whether meditation is necessary. Personally, I believe that meditation is not mandatory, but it can improve one’s practice. Meditation trains people to remove their own thoughts from their head. For spirit work, this can be a game changer.
Many beginners struggle to distinguish their own thoughts and feelings from a spirit. “Was that my thought, or a spirit’s? Did those candle flames really respond to me, or am I just seeing things?” Most of the time, these thoughts result from anxiety. We’re so nervous about getting an accurate reading that overthink and over-doubt.
Meditation trains us to ignore intrusive and anxious thoughts. It also calms the mind and body. The more calm you are during spirit work, the more you’ll be able to trust your instinct.
A few minutes of meditation can enhance your spirit work. If you struggle to relax your mind, try adding music or listening to a guided meditation. I use the app Calm. It has a wide range of guided meditations of varying lengths that help me when I haven’t meditated in a while.
If you meditate for just a few minutes every day, you may find that spirit communication becomes easier.
Divination is the most common method of beginning spirit work. Through divination, you can ask spirits questions about the past, present, or future. Popular divination methods include tarot cards, rune drawings, pendulum swinging, and bone throwing. The more you do it, the better you’ll get.
The downside is that it may take a while to find a method that you jive with. When I started, many people in my community recommended tarot cards. I tried it, but I was never interested in it and rarely got results.
Next, I tried using a pendulum. The same happened; I got some results, but they were not detailed enough for my liking. Later, I went from scrying to bone throwing to rune drawing. It took a lot of trial and error to find divination methods that gave me the results I wanted. This may happen to you, too.
Be patient. If your first divination doesn’t work, try another one. If you don’t get results on the first try, attempt it a few more times. Combine it with some other techniques that I list here. I highly recommend keeping a journal about your divination results. That way, you can ask a question, receive an answer, and ask the same question a few days later. See if your answers are consistent.
I will not discuss all divination methods here, but I will write about some in the future. There are plenty of other blogs who have written beginner guides for divination methods, too.
Give the Spirits an Offering
This is one of the easiest yet overlooked methods of starting a dialogue with spirits. I believe that some people underestimate the power of offerings. To demonstrate, I like to use the neighbor analogy.
Imagine that you want your nextdoor neighbor to come over to your house. Would you stand on your porch and scream, “Hey! Come over and talk to me!” Probably not. Instead, you might entice them with something. You might say, “I made brownies; would you like some?” or “Want to come over and play Mario Kart?” If your neighbor accepts your offer, then you have successfully started a relationship.
Offerings work the same way. Many spirits--even some family members--will not talk to you just because you want them to. Giving offerings is a way of saying, “I am a polite host. I respect your company and your time.”
If you perform spirit work at your altar, provide an offering before or during your ritual. To connect to the local land spirits, leave an offering outside or at your local park or graveyard. Common offerings include water, honey, stones, herbs, and flowers. Research folklore to determine which offerings are best.
The downside is that you may attract nasty spirits. I will talk more about protection during spirit work later.
Reach out for Help
Deities, angels, saints, and other spirits may help to enhance your spirit senses. According to many cultures, other entities can grant people “spirit sight,” or a variation of that phrase. In ancient Scotland, the sithean (dead souls from the otherworld) would grant people “second sight” to peer into another world. Meanwhile, other cultures said that anyone could see or communicate with the dead. The ancient Egyptians would write letters to the dead, asking them to intercede if harm should come their way.
Some magicians will conduct spells to strengthen their spirit sight. They may leave an offering to a deity with a request. They may also create an oil or smoking blend or open their spirit senses.
Returning spirit workers: If you have a spirit guide, ask them to connect you with a certain spirit. Many guides will create a link between you and a spirit or deity. They may also transfer messages.
You do not have to contact a deity, saint, goetia, or other spirit to succeed at spirit work. I am simply mentioning this for people who want a bit of extra help.
Connecting to a Taglock
In English, a taglock is a bunch of knotted hair, but that’s not what it means in the metaphysical community. In magic, a taglock is an object that connects you to another being. For example, cunning men and women used to retrieve a lock of hair from a person to cast (or break) a spell on them.
Taglocks also work for spirits. You may think, “But I don’t have anything that a spirit owns.” But you do. You have the blood of your ancestors running through your veins. You have your ancestor’s DNA in your hair and nails. (There are even spells for determining information by gazing into fingernails, but that’s another conversation.) This is why many necromancers recommend starting with ancestor work; it’s easy to connect to your biological ancestors.
Do you need a physical object? Use a family heirloom, old photograph, or graveyard dirt (if collected ethically). Many people create ancestor altars filled with taglocks to contact their family. Connect to the taglock via the energy work exercise I described above. Then try divination or prayer to reach the spirit.
Related: Spirit Guides in Death Magic
Spirit Safety Tips--The Quick Edition
Later, I will write a longer blog post on spirit work safety. But for now, I have devised a quick list of safety procedures to follow for beginners.
There are many ways to strengthen your spirit senses. Practicing divination is one of the most common techniques. If you have trouble sensing spirits, practice energy work or meditation to calm the mind. You can always receive help by using a taglock, giving offerings, and partitioning a deity or other spirit. Study up on spirit work safety before you start; it’s better to go in cautiously.
Did I leave a method out? Which method works best for you? Let me know about your thoughts on spirit work below!
On my post about decorating altars, a few readers commented that they’d love to set up an altar if they weren’t closeted. I remember feeling that way for the first seven years of my Craft. Growing up in a Catholic family, I never openly displayed my interest. Whenever I mentioned it (like when I discovered Hellenic Polytheism in middle school), I’d receive a lecture about Jesus and one God, which shut down the conversation.
So, yes, I understand the struggle. Even in college, I couldn’t set up altars in the dorm room. I had to hide all of my materials until my environment became safe, around age 20 or so.
If you’re “in the broom closet,” this post is for you. I’m going to discuss some methods I used to keep my Craft private. If you have any other ideas, please share. This is more of a brainstorming post than a “guide.” Your ideas will help people who are struggling with their environment.
Get “Non-Witchy” Containers
The easiest way to hide your supplies is to put everything in a box. It’s annoying, but effective. When it comes to deciding which box can hold your witchcraft/Pagan supplies, I recommend something that looks like another container.
In high school, my parents bought me some fancy “London” and “Paris” boxes as a set. Since they make pretty decorations, I put many of my art supplies in my Paris box. That means my London box held more painting tools, right? Nope. It disguised my witchcraft stuff.
For me, a really good way to hide supplies wasn’t just by using a random box. It was an intentionally disguised box. By stacking the Paris and London boxes, my parents assumed that both held art supplies for school. Whenever a Sabbat came around, I unloaded my London box and set up an altar on the floor. This box holds my extra witchcraft supplies to this day.
Or, Your Box Becomes Your Altar
When I practiced in secret, I shoved all of my supplies haphazardly into a box. While alone, I’d take it all out and set it up. If I were active in the witchcraft internet community at the time, I would have discovered a much more convenient solution: make an altar box.
Essentially, your altar is the tiny container. Your meditation crystals, prayer beads, and candles are already in there. Many bloggers pitch this idea for travel altars, but they can become at-home altars if you’re struggling for space or have to hide your Craft.
Those wooden boxes from Michael’s work well, and you can paint them. Otherwise, a shoe box or disguised box that I mentioned earlier would work. Hell, you can even use a desk drawer if you want.
Online Altars And Grimoires
This is another tip that I would have used if I had learned it earlier. Where I grew up, the magic community was secretive. You wouldn’t mention your Craft unless the person you were talking to also had a psychic ability. So I never thought to use the internet, or my computer, to my advantage.
Online altars are a thing. Many people use Tumblr accounts or Pinterest boards to save images, prayers, and facts that relate to their practice. Some save information they find in folders or on Google Docs.
These are great because (a) you can create an online alias so others don’t find you; (b) you can save information easily; and (c) you can engage with an online community. But if you’re reading this blog post, you probably know this already.
Take advantage of the resources you have. Can’t write down a grimoire? Copy and paste facts in your Notes app. Can’t build an altar? Make one on Animal Crossing. (I’m particularly proud of the Hades shrine on my island.) Remember that this is all temporary. Eventually, you’ll have your own place and can transition to a physical altar.
Can Your Supplies Disguise As Decor?
A lot of witchcraft supplies seem like everyday items to most people. Consider how many people place a Himalayan salt lamp on their bedside table or shelf. I know quite a few Christians who own those, and nobody thinks anything of it. But when you place a Himalayan salt lamp on an altar, with a pentagram and a jar of mugwort, then people will think it’s witchy.
If you have supplies that look like everyday items, display them. Why? Because when you’re practicing out of boxes, you’ll need as much storage space as you can get. As your collection grows, you may struggle to store EVERY witchcraft tool into one or two boxes.
Crystals make common decorative items and bookends. In my practice, family heirlooms contribute to ancestor work, so I display the teacups and incense burner that my grandmother gave me.
I’ll also set out some statues. Yes, even Pagan statues can seem discreet in some families. For years, my (Catholic) parents displayed a statue of Bast on their desk. We got it from a museum, and they loved the fact that Bast guarded the home in ancient Egypt. I had to bargain with them to get it back, and I eventually gave them a Bast statue of their own.
Another tip that I wish I knew: If you own witchcraft books, shelve them with their pages facing outwards. Believe it or not interior designers use this technique with some books. If the spine color doesn’t make the palette, they’ll flip it around so that you see the pages instead. I do this a lot with thin books, and nobody notices.
There are many convenient (and even fun) ways to hide your craft.
You know your living situation more than anyone. If any of these moves seem too risky, don’t do them. Stay safe. That is always your first priority.
Have you ever had to practice in secret? If you have, which tricks did you use? Comment below to help others who come across this post.
On the first Saturday of every month, I asked my subscribers what questions they have about death witchcraft, magic, or Paganism. They submitted many amazing and intelligent questions. Here, I've answered five of them.
I was wondering if you know how to get started with osteomancy? I’ve found no resources that explain what to use, how to read them, or anything. Thank you!
There are many different techniques of bone divination. Osteomancy, also called throwing bones, is by far the most popular method in America that likely derived from Hoodoo. It’s also my favorite form of divination.
Osteomancy can be performed in a couple of different ways. One method is to assign a meaning to each bone. While choosing your bones, tap into their spirit and decide what each one will represent. Love, money, creativity, malevolence, luck, and career are common ideas. After you throw the bones, decide what they mean based on where they land.
Another method is to divine based on the shape that the bones make. This is similar to scrying, except that you throw the bones and decide their meaning based on where they land.
When I’ve spoken to osteomancers, most combined both techniques. For instance, some people throw bones onto a blanket and discard ones that land outside of it. Others include long bones or sticks as “blockers.” For example, if a blocker lands between creativity and career, that may mean that one’s career is hindering their creativity.
Keep in mind that bone-throwing sets aren’t only bones. Keys, dice, coins, and sticks are also common ingredients. Sea shells (bones of the sea) and snail shells (bones of the land) can also be included. Everyone’s osteomancy set is unique, and witches often gather their sets over time.
I talk about this more in Death Witchcraft: Volume 2. I’m also happy to write a post about it. If you’d like one, common below.
What is the difference between a book of shadows and a grimoire? I sometimes see them being used interchangeably.
A lot of people use the terms interchangeably, and many debate over what they mean. Based on my 12 years in this community, here’s my understanding.
The term “Book of Shadows” originated from Wicca, but it is not solely used in that religion. A Book of Shadows is one’s personal journey through the Craft. It not only contains spell information, but also personal beliefs, journals, dreams, and records of your successes and failures. In traditional Wicca, a Book of Shadows would include one’s initiation into the religion and coven.
A grimoire is far less personal. It is a book of spells, magical theory, and folklore. Think of a grimoire like a textbook, while a Book of Shadows is closer to a personal journal. Both store information about one’s Craft.
Hello! I feel really called towards Spirit Work, but it’s just so hard to stay motivated to train and practice when your senses aren’t developed at all, I become overwhelmed by doubt and even skepticism. Do you have any tips?
I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been struggling, but know that these feelings are normal. Especially now, when we’re all stuck at home and anxious about the pandemic, it’s hard to remain motivated. (See: Quarantine Witchcraft.)
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be born with psychic abilities to practice spirit work. I’ve seen people go from hearing and seeing nothing to seeing other peoples’ experiences through visions. I was one of them.
The key is finding the right technique to practice. This is easier said than done, especially when older magicians recommend what you “should” start with. When I first started out, a lot of people said that anyone could do dream work. I struggled to work with dreams for years only to learn that I can’t. I wasted so much time doing that.
If you’re not seeing results from your current Craft, you may need to switch things up. Pause energy work and start practicing divination. Look into a different path, such as chaos magic or traditional witchcraft. Try a different divination tool. You may be surprised by the results.
Also, are you writing down your progress? I suggest writing down your results after each divination session or spirit work practice. Even if your results are, “I saw nothing in the water this time,” or “I might’ve seen a coyote, but I’m not sure,” write it down. Keeping a journal will remind you that you are making progress, even if it is small. Even if a sign, vision, emotion, or impression seems like nothing, it may come up later.
If your issue is practicing consistently, I will direct you to my previous blog post, How to Practice Magic or Paganism Every Day Consistently. I hope this helps.
What advice would you give to someone who’s just begun worshipping Hades?
Congrats on your new divine relationship! My advice will stem from what I struggled with during my early days of worshipping Hades.
First, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who worry that, if they do something wrong, their deity will be mad at them. In my experience, Gods are far more forgiving than that. They will give you a chance to correct yourself and improve in the future.
Years ago, I gave an offering to Hades and promised to bury it later. I forgot. The next time I approached the altar, I felt that Hades was annoyed (understandably). I buried the offering outside, and everything was fine. I didn’t “ruin” my relationship; I made a mistake, and that’s okay. It’s how we learn.
Another piece of advice is to not take anyone else’s word as law. On social media, many people claim to be the mouthpiece of a deity. The word “godphone” gets thrown around as a symbol of authority. Never consider anyone’s opinion of a deity as law--not even mine.
Talk to Hades yourself. Learn what He’s like. Discover which offerings He enjoys and how He prefers to communicate with you. This is YOUR relationship. Don’t worry about what anyone else is saying or doing.
For more info on worshiping Hades, check out the blog post On Worshiping Hades.
What does it mean to you to practice death witchcraft?
For me, death witchcraft is an act of religious devotion. I began as a way to worship Hades. As a Wiccan, I’m used to combining witchcraft with religion, and I wanted a way to honor Hades through magic. Caring for the dead is and sharing what I know is how I worship Him.
On a personal level, death witchcraft gives my life significance. Right now, I am alive and can work with the dead. But soon, I will be dead. By caring for the deceased now--and sharing my knowledge about the craft--I guarantee that future magicians will communicate with me when I’m gone. Forgotten souls will no longer be forgotten. The dead will continue living in our hearts and minds.
One of my greatest fears is dying without impacting the world in any way. Death witchcraft is how I make my impact.
Thank you all for your questions! I apologize for those whose questions I did not answer. If you have any further questions, comment below, or stay tuned for next month's Answering Asks!
While browsing through witchcraft blogs, I see a lot of posts about building altars on a budget. Those are wonderful, but I want to approach altars from a different angle. How can you make a functional altar that’s also beautiful?
Today, I’m going to write a fun post as a break from all the chaos. I’m going to redecorate my Hades altar and guide you through the process. If you redo your altar after this, post it on Instagram and tag me @death.witch.envy!
Determine Your Altar’s Function
Many posts about altars discuss the “purpose.” For instance, you may build an altar for a specific deity. Perhaps you want to practice your craft at your altar. Will your space focus on nature, ancestors, or something else?
But I want to take this a step further. What will you do at your altar? Or rather, what do you want to do? Perhaps you want to practice spirit work there. Perhaps you plan to create more jar spells at your altar, or you want to journal more.
Thinking about your altar’s function will determine the setup. For example, if you want to write in your grimoire at your altar, you’ll need enough space for your notebook. If you want to practice more fire magic, include a jar of candles and matches.
Write down everything you’d like to do at your altar. This will determine which tools you include and how much space you’ll need. If you need a lot of space (like I do), stack all of your decorations and tools in the back. Leave the front open for your work.
Sort through What You Already Have
While setting up your altar, focus on the stuff you already have. Don’t wait for a specific crystal that you want to buy in the future. Appreciate what you have--and get creative! Decorative boxes, bags, jars, sculptures, and rocks can make great altar accessories.
Lay out all of your materials so that you can see them. If you’d like, pinpoint what color palettes you have. In my pile, I have a lot of blacks, tans, blues, purples, and pinks. I decided to use blacks, tans, and purples for my Hades altar. Of course, you don’t have to make a color palette. But it can be fun to explore what combinations you can make.
Decide What You Need and What You Go Without
When deciding what to put on your altar, aim for the absolute minimum. Divide your stuff into three piles: must-haves, maybes, and no’s.
Your must-haves are tools that you WILL use on the altar. Don’t include tools that you might use; add ones that you know you’ll use. Remember, you can always add more tools later.
However, your must-haves can also be sentimental items. Is there a statue that improves your prayer? Or a family heirloom that makes you happy? Perhaps you have a crystal or candle that gets you in the “witchy” mindset. If you can’t imagine your altar without it, then it’s a must-have.
Keep out your maybe pile and put away your no’s. When you set up your altar, focus on the must-haves first, and add the maybe’s if you have room.
Related: Offerings for Deities: The Basics
If You Include Containers, Fill Them Wisely
Adding boxes to your altar can save space and look elegant. But if you’re going to include storage, fill the containers with stuff that you frequently use. If your box holds old letters or crystals that you never take out, it’ll only gather dust.
Before decorating my altar, I filled my favorite containers with tools that I need. The basket holds graveyard dirt, bones, and wands. The box stores my favorite crystals and candles with candle holders. My coffin containers have more bones and bone candles for my Hades worship.
Now, for the set up!
Establishing symmetry will always make your altar look put-together. If you have a long table like I do, placing items on both ends will signal where the altar begins and stops.
For my Hades altar, I have two candles that I use for death work. I also have two skeleton statues. Although these pairs don’t match perfectly, they still look symmetrical. They’re similar in height and appearance, so they frame both sides wonderfully.
Create Different Heights
If you want your altar to look aesthetically pleasing, vary the object heights. Include some tall candles next to short candles, or a short teacup next to a tall statue. It’ll entertain the eye.
To create height, stack boxes or books and place objects on top. For my Hades altar, I stacked a Konstantinos book and my old Greek mythology book. Both match my color palette and provide a platform for the rest of my tools. Plus, they were both influential for my Hades worship and death work.
Related: On Worshipping Hades
Arrange the Biggest Objects First
This step will make your decorating a lot easier. If you have a large statue, candle, or crystal tower, place that on your altar first. The smaller objects can surround the big objects. Plus, including large items will automatically create height variance.
On my altar, the biggest object was my obsidian scrying mirror. I placed it on top of the books as a centerpiece. The rest of my tiny objects can go around the mirror.
Have Fun with Smaller Decorations
After your large items are set up, your smaller decorations and tools go on. Experiment with different arrangements and colors. Remember, must-haves go on the altar first, and maybes can be added if there’s room.
First, I placed two bones that I commonly use in my practice. Then, I added a jar of graveyard dirt. Those are some of my must-haves because I work with them frequently. Another must-have was a purple Cerberus sculpture that my friend made for me. (Visit her Etsy at IntotheCaveCreations!)
The rest were maybes. A tiny Greek jar filled with coins and a black candle skull fit perfectly. In front of everything, I included an offering bowl for Hades. The altar is pretty, functional, and contains plenty of space for my death witchcraft.
Decorate Shelves Similarly
If you have shelves of witchcraft supplies, you can decorate them similarly. Place the largest containers first, and stack books and boxes of different heights. I’m lucky enough to have a bookshelf as my altar, so I keep all of my supplies underneath my altars.
If you’re closeted, store items in discreet boxes. That London box in my bookshelf has hid my witchcraft supplies for years. If it weren’t underneath my altars, nobody would guess that it’s witchy.
Related: My Death Witch Travel Altar
If It Can Go on the Wall, Hang It
If you want to save space, use the wall. Hang decorations that can’t fit on your altar. Install shelving to contain more of your supplies that you can easily reach.
I created a magnetic herb container out of an old advent calendar from Starbucks. I painted the container lids to label every herb. Then, I hung the advent calendar over my altars. Whenever I need some dried herbs, I can easily grab them. Plus, it makes a wonderful decoration.
Did this guide help? Have you redecorated your altar during quarantine? Let me know in the comments below!
Have you felt too sluggish to practice your craft during quarantine? Me too. In this article, I’ll discuss why that’s okay, and how you can perform simple rituals to improve your socially isolated life.
If You’re Feeling Unmotivated, You’re Not Alone
It has rained all week. Every time I peeled back the blinds, I saw grey and downpour. Although I could easily walk in rain, it felt like another physical barrier between me and the outside world. Yet another thing holding me back from a fifteen-minute walk.
My logical brain has treated quarantine like a time advantage. “Since I’ll be home all the time, I should practice more. I should perform those rituals that I’ve been planning. And I need to plan for the next full moon.”
Instead, I oversleep one or two hours, and I don’t practice. I work all day and don’t practice. I call my parents, ignoring my craft. And then I stay up until 2:00 a.m. playing Animal Crossing--and don’t practice.
If you’ve been in the same sluggish, unmotivated boat, you’re not alone. We’re not robots. All this extra time could benefit us IF we weren’t stressing about a pandemic, separated from our friends and family, and bombarded with apocalyptic news.
We’re not “supposed” to act any way during this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. This situation is new, hard, and unpredictable. When I finally stopped beating myself up for not following my “should” statements, I finally considered how witchcraft could benefit me.
How Witchcraft Can Help without Bogging Us Down
Don’t be surprised that you have to change up your rituals and routine. When you’re feeling unmotivated, focus on magic that tackles the problems you have now. Abandon the rituals you performed before this all started.
Magic uplifts our lives when we’re at a disadvantage. When we need a job, it gets us one. When we want a new romance, it sends suitors our way. And it’ll do the same during this pandemic.
To be clear, I’m NOT claiming that magic will cure COVID-19. But it can make our daily lives more manageable.
Determine WHY you're feeling unmotivated. What about this time is preventing you from practice? Is your emotional weight stress, concern for safety, or something else? After you determine the cause, you can use magic to tackle it.
Throughout the week, I considered my main problems brought about by quarantine. I landed on these issues:
The following are rituals that can assuage these problems. Perform them as you wish--remember, there is no timeline that you have to follow during social isolation.
For Health Protection
Magic has warded illness for centuries. In many cultures, magicians would seek the help of spirits or deities to keep disease away (which many believed were caused by evil spirits). Ancestors, health deities, chthonic deities, and nature spirits may aid you. Give them offerings and ask for help to keep you and your family healthy.
Folklore also references protection and luck charms. For instance, the Celts would place Brigid’s cross in their homes to ward off sickness for a year. The evil eye, Gorgon’s head, and horseshoes were worn or hung to keep misfortune away.
Other magicians would aim to redirect the disease. They would carve images out of clay, which was designed to attract the disease. Then, they would bury it far away.
There are far too many health and protection spells to list here. If you’re interested in more info, check out the Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World: Volume One by Cora Lynn Daniels or The New Encyclopedia of the Occult by John Michael Greer.
For Feeling Trapped
We stay at home all day--no one can blame people for feeling stir crazy. Although you can’t head outside (except for essential needs), you can create an “away place.” By redesigning your spiritual place, you’ll feel less trapped in the same boring house all the time.
Now is the time to revamp your altar. Sort through your magic tools, and throw out anything you don’t use. Hang different art on the walls. If you can, construct a blanket fort in the corner of your room that will offer a small “away place.” Obviously, this doesn’t replace going outside. But it can spark that desire to practice your craft.
For Negative Energy
For those who feel more down than usual, you may want to cleanse more often. The most popular method is smoke cleansing with rosemary, sage, lavender, or palo santo. But I’ll teach you a couple of different methods too.
One uses oil instead of smoke. In my experience, rose geranium oil works well, but you can use rose oil or rose water instead. When in doubt, infuse cleansing herbs in a carrier oil or water.
Take the oil and rub it on your window sills and doors. You only need a little bit; dab the four corners if you can. If a specific area feels congested, such as a desk, cleanse that too. If you have an infused water, put it in a spray bottle and mist your home.
Next is a banishing spell in case these cleansing rituals aren’t strong enough. Take a black stick candle and place it in a shallow bowl. (You may anoint or carve the candle for extra strength.) Fill the bowl with one inch of water.
Light the candle. Focus on the negativity leaving, and repeat the intention to yourself. Chant, sing, whisper--invent your ancestors or other spirits if you need help. Keep the energy high until the candle flame extinguishes in the water.
For Lack of Direction or Guidance
If your day’s schedule gets thrown off, or if you have no idea what to do with your craft, perform divination. Whenever magicians have questions, divination offers answers. It exists to guide people.
Even a single rune drawing or five-minute pendulum session can lend you more clarity. I highly recommend journaling about your divination results. In the past, I’ve received answers that I didn’t understand until I wrote about it.
For Blocked Emotions
“Blocked emotions” may need some explaining. Recently, my subconscious has prevented me from really feeling my emotions. I’d experience bouts of anxiety before it vanished seconds later. I’d try to reflect on my recent stress, only for my mind to go blank. When we don’t experience our emotions, they continue to build until they overflow. If you’re also struggling with blocked feelings, try these techniques.
First, consider meditating. Although meditation isn’t inherently magical, many practitioners do it before or during ritual. It slows down thoughts, soothes us, and prevents the mind from interrupting your experience.
Even an occasional five-minute meditation can make a difference. If you can’t focus on the breath, consider listening to a guided meditation. There are plenty on YouTube and the free app Insight Timer.
The second technique is self-cleansing. I’ll admit that, for a long time, I doubted that self-cleansing would make a difference. But after trying it, I found an unexpected benefit. It kept me in touch with my body. While cleansing, I detected energy stalls and blocked chakras that I didn’t know about before.
My favorite methods of self-cleansing involve smoke and crystals. Use a smoke cleansing stick or small crystal to move around your body. You don’t have to touch the skin; hover right above it. Drag the smoke or crystal across your head, neck, shoulders, arms--your entire body. Notice what you feel and where, then journal about it later.
There is no "right way" to handle quarantine. If you're feeling unmotivated or struggle to pracitce your craft, that's okay and valid. Consider why you're feeling uninspired. Is it a trapped feeling? Worrying about health? Or another issue? After you discover why you're not practicing, use witchcraft to tackle it. Just one ritual could make your experience better.
What have you done with your craft during quarantine? Comment below and let me know how you're doing! We'll get through this together.
Now that many people are stuck at home due to their virus, their daily routines have disintegrated. We have to invent, schedule, and stick to new habits. For Pagans and magic practitioners, this re-surfaces the topic of consistency. Many of us want to practice every day, but we struggle to do so.If you ever hear someone say that “all you need is motivation,” they know nothing about habits. If that were true, researchers wouldn’t conduct studies or write books about habit formation. No one would need advice from psychologists, because we’d all be “motivated” already.
So if motivation isn’t the key to a consistent practice, what is? Everything relies on how you go about practicing. Have you decided on what to do and why? Did you set out your tools? Schedule in your meditation session? All of these add up to keep you in touch with your deities or magical practice.
In this post, I’ll outline what steps you can take towards practicing your craft or religion every day. Many of these tips come from James Clear’s book Atomic Habits. I’ll list more recommended books at the end of this article.
Schedule When, Where, and What
In 2017, a psychologist asked participants to plan their goals either by thinking or writing them down. Participants who wrote down a plan were 42% more likely to achieve their goals, according to the study. Jotting down your schedule can force you to stick to it.
To schedule your magic/worship time, follow the three W’s: when, where, and what. The “when” is a specific time of the day, and for how long. “Where” is the location you’ll do it, and “what” is the activities that you plan on doing.
James Clear also recommends a method called “habit-stacking.” Essentially, you plan a new habit after a pre-established one. For example, After I brush my teeth [current habit], I’ll meditate for five minutes [new habit].
Using these tactics, I’ll plan my own routine as an example. Around 7:15 a.m., I’ll make my morning coffee. After that, I will practice my craft. I will cleanse the living room, and then I will perform a rune reading/scrying session at my desk. It’ll take 10 to 15 minutes.
Make It Quick and Easy
When we encounter something we don’t want to do, our brains make up several excuses. “I’m too tired,” “I don’t have time,” and “I’ll do it later” are common ones. The more you plan to do, the more excuses your brain will invent. Assume that when the time comes, you really won’t want to practice your craft. How can you get around this? By making it easy.
First, don’t make your habit too long in the beginning. I recommend only ten minutes a day (read more about that here). James Clear suggests an even shorter amount of time: two minutes. Whether you do two or ten minutes, it isn’t long enough to dampen your day. Anyone can do something for two minutes.
Don’t make your session too complex, either. Shorten it to one tarot reading, protection spell, or smoke cleansing. You can add on more once the habit is established. For now, you just want to get used to doing something witchy at the same time every day.
Determine Your “Why”
Remember back to the first time you practice witchcraft or Paganism, when you felt motivated and got a lot done. Back then, you had a “why” that was clear and decisive. It may have been as simple as “I want to know more” or “I enjoy this.” But it was enough to encourage you to work.
Without a foundation, we won’t feel the need to get out of bed early or turn off the TV. We need a clear reason for why we want to practice more, and we should remind ourselves of that reason consistently.
Perhaps you want to grow closer to a deity. Maybe you’ve always wanted to get better at geomancy. Or perhaps practicing every day gives you a sense of calm that lasts hours afterward. Whatever your “why” is, write it down and place the note in a spot that you frequently visit.
Put Everything out Where You Can See It
The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” matters when creating a consistent practice. For months, I tried to perform divination every day, and I couldn’t stick to it. I eventually realized that my desk setup was hiding all my divination tools. Instead of placing my rune set in a spot where I can easily grab it, I tucked it inside a pencil case at the back of my desk.
Your craft will become unavoidable if you make it obvious. Keep your tarot deck out in the open. Place a crystal in your bathroom where you’ll see it first thing in the morning. Our brains are lazy, and we’ll be less likely to practice if we have to unpack all of our tools first.
If you’re closeted, you may not be able to leave your tools out in the open. I recommend writing a note to yourself. It can be discreet; the word “practice” will kickstart your memory enough. Place it in a spot where you’re guaranteed to see it.
I recently transferred all my tools into open boxes and set them on my work desk, which is by the kitchen. I can easily see and grab any tool I need in the morning.
Don’t Try to Change Other Habits at the Same Time
Learn from my mistakes; don’t work on more than one habit at a time. For years, I couldn’t establish a consistent practice because I tried to do too many things at once. I would go on a self-motivation kick and overbook myself. “Well, if I’m connecting with my ancestors daily, I might as well go to the gym every afternoon. And cook all meals at home. Oh, and I need to go to bed earlier, too.”
Take it from me: when you work on one habit, the rest will follow. When I wake up early to practice my craft, I often make breakfast at home. I work out later because I have more time. I feel more productive after a round of spirit work, so I write a blog post. Focus on changing your craft now, and the rest of your goals will manifest without you even thinking about them.
Record Your Streaks
The more often we practice our craft, the prouder we feel. For this reason, I highly recommend recording your streaks. When you finish your daily cleansing, mark it on a calendar. If you do it the next day, you’ll have a streak. These trails of success make us less likely to take a day off.
If you need to take a day off, however, follow the “two day rule.” The idea is that you should never take two days off in a row. If you’re too busy to write a prayer for your deity, give yourself a day off, and do it tomorrow. YouTuber Matt D’Avella has a great video on the two day rule if you’re interested.
I track my habits using the free app Habitica. It’s an RPG that gives you a customizable character. As you complete real-world habits, your character levels up, and you can upgrade it. In my experience, apps that reward me for streaks are more motivating than ones that punish me for missing a day.
Have Someone Keep You Accountable
This is a tip that I’ve heard for years but never took seriously until recently. To phrase the tip briefly, have others keep you accountable for your habit. Checking in with another person will peer pressure yourself into achieving your goal.
I never did this because of social anxiety, and I have missed out. Recently, I teamed up with the Pastel Priestess (who runs a podcast on Hellenic Polytheism) so we could keep each other accountable. We told each other our goals and checked in every day to reveal what we did.
There are less personal ways to hold yourself accountable. You can tell everyone your goal on a blog, like I’m doing, which will hopefully work. Hopefully. Otherwise, you can download habit-tracking apps that connect you with friends so that you can both see each other’s streaks. Some apps (like Flora) will have you donate a small amount to charity if you don’t keep it up.
In short, here are the techniques that I used to develop a consistent magic practice:
These books aren’t necessarily witchcraft or Pagan-focused, but they can help you determine what takes priority and how to practice every day.
If you’ve been following me, you may know that my grandfather died quite recently. It was my second familial death in four months, with the first being my great aunt. Although these deaths were hard, I’m no stranger to experiencing the loss of a loved one. If you’re reading this, chances are that you’re familiar with it, too.
I receive a lot of questions about what to do, magic-wise, when a loved one dies. Many of these messages sound urgent--people are eager to communicate with their loved one, especially if they pass away unexpectedly. In this post, I hope to answer some questions on what you can do after someone you know dies.
The Mundane Comes First
This probably goes without saying, but the funeral and your family always, always come first. If you were close to this loved one, you’re probably involved in their funeral and honoring their will. These projects take time, but they’re essential for both the deceased soul and the people grieving.
The funeral helps the deceased to wrap up any loose ends they had in life. Many people receive signs from their loved one during this period, such as messages in dreams or specific picture frames falling off the shelves.
If you haven’t received any of these signs, don’t worry. You aren’t doing anything wrong. It’s actually quite common for souls to not contact the living right after dying. Why? Keep reading.
Don’t Expect to Communicate with the Dead Right Away
“Is it too early to contact my dead loved one?” is one of the most common questions I receive. I’ve also seen a lot of practitioners fearfully warn against communicating with the soul soon after death, as if something bad will happen if you do.
Technically speaking, you can communicate with your loved one soon after death. Some older occult works advise that necromancers perform a ritual within a week of the death. In their eyes, the soul will remain close to the body within this time, which makes for an ideal communication session.
However, in my experience, most souls do not contact the living soon after death. I’ve read message upon message asking why a loved one won’t respond, and what the practitioner is doing wrong. Chances are, you’re not doing anything wrong. Most souls prefer not to communicate within weeks, months, or even years after their death.
Think about death as a major life transition (despite how that sounds like an oxymoron). If you moved to a different country, you’d likely take a while to adjust. You’d have to learn a new routine, a new home, and possibly a new language. That major transition could consume your life for a while after the move.
Death is the same way. Your loved one may take a while to adjust to their new state. They may want to wrap things up in their life before they respond to magicians. Some may never respond to magicians--that is entirely their choice.
As a death witch, you should honor your loved one’s choices in death. Be patient. Don’t keep bugging them to respond if they’re not ready yet. As a general rule, most necromancers don’t contact a soul for around six months to a year after death. Although there are some exceptions, expect to receive few messages in between that time.
So What CAN You Do?
Being unable to contact your loved one can hurt. You’re grieving, after all. You may want to help your loved one feel safe and happy, or you may fumble with your own emotions. Fortunately, death witchcraft isn’t only about talking to the dead. It’s about helping, honoring, and caring for the dead, even if you don’t receive any message from them in return. Here are some things that you can do to support your loved one beyond the veil.
Erect an Altar
In my opinion, building an altar for your loved one is one of the most important steps that a death witch can take. The altar continues the soul’s memory just by existing. It contains any tools or memorabilia you need to contact the soul, and it’s where you can perform most of your rituals.
If you already have an altar for the dead or your ancestors, give your loved one a special spot. You can provide a picture of the person or an object that represents them, such as their old jewelry or even their funeral pamphlet. These objects will serve as a taglock to connect you with your loved one during rituals.
What else can you put on the altar? Anything that represents your loved one or furthers your magic. If you have their graveyard dirt or ashes, keep them in a container at the altar. If you write a letter or make a candle for your loved one, you may keep it on the altar. Include a space to give offerings. Appropriate magic tools, such as an obsidian scrying mirror or tarot deck, may also be stored there.
If your loved one was religious, include some items to represent their faith, not your own. For instance, my great aunt Mary was a nun, a sister of Saint Joseph. So I included a Saint Joseph votive and a rosary on my ancestor altar. Even if you don’t agree with your loved one’s religious views, it’s important to honor them. Although I’m Wiccan, I give my ancestors Catholic offerings because I love them and want to make them happy.
Speaking of Offerings…
Never underestimate the importance of offerings. They not only nourish the soul, but also prove that you are thinking of your loved one. Offerings establish a connection between the two of you, even if you can’t receive their messages quite yet.
As I mentioned before, make sure that the offerings for your loved ones honor their religious beliefs. Rose quartz wouldn’t be an appropriate offering for my grandfather since he never believed in crystal healing. But lighting my Saint Joseph candle and offering red wine--which he drank every night--would be appropriate offerings.
When in doubt, here are religion-neutral offerings that you can give: water, bread, wine, honey, milk, and rocks (not crystals). I will write in-depth about offerings in a future post.
Personalized offerings, such as writing a letter or providing their favorite food, also work. If you’d put the object on their grave, it’ll likely make an appropriate offering.
These gifts will relax your loved one in death. It’ll calm them, help them pass on, and remind them that you won’t forget their legacy. Offerings can also help you sort through your grief.
What to Do If These Things Aren’t Enough
If you’re a magician, you’re probably a “doer.” Sticking to prayers and belief isn’t enough for us; we want to push the forces of nature with our own hands. Offerings may scratch this itch for some time, but after a while, you’ll want to perform a ritual.
Although I recommended waiting to contact the dead, nothing is stopping you from trying. You can always try divination to see if your loved one is willing to talk. But don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work; they just aren’t ready yet.
If you want to be more proactive in helping your deceased loved one, I recommend a love spell. No, not a spell to make them fall in love with you--a spell to send healing and love to your loved one in death.
When I performed this spell in February, it encouraged communication between me and my lost loved ones. Even my great aunt Mary responded to my ritual, which is highly unusual given that she died in November.
You will need:
Here’s what you do:
This ritual is just an idea. You can change it to suit your practice if you wish.
Although most people can’t communicate with their deceased loved one soon after death, they can connect in other ways. You can build an altar, give offerings, and perform a spell for the newly deceased soul. Remain patient and focus on mundane tasks first, such as attending the funeral and tending to your living loved ones. If you give the soul time, you’ll be able to communicate eventually.
When I first began studying Wicca in my high school bedroom/attached laundry room, I immediately ran into tea magic. And I felt psyched! I worked at a spice and tea store and was hired for my knowledge of teas. I had tried every flavor from green pineapple tea to caramel blueberry pie white tea, and to think that I could drink a cup as a spell...Well, it sounds too good to be true.
I’m sure that others have had a similar experience. Tea magic is everywhere from YouTube videos to blog posts to social media. That’s why I must painfully admit that it is faulty.
Looking back a few years, I don’t resent myself for writing about tea magic on Tumblr. I love tea. I love the idea of tea magic. The simple solution of (1) brew a cup, (2) stir in your intention, and (3) drink is like a life hack.
But eventually, someone told me something that made my heart fall into my stomach: How come most people drink tea and receive no magical results?
“It’s the intention,” was my kneejerk reasoning. But is it? I can’t count how many times I sat with a cup of raspberry oolong and thought, “I want this paper to be gone.” I used to brood over Irish breakfast tea and wish that I would move to a different town. Is that really different from intention? It’s the same method: brew, stir, imagine your goal. And yet nothing happened. I wasn’t actually doing anything to change the tea.
Brewing tea isn’t inherently magical because people already do it all the time.
Non-witches don’t get a new job offer every time they drink a cup of Earl Grey. (If they did, they’d probably stop drinking Earl Grey.) If tea magic really works--which I believed that it did--it wouldn’t produce fantastic results through the brew-intention-drink method. And why would we practice magic if not for fantastic results?
I remember resisting this idea at first. I felt like I was being robbed of a quick, easy magical ritual. But in reality, I was on my way to learn more effective tea magic that I will now share with you.
What's Wrong With Most Other Methods
Whenever I read a blog post about tea magic, I often see the word “meditation” or “meditative” thrown around. Because that’s ultimately what their tea rituals are: meditation. You brew the tea, sit with it quietly, taste it, smell it, and let your mind rest. It’s a wonderful mindfulness practice. But is it magic?
Before I continue, I won’t discount meditation in magic. It’s an important tool to clear your mind and prepare you for rituals. It has can important place in magical ritual. But just meditating isn’t casting a spell. Meditating won’t give you a significant other or keep robbers out of your home. It just won’t.
So how does throwing tea into the mix change that?
Unless you charm it--unless you make the tea magical--it’s no different than a non-spiritual person meditating with tea. The same goes for tossing tea into a bath or adding it to a recipe.
If you benefit from meditating with tea every day, do it. I would never discourage a legitimate self-care routine that improves peoples' days. But let’s not kid ourselves, either. Meditation and mindfulness are research-backed, scientific skills. They’re not the same as magic which, by definition, cannot be scientifically explained.
Please view this post as an opportunity to enhance your current tea magic. I’m not saying “get rid of it;” I’m asking you to reconsider, to make your tea rituals more powerful and less reliant on chance.
Tea in Magical Folklore
It’s no secret that tea has been used for centuries, having first been recorded in China around 350 A.D. Since then, the lines between medicinal use and folklore have blended together. For instance, the ancient Chinese would drink tea as an antidote for poison. This is likely because tea flushes out the toxins of nicotine quickly. When people felt soothed and heightened awareness while drinking tea, they likely experienced a meditative moment or great social interaction.
I’m not discarding tea’s symbolism, though. Tea culture appears in several countries across the world and is used to pay respect or come together. For instance, in Tibet, tea-drinkers would receive barley wine as well. They would dip their finger in the wine and then flick it away three times before drinking the tea. This symbol of restraint served as an offering to Buddha, Sangha, and Dharma.
Ancient Egyptian papyri, including the Ebers papyrus, listed the medicinal uses of herbs in tea. These doctors were usually priests who believed that spirits blocked channels in the human body. They accompanied tea with rituals to heal their patients.
While examining historical accounts, I divided tea into three uses: divination, offering, and what I call "spell support." I’ll explain the last term when I get there.
You’ve probably heard about tea leaf reading before. Also called tasseography, the practice tells your fortune through wine sediments, coffee grounds, or of course, tea leaves. Tea leaf divination first appeared in Scotland and the United Kingdom after the Dutch brought tea from China.
In the Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology, J. Gordon Melton details that the diviner pours the tea without using a strainer. Whoever’s fortune needs to be told will drink the tea, but not all of it. After swirling the cup around, the diviner will read the shapes in the tea leaves. This is either done through a fortune telling cup or, traditionally, by reading the shapes from the outside in. The outer rim depicts the near future, while the middle illustrates the far future.
In my opinion, tea is one of the best drinks to use as an offering. It is highly customizable, and I’ve found that certain deities and spirits enjoy different teas. However, don’t be surprised if an entity doesn’t accept tea and prefers a glass of wine.
Still, you may choose your offering tea based on the folklore and correspondences that are associated with each. I will list all of these below.
If you want to learn how to give tea as an offering, read this blog post.
“Spell support” is a term I use to describe using tea in magic. In essence, the tea itself doesn’t do much. But when you combine it with ritual, it will produce results. Hence, the tea acts more like a spell tool than a spell within itself.
So how do you transform regular tea into magical tea that produces results? Essentially, you need to combine ingredients to make your own tea. Usually, magicians use this enchanted tea to enhance divination, spirit work, or another larger ritual.
Recipes for magical teas are the best tip I’ve seen so far. The problem is that most magical tea recipes look like this:
Notice that there are no correspondences, so you have no idea why each ingredient was chosen. There are also no instructions. From this guide, we can imagine that the magician just throws each herb in and brews it. But how is that different from the average Joe making a custom cup? How is it magical?
If we really want to create a magical tea, we need to charm each ingredient. Herbs are just herbs until you infuse them with energy; then, they combine to lend you power for your future endeavors.
Here’s how you do it. First, acquire your ingredients (a guide is below) and understand why you’re using each one. Grab a sachet or tea strainer to put the ingredients in. Before you place it in, hold it, and infuse it with energy.
There are several ways to do this. One is to chant: repeat your intention over and over, and don’t be afraid to whisper, yell, or laugh. For examples of this kind of magic, read Magic Rituals without Tools.
You may also breath quickly for ten seconds (don't hyperventilate) before releasing a long, slow, laughing breath onto the ingredient. This is called the Breath of Fire. You can learn more about breath in magic through this post.
Do this with each ingredient before steeping. As the tea steeps, continue. Talk into it. Dance around. Enter a trance state that will throw energy everywhere to fully charge the drink.
Yes, this is more complicated than just steeping a cup of tea quietly. But it should lend you better results.
As a disclaimer, this method will likely not work for bigger results such as relieving your debt, changing the weather, etc. For grand spells, you’ll need a stronger method and more energy. But this may work to increase your divination effectiveness, lend you better spirit communication, give you better luck, heal you faster--the possibilities are truly endless.
Legends And Correspondences For Different Kinds Of Tea
Luck - Faith - Strength - Clairvoyance - Protection - Energy
Chinese folklore tells many versions for the creation of black tea. Almost all stories tell of a tea farmer whose tea leaves became ripe when soldiers raided. The tea was left to oxidize longer, and the farmer decided to sell it anyway. Out of pure luck, tea drinkers and traders loved it. Read the full myth here.
Because black tea has a long oxidation period, it may be used in spells requiring patience, luck, faith, or low-working magic. Its high caffeine amount (47 mg on average, still less than coffee) makes it ideal for increased alertness for divination. With its high antioxidants, black tea protects against numerous diseases, which is why I listed it for strength and protection.
Examples: Breakfast tea, Earl Grey, Assam, Ceylon, Darjeeling, many Chais sold in the West
Healing - Clairvoyance - Divination - Happiness - Awareness - Protection - Offense
Green tea is believed to originate in Xing Yang Mao Jian, China, which is where its legend originates. According to the tale, the residents of the area fell to a strange disease. A girl sought treatment from an elderly man, who gave her a healing tree and told her to bring it back within 10 days. When the girl became too weak to travel, the spirit of the tree transformed her into a bird, and she delivered green tea to cure her people.
Green tea’s healing effects have been backed by science. According to studies, green tea lowers the risk of several diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and heart illness. It also aids neurotransmitters to help people concentrate and improve their mood. Plus, the antioxidants in green tea protect your brain and body from future diseases.
Green tea has less caffeine than black tea, except for Matcha, which has significantly more.
Examples: Matcha, Sencha, Jasmine, Gunpowder, Dragonwell, Genmaicha, Hojicha
Love - Divine Intervention - Mercy - Protection - Healing - Strength
Since oolong is partially oxidized, I often call it a mix between green and black tea. The legend of oolong teas surrounds a temple of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy. This temple fell into disrepair, and a poor farmer noticed it everyday on his way to the fields. Despite having little resources or money, the farmer took his broom and incense to the temple and cleaned it. That night, Guanyin visited the farm in a dream and directed him to a cave. There, the farmer found an oolong tree, a treasure which he sold to his neighbors.
Oolong is clinically proven to promote tooth and bone health. It also aids the brain, heart, and skin--even relieving eczema in some studies. Don’t be surprised if oolong teas contain more caffeine than you’d expect.
Examples: Milk Oolongs, Formosa, Wulongs
Immortality - Healing - Benevolence
The legend of white tea mirrors green tea’s in some ways. In the Fuding county, near Taimu Mountain, a woman named Langu searched for a way to cure her neighbors. While taking refuge in a cave, she found a silvery tree in bloom. She made white tea from these leaves to cure the epidemic. On top of that, Langua received immortality for her kind-heartedness, and she is now looked upon as a Goddess.
Before the buds and leaves of this tree fully open, they are plucked.
White tea gets its name from the plant’s silvery-white hairs. As with many teas, white tea’s antioxidants may guard the body against diseases. As the myth predicted, studies show that white tea may prevent skin aging. It may also fight against Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, insulin resistance, and osteoporosis.
Examples: White teas come in many flavors and are usually labeled as such. If you like bold, fruity or floral teas, this kind is for you. It contains some caffeine.
Herbal tea is made from herbs and flowers which have not been fermented or oxidized. Hence, there is no one legend for this kind of tea; you’ll have to look up the folklore behind the herbs used.
Most herbal teas have no caffeine with the exception of Yerba Mate (which has an interesting history--I recommend looking it up). I will not give you correspondences, because I want to encourage you to research herbal folklore yourself.
Examples: Chamomile, Peppermint, many “Bedtime” teas, Eastern Chais, Rooibos, Hibiscus
For more legends about tea, read this amazing article!
Tea magic is far more complicated than stirring and thinking about your intent. It requires the careful research of folklore and infusing the tea with energy. This can be done through magical breath or spiritual aid. Teas are also not recommended for strong, long-time spells such as relieving debt. Remember, the more you wish to gain, the more work you’ll have to put into a spell.
What are your thoughts on tea magic? Do you agree with my assessment? Please comment below.
This past Saturday, I turned my neat witchcraft cabinet into an explosion. I dug through all the shelves and boxes and threw away at least 40% of it. The next 20% or so I set aside for donating/selling, leaving me with less than half of what I started with. Why did I do this? Contrary to popular belief, I haven't lost my mind again.
Why I Threw Out Supplies
Earlier this week, I spoke to a friend who gave away many of their witchy possessions. They did it for a different reason--they contemplated leaving the craft, and then changed their mind--but still said that they felt oddly refreshed having fewer tools. After this conversation, I remembered how I used to practice back in my closeted days. I used to keep all my possessions in one box. Whenever I wanted to practice, I would take tools out of the box, and stuff them back in afterward. It sounds hard, in theory. But I practiced more often in those years than I do now.
Don't get me wrong: magic tools are fantastic. But there's something about having a few go-to items that streamlines your practice. You don't have to stall by debating over which tool to use. You have one wand, one divination set, one offering bowl, one altar--just grab your tools and go.
In sorting through my belongings, I realized that I had plenty of tools I would never use. I've never been one for tarot decks, yet people gifted them to me; so I set them aside for donating. I saved numerous jars that I never put things in. For some reason, I kept remnants of spells that already finished. These things crowd your space. And when you're looking at a messy shelf or box, you're more likely to feel stressed out, which inhibits you from practicing.
Why I Reorganized
For this section to make sense, I have to explain how my supplies were set up. I live in a small apartment with my fiancé, so we don't have a lot of room. Because I had so much witchy stuff, I stored supplies in multiple areas. But most of them were in a cupboard, packed into multiple shelves and boxes, that was half-hidden behind my work desk. Not only were these supplies hard to reach, but they were also impossible to see. I couldn't just grab a couple of supplies and practice like I wanted to.
In order to rearrange my belongings, I have to weed out the junk. Once I finished, I had about 40% of the supplies I used to have. So I did two things: (1) I made all supplies visible and easy to reach; (2) I kept all of them on the same shelf, including my altars.
Instead of placing my tools back in the half-hidden cupboard, I put them on a bookshelf and moved the books to the cupboard (how often do you take books off your shelf, anyway?) I place my two main altars--a Wiccan altar and another for Hades--on top of the shelf. All of my supplies stayed underneath, so I can easily reach down and grab whatever I need.
I also organized my tools more efficiently. Here's how:
Do I still have a lot of witchcraft supplies? Yes. But it's all stuff that I actually use. Having them easily organized and accessible will not only push me to practice more often, but it'll also relieve a lot of my indecision. If you're feeling sluggish in your craft, I recommend cleaning out your altars and supplies.