Cultivating Mystical Awareness

spiritguide1There are many different concepts of mysticism, and people seem to have different ideas about what constitutes a ‘mystical experience’. Mysticism is one of those words that, although it has many definitions, is not so easily defined. It is a multi-layered experience that is unique to the individual who experiences it. Some see it as an experience of unity with the divine, some form of enlightenment, or receiving sudden knowledge. Many link mysticism to religion, spirituality and the sacred. There are mystics in every religion, and mystical, sacred texts abound. Skeptics of mysticism claim that what people think are ‘mystical experiences’ as simply the inner workings of the brain and psychological processes.

I would define mysticism as a heightened awareness of the unseen, which could also involve the presence of deity or a spirit guide, or some transference of information, energy or healing. Psychics, spirit mediums, witches, druids and those who spend many hours in meditation are highly mystical people, as they engage in practices that increase awareness and work closely with deities and spirit guides.

It is my personal belief that the higher powers, whether one acknowledges them as God, Goddess, Great Spirit, Guide or other names will from time to time reveal themselves to us in both tangible and intangible ways. This often results in a heightened awareness of the unseen realms and things happening around us. A mystical person may see, hear, feel and sense things that others around them cannot. Their eyes and ears have been “opened” and they have an increased sensitivity to the astral realms. A mystical person understands that the reasons why things happen are not as simplistic as others try to make it seem. Mystical people tend to live “between the worlds” in a liminal state. Their lives are guided by their inner awareness, by divinity, and not always according to plan.

In my lifetime, I have been privileged to meet some exceptionally gifted mystics. The one who had the most profound effect on me was a woman I knew over 20 years ago. I knew she spent many hours in meditation and quiet contemplation. She was deeply in tune with the unseen realms and lived in union with her deities, completely immersed in her relationship with them. She often had messages for people, messages of spiritual guidance that often contained specific information about them noone else could have known. The messages were not always pleasant. Some recognized her as a gifted seer and prophetess, while others thought she was strange or on drugs. Indeed, there were times when I was at a gathering with her and she would suddenly be “somewhere else”, gazing up at the ceiling or somewhere in the room. She would mention seeing lights around people or the room getting foggy. There were times that I could see it too. She carried so much energy that at times it emanated from her. I remember leaving one of our meetings, and as I walked past her she began laughing very loudly. Suddenly myself and others around me were almost knocked to the ground by what felt like waves of electricity. I knew it had come from her. She was also the person who revealed one of my healing gifts. I was giving her a hug, with my right hand on her lower back. I was startled when she collapsed onto the floor. She told me that she was having pain in her lower back, and that she felt energy come out of my hand and into her back, and healed whatever was causing the pain. I learned that we ourselves are not healers, but merely channels for divine healing energy to flow through. When this happened, I honestly didn’t feel anything at all, but she was incredibly sensitive. One of our teachers back then told us to start asking our deities and guides to “open our eyes” so that we could see more of what was happening in the unseen realms. I think this is good advice for anyone on a magical, mystical path.

For those who feel they may be led down a mystical path, there are ways to help increase your awareness and sensitivity. You must be consistent and make them a regular part of life. If you are reading this, perhaps you do so already.

Meditation: Develop a daily meditation practice, using controlled-breathing exercises and visualizations to bring you into a relaxed state known as Alpha. Early morning meditations are helpful, I find them to be more productive than in the evening when I am tired and sleepy. Include in your meditation times a period of listening. Open your mind to receive divine guidance or psychic information. Keep a journal handy to write things down, as you may receive bits and pieces of information that may not make sense right away.

Nature: Spend time in Nature as often as possible. Go for walks, hiking, gardening, herb gathering, or sit among the trees and absorb the sights and sounds of Nature around you.

Maintain Balance: To live mystically, a certain level of detachment from earthly matters is necessary, but do not live with your head “in the clouds”. It is important to stay grounded while keeping yourself mystically aware. Live ‘between the worlds’.

Listen: If you are a ritual leader/planner, be aware that even though you have planned everything from beginning to end, your deities and guides may choose to lead things in a different direction. Be open to their guidance.

Ask: Ask your divine guides to open your spiritual, mystical eyes and allow you to see the unseen. This may happen gradually, and may be more active at some times than others.

Commune with Deity/Personal Gnosis: Spend time with your Gods, Goddesses, Spirit/Divine guides. Set up an altar for them, communicate with them. Make time for them and they will make time for you. Place photos of them or objects that sacred to them on your altar. Be open to receive information or knowledge directly from your divine guides. This wisdom may be only for you and is not meant to be shared. At other times, you may be guided to give encouragement or share information with someone else.

Mystical people live between the realms of the seen and the unseen. Humility is of utmost importance. Keep your visions private unless you are guided otherwise. This is not about power but your connection to your guides. The more you listen and learn from them, the more you will be given.

Witch Bottles

Witch Bottles, also called Spell Bottles, are an old form of magic that dates back to the 17th Century. The bottles were first made for protection, and were believed to counteract spells, protect against magical attack, or draw in and trap harmful intentions directed toward their owners. Although they were first used predominantly in England, a number of Witch Bottles have been discovered in America as well. The bottles were filled with sharp objects, such as broken glass, rusty nails, thorns, poisonous herbs, pins, needles, knotted threads, bits of bone, sand, magnets, lodestone and other protective items. They often also contained urine or menstrual blood. The bottles were then sealed and buried somewhere on the owner’s property, under the hearth, or under the home where it would absorb harmful energy to be destroyed by the contents inside. As long as the bottle remained sealed and intact, the owner would be protected. Others chose to throw their bottles into the fire. When the bottle exploded, it was believed that any curses cast on the owner had lifted and that the person who intended harm was no longer a threat.

Even though this practice of making Witch Bottles is centuries old, there are many modern Witches and Wizards who still make them today, not only for protection but also for healing and well wishes. Modern Witch Bottles for protection may still contain the same sharp ingredients mentioned above, though not all will choose to add urine or blood. They may also attach a written spell or incantation to the outside of the bottle, and then place it on a windowsill or somewhere in full view.

Witch/Spell Bottles for healing or well-wishes are made in beautifully decorated bottles of various colors, with herbs such as lavender, rose petals or eucalyptus placed inside, along with crystals, glitter, oatmeal, seeds, flower buds or other items to symbolize health, growth and well-being. A few drops of healing oils may be added and written spells for health and happiness are often placed inside the bottle. It is then sealed with a cork, colorful ribbons, pins or wax before it is given to the recipient. Healing Spell Bottles can be placed on a windowsill, a shelf, a bedside table or anywhere the recipient will see it on a daily basis.

I have made and received numerous spell bottles over the years. The magic of Witch/Spell bottles is activated through energy, intention and vibration. The very act of preparing the bottle: gathering the ingredients, choosing the bottle itself, deciding how you will decorate it, focusing on the intended recipient, writing the spell or incantation, how you will seal it…all of this activity infuses the bottle with magic. The bottle acts as a container for the spell, drawing in and attracting the energy it needs to manifest the intention (healing, prosperity, etc) into physical reality. Reiki practitioners can infuse the bottle with Reiki energy, or make a special ‘Reiki Bottle’ for those that need healing.

If I write a spell to be placed inside, at the end I will usually add something like:

If this bottle be broken, the spell is released

If this bottle be stolen, a curse on the thief

Below are pics of bottles I have made. This first one is a glass bottle that I made for protection, containing Mandrake Root and other poisonous herbs, broken glass, dirt and a written protection spell on parchment paper. I attached a metal Gryffindor crest to the outside, to draw on the strength of the Lion. It has been sitting on our livingroom windowsill for over 7 years, and I only removed it briefly to snap this photo. Look how dusty it is!


This one below is another protection bottle that was made for a local high priestess. It contained rusty nails, broken glass, poisonous herbs, thorns and needles, along with a spell for protection. I attached colorful glass pieces and a miniature Wiccan Rede to the outside, and sealed it shut with multi-colored wax.


This bottle below was given to me by the pagan group I celebrate with when my 2-year term as High Priest came to an end. Members of the group placed spells inside the bottle, and it was beautifully decorated by my friend, a very talented and gifted witch.


Your Witch/Spell Bottles do not have to be large ones like these. You can use smaller ones, and many people prefer them. I happen to like the larger ones, so that I can add more ingredients and decorate them better. You can find bottles at craft stores, antique stores or thrift shops. Before you work on them, wash them if possible and magically cleanse them of any previous energy they may have held.

Witch Bottles and Spell Bottles are a fun, creative way to use Old World magic for healing and protection, whether for yourself or for others.

Titles, Names and Labels

In many initiatory traditions, magical people are granted new names such as High Priest, High Priestess, Lord/Lady and other similar names. This is nothing new, it is a practice that is centuries old. I see nothing inherently wrong with titles, and it baffles me when people get up-in-arms about them. Perhaps it is because titles imply responsibility and expectations, and people do not want that placed upon them. Even the word “leader” makes some uncomfortable. “Why do we need a leader?”, they ask. They want the luxury of making decisions for the group, with no responsibility attached.

Sometimes leaders have to make difficult choices, such as when members of the group or community engage in harmful behavior. If someone is being deliberately hurtful or malicious toward other members, with no remorse whatosover, they have to go. There really are no two ways about it, and no amount of “discussion” or trying to “work things out” will remedy the situation.

Just because someone is called High Priest or High Priestess, or Lord/Lady So-and-So, it does not necessarily mean they have an ego problem or some neurotic need to be in control. Those who make these sort of complaints typically have issues with authority of any kind and do not like the idea of someone being “in charge”. They usually do not stay around long. Groups are not for everyone. Many find they are much more suited to a solitary practice, with no leaders “telling me what to do”. (See my article Coven Vs. Solitary). The truth is, there has to be someone, or more than one, who is designated to maintain structure and order, and assure that things are done the way they’re supposed to be, or at least in the way that was planned or agreed upon by the group. Groups without leaders will not last long. Likewise, groups who do things in an unorganized, willy-nilly ‘whatever’ sort of way will soon fall apart, or devolve into something no more than what my friend jokingly calls “coffee night”.

There are many who truly want leadership. They want someone they can look to for guidance and advice, leaders who are dedicated to their role and fulfill it to the best of their ability. Not everyone wants to be a leader or have a title, but those who do need to own it and not treat it casually. Lord and Lady have an air of royalty about them, and I happen to like the idea of witches as royalty. Laurie Cabot teaches that all witches are sovereign, that their wisdom and knowledge of the Craft gives them sovereignty.

Here in America, people are not used to being called such things as High Priest, High Priestess, Lord/Lady such-and-such, but in Europe these titles are commonplace and people do not get bent out of shape over them. Let us remind ourselves that many of our traditions and practices come from Europe, and titles happen to be one of them. There are some who do not want to be “called” anything. “I don’t want to be labeled”, they passively say. Perhaps they do not want the responsibility that comes with a label. Saying you’re one thing means you’re not something else, and many want the freedom to be that ‘something else’ as their whims dictate. (See my article Defining Your Path). Titles and labels are often necessary because they help bring clarity and definition to relationships both mundane and magical, particularly in group settings.

For others, the aversion to titles and names is not due to avoidance issues but the fact that they embrace so many different beliefs it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what path they are on. Eclecticism seems to work for some people…or does it…but I find it unfocused, scattered, chaotic. I do not believe that “all paths are one path” or that “all roads lead to center”. They do not. I do not have to respect paths that advocate beheading people, abusing women or committing acts of terrorism. Nor do I have to embrace paths that teach the concept that those who do not follow them are doomed to Hell. All paths are not one path. Sorry, no.

There are also those who do not like the words “Witch”, “Wiccan” or “Pagan” because again, these are ‘labels’. There is nothing wrong whatsoever with self-identifying as a Witch, Wizard, Wiccan, Pagan, Druid or any other magical name if that is how you live your life. If that is what you are, you have every right to refer to yourself as such. Ignore the naysayers. Some criticize what they call “rigid definitions” of words like “Pagan”. We have these words so people understand what they are and what they are not. They can’t mean whatever you want them to mean.

If you have a title, then embrace it, own it and use it proudly!

Magical Holidays: Imbolc

bannerfans_14800182The ancient Celtic fire festival of Imbolc takes place on February 1st or 2nd, and is regarded as the first of three Spring festivals. Although it is not yet officially Spring until March, Imbolc reminds us that Spring is definitely on the way. Imbolc (pronounced Im-Molk or Im-Molg: the ‘b’ is silent) is an Old Irish word that has been translated to mean “in the belly” and refers to the pregnancy of ewes. It is a fertility festival and a time of encouraging new growth to begin. This holiday is sacred to the Celtic Goddess Brighid, also called Brid or Bride. She is a Goddess of healing, poetry, fertility and smithcraft.

Brighid is a triple goddess of fire, water and light, a daughter of the Dagda and one of the Tuatha de Danaan. Celebrations of Imbolc stretch back through the centuries, and often involved the lighting of candles, along with the presence of water and fire. Some magical traditions call Imbolc the “womb of Spring”, as we begin to see the first stirrings of life, displayed by snowdrop flowers growing upwards through the snow, a sign that the end of Winter is not far off. In Witchcraft/Wiccan traditions, Imbolc is the time when the Goddess slumbers below the earth after giving birth to the God, and as his light grows she begins to awaken. Candles are lit to gently awaken the Goddess and encourage her return to the earth, which she does at Spring. Imbolc is a time to begin planning new things, making plans for hopes and dreams.

Goddess_Brigid_Cross_origIn Celtic traditions, a corn dolly and a bowl of milk is placed on the altar, along with several candles in a bowl of water. Poems and stories of Brighid are read aloud, and songs are sung in her honour. It is a time to do magic for healing and creativity. A special bed would be made for the doll, and a ceremony of inviting Brighid into the house would be enacted. In Ireland, Brighid’s Crosses (see photo at right) were made at Imbolc. They were often hung over doors, windows and stables to welcome Brigid and protect the buildings from fire and lightning. The crosses were generally left there until the next Imbolc.

The date of Imbolc is thought to have been significant in Ireland since the Neolithic period. The holiday was a festival of the hearth and home, and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. Celebrations often involved hearthfires, special foods, divination or watching for omens, candles or a bonfire if the weather permitted. Fire and purification were an important part of the festival. The lighting of candles and fires represented the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months.

The Goddess Brighid has quite a history. As Christianity spread through Europe, many sacred sites were destroyed or built over with churches. Celtic deities were replaced with saints. Worship of the Goddess Brighid was so widespread and ingrained in the Celtic lands that the Christians were not able to suppress it, so they made Brighid into a Saint. Although she was Christianized as St. Brighid, with holy wells dedicated to her, historians believe her to be of pagan origin, a Goddess of pre-Christian times.

To celebrate Imbolc, use a white altar cloth. Decorate your altar with snowdrop flowers, a bowl of water and several lit candles. Sprinkle pine needles, sage and holly leaves on the altar. Recite a poem to Brighid, or sing to her, and ask for her assistance in healing or creative projects.

As I look out my window here in the city, I do not yet see green growth sprouting thru the snow. It is only the beginning of February, and there is more snow on the way. Our private group has an Imbolc celebration planned for this evening, but it is threatened by a possible 6-10 inches of snow. I may end up having a private ceremony at home. However, as much as I loathe snow, I make myself walk through it, enduring the wind chill cold and paying close attention to the sights, sounds and sensations. I still see squirrels running about, a few birds in the trees, and I see the tiniest of buds beginning to form at the end of branches…winter is not yet over, but I see small signs that Spring will soon be here.

The Void-of-Course Moon: A Time to Pause

This astrological factor of the Moon is often ignored by magical practitioners, either because they do not understand what it means or they believe it is not significant enough to really make a difference. However, the Moon when it is Void-of-Course (usually shown in an ephemeris or moon phase guide as v/c) can have an effect, or non-effect, on magical workings and other decisions we make.

When the Moon is Void-of-Course, this indicates that it is between zodiacal signs: it has just exited one sign and is on it’s way to the next. The Moon does not always automatically move from one zodiac sign to the next. Many times it does, but there is often a between-time when the Moon does not occupy either sign. This time period can last anywhere from a matter of minutes, hours, or up to nearly two days.

When preparing to cast a spell or plan life events, and you are working with planetary/astrological energies, it is best not to do anything definate when the Moon is Void-of-Course. Doing so may mean that your spell will not manifest the way you intended, if at all. The planetary/astrological energies you are calling on are simply not there. This is because the planets have an effect on the zodiac signs, and if the Moon is between signs, the energies are scattered. There is the tendency to have unrealistic expectations associated with the decisions, and/or there could be difficulties from unknown factors. During this period actions can produce unexpected results, creative efforts can go into unexpected directions. Wait until the Moon has fully occupied the sign you wish to work with.

The void-of-course period of the Moon is the period of time from the moment the Moon makes the last contact with any planet in the current Sign of the Zodiac, and until it enters the next sign.

This excerpt from the website Lunarium explains it metaphorically:

Each sign is like a chapter in the book of life, and moving through it the Moon is telling a story. When the Moon enters the next sign, it starts a new story. We still remember the old one, but we are not deeply involved into it anymore. Whether we notice it or not, each time the Moon enters the next Sign of the Zodiac, something substantially changes in our life, some context, or the emotional background of events. Most of the time we aren’t aware of this change because the Moon is strongly connected to our subconsciousness, not to our consciousness. It is the subconsciousness who is deeply aware of the change.

So in each of the signs the Moon starts a new story when it enters the sign, but those stories can have different lengths. Some of them continue for almost the whole two-and-a-half-day period, others are much shorter, but always there is a pause in the end of the story. It can be short or long, but it is always there. That pause in the end of the story is the void-of-course period of the Moon.

We don’t know why it happens, this pause. Maybe the story teller gives us the time to think about the content of the story we’ve just heard, or maybe it is a chance to prepare to the next story, because it is going to be very important. We just know that the pause is there…At some point the Moon makes its last contact in the given sign. That’s the end of the story, but the new story won’t start until the Moon enters the next Sign of the Zodiac”.

You can find the Void-of-Course by looking at an ephemeris, moon phase guide or astrology website. Some of you tech-savvy types may have an app on your phone. I happen to like the Llewellyn Moon Sign Book. It is very practical, easy to read, and they publish a new one every year. The Void-of-Course is marked as (v/c) or (VoC). I had some difficulty locating a picture of their chart to show you, however, below is a similar chart displaying the Void-of-Course dates for January 2015.


The Art of Tree Gazing

One of my favorite things to do in the Winter is Tree Gazing. This is the art of divining messages from the trees as their branches sway in the wind, and relies heavily on your intuitive abilities. I do believe that each tree possesses a spirit, and that the spirit of the tree will communicate with anyone who sincerely desires to interact with it. In Winter, this is best done on a cold, windy day, so dress warmly. Take a notebook and pen along if you want to write down your impressions. (Tree Gazing in the Summer is a bit different as the focus is on the leaves. In Winter, the focus is on the branches).

To begin Tree Gazing during the Winter, find a tree that has lost all of it’s leaves. It should be a tree that you feel a strong connection to. Let it call to you. The branches must be completely bare, so do not choose a tree with green growth on it, such as Pine or Evergreen. If you can, place your bare hands on the tree for a few moments, close your eyes, take some deep breaths until you reach a meditative state, and project an intention into the tree for communication. Ask the tree to share it’s wisdom with you. Then, remove your hands and find a spot where you can sit comfortably for at least 30 minutes. If you cannot touch the tree or feel uncomfortable doing so, just project your intention to communicate into the tree. It is best to choose a tree that you can get relatively close to, even if you cannot touch it. You should be able to clearly see the branches and how the entire tree responds to the wind. If the tree is too far away, it will be more difficult to “read”. At a local park that I visit, there are trees quite close to the parking lot, so in the Winter I can sit in my car with the window down when I practice tree gazing. When you have found the tree you wish to communicate with and you are seated comfortably nearby, bring yourself into a meditative state. You can do this by taking several deep breaths, with eyes closed, and visualizing the numbers 1 thru 10. Feel yourself drifting into a deeper state of consciousness. Then, open your eyes and gaze at the branches of the tree. Do not forcibly stare, but allow your gaze to soften. Observe the branches as they move in the wind. Open your mind and heart to feelings, impressions, images. Spend most of your winter tree gazing experience observing the branches, but also glance at the rest of the tree from time to time. Does the tree bend in the wind? Are there animals, plants, flowers or other growth on or near the tree? What is their magickal significance? How do they react to the wind? Wind belongs to the element of Air which rules communication, thought and transference of information. It seems to be an important component of Tree Gazing during any season. Write down all of your impressions in your notebook. In my own experience, I have found that is best to remain passive while Tree Gazing, rather than asking questions and seeking specific answers. The information I receive from Tree Gazing seems to be more about spiritual guidance and personal growth rather than “should I apply for this job” sort of thing. Don’t seek specific answers from the tree, just allow it to impart information into your consciousness. You may experience some strong emotions. Just relax and allow it to happen. If you do not receive information the first time you try Tree Gazing, don’t worry. It may take some practice, but eventually you will begin to intuitively sense the tree’s messages for you. Be sure to keep a notepad and pen handy to write down your impressions.


The Dark Yule Moon 2014

C_UserstinsleyrPicturesbannerfans_14361656As we approach the Winter Solstice on December 21st 2014, something extraordinary will happen. At 8:36pm EST, the Moon will enter it’s Dark Moon phase, which some call the New Moon. This is a highly significant event, as not only is tonight the longest, darkest night of the year, it also takes place during a Dark Moon. At this time, the dark portion of the Moon faces almost directly toward Earth, so that the Moon is not visible to the naked eye. During this phase, the side of the Moon that is facing us is not lit by the Sun. This is the time when we look inward to examine our lives, our dreams, hopes and fears.

This moon enters the sign of Capricorn as it reaches the fulness of darkness. The energy of this dark moon guides us to draw upon our inner wisdom, and examine the lessons we have learned from past experiences, and take an active role in changing the course of our futures. It is time to take those first steps toward achieving our goals, and forging the path we wish our lives to take. In recent weeks there seems to have been much friction in our day-to-day lives. I have noticed people more stressed out than usual, perhaps due to the holidays and all it’s pressures, but there has been much conflict, irritability, impatience and an overall sense of tension and frustration. I have felt it myself. I have been somewhat impatient and short-tempered as of late. So much to do and not enough time, money or resources to do it with! With the Sun in Sagittarius, it may feel like we are running into one obstacle after another. And indeed, with this dark moon there will be ostacles in our paths. We are being encouraged to evolve and grow, putting away those things that no longer serve our highest good. It may mean removing toxic people from your life, it may mean re-evaluating the direction you want your life to go.

Write down all the things you want to achieve, and the steps you are going to take to make them happen. To make the most of this Dark Yule Capricorn Moon and Sagittarius Sun, make the decision that you will be pro-active, assertive and determined to lead the life you want to live. This Dark Moon heralds changes and new beginnings.

In my own life, I am already seeing spiritual changes take place. The coven I have served as High Priest for the last two years will have it’s final ritual this evening, and then we will disband, as new leadership takes the reins to guide our eclectic pagan community into new territory. I will spend more time focusing on Celtic/Druidcraft studies(which I have already begun and loving every minute of it), and will be less involved in formal public ritual planning. I recently decided that I will no longer actively plan public classes or events, and will only teach when I am invited to do so. I will be more reclusive than I have in the past, so I can spend more time with my studies and personal rituals. I will continue to write, of course, on this website and with my book projects.

I am delighted to hear the owls once again in the trees behind our home. There are two of them, and they call to each other throughout the night. During the day, the trees are filled with crows, hundreds of them actually, and they are quite loud, but as night draws near the crows leave and the owls arrive. I always know Winter is near when I hear them, because I don’t hear them at other times of the year.

Tonight is Yule, and I am anxious to open the Yule gift I received from friends in Salem, Massachussets, so I shall now carefully open the box…I am excited to see what it is…I purposely waited until the last minute…

Blessed Yule and Happy Winter Solstice.