Welcome to the Order of the Sacred Star! This Pagan/Wiccan group, based in Winnipeg, Canada, is committed to teaching the Craft to all those who wish to learn. Our goal is to provide a complete and fulfulling learning experience. Our public classes are offered through the Winnipeg Pagan Teaching Circle.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Exploring Voodoo: Ritual in Vodou Practice

Every Vodou ritual is conducted for a specific purpose. Unlike many other religions, rituals may take place at any time, whenever need arises. There is not usually a specific phase of the moon, time of the day, or time of year, that is better for a Vodou ritual.

Why Would a Vodou Ritual Be Held?

According to Vodou tradition, the following situations are all viewed as good reasons to hold a ritual.

To request a special favor of the Lwa (the spirits of Vodou);
  • To solve a critical problem;
  • To counteract black magick or remove a evil spirit;
  • To guard against harm or danger;
  • To heal the sick;
  • To escape a run of bad luck;
  • To celebrate success or a change in fortune;
  • To give thanks to the Lwa;
  • To appease an offended Lwa;
  • To satisfy the demands of a Lwa;
  • To celebrate one or more ancestors;
  • To acknowledge a special anniversary, such as Initiation;
  • To mark a holiday, a saint’s feast, or a day sacred to a particular Lwa; and
  • At the request of an individual or family.
Most rituals last only a few hours, although some have been known to go on for days. Most Vodou ceremonies follow the same basic pattern: the oungan (priest) invokes one or more Lwa, offers food and sacrifices, and the spirit is then asked to materialize on the physical plane.

Initiation in Vodou

Someone who has been called by the Lwa would have many reasons for wanting to be initiated. The first and foremost reason is that initiation is the only path into priesthood. Advantages of initiation are:
  • The initiate can contact the Lwa more directly and lead a more rewarding spiritual life;
  • Initiation deepens the bond with the Lwa;
  • Initiation is believed to increase the devotee’s good luck and good health;
  • Initiation gives the devotee better protection against magickal attacks; and
  • Initiates hold a higher place in the socyete (a community of Vodou practitioners) and can participate more directly in rituals.
The first step in Initiation is the lave te’t (washing the head). This functions like a baptism, cleansing and purifying initiates. It also readies them for proceeding down the path to konesans (the complete body of knowledge of the Lwa, rituals, and herbal cures held by an oungan).

Rewarding effects of the lave te’t are:
  • It removes negative energies, such as evil spirits or black magic;
  • It can appease an offended law;
  • It strengthens the bond with the me’t te’t (patron Lwa);
  • It gives the devotee a deeper connection to the spiritual world; and
  • It refreshes the soul and so can help heal sickness.
The second step of Initiation serves as a rite of passage, transforming the Initiate into a member of the ounfo’s (Vodou temple) spiritual family. This ritual is call kanzo.

Important Dates for Vodou Ceremonies

There are many dates that are considered important in the Vodou calendar. These dates typically warrant a ceremony in Vodou practice. Some of these dates are:
  • January 6, Les Rois — honors the ancestral African kings;
  • February 25, Manje Te't Dlo — ritual feeding of the springs, or sources of rivers;
  • March/April, Souvenance Festival — a week-long festival celebrating the great Rada Lwa in Souvenance; only oungans and mambos can attend;
  • March 20, Legba Zaou — honors Papa Legba with the sacrifice of a black goat;
  • April 29, Case Kanari — sends the souls of those who died in the past year to the realm of the dead;
  • April 30, Manje-mo — ritual feeding of the family ancestors;
  • May 12, Manje-lwa — ritual feeding of the Lwa sacred to the family;
  • July 16, Pilgrimage to Saut-d-Eau — pilgrimage to the sacred waterfall;
  • July 25, Papa Ogou — pilgrimage to Plaine du Nord in honor of Ogou Feray;
  • July 26, Day for Ezili — rituals and pilgrimages honoring Ezili;
  • August 15, Soukri Kongo Festival — week-long ceremony at Nan Soukri to collectively honor the Kongo Lwa;
  • November 1, New Year's Day — ritual bonfires are lit for Papa Legba;
  • November 2, Fe't Ge'de — festival to honor dead family members, Baron Samedi, and Maman Brijit;
  • November 25, Manje-yanm — harvest festival held in rural Haiti;
  • December 12, Bato d' Agwe — afferings to Agwe and the other ocean Lwa are floated out to see on an ornamental raft;
  • December 25, Fe't des Membres — devotees return home to receive purifying baths; and
  • December 28, Manje Marasa — ceremony to honor the divine twins.
There are, of course, many other dates to hold rituals in Vodou. These are only the most important, the dates that should not be overlooked.

Ritual in Vodou is a complex practice. Practitioners of Vodou use rituals to celebrate, receive favor, to solve problems, and to heal, among other things. The intricacies of Vodou ritual take many years of study and discipline to master.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Exploring Voodoo: The Lwa of Vodou

In Vodou, the Lwa are of great importance. The Lwa are immortal spirits with supernatural powers. They fall somewhere between God and the human race. They are very similar to the saints, angels and demons of Catholicism. It's said that the Lwa oversee all human activities such as marriage, childbirth, health, work, money, war, and art.

The Nanchons and Their Origins

Lwa are divided into several groups called nanchons. There are at least seventeen different nanchons but only a few are known by name:
  • Rada – originated in Dahomey;
  • Petro – originated in Haiti;
  • Ibo – from on of the major Yoruban tribes;
  • Nago – another of the major Yoruban tribes;
  • Ginen – originated in Guinea;
  • Bambara – originated in Sudan;
  • Wangol – originated in Angola; and
  • Siniga – originated in Senegal.
Of these, the Rada and Petro nanchons dominate the others. There are far more Lwa in these two nanchons than in the others.

The Great Lwa and Their Symbols

In Vodou, the most important of the Lwa, the Great Lwa, are each given realms that they rule. They also each have symbols to represent them. Many of them also have two or more names.

Danbala rules the realm of wisdom and ancestral knowledge. His symbol is the serpent.

The ruler of the realm of fertility is Aida-Wedo. The symbol of Aida-Wedo is the rainbow.

Papa Legba, also known as Kalfou, stands at the gateway between the spiritual world and the material world. His symbol is the cross.

The realm of love and beauty is ruled by Eziti Freda. The symbol of this Lwa, also known as Elizi Danto, is the heart.

Ogou rules war, fire, and metalworking. It is not surprising then, that his symbol, the machete, is a weapon. The Ogou, as describes below, has many different aspects.

The Ogou Spirits of Vodou

The family of Ogou spirits is larger than the family of any other major Lwa and each aspect of Ogou takes on a slightly different role. For example:
  • Ogou Baba — Represents a military general;
  • Ogou Badagris — Lwa of the phallus;
  • Ogou Batala — Patron of surgeons and doctors;
  • Ogou Fer — Lwa of fire and water;
  • Ogou Feray — Patron of blacksmiths and metalworkers;
  • Ogou La Flambeau — Represents the fiery rage of battle;
  • Ogou Shango — Lwa of lightning; and
  • Ogou Tonnerre — Lwa of thunder.
The Ge’de of Vodou

Another important group of Lwa is Ge’de, or death spirits. Ge’de is an enormous group of spirits made up of the spirits of formerly living people who, after death, became Lwa. Below is a list of the major Ge’de and their symbols.
  • Ge'de Black — Cross, skull, shovel;
  • Baron Samedi — Cross, coffin, phallus;
  • Baron Cimetie — Bones, cemetery;
  • Baron Crois — Cross; and
  • Maman Brijit — Cemetery, elm, weeping willow.
Of the Ge’de, the majority are male. Listed below are some of the best known Ge’de and the roles they play.
  • Ge'de-Brav — Represents the phallus;
  • Ge'de-Double — Endows people with second sight;
  • Ge'de-Fouye — The gravedigger;
  • Ge'de-Janmensou — He is never drunk;
  • Ge'de-Loraj — Protect those who die violently;
  • Ge'de-Loraye — Small woman who reveals herself during storms;
  • Ge'de-Masaka — Female spirit who carries an umbilical cord and poisoned leaves in a bag;
  • Ge'de-Nibo — Cares for the tombs;
  • Ge'de-Soufrant — Suffering Ge'de;
  • Ge'de-z-Aragne'e — Imitates a spider; and
  • Linto — Child spirit of the Ge'de.
It's believed that Baron Samedi is the lord of all the Ge’de. Maman Brijit, wife of Baron Samedi, is the guardian of cemeteries; he is also said to be an evil spirit of black magick and money.

Other Important Lwa in Voudou

Despite the importance of Baron Samedi and Maman Brijit, the following Lwa are still powerful and just as frequently honored. No study of the Vodou spirits would be complete without these important Lwa.

Azaka is the Lwa of agriculture. His symbol is the makout, which is a small sack made of straw.

The tree is the symbol of Gran Bwa, the Lwa of forests.

The Lwa of medicine and the priesthood is Loko. His symbol is the red rooster.

Ayizan is the Lwa of marketplaces and priestesses. The palm frond is the symbol of this Lwa.

Simbi is the Lwa of freshwater and magicians. The snake, with its connection to the mystical, is the symbol Simbi.

The Lwa of evil works is Marinette. The screech owl, often associated with evil, is the symbol of Marinette.

The symbol of Bosou is the bull. He is the Lwa of male virility and black magick.

There are three important Lwa connected to the weather. These are Agau, Sogbo, and Bade. They rule storms and earthquakes, lightning, and wind, respectively. Their symbols are quite easy to determine — thunder, thunderstone, and the wind.

The Lwa play an important role in the practice of Vodou. All Lwa are important, whether good or evil, for they all, in some way, effect human activities. They patronage is sought in many aspects, from marriage and death to art and war. They are an intricate part of Vodou.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Exploring Voodoo: The History of Vodou

Although the word Voodoo tends to conjure images of zombies, pins stuck in dolls, animal sacrifices, priests drinking blood, etc., it’s not exactly a realistic portrait of what Voodoo truly is. In fact, because of the images associated with this word, some practitioners prefer the term Vodou, among other terms.

The Origins of Vodou

Vodou came from the tribal practices and beliefs of the slaves who were brought to Haiti from West Africa. In the 17th century, slaves bound for the West Indies were taken from over one hundred different African ethnic groups. The beliefs and customs of all these groups combined to form the beginnings of Vodou. The two groups who had the greatest influence by far were the Fon and the Yoruba.

Beliefs and Practices of Vodou

The most important religious practice among these groups was ancestral worship. By remembering their ancestors and passing down their knowledge from generation to generation they ensured that their religious traditions would live on.

The Fon believed in hundreds of immortal spirits called vodu. Because the people had personal relationships with the spirits, they needed to communicate with the vodu on a regular basis. Ritual enabled them to talk to the spirits. The most important elements of the tribal rituals were:
  • dancing, drumming and chanting to communicate with the spirits
  • animal sacrifices made as offerings to the spirits
  • a priest or priestess who interpreted messages from the spirits
  • possession of the bodies of participants in ritual by the spirits
The main purpose of the ritual was to communicate with the vodu and receive their guidance in making important decisions. They did this by communicating indirectly with the spirits via the priest/priestess. The priests and priestesses helped their followers determine who their personal vodu were and also interpreted the messages from the vodu for them.

Priests and priestesses were chosen for their ability to connect with the spirits. They were said to have inherited this talent from their mothers or fathers. They were “born into priesthood”. Priests became the religious and community leaders of the slaves. In the times of slavery, any rebellious priest was usually sold by their ‘owners’ to prevent them from “sowing the seeds of dissent” in that area.

The Connection Between Christianity and Vodou

Despite the numerous spirits the Vodoun communicate with, they believe in only one God. The spirits are the immortal souls of their ancestors, not gods themselves. That is why the spirits are honored and served rather than worshipped like gods.

Christianity was forced on the slaves to rid them of their “superstitions”. Their religion, in other words. Because of this, the Catholic Church saw the conversion of the slaves as justification for slavery itself. The belief was that by enslaving these people, they were saving their souls.

However the Church’s efforts backfired on them. The slaves found the Christian religion to be the perfect cover to hide their true religious practices. Because of the days of using Catholicism to hide their true religion, many Vodoun still have images of Catholic saints on their altars.

However it’s not the saints they are worshipping. The pictures are just that — pictures representing pre-existing African spirits. Each major spirit of Vodou was matched with a Catholic saint based on similarity. An example would be Saint Patrick, with the image of him driving the snakes out of Ireland, being identified with Danbala, a snake spirit.

Vodou took on other things from Catholicism as well. Catholic prayers and hymns were incorporated into rituals. Candles, crosses and other symbols appeared on Vodoun altars, although they had very different meanings. They even took communion wafer and holy water to guard against danger and evil magick.

Obviously, there is much more to the history of Vodou than has been described here. It would be nearly impossible to explore the various history and evolution of Vodou. Instead, the purpose of this overview is only to generate an interest in Vodou and its practices. Further information, if desired, can be sought.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Herbology: Herbs and Their Common Uses

Herbs have been around since time began. People used them for many reasons; for food, aroma, medicine and magick. People from all walks of life still use them today, for various reasons. Some of these reasons include:
  • culinary herbs: herbs used for their flavoring abilities in foods
  • aromatic herbs: herbs used for their pleasant smell and the fragrance they give off
  • medicinal herbs: herbs which possess healing properties are are used for herbal preparations
  • remedial herbs: herbs that possess the remedy for a specific disease or deficiency
  • magickal herbs: herbs used for spells, invocations, incantations, and protection
There have been many systems for using these herbs, including herbology and aromatherapy. Many of them have survived into modern times.

Herbs and Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is a multifaceted healing art, which uses the essential oils of plant and trees to promote health of body and serenity of mind. Aromatic plants have been used by humankind since the dawn of history. There is evidence that over some 4,000 years ago, the Ancient Sumerians made use of scented herbs such as cypress and myrrh.

Ancient Greek physicians such as Hippocrates and Galen interpreted the microcosm of the human being according to the elements of fire, water, earth, and air, while the masters of the Chinese tradition related to five elements. In either case, these concepts were used to expose the dynamic force that masquerades as matter.

Aromatherapy also has a few offshoots, such as the art of natural perfumery, the making of cosmetic lotions and potions, and an exploration of sensual aromatherapy — for those wishing to enhance their love life through the alchemy of fragrance and the magick of touch.

Practices such as these were the beginnings of a tradition that embraced not one but several civilizations, and developed hand-in-hand with systems of science and medicine that were based on both empirical knowledge and informed intuition.

Herbs and Ayurvedic Medicine

Ayurveda is India's contribution to humanity in its search for health care, well-being, and longevity. It mellowed with the evolution of Indian civilization, tracing its origin to “Adharva Veda,” the oldest work of philosophy and science in the history of mankind.

Ayurvedic medicine flourished at a time when all the science branches now practiced were in their infancy. Physicians around the world now consider the Ayurveda as a system of treatment embedded in nature that combines medication with a recognized lifestyle. In the modern era, where most of the diseases result from mutations in lifestyles, this ancient wisdom has been revisited.

Herbs in Bach Remedies

Between the years of 1930 and 1936, Dr. Edward Bach discovered a system of herbal medicine which is unique in medical history. This system was the culmination of a lifetime of inspired research, which gave the medical profession a great many new and revolutionary discoveries.

Dr. Bach believed that the basic cause of all disease was an emotional disharmony resulting from conflict within the personality. The 38 remedies which he discovered were for the treatment of this disharmony, and each remedy was specific for a particular emotional condition, such as fear, anxiety, depression and loneliness. The remedies were prepared mainly from natural wildflowers, using fresh water and the power of the sun to produce an essence, which was taken internally by the patient.

Herbs in Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine has a very long history. According to legend, Chinese medicines originated from Shen Nong's tasting of hundreds of herbs and medicinal materials. As the legend relates, Shen Nong gathered wild foodstuffs for cultivation and then selected those with medicinal value from among them for the treatment of diseases.

At least half of the 365 medicines listed in Shen Nong's Herbal Classic possess both medicinal and food value; while the 260 items listed in The Dietetic Materia Medica, written centuries later by Meng Shen of the Tang Dynasty include nearly all of the types of food that people require daily, such as rice and other cereals, melons and gourds, fruits, game and edible wild vegetables, meat, poultry and eggs, fish, shrimp and other seafood.

Later still, more than 300 kinds of foodstuffs were recorded in the “Compendium of Materia Medica" written by Li Shizhen of the Ming Dynasty. All of these works point to the common sources of medicines and foods, and to the fact that the same things have long been used as both foods and medicines.

Homeopathy and Herbs

Homeopathy is a fascinating form of holistic healing and lends to the principle of “like can cure like.” This means that an illness should be treated by a substance capable of producing similar symptoms to those being suffered by the patient. This is the basis of Homeopathy.

The very small doses of homeopathic medicine acts as a catalyst to stimulate the body’s natural healing ability, similar to the way vaccinations work, by causing a reaction in the body’s defense processes. Homeopathy concentrates on the powerful healing forces of herbs, minerals and other natural substances that may be beneficial to many common ailments, providing temporary relief of many symptoms through the strengthening of the body’s own natural ability to attain homeostasis.

There are many types of herbal medicine which are practiced throughout the world today. Many of them are compatible with each other, and use many of the same tools. All of them have some validity.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Herbology: Herbal Preparations

Herbs can be used in quite a number of different ways. They can be used to treat an ailment or problem. They can also be used for spellcasting and ritual magick. There are several different ways in which herbs can be prepared for use.

Herbal Water Infusions

When plant material is infused in hot water, after about three to five minutes the water becomes a fragrantly scented and pleasantly refreshing drink known as "tea." These are hot water infusions. This is certainly the fastest way to prepare herbs for ingestion, if this is the desired application.

Placing the herbs in cold water and soaking them for eight to 12 hours produces a cold water infusion. This is generally most effective when the preparation is left overnight. It is usually more pleasant if the infusion is warmed slightly before drinking. All infusions, hot or cold, should be strained before consumption.

Herbal Tinctures

In a tincture, the properties of the herbs are extracted and preserved in alcohol. In ancient times, this was accomplished using wines, (as is where the term "mulled wines" originated from). Tinctures can be made with fresh or dried herbs.

Tinctures can also be made "non-alcoholic" by adding the adequate ratio of water to the tincture mix and leaving the mixture uncovered for several hours while the alcohol evaporates, useful for those people that are unable to drink alcohol.

Herbal Poultices

Poultices are herbal compresses that are very handy for skin problems and even muscular and bone ailments. They are made by steaming the herbs over water, but not touching the water. Cover and steam for a few minutes, just so that the herbs "wilt."

The softened herbs are then spread on a cloth and placed on the affected area. The "compress" is covered with a woolen cloth and left on for approximately two hours.

Herbal Decoctions

A decoction is an extract of herbs produced by boiling the herb in water. This method is used for hard seeds, roots and barks, all of which need much longer than just a few minutes to infuse. It is not quite the same as cold or hot water infusion.

The herbs are first boiled, and then left to simmer in the hot water. This can take anywhere from a few hours to several days, depending on the herb used. Although decoctions are prepared by prolonged simmering, they still contain the essential qualities of the fresh herbs. This method of preparation is fairly common in herbology.

Herbal Fomentation

A fomentation is simply a towel or cloth soaked in an herbal infusion or decoction, with the excess wrung out and then applied as hot as possible to the affected area. It is important to be aware that this method can cause burning if the cloth is too hot. The temperature must be acceptable to the skin.

Herbal Powders and Syrups

Powders are exactly what they seem to be: dried and ground plant matter. Often, these powders are mixed water, soup, milk, or any other liquid. They can also be added to most foods. The most common dosage is that which can be picked up on the tip of a dinner knife (about half a teaspoon). However, this dosage may depend on which herb is used.

Syrups are created by taking either raw or brown sugar and boiling it in water until a honey-like consistency is reached. These must then be strained through cheesecloth and the herbal ingredient can then be added. This is very good for encouraging small children to consume their preparations.

Herbal Extracts and Essences

Liquid herbal extracts are generally concentrated herbal liquids which are made in an alcohol and water mixture. These are undoubtedly the best and most convenient herbal preparations. Saturation time is much longer than herbal tinctures, but the principle is basically the same. The time required will vary, but seven days are usually sufficient.

Creating an herbal essence requires taking approximately 28 grams of the herbal oil and dissolving it in 600 ml of alcohol. This is an excellent way to preserve volatile essential oils which are not water soluble. These are generally not taken internally.

There are many ways in which herbs can be prepared for use in herbology, with the right tools. It is important to use the preparation method best suited to the task at hand.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The History of Herbology and Its Practice

Since the ancient times of India, China, Egypt, and Assyria, people have always turned to plants for help — for food, shelter, clothing, weapons, healing, and many other uses. This dates back as far back as the year 2700 BCE, and is a result of the struggle to achieve mastery over the forces of nature. It is no wonder, then, that plants have been invested with magickal powers. And certainly no wonder that many myths attribute to plants an intimate relationship with our daily lives and with our destinies.

Herbs in Ancient Egypt

Surviving Egyptian papyri dating back to around 1700 BCE record that many common herbs, such as garlic and juniper, have been used medicinally for around 4,000 years. In the days of Ramses III, hemp was used for eye problems just as it may be prescribed for glaucoma today, while poppy extracts were used to quiet crying children.

Herbs in Ancient Greece

By the time of Hippocrates (468-377 BCE), European herbal tradition had already absorbed ideas from Assyria and India, with Eastern herbs such as basil and ginger among the most highly prized. The complex theory of humors and essential body fluids had begun to be formulated by this time.

Hippocrates categorized all foods and herbs by fundamental quality — hot, cold, dry or damp — and good health was maintained by keeping them in balance, as well as observing a regiment of plenty of exercise and fresh air.

Pedanius Dioscorides wrote his classic text De Materia Medica in around 60 CE, and this remained the standard textbook for 1,500 years. Dioscorides was reputed to have been either the physician to Anthony and Cleopatra or, more likely, an army surgeon during the reign of the Emperor Nero. Many of the actions Dioscorides describes are familiar today: parsley as a diuretic, fennel to promote milk flow, white horehound mixed with honey as an expectorant.

Roman Contributions to Herbology

The Greek theories of medicine reached Rome around 100 BCE. As time passed, they became more mechanistic, presenting a view of the body as a machine to be actively repaired, rather than following the Hippocratic dictum of allowing most diseases to cure themselves. Medicine became a lucrative business with complex, highly priced herbal preparations.

Opposing this practice was Claudius Galenus (131-199 CE), who was born in Pergamon in Asia Minor and was a court physician to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Galen reworked many of the old Hippocratic ideas and formalized the theories of humors. His books soon became the standard medical texts, not only of Rome, but also of later Arab and medieval physicians, and his theories still survive in Unani medicine today.

Islamic Influences on Herbal Medicine

With the fall of Rome in the fifth century, the centre of Classical learning shifted east and the study of Galenical medicine was focused in Constantinople and Persia. Galenism was adopted with enthusiasm by the Arabs, and merged with both folk beliefs and surviving Egyptian learning. It was this mixture of herbal ideas, practice and traditions that was re-imported into Europe with the invading Arab armies.

Probably the most important work of the time was the Kitab al Qanun, or Canon of Medicine, by Avicenna. This was based firmly on Galenical principles and by the 12th century had been translated into Latin and imported back to the west to become one of the leading textbooks in Western medical schools.

Monastic Influences on Herbal Medicine

The Christian monks of the sixth century enlarged the medicinal use of herbs, and even created many tools for the use of herbs. They became really the first homeopathic specialists and each monastery had a special herb garden from which plants were exchanged and traded between orders, thereby developing and improving the herbs. Some of today's great medical centers are direct descendants of these monastery gardens.

The Impact of Superstition

During this superstitious times immediately preceding the witch trials, many herbs were credited with mystical and magickal powers; it was believed that angelica, bay and garlic would protect the user against witchcraft, and bay had the added advantage of warding off infection. Caraway and coriander were used in love potions, while fennel was held in high regard by the Romans as it supposedly protected the user against venomous bites, made him strong, brave and encouraged long life. As well, there were herbs to guard against nightmares, some to deter vampires and many more to keep lovers faithful.

The history of herbology has been contributed to by a series of people and cultures. The use of herbs as medicines and magickal aides goes back to ancient times. It is not surprising, then, that today, they are still in widespread use.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Candle Crafting: Making Your Own Candles

Creating your own candles is satisfying, entertaining, and just a little time-consuming. However, it is most definitely worth the effort. This article will deal with the creation of mold-candles, those candles which begin their lives as melted wax and are set to harden within candle molds.

Required Materials for Making Candles

To begin you will require the following items, available at most hobby and craft supply shops:
  • candle wicking
  • candle molds (you can purchase these, or simply use household objects such as milk cartons, plastic bottles, or metal cans)
  • wick tins
  • wire rods (pencils can also work, but the rods are better)
  • double boiler (for melting your wax)
  • wax (paraffin or beeswax recommended; you can also use old crayons)
Preparing for Candle Crafting

Cut your wicks to fit the size of the mold, allowing at least one extra inch, preferably two, above the top of the mold. Place the end of the wick into the wick tin, and bend the tips of the tin down to hold the wick securely in place.

Place the wick tin, complete with wick, into the candle mold. Center the wick carefully, and tie it off with a loop (remember the extra length of wick?) through which you can thread your wire rod. The rod should rest across the candle mold, supporting the wick while pouring your wax. Generally, you’ll want to make sure you can remove the candle easily, so a little non-stick cooking spray is in order. This can be purchased at most grocery stores.

Creating the Candles

Now that your wick and mold are prepared, it’s time to melt your wax. Cut your wax into smaller pieces with a sharp knife and place them inside the double boiler. If you don’t have a double boiler, a large can in a pan of boiling water will suffice. NEVER melt your wax directly over the stove, as this could cause your wax to ignite.

If you would like your candles scented or colored, now is the time to do so. Colors are available wherever you purchase your candle supplies, in either oil-based or wax form. Either works well, though the wax will have to be shaved or chopped; you can also use a wax crayon, if you have some broken ones lying around. Scents are also available at most craft shops as oils, though I prefer to go to a New Age shop and purchase essential oils.

Whichever form of scent and color you choose, add it slowly and carefully. You want to judge carefully when you have enough. In the case of color, this is done by watching the wax as you add your colorant. When you reach the desired color, stop. Scent works much the same, but you want to be scenting the air just above your double boiler while you add your oil. You’ll get a good idea of what the candle will smell like when burning.

Now that your wax has been scented and colored, remove the double boiler from the heat. Very slowly, and with a great deal of care, pour the wax into the mold. Make sure you’ve protected the surface on which the mold sits, since hot wax can damage some surfaces. Allow the wax to solidify. Depending on the size of the candle, this may take several hours.

Once the wax has cooled, a little cavity may have formed on the top around the wick. Pour just enough melted wax into the cavity to provide a level surface for the candle. Remove the candle from the mold only after the wax has cooled and hardened completely. Your candle is now ready for burning.

Making candles allows for the personalization of color, scent, size, and wax type. Though it may take some time, it is more than worth it in the end.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Tips for the Safe Practice of Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy uses the power of the scents of essential oils to produce the desired results. While a fairly safe process, there are still some procedures that should be followed to ensure the safety and comfort of everyone involved.

The Handling of Essential Oils

Even oils which are considered benign, such as lavender, tea tree, sandalwood, and rose should be diluted before use on the skin because undiluted oils coming into contact with the skin may lead to sensitization and the inability to get the healing benefits of those oils when they are most needed. Undiluted oils may also cause harm to the body.

Essential oils are diluted using carrier oils. Carrier oils are referred to as such because they carry the essential oil onto the skin or into the product that they will be added to. Different carrier oils offer different properties and the choice of carrier oil can depend on the therapeutic benefit being sought. Carrier oils are generally cold-pressed vegetable oils from the fatty portions of the plant. Cold pressing means that no external heat has been used while the seed is being pressed.

Because people's associations with oils and scents vary, always smell the oil first before using it. If you have a negative reaction to the oil's scent, find an oil with similar properties that produces a more positive result. Because skin types and chemistries vary, you must watch carefully for adverse reactions. If one oil produces a rash, use a different oil.

Avoid using essential oils directly on or near the eyes or mucous membranes. Use whole milk or vegetable oil to help flush out any essential oil that might have splashed into the eye. Remember, essential oils are not soluble in water, so water is not the best medium for removing them. If problems persist, seek medical assistance as soon as possible.

The Storage of Essential Oils

Essential oils should be stored in a cool, dark place. This is so that the oils will stay fresh. Even though this helps to preserve the oils, when stored for extended lengths of time, essential oils will go rancid. It is best to purchase only what is immediately needed, and not expect an oil purchased in January to still be fresh in December. Generally, essential oils will stay fresh for three months, but the length of time varies from oil to oil.

These oils should be kept away from small children and pets, since they should not be used internally. Children and pets rarely understand this, so it’s better to be safe. If a child or pet does swallow an essential oil (of if you happen to drink it yourself), seek medical attention immediately.

Other Tips Regarding Essential Oils

Do not use the same essential oil every time, whether for skin application or inhalation. Rotate the essential oils to avoid becoming sensitized and to avoid overexposure to any one essential oil. You probably find yourself drawn to multiple oils, so interchange them often.

It is important to remember that just because essential oils are derived from plant products doesn’t mean that they are interchangeable with the herb they come from. The properties may be similar, but essential oils and herbs should absolutely not be interchanged.

When working with large amounts of essential oils, make sure there is adequate ventilation. Open up windows, put on the exhaust fan. This is especially important for practitioners, who will tend to be exposed to essential oil fumes more than the average individual.

Essential oils should be handled carefully, and with respect. Though generally not a hazard, some precautions should be taken simply to ensure everyone’s safety.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Use and Practice of Aromatherapy

The use of fragrance goes back thousands of years. Originally, people used herbs, and the oils derived from them, as a part of their spiritual or religious practices, and often as medicines. Fragrance is still used frequently today, and is most commonly found in the practice of aromatherapy.

Releasing the Scents of Herbs

It is relatively simple to burn the actual herbs themselves when using the herbs as incense. Simply light the appropriate herb on fire, or powder the herb and burn it on self-igniting coals. Either way, the scent of the herb is spread through the air. This is not generally considered aromatherapy.

It is also possible to release the scent of the herbs by pouring boiling water over them. This can be done to produce a tea, infusion, or steam inhalation. This is a gentler way of releasing the scents of herbs. While not aromatherapy in the strictest sense, this is still a valuable way to use the scents of herbs and flowers.

The use of essential oils is more complicated because one doesn’t just use the raw herb itself. In most instances, the ancient world's use of botanicals did not include the use of actual essential oils. Rather, many of the ancients used fats and oils infused with plant materials. Infused oils are not essential oils, though they are still a valuable way to release the scent of herbs.

Essential oils are oils produced directly from the herb itself. There are two main ways to do this — steam distillation and cold pressing. Both of these are difficult to do at home. Not only are the processes complex, but they require a great deal of plant material, usually more than most people have on hand. As an example, rose oil takes approximately 2000 pounds of rose petals. It's unlikely that you have 2000 pounds of rose petals sitting in your garage.

The Nature of Essential Oils

Essential oils themselves are found in various plant parts. Which plant part is used depends on the particular plant. Peppermint and patchouli oils are derived from their leaves and stems. Clove oil comes from flower buds. Jasmine and rose oils are derived from the open flowers. Essential oils are also derived from the seeds, wood, bark, roots, needles and skins of various plants.

Essential oils are less stable than fixed oils such as canola or olive oils. Since they are so much more volatile, they evaporate at a much faster rate. For this reason, they should not be left uncapped for any length of time. Always remember to seal your essential oils, even if you're only leaving them for a few minutes. You'll save oil, and so money, by capping your oils.

How are Essential Oils Used?

There are several ways in which essential oils may be used. They can be utilized for massage, inhalation, and bathing, to name just a few. How you use essential oils is mostly dependent upon your own preferences. In some cases, you will have to take allergies into consideration and remember to observe save aromatherapy practices.

There are many benefits to massage, including relaxation of the muscles and movement of the lymph fluids. Massage is probably the most popular way in which to use essential oils. Because they are so concentrated, they should be diluted in a carrier oil. The best carrier oils are sweet almond, jojoba, coconut, or olive. Grapeseed oil can also be used.

Inhalation of essential oils is a simple process. Special (and expensive) electronic aromatherapy diffusers will spread a scent throughout a room. A few drops of oil placed on a clay light-bulb diffuser will also do the job, and for a fraction of the price. You can also find 'melters.' These are designed to hold a tealight in the bottom while a glass or ceramic dish holds the oil above. As the candle warms the oil, the scent is carried on the air.

Using candles scented with essential oils can release the aromas into a room as the flame warms the wax, which in turn moves the fragrances into the air. Scenting the water in potpourri pots with essential oils is another way to gently freshen up a room. You could also toss essential oils into a fire for a quick burst of scent.

The use of a sprayer can disinfect or perfume a room very quickly. Fill a spray bottle with water and a dozen or so drops of the chosen oils. Shake the bottle and then spray. As essential oils do not actually mix with water, shake the bottle to blend it each time before spraying. Even putting a few drops of essential oil in a humidifier can help utilize the power of scent.

A few drops of an essential oil in bath water can do wonders for the mood. Bathing with essential oils gives both contact with the skin and inhalation of the scent as it rises from the water. Because essential oils are not soluble in water (they do not mix with water), it's best to add essential oils to a carrier oil before adding it to bath water. This helps to dilute the oil before bathing, reducing the chances of developing a rash from exposure to undiluted oils.

Essential oils can be hugely beneficial to the mind and soul. That their use is widespread throughout the world and is testament to their success.