Category Archives: Air

Tree Resins from Eastern North America: Harvesting, Crafting, and Incense Making

Jack Pine Resin - Abundant and Amazing smelling!

Jack Pine Resin – Abundant and Amazing smelling!  I harvested this locally.

Burning incenses, particularly the burning of tree resins, has been known throughout the millennia as a sacred activity. Incenses are offered to the spirits, the land, the gods, the ancestors as a way of seeking communion and blessing. Today, most people who are interested in “natural” incenses gravitate towards resin incenses for their lasting effect, delightful smells, and natural origins. Resin incenses are typically the dried sap from trees: trees may be scored or drip naturally and the sap hardens, creating the resin (like Frankincense, Myrrh, Benzoin, Copal).  Others might be dried liquid from trees or fruit (like Dragon’s blood). When you burn the resin on a charcoal block, you get billows of incredible, sweet smelling smoke. Tree resins have an extensive history certain parts of the world, and are often highly revered by the cultures that produce them. For example, when I was in Oman in April (for a professional/work trip), I was amazed to see the frankincense trees and experience the fresh frankincense firsthand. The Omani people see frankincense as a symbol of their culture–it is burned in many public places; ground up and drank in water, and much more!I’ve already listed some of the most common incenses you can purchase–and, like most things, they come from considerable distances and far away places.

 

It is sad, I think, that we don’t do more to honor or local trees that produce incredible resin incenses here in North America, particularly in the Eastern part of the US.  While it is little known, we actually have a large variety of fantastic ingredients for incense making! They are not commercially available or discussed, but they are present and available in the landscape. It is possible that this knowledge has been lost because the native peoples of these lands, those who had the knowledge, were driven off to other lands and/or killed as part of this colonization. I believe that we can relearn and integrate ourselves into our lands more fully–and part of that is the sacred tree knowledge that we hold.

 

Given this, for a good number of years, I have been working to develop local incense sources and locally-based spiritual supplies (see my post on making your own smudge sticks, for example).  And so, in today’s post, I’m going to explore tree resins local to the Eastern USA, particularly the midwest/north-east/mid-atlantic regions, and sharing how to find these resins, how to harvest them, what they smell like, and how to craft basic incenses.

 

What is resin and what tree resins work best?

Tree resins are the sticky and dried sap of trees. In my area, this primarily refers to the sticky and dried sap balls and drips you find on conifers. Conifer resins are not hard to find and are often abundant. Pines, in particular, produce really nice amounts of resin (especially if they have a limb removed/broken and/or are damaged in some way) and most of their resins have a piney/lemony smell.  Spruces also produce nice resins that are typically easy to harvest; the spruce resins are more musky than the pine resins. If you can find it (and this is by no means an easy task), Eastern Hemlock produces the most amazing resin (however, in my visits to thousands of hemlock trees, I’ve only really been able to collect or find resin from two of them). I haven’t yet had a chance to collect resin from the Larch/Tamarak (there are few in this area) so I can’t speak to that specific tree.

 

There are a few non-confier trees that also produce a resin.  Black Cherry produces a resin that hardens and appears a possible candidate  However, I have tried burning this and it doesn’t burn and doesn’t really smell good. But I suspect that some other trees or plants may produce a nice-smelling and nice-burning resin. If any readers know of other plants that produce a nice resin you can harvest–please share and I can update my list.

When and where do you harvest resin?

Spruce oozing from a cut wound - I woudl harvest the bottom drip only or what is on the bark, not from the wound itself (since that protects the tree)

Spruce oozing from a cut wound – I would harvest the bottom drip only or what is on the bark, not from the wound itself (since that protects the tree)

You can harvest conifer resin anytime of the year.  Tree sap flows most abundantly in the spring, and it will often be dried a bit by the fall. I actually like to do a lot of my resin harvesting in the late fall months when I’m starting to look for Chaga mushrooms–whatever resin flows happened that year, they are likely dried out a bit by then and the cold can sometimes make it easier to break off the resin. Although when everything freezes, its hard to harvest the incense in many cases. But most months of the year you can look for it and harvest it.

 

In terms of finding conifers to harvest from, you don’t need to go into the deep woods.  In fact, some trees that are at local parks or along the street produce really good resin because they are often trimmed or damaged.  These damaged trees will ooze from a wound.  The spruce in the photo to the right is along my street and I go past it on my walk to work–that’s how easy it can be to find.  You can also find large patches of conifers in local parks or in forests, and those are well worth your look.  Really, if you just keep your eyes open as you are out and about, you will find abundant supplies of resin.  Just be prepared to harvest it!

 

How do you harvest resin?

Tree resins start out in a fresh form–they are extremely sticky, gooey, and delightful.  Whatever you get them on, they will stay on (so if you harvest with a knife, that knife will likely have resin on it forever).  You can use the resin either in its fresh form, or you can wait for it to dry and crystallize.  I have harvested both and both have their uses (see recipes, below).

 

I typically have a special knife (ok, it is an old butter knife) I use to harvest resin and usually harvest it into plastic cups, small glass jars, or plastic bags.  The knife is pretty much used just for resin–resin is really hard to get off and clean of anything else (requires alcohol, not water). The plastic bags or jars keep it from sticking. If you end up having to clean your tools, you will need to use a high proof alcohol to do so (even rubbing alcohol can work); conifer resins do not clean up or extract in water.  If you are harvesting fresh resin, and put it in a plastic bag, it will never evaporate and turn crystallized; so if you want the crystal stuff, let it crystallize on a tree and/or harvest it into a cup and let it sit somewhere in the sun for a long time.

 

I put white pine sap in this nice ceramic bowl five years ago. It hardened fully about two years ago, and I am slowly scraping it out of here....not sure I will ever get the bowl back!

I put white pine sap in this nice ceramic bowl five years ago after finding it in abundance on a white pine that was cut down. It hardened fully about two years ago, and I am slowly scraping it out of here….not sure I will ever get the bowl fully clean!

You will need to be patient for the dried form of resin–if you see a tree freshly oozing, its probably necessary to come back in six months, a year, or more, and check it to see if it’s dry (how long it takes depends on the kind of tree). Usually, finding other trees around will allow you to harvest a bountiful amount of incense.

 

When harvesting, remember that tree resin is created when the tree is damaged: the resin essentially “seals” the wound of the tree.  Because of this, when you harvest resin, you want to only harvest from around and/or below the wound of the tree, not the wound itself.  For example, if a tree has had a limb removed, some trees (pines especially) will produce a mountain of resin to seal off the wound. I would not remove this resin, as it is protecting the inner part of the tree.  However, the tree could have produced so much resin that there is excess dripping down the side of the tree.  This is what I would harvest in abundance, as that is not actively sealing off a wound on the tree.  I hope this makes sense: we harvest carefully, and delicately, to ensure our tree brethren are not damaged in the process.

 

Some trees will also drip resin to the forest floor, which you can then scrape off of roots, lift off of the pine needles on the floor, or even pick up crystallized chunks.

 

Trees Producing Abundant Resin – List and Scent Descriptions

Here are some of the tree resins that I have harvested and my description of their smell. All of these trees are easy to find and abundant throughout the Eastern US and parts of Canada:

 

  • White Pine – White pine, the chief of standing people, produces the most amazing incense.  It can be found typically whenever the tree has been cut or broken (like limbs removed). It is a very sticky resin till it dries–and it can take a very long time to dry out (I have some that I have been drying out for 4 years now…it is still partially gooey).  The smell itself when burning is really divine: light, piney, with a hint of vanilla scent; when it burns it almost reminds me of how some whipped cream frosting smells.  I think this is one of my favorite of all conifer incenses and is well worth your time to harvest.

    Some of my many harvests of tree resin for incense making

    Some of my many harvests of tree resin for incense making

  • Jack Pine – Jack pine resin is a light colored, quickly crystallizing, extremely abundant resin (I have a photo of it at the opening of this article).  I had a spot in Michigan where tons of little jack pines were growing and I could easily collect a pint of it in about a half hour–it just crystallized all over the tree very quickly, was rarely sticky, and quite easy to harvest. In terms of smell, it has a very light aroma, piney with hints of lemon orange, very clean and excellent burning.
  • Red pine – Red Pine produces a lot less incense than some other trees, but it is well worth gathering.  Most of the time, I find small chunks of it on the trunk of certain trees because a little bug has burrowed in deep and the tree has responded by producing a chunk of incense (some of which can be removed or will remove itself by flaking and some of which should stay to protect the tree). The incense itself burns with a piney smell that includes almost an orange/cherry undertone. It is very light and refreshing.
  • Blue Spruce – Blue spruce resin can be harder to find, but it is well worth the effort.  It is usually found on the places where the tree is damaged (from being cut or trimmed, etc).  And when it is found, it is found in abundance.  It is an intense incense–it has a very skunky/musky, almost animalistic smell. Some people really like it and others do not–but I’d say, find some, harvest it and see what you think!
  • Norway  Spruce – Norway Spruce is another tree that produces a good amount of incense.  I have found that not all Norway Spruces smell the same.  They all have a  skunky/musky smell, which can be pleasant but very different than the pines, and slightly different than the Blue Spruce.  They often also have an undertone of slightly citrus, slightly floral.  Different trees produce different amounts of the “musky” quality, which can get quite strong in some trees.

Trees that Produce Little Resin

The above trees are my staples for tree resin incense, but I also want to share a few additional trees. These are trees that only produce a tiny amount of resin, but it is worth keeping your eyes open for:

 

  • Eastern Hemlock Resin – As my blog readers know, I very much adore and love the Eastern Hemlock Tree.  Of the thousands of hemlocks I have visited, I have found harvestable resin on only two of the trees. One had a huge gash from logging and had produced some dried resin that I could harvest without damaging; the other had a gash from debris along a riverbed. The broken branches do not produce any resin, nor do cut stumps.  So, if you can find it, it is well worth your time, but it it is incredibly elusive!  The incense itself is extremely light and refreshing with a hint of lemon; it has a very clean smell and smells awesome.  It is comparable to white pine resin, but with more of a lemon/cirtus smell.
  • Eastern White Cedar: Thuja Occidentalis does not like producing much resin at all, but if you can find it, it is really nice.  I have found tiny little beads of resin sometimes on older trees’ trunks and larger branches. The beads burn well and smell very cedar-like, which you would expect.  Because of the lack of abundance of resin, I often burn the needles of this tree (which pop and crackle for quite some time).
  • Juniper / Eastern Red Cedar: thus far, I have not found a juniper tree with any amount of incense to harvest (although I am keeping my eye out!).  However, I burn the berries of this (they smell really wonderful, a strong piney/floral scent) and they also smoulder nicely.  So they have some resinous qualities themselves.

 

Burning a small amount of red pine resin on a charcoal block in a censer

Burning a small amount of red pine resin on a charcoal block in a censer

Resins Not Recommended

I want to mention one other tree that produces resin, but that you don’t want to use–and that is Wild/Black Cherry.  Cherries do produce a resin that crystallizes and dries.  However, it doesn’t burn like a typical conifer resin (which smoulders nicely, producing billows of smoke as it boils and burns on the charcoal block); rather, it crackles and pops, it doesn’t want to burn, and when it burns, it kind of just smells like something is burning (dark, earthy smell).  You might be able to grind it up and use it with some other tree incenses, but I’m not sure I’d use it on it’s my own.  I’m still experimenting with it.

 

Making Incense from Fresh Resin: Incense Balls

You can make a really nice incense from fresh resin in the form of incense balls. Note that if you harvest resin sticky, and then you put it in a bag, it will remain sticky pretty much indefinitely because it is not exposed to air. If you don’t want it sticky, best to let it dry out on the tree for some months and/or years. Trust me.

 

But if you harvest it sticky, and you have a nice clump of it, you can make some great incense balls. Collect the fresh resin itself (I usually do this in an old bowl). Then, I add any other ingredients I would like that are dried and/or finely powdered to the resin: sage, rosemary, mugwort, and so on (you can see a list of my common ingredients that are local and useful in my smudge stick post for some ideas). Eventually, you will work enough plant matter in that the incense takes form. You can test out small amounts until you get a good smell (my favorite is fresh white pine resin with rosemary and sage powder). Form your balls (with your hands or gloves; your hands will need a very good cleaning afterwards–use alcohol). Then, give them a final “roll” in some kind of powder to avoid stickiness.  You can also wrap them up individually in a bit of wax paper.  But what I like to do, is let them sit out for a while (a month or so) and then the outsides will eventually dry out.

 

To use them, simply burn them on a charcoal block.  Different mixes obviously will make different blends–try testing out a few different combinations and seeing which ones you like the smell of best!

 

Making Incense from Dried/Crystallized Resin

The other way to work with the tree resins as incense is to harvest it after it has dried out.  Sometimes, you can find really nice dried piece of resin.  Most dried resins flake easily off of the tree and into your bag/jar.  I like to keep these incenses in a jar somewhere handy–they are beautiful and easy to use.  You might find that before burning them, you want to take a hammer and put them in a bag and mash them up a bit–otherwise, the chunks may be too large to be serviceable.

 

The easiest way to use this resin is simply to burn small chunks of it on a charcoal block in whatever amount you’d like.  Test a small amount first to see how much smoke you get.

 

The other way you can use it is to grind it up into a powder and add other ingredients (tree powders, powdered or finely chopped dried herbs, and the like).  You can see my incense on incense making for more information.  Any of the dried resins can be used in place of more traditional resin ingredients (frankincense, myrrh, etc).  As with all resins, they are not self-combustible, so you would be making again an incense to burn on a charcoal block.  If you used a LOT of woody matter and plant matter, and a tiny bit of resin, you might manage to make a combustible (self-burning) incense, but that’s a bit hard to get the balance right.  Some incense books (like Cunningham’s) use Saltpeter to get things to burn on their own–it is carcinogenic.  Use the charcoal block (non-self lighting).

 

Incense Papers

If you have access to really high proof alcohol (and by this I mean 95%/ 190 proof) another fun thing you can do is to extract the resin in the alcohol and make incense papers, which can be burned.  Essentially only alcohol will extract resins.

Grind up your resin (dried) or add your fresh (I find dried works better for this).  Cover it with your 190 proof alcohol (or as close to that as you can get).  Shake it every day or so, and let it sit at least two months.

The alcohol will extract the components of the resin and produce a resin tincture.

Then, you can drop a bit of this onto a sheet of paper (like Japanese rice paper or standard copy paper) and let the alcohol evaporate.  Then, burn the paper to get some of the scent! I am only starting to experiment with this, but the results are promising (I will probably post more on this in a future post, but wanted to share some initial thoughts here).

 

Energy and Tree Incense

One question you might have is: what spiritual or energetic qualities do these incenses hold?  For this, you need to go back and look at the specific tree.  Here’s a basic list:

  • Pines: Considered a “tree of peace” by some Native American tribes, it also represents longevity, life, immortality.  It can be burned for purification, healing work, and divination.  I see it as our “frankincense” and use it in pretty much the same way.
  • Spruces:  Considered a versatility tree that survives well in northern, cold environments; it can represent constancy, versatility, and determination.  I like to burn spruce for getting things going and keeping them going.
  • I have already covered Eastern Hemlock and Eastern White Cedar extensively already (and some of the other trees in this post will get the same extensive treatment).

Conclusion

I hope that you’ve found this post on making tree incenses helpful! I am also working on a post on local, natural incenses, but I suspect it will be some more time until I can present that to you!  I would love to hear from you about trees to add to this list. We don’t have many wild firs growing around here–would love to know what they smell like as well!  Blessings on this Lughanssadh weekend!

A Druid’s Primer on Land Healing, Part III: Understanding “Energy” and the Three Currents

An unfinished painting of mine detailing the three currents running through a tree

An in-progress painting of mine detailing the three currents running through a tree

This is the third post in my “Druid’s Primer on Land Healing.” The first two posts explored a framework for land healing, including physical and energetic approaches (in part I) and exploring the difference between “healing” and energetic alliterative care (part II). Now that we have some idea of the work ahead of us in terms of energetic land healing, and have fully explored the word “heal” and its various permutations, we’ll turn to the other term we are talking about, which is “energetic.” If we are going to work with “energy” to heal the land, its a good idea to know what energy we are talking about.  So, today’s post is the underlying energetic framework upon which the specific rituals and suggestions I’ll describe in upcoming posts are based: the three currents.

 

Understanding “energy”

The challenge with a lot of rituals and sacred activities that you find published today is that they may often give you the script to do the ritual, but not the underlying philosophies behind the ritual. You hear these nebulous statements like “I’m going to raise good energy for my garden” but you aren’t really sure more than that. What is the energy you are raising?  Where is it coming from and where is it going?  Why are you “raising” it? I think the work can be done intuitively, to some extent, but the lack of knowledge can be problematic in the sense that it prevents us from crafting and working with specific energies present and conceptualized.

 

The Three Currents

Understandings and concepts about the energy of the heavens and the earth, and the interaction between, are ancient.  Because I’m a druid working in the Druid Revival tradition, I’m drawing material from that tradition, specifically, theories present in the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA) with some additions of my own insights and experiences. And although the names and specific principles I’m presenting here are rooted in the Druid Revival, the concepts go much further back–Pennick and Devereux’s Lines Upon the Landscape’s final chapter, for example, details specific work with what we would call the Solar and Telluric currents connected to are  many ancient sites.  In terms of source material for this post, a great source for more information on the three currents can be found in two of John Michael Greer’s books: The Druidry Handbook and the Druid Magic Handbook.  In fact, a great deal of my discussion here is based on material JMG presents in the Druid Magic Handbook with my own additions and understandings as well as synthesis with other sources. And with that, let’s take a look at the currents.

 

Understanding “Energy”

When we say “energy” or “raising good energy” or “bringing down good energy”  what exactly do we mean? We’ll get to the “raising” or “bringing down” parts in a minute—but let’s start with the energy itself.  What we (usually) mean here is energy in the magical sense: the divine spark, the energy of life, the spirit in things, the creative inspiration flowing through all living beings—what we druids call nywfre (Noo-IV-ruh); this was described in my recent post. Other traditions have different names for nwyfre, including qi/ch’I (Chinese), ki (Japanese), prana (Hindu Yoga), ankh (ancient Egyptian) or the secret fire (Alchemy) (a more complete list can be found in JMG’s Druid Magic Handbook).  Nywfre isn’t the only kind of energy out there, but it is the kind of energy we likely want to be working with for healing purposes.  So I’m keeping my discussion focused primarily on that for today.

 

So this nywfre, this concept of energy, is found in many, many, many traditions throughout the world. Its interesting that mainstream American culture does not have a word for this term and so we end up using other terms that aren’t quite it, like “energy” or “lifeforce.” Most cultures recognize this nywfre (in whatever name) as a fundamental part of being human and inhabiting the world, and they recognize the need to work with it in various ways both within and without. Its only mainstream western culture that pretends such a thing doesn’t exist. We can see this ignorance reflected in the dominant theories of medicine in the west (compared to say, Chinese Traditional Medicine or Ayurveda).

 

This energy does not manifest out of nothing—instead, it comes from two primary sources: the the light within the heavens (the solar current), the light within the earth (the lunar current), and the synthesis of the two. And this has a real biological equivalent–the sun shines down, gives plants light and energy, which is stored. The plants grow from the rich earth with her nutrients and nourishment. We eat the plants, or the animals that eat them, and that sustains us. There’s a lot more to it than that, so let’s dig a bit deeper.

 

The solar current rising at sunrise

The solar current rising at sunrise

The Solar Current

The Solar current derives from the energy at the heart of the sun, radiating through space, and down to the earth. Solar energy, being directly tied to the sun, changes based on the position of the sun in the sky on a daily basis (energy is different at noon than it is at dusk, dawn, or midnight). It also changes based on where the sun is in the wheel of the year (the energy of the sun is different on June 21st, the summer solstice, than it is at the Fall Equinox in September or the Winter Solstice on Dec 21st.) Druids and other earth-based spiritual practitioners know this today, of course, and celebrate accordingly.  And yet, this is very ancient knowledge.  The position of the other planets in the solar system also matter–Greer notes that other planets in the solar system directly reflect the energy of the sun, so astrological influences can help us understand the current manifestation of the solar current at various present moments.  This is all to say that the solar energy is ever powerful, and ever changing, in our lives.

 

The solar current is magically associated with things in the sky: the heavens and birds: hawks, eagles, or herons—I found jays to be quite strong with regards to this current when I lived in Michigan. My rooster, Anasazi, was also able to work this current with incredible effectiveness—he was an extremely solar bird, calling up the sun each day, and held much power while the sun was out!   Additionally, certain plants also can draw and radiate solar energy quote effectively—Dandelion (dominant in the spring); St. John’s Wort (dominant in at midsummer), and goldenrod (dominant in the fall) are three such plants. You may recall my discussion of dandelions a few years back and how they summon the light back into the land in early spring. Sunflowers and sunchokes are other good choices as solar plants—the names themselves demonstrate their solar connection. A good magical herbal will describe all plants that are connected with the sun (look for one that covers astrology–even Culpepper’s herbal will do this). I will say this now and follow-up on it in my upcoming blog posts—we can use these plants, these solar plants, when we need to light up dark places (energetically) and focus the solar current’s healing light.  Spreading the seeds of these plants is a delightful way of doing physical land healing work.  Bees too, are strongly connected to the light of the sun–their bodies themselves reflect its coloring and light.

 

The solar current is “symbolically masculine” meaning that it embodies the principle of projection. This project quality helps us manifest action in the world: what accomplish, what we want to do, projects and activities—this is when we project our energy out into the world for projects, activities, healing, leadership, and more.  JMG indicates that the solar current may also be referred to as “aud” or “od” in magical writings or simply “the sun” in alchemy. It is also known as the “current of knowledge.”

 

We can see the solar current manifested differently in the world’s religions—Christianity, for example, is a very solar focused tradition (a quick image search of Jesus or Angels visually confirms this: the rays of heaven, god’s light shining down, even the halo of light around saint’s or Jesus’ head, and so on). In this tradition, the ultimate goal is to ascend away from the earth and into to heaven—a very solar focus. Another very solar tradition is the Golden Dawn, reflected in every aspect of ritual, including the name. Buddhism, likewise, focuses on achieving “higher levels” of consciousness and being—these are all solar in nature. Pretty much anytime that you hear things about ascension, the light of the sun, and so on, that’s the solar energy being connected to and being drawn upon. Part of the allure of these traditions, in some cases, is the idea of escapism—since the material earth is problematic and imperfect, we can ascend and go to more perfect realms. The problem with some of this thinking is that it separates the living earth from all things sacred or holy—I firmly believe that part of the reason that such pillaging of the planet is happening is because of the emphasis in dominant world religions on solar energy as the only sacred and meaningful energy.  The earth, then, is seen only as a resource worth taking from.

 

Sun at sunset

Sun at sunset

In humans, the solar current expresses itself by associations with the higher regions of the human body: a quest for knowledge, our reason, our imaginations, our will, our language and ability to abstract, our consciousness, our logic and so on. The solar is associated with the entire upper part of our bodies—particularly the chest, shoulders, and hands (hands as those are what manifest and work). Unbalanced solar energy in humans likewise typically in the higher parts of the human (the brain, the ego, etc.) with issues of puffed up egos, pride, being too rooted in one’s head, overly logical or disconnected, cults of personality, and the like. And of course, the words “higher” and “upper” have those “elevated” meanings–so the emphasis, and privileging of the solar currents are built into the very language we use ourselves.

 

The Telluric Current

The second current, the Telluric current, derives from the energy at the heart of the earth. The telluric current’s name comes from “Tellus,” a name for the ancient Roman goddess of the earth. She was also known as “terra mater” or Mother earth; later, this was a word in Latin “telluric” meaning “land, territory or earth.” These ancient connections, then, are present in the name itself, where the currents of the land, and the deity that represented such currents, were worshiped (a tradition found in many traditional cultures around the world).

 

This telluric energy starts at the center of the earth and rises up, through the layers of the stone and molten flows, through the groundwater and underwater aquifers, through the minerals and layers of fossils, and into the crust of the earth. It takes its shape from what is on the surface: plants, trees, roads, rivers, valleys, rivers, and so on. As JMG notes, it is powerfully affected by underground sources of water (aquifers); springs and wells that come up from the land have very strong concentrations of telluric energy. This helps explain both why sacred wells, throughout the ages, have been such an important part of spiritual traditions in many parts of the world–and why its so energizing to drink their water. This also explains why fracking, that which taints the underground waters themselves, is so horrifically bad from an energetic perspective and why understanding these currents is so useful for healing work.

 

As RJ Stewart notes in Earthlight, it is from the currents of the earth that the nutrients flow from the living earth into our bodies, regenerating them. It is from the telluric that you can find the light of transformation and regeneration. The telluric represents the dark places in the world, the energy found in caves and deep in the depths of our souls. The telluric enegy sometimes is about confronting the shadows within ourselves and realizing that those are part of us too. It is about lived experience—the act of being—rather than rationalizing and talking about. In Lines Upon the Landscape, Pennick and Devereux sum this up nicely when they write, “For us, the sense of traveling through a dark and elemental landscape, pregnant with magical and spiritual forces, is no longer experienced. We have separated ourselves from the land and live within our own abstractions” (246).  Take a minute to think about the word “dark” – in modern Western culture, it is immediately associated with evil (showing our strong solar bias).  But darkness can be a place of rest, of quietude, of inner learning and knowing.  It is as natural to this world as is the sun, and its wise to remember this!

 

Roots--strong in the telluric current

Roots–strong in the telluric current

As JMG suggests, the telluric current is symbolically feminine and is frequently represented by a snake or dragon (I’ve also personally seen it represented by other land dwelling creatures, such as salamanders, mice, or moles.) The telluric is the receptive principle, meaning that it is what comes to us, rather than what we go out and get—partially, receptivity can be seen as passive, but it can also be allowing your fate or experiences to be in the hand of another.  I’m sure all of us at points in our lives have had to just “go with the flow” rather than take control of a situation or life experience—that’s receptivity. JMG suggests the name for the telluric current is the “current of power” and its names in magical lore include “the dragon current” the “aub” or “ob” and the “secret fire.” It is about the hidden realms, those within us, and represented well in the tarot cards of both the High Priestess and the Empress.

 

There are fewer traditions that work primarily with the telluric currents—OBOD Druidry is one of them, with its emphasis on the light body exercise as a primary working (bringing the light of the earth up for cleansing and blessing). I’ll note that this is my own assessment of the OBOD work; I’m not sure that OBOD specifies it as such anywhere in the curriculum, but certainly that’s how we can classify its primary practice (and I’ll note with a caveat that its been a while since I finished the Druid grade!)  Another tradition that is fully telluric is work in the Underworld tradition (see R. J. Stewart’s line of books as an example). Many forms of shamanism, where the practitioner is going down into the depths of the earth or their own consciousness to seek allies and assistance is also telluric in nature. These traditions are frequently concerned with transforming the here and now, and seeing the earth as sacred, understanding the sacred soil upon which life depends. As R. J. Stewart suggests in his book Earthlight, “The Underworld tradition affirms that universal wisdom and regeneration are not found exclusively in heavily or ethereal dimensions, but also in the heart of the sacred land, the planet, within our mother earth. It also affirms that we are all, individually and collectively, responsible for the planet, and that in transforming ourselves we transform the world.”  (16).

 

In human beings, the telluric current is associated with the “lower” portions—and as JMG notes, these lower portions are not bad, they are as much a part of us as anything else: the belly, the hips, and the feet and the entire lower half of the human body—especially the womb. Human experiences associated with the telluric include passion, love, sexuality, and power. Unbalanced telluric energy usually shows up in its lower forms in humans, like hedonistic behavior, substance abuse, and so on.  If we think about the strong influence of Christianity (with its Solar-dominant practices), and the telluric current’s emphasis on worldly pleasures and sensuality, we can see why the Telluric current has such a bad rap.

 

Awakening the Lunar Current

Interplay of light and darkness on the landscape of Western PA

Interplay of light and darkness on the landscape of Western PA

A third current can be created by consciously bringing the solar current and the telluric current together—and this is the lunar current. I’ll quote JMG here, “When the lunar current awakens in an individual, it awakens the inner sense and unfolds into enlightenment. When it awakens in the land, it brings healing, fertility, and plenty” (p. 30). Magical lore, too, discusses this current as “aur” or “or” and it’s symbol is the crescent moon as well as the sacred cup/grail, the egg, the jewel (including in the Joseph Conrad sense), and the child.  This, of course, is where our idea of Nwyfre comes in–in at least one sense, nywfre flows through the awakening of this third current, the alchemical synthesis of the other two.

 

The lunar current also helps us resolve the binary created by the telluric and solar currents—it shows us that unification is possible and art of awakening the lunar current can be part of our healing arts in magical practice.  A lot of sacred rituals healing the land can be most effective in awakening this current–and we’ll explore those in more depth in upcoming posts, now that I have this groundwork laid.

 

A way to think about the lunar current being awakened within each human is from a teaching shared by my herbalism teacher and friend, Jim McDonald. Each human being can be seen like a light bulb (not one of those new compact fluorescent ones, but the older ones with the filaments, the ones that were common for decades in the US until recently). We all have our own inner light, the light of our souls. That light radiates outward in the form of the gifts we give the world, the good work we do, the love we share with others and the land. However, in daily living in industrialized society, through the experience of pain or carrying heavy burdens, our lightbulb gets dirty, clouded, splashed with the grease and grime. It’s the sorrow in our lives, it’s the grime of industrialization, the weight of everyday living, that dulls that lightbulb, sometimes, fully obscuring our light. Some people have their lightbulb so covered, its like they had the bulb dipped in black paint. We can use various meditation techniques, ritual, and herbs (like hawthorn, the plant Jim was sharing about in this particular “lightbulb” teaching) to clear the gunk off of our lightbulbs and bring light and healing back into our lives with the unification and awakening of the currents.

 

We can see ancient humans’ deep knowledge of the currents and their interaction reflected in the ancient ley lines upon the landscape—for example in Cuzco, Peru, which means “navel of the earth” had at its center, the Inca Temple of the Sun.  It was here that the Coricancha (the emperor) sat at the heart of the temple; radiating the light of the sun outward from this temple like a sunburst was a large web of straight lines reaching into the countryside (Pennick and Devereux, 251). On the other side of the world, we see the same principles at play in China, where the Chinese emperor sat on his throne in the center of the Imperial Palace (the “Purple Forbidden City”), centered on the imperial road and with gates leading outward to the four directions (Pennick and Devereux, 251). In these, and in other ancient civilizations, the rulers, associated with the sun or considering themselves as “sun gods” or “sons of heaven” radiated via these “transmission lines” to bring the solar energy down and radiate it outward to bless the manifestation of the telluric. The sun’s light, after all, does travel in a straight line. It was this king who unified these currents for the bounty and health of the land.

 

Knowledge of the currents, and practice working with them, are some of the first steps to doing powerful transformations within and without and engaging in the land healing work I am talking about in this series of posts.  We’ll continue to work with them over the next few posts, and think about how this understanding can be manifested in our inner and outer lives. Until then, I encourage readers to consider these concepts in meditation and reflection!

Making Smudge Sticks from Homegrown Plants and Wildharvested Materials: Step by Step Instructions with Cedar, Rosemary, Sage, Mugwort, and More!

 

 

I recently posted about my research on Eastern White Cedar, and I wanted to follow-up that post with information on making smudge sticks, inspired by Eastern White Cedar. Smudge sticks are bundles of herbs that are dried and burned for purification and ceremonial uses. They come out of Native American traditions, but today they are broadly used by many for their purification purposes.  I use them as a druid in my ceremonies, to bless and cleanse my house, to cleanse outdoor spaces that are in some kind of energetic funk.  But I also use them practically–as a blessing for my garden at the start of the growing season, as a way to remove hostile energies from my chickens who aren’t getting along, or to pass among friends before sharing a meal.  They are a great way to bring a bit of ceremony and the sacred into the everyday.

Freshly Wrapped Smudges

Freshly Wrapped Smudges

 

Why make your own smudges? Sustainability, Plant Ally Relationship Building, Intentions

Like many ritual objects,  smudges are often created, shipped, and encased in plastic without a clear sense of their origins or whether or not the plants were harvested in a sustainable way. This means, at minimum, that fossil fuels are expended to get them into your hands and waste is created in the packaging and processing.  As I’ve discussed on this blog before, with ritual objects and food and everything else, the objects we choose to use reflect the energies of their creation.  This means that if the sage was grown and harvested conventionally using chemicals that polluted the land, the sage carries those energies.  Do you want to use that for a sacred ceremony honoring the land? I really don’t think this point can be understated, even though its often overlooked.

 

There’s also the matter of developing close relationships with plants that grow in your bioregion and working with their energies. I have found that if I’m burning traditional smudge plants such as desert sage and incense cedar (plants don’t grow near me in Michigan), I think another kind of disconnection occurs–a disconnection with the local plants that might be grown or used for this purpose.  Anyone anywhere can burn desert sage that they purchased at a store–but what makes my region unique is that I can burn mullein or sweet clover in my smudges along with a more traditional sage. I want to honor the plants that grow here; I want to grow plants ceremonially for this purpose, and be involved in every aspect of the creation of an object used for sacred activity.  So given the reasons above, I’ve taken to making my own smudge sticks!

 

If you are crafting your own smudge sticks, you can develop them for specific purposes.  A mullein-sage-rosemary smudge for personal clearing would be different than a sage-sweetclover-cedar smudge for typical house cleansing or a juniper-lavender-mugwort smudge for good dreaming.  You can craft smudges that can be used for different purposes and craft them with intent.

 

Determining Energetic Qualities of Plants

Kittens are seriously into making smudges and lend a joyful energy to the process!

Kittens are seriously into making smudges and lend a joyful–if challenging–energy to the process!

I use a combination of readings on magical herbalism from the western tradition, traditional western herbalism, the doctrine of signatures, my own understandings/intuition, and my work with plant allies to decide what plants should go in what smudges.  Sometimes I craft smudges by intuition alone, and then have them ready to give a friend or use when I feel led.  Other times, I research the plants or put plants together that I know serve a specific purpose (like mugwort for travels or dreams).  The process here should be of your own design, and for that reason, I’m not giving you general “use this plant for this” because A) there’s a lot of that out there already; B) the plants don’t like to be put into such boxes; and C) many plants have multiple, varied uses.  Sage works for so much more than just purification, for example, but if you look it up, you’ll find it listed time and time again for purification and cleansing.  Yes, sage is great at that, but sage has other uses!  And furthermore, if you are using wildcrafted and local ingredients, there might *not* be a magical tradition surrounding that plant–but you still may feel led to use it.  That’s perfectly fine–you can let the plant spirit and your intuition guide your path.

 

Finding Local Plants for Your Smudges

In the next section, I’ll be talking about some of the plants that I use to make smudges.  These plants are local to my bioregion (zone 6A, South-eastern Michigan) so you may have to adapt this list.  If you aren’t sure if the plant in your bioregion would make a nice smudge, simply dry some out and burn it; with one caveat–I never burn noxious or poisonous plants, but plants I know are used for herbalism or food (e.g. do NOT EVER burn poison ivy or poison hemlock).  Use some common sense.  But if the plant already has uses as a medicinal herb, edible herb, or smoking herb, then its perfectly fine to see if you can use it for a smudge.  See how it smells, see how energetically it makes you feel. See if it smolders (smoldering plants, like mullein or sage, are particularly useful for smudges).  Pay attention to the conifer trees that grow nearby–chances are many of them burn nicely and smell good.

 

 

Plants that Can Go Into Smudges

Plants dried in the fall or fresh harvested in early December for Smudges

Plants dried in the fall or fresh harvested in early December for Smudges: yarrow, mugwort, sage, thyme, lavender, rosemary, white pine, juniper, eastern white cedar

 

1) Aromatic Cultivated herbs.  Aromatic herbs are one of my biggest categories of plants for crafting smudges–aromatic herbs are herbs that smell strongly when you rub them.  Many aromatic herbs make great additions to smudge sticks because they smell great and have good energetic qualities of clearing.  Be careful, however–not all aromatic herbs burn the way they smell–make sure you burn a bit before adding them into your smudges or you may be in for a surprise.  Mint and lemon balm are a good example of this–mint and lemon balm smell and taste amazing, unfortunately, neither burn with a pleasant smell.  Other aromatic herbs, like valerian, are extremely potent when burned (and are extremely potent in general) so you’ll want to use caution.  These are the aromatic herbs that I’ve found through incense making and trial and error work well:

 

  • Sage – White sage has the most distinct smell, but many sages smell wonderful.  Even garden sage burns with a pleasant aroma, pleasant but different than white sage.  I grow many different kinds of sages for my smudges.
  • Rosemary – Rosemary is another staple for smudges.  Interestingly enough, you can use both the root and the plant of rosemary–and they have different qualities.  The rosemary stalks burn wonderfully in a smudge.
  • Lavender – I like to include a quite bit of lavender in my smudges for both the pleasant aroma and the energetic qualities–it smells just wonderful when burned and is a powerful plant ally.
  • Sweet Grass – This does not grow around me, and thus far, my attempts to get any started from seed have been thwarted.  However, if you can grow or obtain some ethically, it is a wonderful addition for a lot of reasons (good smelling, honors the spirits).
  • Hyssop – An herb with ancient connections to purification work.  Hyssop smells wonderful.
  • Eucalyptus – Another herb for clearing work; its smolders nicely.  You have to plant this in my region–it doesn’t grow wild, but will grow to a nice size over the summer.
  • Valerian – I have used dried valerian flower stalks in my smudges primarily, although I suppose the roots would work as well (the roots would be even more potent).  Valerian is extremely potent as both a cleansing herb but also in smell–I would only use a little in a smudge, and that smudge would be typically reserved for clearing really nasty energies or hostile energies out (and I’d burn it with the windows open).
  • Bay leaf: I have also had luck with bay leaf as a smouldering herb.
Basket of freshly made smudges!

Basket of freshly made smudges (with small paper labels so I know what went into it)!

 

2) Wildharvested Aromatic and Medicinal Herbs:  In addition to those you can grow in your garden, I have found that a number of wildharvested herbs are wonderful for smudges.  I got most of the ideas for these when I was taking my four season herbalism course and we were talking about smoking blends.  If they work in a smoking blend and are safe for that, they can work great in a smudge as well!

  • Mugwort – Mugwort has a nice smell when burned (and its used in a lot of herbal smoking blends).  Mugwort is specifically tied to dreams and can produce very vivid dreaming.  While this is a good thing short term, do keep in mind that vivid dreams over a long period of time can exhaust you–so use mugwort with care, but definitely use it!  Mugwort also grows beautifully straight and tall, and really does do well in smudges.  A lot of people cultivate mugwort, but I find it wild growing everywhere around here.  I really love this plant.
  • Sweet Clover – This is my solution to the lack of sweet grass–sweet clover does not burn as sweetly, but energetically, it has similar qualities and a similar smell.  And it grows wild around here (and my bees adore it).
  • Mullein – Mullein leaves have a nice “smoldering” quality–they smolder in the same way that sage smolders.  They don’t smell nearly as nice, but the smoke itself does have a beneficial impact on the lungs and can, medicinally, be used for “clearing” out the lungs of toxins.  Follow me here–in Buddhist practice, the lungs are said to house grief.  I think, for a personal smudge stick where I was working to clear out some deep emotions and emotional recovery, I would most definitely put mullein in it
  • Yarrow: Yarrow is another herb I like to use a lot in my smudges for its energetic qualities; it smells a lot like itself when it burns due to the high volatile oil content.

 

2) Trees.  Traditionally, cedars (like incense cedar or red cedar) were used for smudges out west.  In my bioregion, I look primarily to the conifer for smudging possibilities (you can cut these and use them fresh):

  • Eastern Red Cedar/Juniper (Juniperus virginiana): This is a wonderfully aromatic plant with berries that also are used medicinally.  I love using juniper in my smudges–but it has little prickly bits, so use it carefully so that you don’t get stabbed.
  • Eastern White Cedar (Thuja Occidantalis):  Eastern White Cedar crackles and pops when it is freshly dry due to its high amount of volatile oils.  If you use the cedar branches when they are first dried, they smell wonderful but literally crackle and pop when you burn them due to all of the volatile oils—which is a bit of a fire hazard, but also can kind of be fun. However, if you hang the cedar in your house for a few months and let it dry out, the oils slowly dry out of the cedar and then you can make your smudge sticks. The sticks at this point will smoke beautifully.
  • White Pine (Pinus Strobus): I’m still experimenting with this as a smudge tree, but so far, I’m happy with the results and it burns with an almost vanilla-like smell.  Wonderful!
  • Staghorn sumac: You can make smudges with small clusters of berries and or collect and use the leaves after they have gone red in the fall.  Staghorn sumac has a very calming effect (I use it as an herbal smoke for my bees) and smolders nicely–plus, it is a beautiful red color that provides visual beauty in your smudge.  It has a fairly pleasant smoke (not very aromatic).

 

3) Flowers.  There is also a visual component to making a nice smudge stick, and I think this is where various wild flowers can lend a hand.  Most of the flowers don’t have a particularly strong smell when burned, but a bit of purple or yellow or white in your smudge can look absolutely beautiful (and add energetically to your smudge).  A visit to any flower field in the height of the summer will certainly give you much to work with.  You can also cultivate flowers like statice or baby’s breath which hold their beautify for long periods of time for your smudges (I would not buy these commercially as they are almost always sprayed with something you don’t want to make airborne).  I like using goldenrod, yarrow, and lavender in the later part of the season for this.

 

Step-by-Step Instructions for Making your Smudge

Now that we have some sense of what ingredients can be used in a smudge, the next step is gathering them and actually making the smudge!

 

Step 1: Gather Materials.  Go out and gather your materials–bring in your fresh conifer branches, your dried yarrow stalks, etc.  I have found that plants can be gathered and used fresh or dried, but the fresh ones take longer to dry out (and you want to make sure its not humid so that the inner ones don’t mold).  I typically make smudges in late fall after the frost has wilted the plants a bit and semi-dried them out (its a way to use up the last herbs of the season).

In addition to the herbs/plants, you’ll also need some cotton string (don’t use anything synthetic since you will be burning it) and some scissors.  If there is a kitten in the home you might want to keep her out of the room, as otherwise she will attack the herbs and strings as you try to make your smudges :).

 

Step 2: Set intentions. I like to create a sacred space for magical crafting prior to starting any such endeavor.  Different traditions would do this in different ways, of course, and you might just do something simple to setup your space. For my tradition, I open up a grove and then work in that grove.

 

Step 3: Start with some conifers.  I like to wrap conifers around the outside of the smudge (this is personal preference) and so I’ll lay out a bed of conifers first.  In the photo below, I’ve started this smudge with juniper (freshly cut that morning) and lavender (also cut that morning from outside in early December).

Lay out ingredients

Lay out ingredients

 

Step 4: Add additional ingredients, layering them.  To this smudge I’ve added some semi-dried out thyme from outside and some semi-dried out garden sage.

More ingredients!

More ingredients!

 

Step 5: Gather your ingredients up in one hand and loosely bunch them.  Cut a long piece of the string and begin wrapping your ingredients.

Gather and begin to wrap ingredients

Gather and begin to wrap ingredients

 

Step 6: Continue to wrap the ingredients.  If you wrap them too tight, the smudge may not burn (depending on what’s in it) so experiment with your herbs/plants and tightness.  I like to take my cotton string up and down the smudge twice, which helps hold it together a bit better than only one trip up and down. The photos below show different parts of the wrapping process.

Wrapping the smudge

Wrapping the smudge

Keep wrapping

Keep wrapping till you get to the top

 

Step 7: Tie your smudge off so that its secure.

Tie off

Tie off

 

Step 8: Once you’ve wrapped your smudge, you can trim it up a bit.  I trim both the ends and the little bits that stick out (they will have trouble burning).

Trimming smudge

Trimming smudge

My completed smudge!

My completed smudge!

 

Step 9: Allow your smudge to dry out 4-8 weeks (depending on what’s inside and how wet it was when you put it in there).  I like to use a wooden drying rack (I use this for a lot of of my herb drying); the rack was $3 at a yard sale!

Drying smudges on the top of my rack

Drying smudges on the top of my rack

 

I hope that you found the above information useful–if there are other plants I should add to my lists above, or plants that work well in your bioregion, please leave a comment!  Thank you, as always, for reading!

Herbal Remedies: Steam Inhilations for Sinus and Lung Issues

I just finished up my first weekend of Jim McDonald’s fabulous Four Season Herbal Intensive. We learned about the foundations of western herbalism and energetics (for a good introduction to this, Matthew Wood’s The Practice of Western Herbalism: Basic Doctrine, Energetics, and Classification).  I have much learning to do in this area–I’m overwhelmed with how much I still don’t know!

 

During the weekend of the class, I came down with some kind of nasal bug; it was exasperated by the presence of a dog which I turned out to have a pretty bad allergic reaction to.  One of the things that Jim mentioned in the course for a good home remedy for lung and nasal congestion was doing a simple herbal steam inhalation. He said that most aromatic herbs will work well for this, and cited his favorites as thyme and sage.

 

I decided to try out the steam inhalation this week to help get some of the crud out of the lungs and clear up the sinuses. I can’t believe how effective it was. I chose two herbs–garden sage (Salvia officinalis), as Jim recommended, dried and saved from my garden and mullein (also known as lamb’s ear, Verbascum thapsus) which is a herb that I use a lot for healing of the lungs. Mullen grows wild in many places–I’ll do a post devoted to it later in the year when I can take some good photos.  You want to make sure that these are herbs you have used before and that you know well.

Dried sage - beautiful smell and color

Dried sage – beautiful smell and color

Mullein from the jar

Mullein dried from last year!  I’ve already gone through a jar of this just this past winter.

The steam inhalation is very simple. You get a pot and put some water onto boil.  I use my filtered well water….if I had city water with chlorine, I’d probably buy distilled instead, because there is no way I want that in my lungs.

Get a lid for your pot, and bring your herbs and water to a boil.  The lid is important–most of the healing action of the herbs is in the volatile oils, which can escape through steam.  The volatile oils in the steam are exactly what we want, but not till we are ready for them!

Pot slightly cooling

Pot slightly cooling

As soon as the pot boils, remove it from the heat and get a towel ready. Be very careful because the steam is hot. I have found that waiting a few minutes before breathing it in is much more comfortable or you can stay a little further away from the pot. You put the towel over your head, drape the towel down around the pot,  lift the lid, and breathe in.  I think pictures illustrate this well.

Lift the lid off of the pot

Lift the lid off of the pot

Carefully put your head over the pot with the towel

Carefully put your head over the pot with the towel

And finally, when the steam is comfortable enough….

Put your towel fully over the pot and breathe in deeply

Put your towel fully over the pot and breathe in deeply

This worked AWESOMELY well.  My nasal passages are much improved, the sinus pressure has lessened, and the mullein did wonders on the nasty gunk in my lungs. I’ll do this several times each day until my lungs are clearer.  I’ll follow this up with regular doses of New England Aster (which I have been using to control my asthma) and will hopefully be much on the mend soon.

Shifting Worldviews: Three Books to Read on Sustainability & Druidry

I think that druids, and those of similar earth-centered paths, need to get really serious about sustainability. For what good is a spiritual tradition without the physical action that accompanies it? How can we revere the land while we take part in a society that systematically degrades that land in the name of “progress” and “growth”?   Towards that end, I propose that we take four steps towards a greater awareness and practice of our own impact on the planet.  We must begin to do the following:

  • Educate ourselves on the issues
  • Shift our worldview towards sustainability
  • Enact these principles in our own lives
  • Model these practices and teach others

 

The first step in this approach is, of course, educating oneself on the issues and understanding on a deep and meaningful level the connections. This past term, I taught an interdisciplinary research methods course with a sustainability theme.  Through teaching this course and talking with knowledgeable friends, I would like to recommend a triad of books that will help better understand issues of sustainability and their connection to druidry.  Here, in essence, are three books that I believe every one of us should read to better educate ourselves and shift our worldview:

 

Thinking in Systems

Thinking in Systems

Thinking in Systems by Donella H.Meadows

This was a book recommended to me by a friend, and it ended up being one of three core texts for my course. This book is not actually about sustainability on the surface, but about systems theory, or the theory of the relationships between elements in a systems.  One of the problems that we have as a culture is that we don’t currently think in systems. We don’t understand the relationship of human activity to the larger ecosystem–we see these relationships as linear, rather than cyclical.  We think that when we buy something, it comes out of nowhere and when we throw it away it goes away.  We think that our actions don’t have consequences, or that our actions are so small that they don’t matter.

A systems perspective helps us understand these relationships and–this is critical–intervene in existing systems to build more sustainable practices.  While this book is a fairly technical introduction to systems theory, it also provides you with a framework or paradigm, a way of seeing the world and for that it is invaluable.  I see it as a foundational text–one necessary to learn anything else about sustainability.  After you finish reading this book, you will see the world in a new way, and that new approach can help you personally as well as the world at large.

Quotes from Thinking in Systems:

  • “To ask whether elements, interconnections, or purposes are most important in a system is to ask an unsystematic question.  All are essential.  All interact. All have their roles.  But the least obvious part of the system, its function or purpose, is often the most crucial determinant of the system’s behavior. Interconnections are also critically important. Changing relationships usually changes system behavior” (p. 17)
  • “Living successfully in the world of systems requires more of us than our ability to calculate.  It requires our full humanity—our rationality, our ability to sort out truth from falsehood, our intuition, our compassion, our vision, and or morality” (p. 170)

I should also mention that a systems approach is used in the last two books I recommend, so this is really a wonderful read and place to get started.

 

The Limits to Growth

The Limits to Growth

The Limits to Growth (30 Year Update) by Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, and Jorgen Randers

One of the challenges that we face in our society is a lot of misinformation and not being able to see the big picture of what human activity is actually doing (or, at worst, flat out denial about our own impact on the planet).  I blogged about this a while ago using a rhetorical theory, stasis theory, to show the breakdown in communication.

The basic premise of the Limits to Growth is simple–humanity, particularly humans in the western world, have been working under a “growth at all costs” model and that growth comes with both costs (environmental, social, etc.) and that growth is limited based on the material resources of our planet.  (Consequentially, another book I’d recommend that delves into the economics of material/natural resources is John Michael Greer’s The Wealth of Nature which is a wonderful read).

The Limits to Growth (30 year update)is, honestly, one of the most challenging books I have read in a while. Not because its a difficult read from an intellectual standpoint–in fact, the prose is quite clear and although they are using extensive data and mathematical models, they are presented in a clear and understandable format. No, its a difficult read because, by the 3rd chapter, when you read about the massive amounts of ways in which humans have pushed the earth beyond its capacity and the mathematical models predicting different “growth” scenarios, the enormity of the problem that we have on our hands is overwhelming.  We hear a lot about the environmental challenges in our world–but seeing them presented in a data-rich format, one after another, is something else entirely.  This book provides a planet-wide view of the problems with growth, the limits to our world’s ability to handle our destructive behavior, and suggestions for intervention and change.  I think if every person read this book with an open mind, we’d wake up to a radically different reality.

Quotes from The Limits to Growth:

  • “Can we move nations and people in the direction of sustainability? Such a move would be a modification of society comparable in scale to only two other changes: the Agricultural Revolution of the late Neolithic and the Industrial revolution of the past two centuries.  Those revolutions were gradual, spontaneous, and large unconscious.  This one will have to be a fully conscious operation, guided by the best foresight that science can provide….If we actually do it, the undertaking will be absolutely unique in humanity’s stay on the earth.”  — William D. Ruckelshaus (as quoted in Limits to Growth, pg 265)
  • “Systems strongly resist changes in their informational flows, especially in their rules and goals.  It is not surprising that those who will benefit from the current system actively oppose such a revision. Entrenched political, economic, and religious cliques can constrain almost entirely the attempts of an individual or small group to operate by different rules or to attain goals different from those sanctioned by the system.  Innovators can be ignored, marginalized, ridiculed, denied promotions or resources or public voices.  They can be literally or figuratively snuffed out. Only innovators, however—by perceiving the need for new information ,rules, and goals, communicating about them, trying them out—can make the changes that transform systems” (270)
  • ““Like the previous revolutions, the sustainability revolution will take centuries to unfold fully—though it s already under way.” (269)

 

Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth

Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth

Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth: An Introduction to Spiritual Ecology by John Michael Greer

One of the problems I’ve noticed with many of the earth-centered paths, druidry included, is that most people are more interested in the magical aspects than earth-centered, sustainable living. That is, druids seem dedicated to celebrating the turning of the wheel and embracing the earth through magical means, but still do not take the steps to truly enact sustainable living practices in their daily lives (obviously, I take issue with this, which is one of many reasons I write this blog).

Enter John Michael Greer, the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America (of which I have been a member for almost seven years).  Greer certainly does his fair share of quality writing about druid magical traditions (see his Druidry Handbook, Druid Magic Handbook as two excellent examples). But Greer also writes on a host of other subjects, such as Peak Oil, and this has given him a unique perspective on the practical applications of druidry in terms of sustainability and making the transition to a post-industrial world.

Greer has done druidry and other earth-based spiritual paths a serious service in writing his new book, Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth.  This is because he is able to expertly combine many of the theories and insights from the sustainability movement into a mystery / earth-based spiritual tradition.  After reading Thinking in Systems and The Limits to Growth, I was left with lots of questions, not the least of which, “What insight can druids provide to the conversation of sustainability?” Greer provides one such answer.  Greer’s book examines seven principles within the mystery tradition, or ancient guidelines that have been, as Greer suggests, highly abused in recent times. By tying these ancient mysteries with insights into the living earth (which includes a healthy dose of systems theory) Greer provides us with spiritual insights that are transformative. The principles are simple and yet profound–understanding them takes but moments, enacting them will take a lifetime. I like this book so much because it gives me, as a druid and as someone seeking to constantly become more sustainable in my own life, spiritual principles that align with that goal.  It connects the dots between two conversations that don’t always align.

To give you a sense of this (and how nicely this book ties into my other two suggestions) here is the first principle, the Law of Wholeness, “Everything that exists is part of a whole system and depends on the health of that whole system for its own existence.  It thrives only if the whole system thrives, and it cannot harm the whole system without harming itself” (p. 21)  Reading this principle takes but a moment of time, but really truly understanding it may require a lifetime of meditation, study, observation, and action.  In addition to presenting his principles, Greer expertly describes the principles in terms of the natural world using metaphors and examples.   I will write no more here of the content, because one of the best parts of the book is the discovery as you move through it.

I hope that you will give these three books a serious read.  They have really helped me develop a deeper understanding–both physically and spiritually–of my role, as a druid in transitioning to a more sustainable, earth-centered world.

Incense Recipies for Druids and those doing Druidic Studies

Extruding Incense sticks

Extruding Incense sticks

Incenses for Druids

The following recopies are most appropriate for druidic work, or those engaging in reading, study, grove leading, serious ritual work, or other work.  I also have posted an introduction to incense making as well as recipes for bards and ovates.

 

I suggest growing and/or wildharvesting as much of your ingredients as you possibly can (ethically, of course). This allows not only for more sustainable incense making, but also for you to work with the energies of the plants throughout the process.  See my previous post for more information. These recipes were created by myself and members of Crescent Birch Grove; some of them were adapted from other sources (as noted) and the rest are fully original creations.  I hope you enjoy!

 

Notes: Cone/stick incenses form a incense clay that you can then shape into cones, sticks, spirals etc.  They need about a week to two weeks of drying time before you use them.  If your incense doesn’t burn, or won’t stay burning after lit, it needs more woody materials (base materials).  Please see my earlier post for more details.  Powder incenses must be burnt on a charcoal block; they will not burn by themselves.

 

 Incense for Intellectual Purposes

An incense for reading, writing, focus, and serious study.

  • 1/2 part sassafras root (dried and ground) (success)
  • 1 part juniper berries (strength, fire, will, communication)
  • 1 part sage (air, communication, intellectual freedom, wisdom)
  • 2 parts benzoin (air)
  • 1 part frankincense (courage, focus)
  • Orange essential oil (several drops, to your preference) (physical energy, purification)

Grind up all ingredients and add essential oil last.

 

Druid Grove Incense (powder)

An energy-raising incense appropriate for grove work.

  • 4 parts frankincense
  • 4 parts myrrh
  • 2 parts benzoin
  • 1 part sandalwood
  • ½ part cinnamon
  • ½ part rosemary
  • ½ part bay
  • ½ part yarrow or vervain
  • ½ part white willow

 

Focus Incense (Cone/Stick)

For clearing the mind, grounding, and focusing for various activities. This is really nice for reading and study as well as discursive meditation

  • ½ part vanilla essential oil (empowering, mental powers)
  • ½ part violet (peace, protection)
  • ½ part lavenar (peace, purification)
  • ½ part Cedar (removing negativity, spirituality)
  • ½ part Vervain (grounding, earth-based for calming)
  • 4 parts Makko (binder/base)  (you can use 4 parts cedar + 1 part guar gum if you don’t have Makko)
  • Use vanilla brandy to put it together if you have it, if not, water will work fine (water)

 

Unblocking Incense (powder)

Incense to unblock you and get you moving forward.

  • 1 part pine resin (I use scotts pine I gather locally)
  • 1 part benzoin
  • 2 parts dragon’s blood resin
  • 3 drops sweet orange essential oil (1 part = 1 teaspoon, add more if you are using a larger part measure)
  • 1 part frankincense
  • 1 part cedar

 

Honoring Spirits and Guides Incense (Cone/Stick)

This incense was formulated for regular burning in honor of spirit guides and spirits of the land. 

  • 6 parts sandalwood (spirituality)
  • 1 part lavender (raise and summon spirits)
  • 1 part thyme (for nature spirits)
  • 1 part sassafras bark (for connection to the land; substitute bark appropriate for your area)
  • 1 part frankincense (offering itself)
  • 1 pinch agrimony (druid herb, protection for spirits)
  • 1 part guar gum (binder)
  • Ritual water for binding (should be water that has been consecrated or used in a ritual space.  Our grove has a yearly Imbloc ritual that combines waters, so we usually make our incense from this water).

 

Mixing cone incenase

Mixing cone incense

Wealth of Vision Incense (powder)

For seeing in multiple ways and on multiple realms.

  • 3 parts red cedar
  • 2 parts cinnamon
  • 3 parts eyebright
  • 2 parts mugwort
  • 2 parts lemongrass
  • 2 parts dandelion
  • 2 parts orange peel
  • 2 parts sandalwood
  • 12 drops apple blossom essential oil (assuming 1 teaspoon = 1 part)

Incense Recipies for Ovates and those doing Ovate Studies

Incenses for Ovates

The following recopies are most appropriate for ovate work, or those engaging in divination, mysteries, and other spiritual pursuits.  I also have posted an introduction to incense making as well as recipes for bards and druids.

I suggest growing and/or wildharvesting as much of your ingredients as you possibly can (ethically, of course). This allows not only for more sustainable incense making, but also for you to work with the energies of the plants throughout the process.  See my previous post for more information. These recipes were created by myself and members of my grove; some of them were adapted from other sources (as noted) and the rest are fully original creations.  I hope you enjoy!

Notes: Cone/stick incenses form a incense clay that you can then shape into cones, sticks, spirals etc.  They need about a week to two weeks of drying time before you use them.  If your incense doesn’t burn, or won’t stay burning after lit, it needs more woody materials (base materials).  Please see my earlier post for more details.  Powder incenses must be burnt on a charcoal block; they will not burn by themselves.

 

Incense in progress

Incense in progress

Tree Divination (Ovate) Recipe (Powder)
This is a recipe I created for use with the Tarot of Trees. Its also an all around wonderful smelling and working for any kind of divination or psychic work.

  • 1 part frankincense (powdered)
  • 1 part red sandalwood (powdered)
  • 1 part cinnamon
  • 1 part crushed juniper berries
  • 1/10th part sweet orange essential oil (or to your scent preference)
  • ½ part lemongrass (or less)
  • ½ part yarrow (or less)

Powder the frankincense and juniper berries separately first. Resins are tricky to powder–a circular motion works best.  Juniper berry likewise can be tricky–sticking it in the freezer for about 20 min makes it way easier to make smaller – it doesn’t really ever “powder” completely.  Once you have those two ingredients prepared, add the rest of the ingredients except the essential oil.  Add the oil after the rest and grind well.  Best made around Beltane or Samhuinn, as this is when the veil between the worlds is the thinnest.

 

Tree Divination (Cone Incense)

This is a very similar recipe to the one above, but this one is combustible, so it burns on its own and does not need a charcoal block.

  • 1/8 part yarrow – powdered
  • ¼ part lemongrass powder
  • 1 part frankincense
  • 2 parts sandalwood powder
  • Tiny bit of sweet orange oil
  • ½ part pine resin
  • 8 parts Makko (can replace with 1 part gwar gum and increase sandalwood powder to 6 parts)

 

Spirit Guide Incense

An incense for working with and honoring spirit guides and totem animals.

  • 3 parts frankincense
  • 2 parts sandalwood
  • 1 part pine/conifer resin
  • 2 parts sweetgrass
  • 1 part sage
  • 1 part pine needles (white pine works well)
  • ½ part white willow
  • ½ part sassafras root
  • 1 part cedar
  • 1 part lemongrass
  • 1 part lavender essential oil

 

Healing Incense #1 (cone/stick)

An incense that Reiki Master Briel created for use with Reiki healing sessions.

  • 7 parts sandalwood
  • 1 part myrrh
  • 1 part Juniper Berry
  • 1/3 part peppermint
  • 1 part guar gum binder
  • 6 parts water (preferably rain water)

 

Dreaming of What May Come Incense (Powder)

To encourage prophetic dreams.

  • 1 part mugwort
  • 1 part hyssop
  • 1 part canadula flower / marigold
  • 3 parts osha root
  • 3 parts dragon blood
  • 3 drops lavender
  • 7 drops orange oil

Based on a ½ teaspoon part (for oils).

 

Earth Liberation and Happy Trees Incense

This incense was formulated to burn to help lift sadness and anger from the land; to replace it with peace and happiness. 

  • 4 parts sandalwood – protection, wishes, healing
  • 2 parts lavender oil – when mixed with sandalwood, used to conjure good spirits
  • 3 parts cinnamon – healing
  • Pinch vervain – protection, purification, peace, healing
  • Pinch daisy – happy spirits
  • Pinch Thyme
  • 2 parts red amber powder
  • 1 pinch diamana
  • 1 pinch hibiscus
  • 2 parts dragon’s blood
  • 4 parts makko (or replace with 1 part guar gum, 3 parts sandalwood)

 

Red Moon Incense (Incense for Women’s Magical Work)

Created for some wonderful women in my life!

  • 3 parts sandalwood – moon energies, spirituality, meditation, protection, wishes
  • 1 part frankenscense – spirituality and meditation
  • 2 parts cedar – enhances spirituality
  • 1 part myrrh – healing, enhancing spirituality, meditation
  • ¼ part milkweed – draws moon, faeries, protection, dreams, divination
  • ½ part anise – protection purification, call forth spirits to aid in magical operations
  • 1 part ginger (powdered)
  • ¼ part eyebright
  • 1 part guar gum
  • Wine for mixing it up? (This made it smell weird, so maybe its not for everyone).

Ancestor Incense

For communing or working with your ancestors.

  • Graveyard pine or Yew (pinch); (e.g. some confier gathered in a graveyard or other sacred space where the spirits may be near)
  • Cedar  – ½ part
  • Mistletoe – pinch
  • Sandalwood – 1 part
  • Orange Peel – ½ part
  • Copal – 1 part
  • Lavender – ½ part

Healing the Sick Incense (powder)

An incense for healing the sick or purging oneself of illness.

  • 2 parts rosemary – sleep, purification, healing, protection
  • 2 parts osha root – healing
  • 1 part sweetgrass – call positive spirits
  • ½ part juniper
  • Orange oil (to scent level you desire)

Incense Recipies for Bards and Bardic Studies

About a year ago, I posted some general guidelines for how to make incense.  This post describes incense recipes for those studying bardic courses or engaging in bardic activity.  I suggest growing and/or wildharvesting as much of your ingredients as you possibly can (ethically, of course). This allows not only for more sustainable incense making, but also for you to work with the energies of the plants throughout the process.  See my previous post for more information. My next three posts will provide incense recipes for bards, ovates, and druids, as well as some other miscellaneous stuff.  These recipes were created by myself and members of my grove; some of them were adapted from other sources (as noted) and the rest are fully original creations.  I hope you enjoy!

Notes: Cone/stick incenses form a incense clay that you can then shape into cones, sticks, spirals etc.  They need about a week of drying time before you use them.  If your incense doesn’t burn, or won’t stay burning after lit, it needs more woody materials (base materials).  Please see my earlier post for more details.  Powder incenses must be burnt on a charcoal block; they will not burn by themselves.

 

Elemental Balance Recipe (Cone/stick)

A woody and calming incense; one that provides balance and strength.

  • 10 parts Cedar (Fire); Woody base
  • 6 parts Sandalwood (Water); Woody base
  • 1 part Honeysuckle (Earth); aromatic
  • ½ part lemongrass essential oil (Air); aromatic

To bind:

  • 1 part Guar Gum (Binder) (Guar Gum can be purchased through a health food store)
  • Water to make the incense into a firm dough

Powder all ingredients very, very finely, adding the oil at the very end of the grinding process.  Once all ingredients are ready, you can add Guar Gum, mixing well. Add enough water to create a firm dough–if you use too much water, you can add more cedar or sandalwood powder.  Once your dough resembles play-dough or sculpey, you can roll out and cut, or shape into small incense cones/blocks/sticks.  Allow it to dry for 1 week and then store in a nice container with a piece of quartz.  Quartz represents creativity and spirit!

Elemental balance!  (Image from my Tarot of Trees, www.tarotoftrees.com)

Elemental balance! (Image from my Tarot of Trees, http://www.tarotoftrees.com)

Awen (Creativity) Incense #1 (Powder)

This incense calls forth the Awen within.

  • ½ part sweetgrass (call spirit helpers)
  • ½ part cinnamon (success, power, passion, empowering)
  • 1 part vanilla
  • 1 part powdered/dried ginger (fire, passion, personal growth)
  • 2 parts frankincense (fire, clairvoyance/clear sight, good luck, success, transformation, inspiration)
  • ½ part yarrow (earth, bringing things forth)

Mix all ingredients in a mortar and pestle and then burn on a charcoal block.

Inspiration Awen Incense #2 (honey nugget, needs charcoal block)

This incense uses honey as a binder.  It has a longer “wait time” until it is usable (several months) and it is burnt on a charcoal block.  But once you wait, it’s a wonderful, wonderful incense for artistic pursuits!

  • 8 parts cedar
  • ½ part clove (powder works better) (creativity)
  • ½ part almond (creativity)
  • 4 parts frankincense (uplifting, higher realm connections)
  • ½ part mistletoe (creativity, fertility)
  • ½  part rose hips or petals (creativity)
  • Enough honey to make it stick together

Mix all ingredients except honey together and pound them till they are are well ground and a fine powder.  Once they are all well mixed;  Add enough honey to wet the recipie (about 1/2 to 1 part) and mix everything together with your fingers.  It will get sticky but it should form into balls.  Form into balls and then let them sit a month or so and they should dry up and you can burn them as incense nuggets on a charcoal block (they won’t burn on their own).

Purification Incense (Powder)

An incense for purification of all kinds.  This was adapted from Cunningham’s basic recipe.

  • 2 parts frankincense
  • 1 part white copal
  • 1 part sandalwood
  • 1 part rosemary
  • 1 pinch finely powdered sea salt
  • Few drops lavender essential oil
  • 1 quartz crystal

Mix all ingredients in a mortar and pestle and then burn on a charcoal block. Store in a jar with a quartz crystal.

House Cleansing Incense (Powder)

Works very well!  You should burn it with the windows open!

  • 3 parts cedar (banish hostile spirits, purification)
  • 2 parts benzoin (purification and protection)
  • 1 part Juniper berry (anti theft, purification)
  • 1 part rosemary (protection, banishment of nightmares and hostile spirits)
  • 1 part sage (purifying and cleansing)
  • 1/2 part valerian (enhances purification and protection, although this stuff really stinks…)
  • 1 part cedar (cleansing negativity, creating sacred spaces)
  • 2 parts frankincense (protection, anti-negativity, creating sacred spaces)

Mix all ingredients in a mortar and pestle and then burn on a charcoal block.

Wish Incense (Cone/stick)

For granting your wildest dreams.  Its also good for faerie magic.

  • ¼ part vanilla (real)
  • 1 part tonka bean (skin)
  • ½ part star anise
  • 1 part amber or frankincense essential oil
  • 3 parts sandalwood
  • ¼ part guar gum (binder, add last)

Note: Make sure you really powder the Tonka bean skin; its really kinda tough to work with–but its worth it!

Powder all ingredients very, very finely, adding the oil at the very end of the grinding process.  Once all ingredients are ready, you can add Guar Gum, mixing well. Add enough water to create a firm dough–if you use too much water, you can add more cedar or sandalwood powder.  Once your dough resembles play-dough or sculpey, you can roll out and cut, or shape into small incense cones/blocks/sticks.  Allow it to dry for 1 week and then store in a nice container.  I found this made really nice sticks!