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.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Ashling Wicca, Book Two

For those interested in a continuing study of Ashling Wicca, the second book in the series is available for purchase through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers. Just like with Ashling Wicca, Book One, there is an accompanying workbook that can be purchase in either paperback or ebook format.

From the back of the book:

This book, continuing where Ashling Wicca, Book One left off, takes the student even further into the mysteries of this wonderful tradition. Begin learning what it is that makes Ashling Wicca so beautiful. This book is the second of five in total and serves to bring the student deeper into Ashling Wicca. Lessons include both the practical and the theoretical. Because initiation into this tradition can only be acquired under the direction of a High Priest/ess of Ashling Wicca, this material is presented by an expert on the tradition, a woman who has been trained to teach Ashling Wicca to students of the Craft. Here you will find the information necessary to continue following the Ashling path.

From the back of the workbook:

This workbook, which is designed to complement Ashling Wicca, Book Two, will further deepen your understanding of the Ashling tradition. Full of tests, exercises, journal entries, and reflections, it can help you further grasp the material presented in the master book. It also provides various rituals vital to the practice of Ashling Wicca. This book should be used in conjunction with Ashling Wicca, Book Two. The units in each book are identical, allowing you to easily line up the written information from the master book with the tests and other materials in the workbook. Use both to begin an earnest study of the art of Ashling Wicca.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Herbology: Harvesting Your Herbs

Harvesting your herbs sounds like a simple matter. You walk up to the plant you're going to harvest, take out your bolline (or shears if you're not using a bolline) and harvest away. Right? Well, you could do that without any other considerations, but if you want to maximize the herb's effectiveness and minimize damage to the plant, there are a few things you might want to take into account.

First, don't just pluck the parts you want right off the plant. That actually damages the plant. Use a sharp blade (or sharp shears) and harvest in fluid motions. This will help keep the plant healthy so you can harvest it again and again. It also will result in better quality herbs for you.

The next thing you want to do is look at a calendar, one that indicates when the full and new moons fall. Why? Because the tops of herbs, the parts that grow above ground, are best harvested when the moon is full or when it is waxing (growing larger). The roots, the parts that grow below ground, are best harvested when the moon is new or when it is waning (growing smaller).

This doesn't mean you should harvest your herbs at night. Just the opposite. If you want to preserve the plant, harvest herbs during early morning hours. This will allow the sun to help heal the plant during the day. This does not apply if you're harvesting the entire herb, of course, because nothing will be left behind to heal.

If you want to get really complicated about it, you could determine the planetary ruler of each plant you plan to harvest, then look up the hour associated with that planet, but this isn't strictly necessary.

Leaving Offerings After Harvest

It is often natural instinct to leave something behind when we take something away, and this is a good thing. Usually. Unfortunately, many times those who harvest herbs will leave the wrong offerings. I've seen people leave bread, fruit, honey, and even wine as offerings. All of these things, as well as anything else that could be classified as 'human food', should absolutely be avoided. Food attracts bugs the plant may not have had to cope with before, and wine...let's just say herbs don't appreciate alcohol. It kills the roots in most cases, so don't pour wine as an offering.

So what can you leave as an offering? There are many ideas. If you're gathering your herbs in the wild, why not bring some plant food? You can get it in tiny little sticks that you can shove into the soil as your offering. Don't like that idea? Maybe some natural spring water to water the plants you're collecting from. Plants appreciate these things, and they won't attract bugs or kill the roots. These offerings also work for your outdoor garden.

For plants in your own home, you can get more creative. I'm assuming you take regular care of your plants, meaning they have food and water already. So an appropriate offering might be to add crystals to the soil of your potted plants. Use crystals with similar qualities to the herbs you're harvesting. Offerings of this sort will be well received and do no damage.

Harvesting your herbs is one of the more satisfying aspects of herbology. You finally get to hold the fruits of your labors in your hands. Just be mindful and respectful as you work and all should go well.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Herbology: Finding Your Herbs in the Wild

Gathering herbs from the wild (sometimes referred to as wild crafting) can be a fun and gratifying experience, but it is also fraught with dangers. Many perfectly benign plants look very similar to toxic ones. This is a defense mechanism, designed to keep animals from consuming them just in case they happen to be poisonous, but it also complicates our efforts to gather herbs in the wild. Get a high quality field manual, one that has great pictures and offers advice on telling the plants apart. And if you're not absolutely sure of what you've got, don't use it.

That being said, wild herbs such as sage and thyme are excellent in herbal recipes. You'll want to carefully pick the areas you harvest in, however. Stay away from highways, rivers that are polluted or have EPA warning issues against them, public parks, and farmland. Highways and polluted rivers are obviously not ideal. Too many chemicals involved to give you a decent product. When it comes to farmland, consider that most farms use pesticides and fertilizers to grow their crops. You never know when the chemicals were used, so they might be at their most potent when you collect your herbs.

Public parks are an interesting conundrum. In some cases, they're perfectly safe in regards to chemicals, but you may not be permitted to gather wild plants there. Many, if not most, public parks have rules against picking the flora, so it's generally best to find a forest, field, or other area that is not specifically designed as a public park. If you do want to gather on parkland, make sure that particular park allows you to harvest herbs before you gather up your supplies and set out.

The other problem you may encounter is gathering on private land. Not all fields and forests are fair game. Even if it looks like the field is abandoned, it could still be owned by someone. Herbs on private land belong to whoever owns the land. Sure, your neighbor might not mind if you gather the dill growing freely in his backyard, but I bet the farmer with a field of ginseng won't be as willing to part with a crop that makes him money. Ask first.

A further word of advice: don't collect mushrooms, no matter how good your guide is. My great-grandfather was an expert, and even he eventually picked a poisonous mushroom. He died the next day. Mushrooms are sneaky devils, so if you are using mushrooms in an herbal recipe, buy the mushrooms.

When you are gathering your herbs, you should make sure you have the correct supplies. You'll need something to cut the herbs since tearing damages the plants. You can use your bolline or a sharp pair of scissors. You'll also need something to carry herbs home in. Do not use plastic bags as these promote rot. Instead, get yourself a mesh bag, preferably one with several different pockets for different herbs. The mesh allows the air to pass freely around the herbs, keeping them from even starting to rot. They'll dry instead, which is a much better option.

If you keep the above in mind while you're searching for wild herbs, you should be well on your way towards gathering something worthwhile. For myself, I gather wild cedar, pine, willow, birch, and a few other trees. I also have access to wild sage and thyme, though I prefer to grow my own. You can choose which plant materials you'd like to grow, which you'd like to buy, and which you'd like to try gathering wild.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Herbology: The Benefits of Growing Your Own Herbs

Growing your own herbs is a fun and worthwhile exercise. A large full-service herb garden is the dream of many, but you can grow herbs anywhere. Even the smallest apartment usually has a little window where you can grow a few essentials. Planters can fit nicely onto balconies and there are some really cute items these days designed for growing plants on your table or even on a shelf. Work with your space to find a solution and you can have fresh herbs all year round.

Many people argue that they simply don't have time to grow their own herbs. These same people state that the dried herbs you buy at the grocery store are just as good as anything you can grow at home. This is actually an easy debate to settle. Let's start by addressing time. There's hardly any time commitment at all if you're only growing a few choice herbs in your window. You plant, water, occasionally add plant food, and harvest when you have a need. You don't do any actual work. The plant is the one that has to do all the growing. If you have a sunny window and a ready source of water, you can grow herbs.

The second part of the debate requires you to do a little sampling. Pick a fresh sprig of basil. If you don't have any growing at home (if you do, better yet) head to the nearest supermarket that stocks organic produce. Most of these stores will have a small selection of fresh herbs to choose from. Basil is usually among them. Place the fresh basil in your mouth and chew, savoring the taste. Rinse your mouth with water and chew on a few bits of dried basil. Notice the difference?

Fresh, healthy basil always tastes better than dried. Always. There is no exception to that. If you're going to use dried herbs, try and dry them yourself. At least then you'll know how old they are. With the packaged herbs, you really don't know when they were dried. Taste dwindles with age, so it makes sense that other properties might as well. It's entirely possible (and likely, giving the anecdotal evidence) that older herbs are less effective when it comes to healing. Fresh is better. Always.

Using fresh herbs will make a difference. If you're still not convinced, try a fresh apple from the tree. Or a tomato from your garden. Or just about anything you grow instead of buy at your supermarket. It will all taste better than anything packaged. If you really can't grow a certain herb yourself, check your local farmer's market. They have a lot of herbs that you probably won't.

Besides having a fresher product that will be more effective, growing some of your own herbs is relaxing and satisfying. You can also see exactly what you have left by glancing at the window. And if you've never had the scent of fresh basil, oregano, or thyme (my favorite is lemon thyme) wafting through your kitchen, you don't know what you're missing.

In the end, the greatest benefit of growing your own herbs might be that you have total control over the final product. You get to decide what soil you want, what plant food to use, whether or not to use pesticides (hint: don't use them), how to harvest, and how to dry or otherwise store the herbs you've gown. You get exactly what you put in, and that is a comforting thought.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Herbology: Aquiring Herbs and Oils

Once upon a time, long ago, back in the early 1990s, you couldn't just order exotic herbs over the Internet. Herbs had to be grown at home, or purchase from someone who did grow them at home, and oil had to be expressed or distilled if you couldn't find a local retailer. Today, however, you can order dried herbs, live herbs, or even their essential oils from a variety of reputable sources. This means today's practitioners have many more options. You can grow everything, purchase everything, or purchase only some things. It's really up to you.

Growing or Purchasing Herbs

Some people will tell you that you must grow and harvest your own herbs, but let's be realistic. I use over a hundred different herbs in my practice, and I live in an area where many of them simply will not grow. Yes, I can grow common ones such as basil, oregano, sage, rosemary, and thyme. I also grow lavender and lilac, and elm, pine, cedar, and willow are common in my area of the world. But some herbs just don't grow well here, or don't grow well for me. I've never had any luck with eyebright, for example, and cohosh of any variety just doesn't like me. Growing them all myself is just not practical.

So what are we to do? Well, growing your own is ideal, and herbs you grew and harvested are three times more effective than those you bought off a shelf (or from an Internet provider), but buying herbs is a fact of life for most of us. So choose no more than five or six plants to grow yourself. Pick easier ones such as basil or thyme. Lavender also grows well and has a variety of uses. I would also suggest sage and oregano, as all these herbs can also be used fresh in cooking. They also can all be grown in a window sill.

If you're lucky enough to live near a greenhouse that allows you to harvest your own herbs, check and see what they offer. You might be able to harvest rosemary, cohost, fennel, eyebright, and many others. You'll have to pay a fee, of course, but herbs you've harvested yourself (but that someone else has grown) are twice as effective as those you've purchased. It's also possible to collect herbs that grow natural, such as dandelion or willow, but collect only from pesticide-free areas. And make sure you know what you're collecting.

Finally, there will be herbs you need to purchase. I always purchase my belladonna and my eucalyptus, for example. Just make sure you're dealing with a reputable source, especially when ordering from the Internet. Looks for stores that have been in business for a decade (or close to it) and who have good reviews. Talk to people about where they get their herbs; you'll find the best sources that way. And remember that not all Internet shops can ship to your location. Herbs are often checked or even confiscated when crossing international borders, so go local (or at least within your own country) if at all possible.

Don't forget to check your local grocery store, especially in the organic area. You'd be surprised what the supermarket carries.

Acquiring Essential Oils

Finding quality oils can be tricky. Real essential oils are distilled or expressed from the most fragrant part of the plant. You can also find absolutes, which are similar to essential oils except they've been created with the assistance of a solvent. Some oils are labeled as 'essential oil' when they're really no more than a fragrant oil, and fragrant oils only smell like the real thing. They are not all that useful in herbology.

For the most part, real essential oils will come from India, Egypt, or one of the countries in that area. It is here where essential oils have been produced for thousands of years, and they've really go it down to a science. True, a local shop could produce their own oils, but it is so expensive to do so that most (if not all) can simply not afford it. Instead of going broke trying to produce their own oils, most shops will simply offer their own blends (or someone else's) at decent prices. The problem with this is that you don't really know what is actually in the oil. Most 'magickal oils' are nothing more than fragrant oils blended to smell nice. These are not essential oils.

Some oils will have the word 'essence' on the label, but will not actually say 'essential oil'. Beware of these. 'Essence' means scent, and usually they don't even smell all that great. Even if they do, they probably don't smell like the actual plant. Avoid these at all cost.

So where are you going to get essential oils? The truth is most Pagan or metaphysical shops don't stock them. It's not because they don't want to, but more because clients aren't buying. If a customer sees 5ml of rose oil for $15 at one shop, but can find 5ml for $3 down the street...you can guess where they go. Most don't know, or don't care, that the $15 oil is the useful stuff. Even metaphysical shops have to cater to their clientele, so unless you live in an area where there the customers actually want essential oils, your shop won't have them.

The good news is that they can absolutely be ordered from a variety of shops on the Internet. Check the reputations of the shops you find, make sure they ship to your country, and make absolutely sure the oils say 'essential oil'. Anything less is not worth your time.

One more word of warning: some plants don't have an essential oil, or even a fragrant oil. This is because some scents are entirely water-based, and as such don't have an oil form. This is especially true of strawberry, watermelon, and that newly mown grass smell people are so fond of. These oils are almost certainly synthetic. There's nothing wrong with using these oils for aromatherapy (and I do), but they are not appropriate when practicing herbology.

When growing or acquiring your herbs and oils, take the greatest care. Your plants should be of the upmost quality. If you can't grow a good plant, buy it, but make sure your source is giving you only the best.