Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Crystal Controversy

I'm a four planet Virgo, so one of the first things I was drawn to as a new pagan all those many years ago (is it really nearing 20 years!? Holy hell.) was crystals and gemstones. Herbs was first-- again, Virgo-- but crystals were not far behind. As taboo as this subject is in the more hardcore witch circles, I've never been ashamed to admit that I am drawn to pretty, shiny, chthonic things. I spent years carrying each stone with me, one at a time, and meticulously recording the results. I wore them, put them on my body, placed them under my pillow at night, meditated in circles of them, placed them in complicated grids, met them in dreams and trances... everything. Eventually, I did some not for profit crystal healing for others. I was still a teen and seriously considered doing this work for the rest of my life, but frustrations and concerns set in and I left crystal healing behind for good. I thought.

The subject has recently come back onto my radar, and I find my reasons for ignoring crystal healing falling on deaf ears. But I have this space, so I thought I'd type out my feelings on the subject as a sort of cathartic exercise for myself, even if no one is reading it. ;)

The first thing that made me reconsider my position as a crystal healer was the ethics of where and how the various crystals are collected, and we're not even talking about the obvious ivory, pearl, and coral here, which are probably harvested illegally. The subject of blood diamonds has gotten some attention recently, but these are by no means the only crystals which are harvested at the expense of other humans, animals, or ecosystems. Anytime there is a phenomenon that grows as rapidly as crystal healing has, there will be people who want so deperately to profit from it that they push the ethics envelope, and I want NO part of that. Sure, I can do my best to ensure that I only buy crystals from ethihcal, fair trade suppliers, but the overall problem left a bad taste in my mouth.

Then there is the misconception that crystal healing can do no harm. Go ahead and google it. See if you can't come up with at least a dozen sites proclaiming how "safe" crystal healing is. Oh look, I found one in about 2 seconds: "There aren't any bad side effects...". This illustrates perfectly a complete lack of understanding about healing in general. Let me give you an example.

At the point at which I was considering leaving crystal healing behind, I was approached by a woman in her 50's who had been treating herself with crystals. She'd been using hematite to relieve back pain from an old injury because she'd read or heard somewhere that hematite was useful for realigning the verterbrae, but the back pain was still getting progressively worse. What was she doing wrong? Well, she'd misunderstood the problem first and foremost. Back pain from an old wound is probably not caused by vertebral misalignment. It's more likely inflammation at the site and/or nerve pain. So this woman was treating the wrong thing. Second, she was using the wrong stone. In my experience, hematite aggravates inflammation, so the stone she was using was actually making her worse rather than making her better.

With herbalism, people are usually distinctly aware that some plants are poisonous, so they have a healthy dose of trepidation about treating themselves without doing at least a little bit of research. But with crystal healing, people will pick up any old stone and expect it to be all happy goodness and rainbows, no side effects at all (except for the good ones, of course). There are some safe crystals, just as there are safe, nourishing herbs, but you gotta do the damn research. Healing is healing. This means that you have to a.) understand a fair amount of human (or animal, if they're who you're treating) anatomy and physiology, b.) understand the characteristics of the healing medium you are working with and c.) be aware of the constitution and particular peculiarities of the specific patient you are working with.

Are you going to die from making a mistake with crystal healing? No, probably not, but that doesn't mean it's harmless. I don't mean for this to discourage anyone from seeking crystal therapy with an experienced, qualified healer, nor do I mean to disparage those who practice crystal therapy. I just wish that more people were willing to recognize that there are risks that come with ANY form of healing.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis)

Native sunflowers

Goldenrod is just beginning to bloom

Still a few blackberries hanging around

Spiral cornmeal offering

Friday, August 20, 2010

Book Review: The Transformation of Hera: A Study of Ritual, Hero, and the Goddess in the Iliad by Joan V. O'Brien

Let me apologize in advance for reveiwing a book that is no longer in print and is not available on the mighty Amazon. You may commence with the throwing of rotten tomatoes now. Thank you.

The Transformation of Hera is a scholarly consideration of the queen of the Olympians. While the title's subtext will tell you that the scope of the book is limited to her appearances in Homer's Iliad--and there is much use of the literary clues left behind in this work-- the author's research goes far more in depth than this. It reaches back to the pre-Hellenic worship of Hera to flesh out the usual shallow, shrewish description of the goddess through an etymological breakdown of her name and various epithets, archaeological clues left behind in her temples, statues, and artwork and the historical facts that can be gleaned about her worship. The research is substantial and well cited.

Overall, I found this book to be enjoyable and full of information. This is not light reading, so be prepared if you aren't used to scholarly works. There is definitely a feminist bias to the book, which may turn some readers off, but didn't seem overdone to me. I would recommend this book to Hellenic reconstructionists, devotees of Hera, and anyone interested in Greek mythology or goddess spirituality.

Personally, this book is indispensable to me as Hera has been my patron goddess since childhood. I have reams of notes on this book and always discover something new each time I pick it up again. It's one of those books that seems to confirm things about the goddess that I have felt intuitively for a long time. I often study as a form of devotion to my gods, and this is the book I choose when I need to devote some time to Hera.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hatin' on the Ancestors

One of the first things I did when the call came a few years ago to change up my practice was to set up a permanent altar to my ancestors. This has been an important, deeply changing practice for me, but it most certainly hasn't been without glitches.

As children, some of us are keenly sensitive to the dark, taboo subjects that exist within our families. Some are kept carefully and blissfully ignorant at least until such a time as our elders deem us old enough to be able to handle the shit that stains their pasts. I fall somewhere in the middle, aware that there were certain horrible facets of my family history but somewhat sheltered from hearing the knitty-gritty details of it all. I was kept far away from certain members of my family (though even that didn't protect me) and told just enough about why we had no contact with these people to make me wary if ever they should try to enter my life.

Now one of those people is preparing to die. In fact, he may be dead already. I'm not likely to know exactly when the event occurs because, you see, he is my maternal grandfather and, in this witch's ever so humble opinion, a complete fucking bastard. He is the man who held a gun to my grandmother's head while my very young mother watched. He is the reason that my mom grew up thinking it was normal to have a ladder outside your bedroom window to escape if Daddy ever came home. I had heard these stories as a child and have learned even harder truths about my mother's childhood since her death in 2001.

In a way, I can't wait to add his mug to my altar because it means he's dead and will never hurt anyone again.

On the other hand, I'll admit to some reluctance in "revering" his ass. He never hurt me. In fact, I only ever remember meeting him once. After my grandmother divorced him (in an era when divorce was unheard of and quite frowned upon), he remarried and almost completely severed all ties with his children. As far as I know, he only ever called when he needed money. My mother, despite being quite young when my grandma kicked his ass to the curb, was traumatized enough by her interactions with him that she had absolutely no desire to introduce him into my life. (Thanks, Mom!) Still, my love for my mom, my grandma, and other deceased members of my family make me feel the sting of disloyalty at honoring him in any way.

So I had to decide whether it was really appropriate to exclude good ole Grandad from the ancestor worship that I take so very seriously. In some cultures, only those relatives who were considered morally just and upright citizens are venerated after their death while in others the dead are all equal in their ability to create mischief or luck regardless of who or what they were in life so all are equally represented after death. Which way was I to go?

I decided to sit down and have a talk with Grandma and Mom to see what they had to say. In the end, it was decided that the old man's blood runs through my veins, and it is better to remember those whose lives we would wish not to emulate in order to learn from them than to whitewash a family's history and reject any lessons that have or could be learned from it. Besides, as Grandma pointed out, Hungarians believe that the dead can haunt this world for the first year after their death and so must be placated. We wouldn't want Grandad causin' trouble 'round here, now would we? Forgiveness may be something I will have to work at, but work I will. I will set a space for my douchebag of a grandfather and remind myself that my blue eyes, so beloved by my grandmother, come from him. I will remind myself that the man went through a war and was probably afflicted by PTSD in a time before it was recognized and that this probably affected his behavior. I refuse to make everything love and light, peace and joy with this man, but I won't dwell on the hate or feel guilty for placing the only picture I have of him, my grandparents' wedding picture, on my ancestors altar. It must be done.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Satan-Sent Familiar

While visiting your MIL you were requested to lock yourself in the upstairs bedroom while breastfeeding the baby (because heaven forbid your ADULT fucking FIL or ADULT fucking BIL, who doesn’t even live there anymore, might catch a partial passing glance of your filthy white breast!). Somehow the cat-who-refuses-human-contact inadvertently got locked in the bedroom with you, and as the sated babe turned her head from your breast, you were accosted by the feline who immediately went for your milk-moistened nipple. With visions of Satan-sent familiars dancing through your head, you quickly tossed the poor thing off before he could get a taste.

The in-laws did NOT find this story funny.

P.S.— It’s your own damn fault that you let them cow you into hiding while you nurse. Growing a fucking spine already.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


As Fate would have it, I did not get to celebrate Lammas ON Lammas. My wedding anniversary is July 28th, and since it’s pretty much the ONLY goddam time of year the husband and I get to go out by ourselves without children, I was not going to pass up the chance to go out on the 31st (when my MIL could finally babysit). Then on the 1st, I had to go to the ER with my eldest daughter (long story short: remember that link to the NPR story of the stronger, more virulent poison ivy? Yeah, my daughter decided to roll in it. The poison ivy, not the link.) which ended up shooting that day to shit. Then on the 2nd I whined and pissed and moaned about how things had been thrown off kilter and I just wasn’t going to do anything to celebrate this year.

But today. Today the kids were begging for their celebration. It was storming, and we all love to dance in the rain, so off to our little “secret” place we went. Yeah, it’s really an overgrown old quarry disguised as a public park. I played the part of Szepasszony, carefully removing my top to dance amid the storm clouds and weaving my spells into puddles. (Shhhh! Really, the kids don’t care that I was topless, you pervs. They’ve all received sustenance from the very breasts that were exposed.)

We looked for oats to harvest for oatstraw infusions, but none were found. Even though it was a pretty impromptu little festival, I was pretty disappointed. Then. THEN. I turned my rain slick torso to pluck my shirt from the nearby branch I’d draped it on and there HE was: a beautiful buck, staring right at us. MY god. The children went silent. We stared for awhile and then he sauntered on.

I wish I’d had my damn camera. The end.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I am in a stadium sort of building, only much smaller, more the size of a public theatre. Imagine a football stadium shrunk down and with white stone (not marble... I'm not sure what it is) in place of the turf. I am singularly focused on my part in the Work we are doing, intent crystal clear. There are three other witches flying with me in an up and down pattern, quick up with a slightly slower descent, around the ovate center of the building. One of them looks uncomfortably close to Stockard Channing, and with that realization the dream becomes lucid.

I look around, my focus scattered now that I realize just where I am. The stadium seats are filled with beings, human and not. I am suddenly uncomfortable and cannot remember exactly what it is I was supposed to be doing. Stockard Channing gives me what I recognize as the signal that we have reached peak power and need to release our intent, but I can't shake the feeling of dis-ease so my contribution is half-hearted at best.

Wake up, I plead. WAKE UP.

And I do.