Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Trees of The Little Victorian: Redbud

Eastern Redbud  
Cercis Canadensis 

Here at the Little Victorian, the Chef cut down invasive Japanese bush honeysuckle, which weakens migrating birds with the bird-equivalent of junk food, and planted a native, Eastern redbud. We picked the redbud up on the cheap at the farmer's market, so let's hope she does well.

For eating: Like other seed pods in the legume family, seed pods of the red bud offer beneficial nutrients, such as protein, iron and complex carbohydrates, when consumed while green and tender. To prepare for eating, sauté the pods like snow peas. The flowers are also edible and can be added to salads. 

For healing: Bark and root of redbud is high in tannins and has been used as an astringent, particularly in the treatment of dysentery. 

For witching: Redbud is a traditional harbinger of spring with quite a bit of folklore around it, particularly so in the Appalachian Mountains. The term “redbud winter” refers to a cold snap that happens just as the redbuds bloom after the first blush of a few warm days in the spring. According to legend, Judas Iscariot hanged himself from a branch of the European species Cercis siliquastrum. Smaller redbud branches were also boiled to make a pink dye for homespun yarn. Redbud wood is quite strong and could be used in the making of magical tools particularly when the energy of spring-like new endeavors is desired. 

For wildlife: The Eastern Redbud is a native understory tree here in Tennessee, and birds, deer and squirrels eat the seeds. The flowers are important for the production of honey by bees.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Weed Lovin' Witchery: Yellow Wood Sorrel

The lovable lawn weed series (Purple Deadnettle, Hairy Bittercress, Plantain) continues:

Yellow Wood Sorrel
Oxalis stricta

Yellow wood sorrel is easily distinguished from clovers and black medic by its heart shaped leaves (rather than oval) and cute, five petaled flower (rather than the familiar, spiky looking clover flower). A close relative of yellow wood sorrel in the same family is commonly sold around St. Patrick’s day as shamrock.

 For eating: Tasty, sour, lemony, but not bitter. People have been eating this raw or cooked for ages. I loved the flavor of the oxalis family as a kid and still do. Good with fish or as tea or in a salad. All parts are edible. BUT it contains oxalic acid, so don’t make it the main element of your diet. (Who would? But just in case…) People who have gout, kidney problems, rheumatic conditions and any other quirky problem that reacts to oxalic acid should clearly not eat it.

For healing: High in healthy vitamin C, wood sorrel is also good for stopping bleeding, cooling fevers and soothing the stomach. It is a mild diuretic and can induce appetite in those who are sick. Use in a poultice for swelling.

For witching: Wood sorrel has a rather magical reputation. Like many herbs with healing properties, it is used in healing magic. It also associated with faeries, woodland spirits and luck.

For wildlife: Native to North America & parts of Europe & eaten by butterflies.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Weed lovin' witchery: Narrowleaf Plantain

The lovable lawn weed series (Purple Deadnettle, Hairy Bittercress) continues:

Narrowleaf Plantain
Plantago lanceolata
a.k.a. Ribwort (note the ribbed leaves)

Do you have a lawn? Do you ever see lawns? You have seen this stuff. I have seen it in diverse areas of the U.S. without ever realizing that I was standing on a goldmine of health benefits. It won’t flower until later in the season, so for now the key thing is the ribbed leaves. Also, narrow leaf and broadleaf (wider, rounder leaves, but still ribbed) plantain have the same uses. Neither is related to the starchy food plantain.

For eating: The leaves are edible stir fried or boiled and are full of good-for-you antioxidants. Young leaves are preferable especially raw in salads, but older leaves can be used after their tough, parallel veins are removed.

For healing: Crushed leaves produce an astringent, anti-toxic, antibacterial, hemostatic and anti-inflammatory juice that can be applied to cuts, insect bites and stings. It is also an expectorant, anticatarrhal and demulcent, useful as a fresh or dried tea for respiratory issues, colds and coughing. In fact, this is pretty much a miracle plant that’s good for everything. Make the tea as needed or carry it dried in a first aid kit, chew and apply to bites (or find it fresh and crush or chew). Make a vodka tincture or an oil infusion and take only 2-3 drops as needed. Make an ointment for diaper rash and hemorrhoids.

For witching: Plantain, so widely regarded as a heal-all herb, can be used for health and healing spells. Its soothing, calming, toxin-neutralizing and protective properties can be used magically as well as physically. It is especially good for taking the sting out of arguments and creating a well protected and happy home.

For wildlife: Like most garden weeds, it is not native to North America. However, birds are fond of plantain seeds, which contain a higher percentage of oil than many seeds and are grown commercially and included in some bird seed mixtures. Children sometimes play games with the long flower stalks. Children count as wildlife.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Sometimes, the front room is like this.

Lately though, it is like this. Can't wait till this project is done!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Weed lovin' witchery: Hairy Bittercress

Hairy Bittercress
Cardamine hirsute
A.K.A. Snapweed

For eating: Edible, but neither bitter nor hairy. It is peppery and a wee bit sour, and can make a nice addition to salads while it is young and tender, before it goes to seed. Eat it before it takes over your garden. Once the seed pods ripen, yellow and start shooting out seeds, it is no longer tasty.

For witching: As a peppery herb, it can be used for curses. It is tough-as-nails and able to withstand hard freezes and infertile soil. It’s up and flowering long before most plants are ready to brave the cold. With an amazing quality called “explosive propagation” (it shoots seeds out up to 10 feet!) it can help direct intention and amp up workings in a pretty aggressive way. Do not let its delicate stems and pretty little flowers fool you. (But perhaps you can use it to fool someone else.)

For wildlife: It is not a native species to North America, but early spring butterflies like it.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Full moon before the equinox

The full moon before the vernal equinox has become sort of a special thing here at the little victorian. It centers around calling up the spirits in the community of my home and land to begin to shake off wintry slumber in preparation for celebrating together on the equinox.

(Can I just say that typing things like this or saying them outloud is still, after all these years of witchery, kind of embarrassing. In full on teenage/imaginary audience style I can imagine a world full of people laughing at my panentheist-animist witchy ways.)

Anyhow, instead of using the bag of bits and bobs that I usually employ in ritual divination, I pulled out just one tarot card, which is pretty much the cutest thing ever. I love this deck and the artist behind them. The cards are super detailed and most of them are kind of greyish and eldritch, but this this one is so hopeful and lovely that I had to share. It sat on my altar for a while after the ritual.

The deck is by Pauline Stuckey Cassidy. Also in the photo is a heart shaped rock given by my dearest friends, a wee steel skull made by a guy who sometimes vends at the flea market and just a corner of one of my ancestor lanterns.

And then, just because it reminds me of the colors in the card, this is an antique, crazy-quilted piano bench cover that hangs on our wall.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Springtime speckled eggs

As the vernal equinox approaches the Ostara and/or Easter decorations emerge...

Thrifted vintage egg collecting basket with papermache eggs that I painted. Mixing gesso into the acrylic paint gives them that matte, eggshell finish.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Time management books are not awesome

I generally enjoy keeping this blog very much about my creative and witchy interests, but for just a moment, I want to address a subject I encounter quite a bit in my work as a life coach: time management books. The folks who become my clients are curious and motivated to grow which sometimes means that they read self-help books either before trying coaching or as a supplement to the coaching experience. And I have a love affair with books, so you would think that I'd be all over the wonders of time management books. But life is more complicated than that and my experience has been that these titles mostly have one of two issues:

1) They offer very general advice, which is valid but tough to apply to the specificity of one individual's life. This can quickly degenerate into what is known as "shoulding all over yourself". The ideas resonate for you, but without a plan for how to experiment and apply it, these nice ideas just become things you "should" do, but don't. And then you feel crappy about that. And that's a difficult and demotivating place to be.

2) They offer an author's own system of time management, which works really well for him or her but may not be a great fit for each reader. This can also degenerate into shoulding, because it is so easy to think that the lovely, neat system that works so well for someone else should work for you, if only you were... [Fill in the horrible blank.]

I'm not suggesting the world must all refuse to read time management books even if we really love that kind of thing, but I am suggesting that if the reading leads to shoulding... well, as for me I'd rather make art or go outside.

Nerdy note: The idea of shoulding comes from the massively prominent psychologist Albert Ellis, who was kind of frightening really, but I do so like the ideas of "shoulding all over yourself" and it's cousin "musterbating".

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Weed lovin' witchery: Purple Deadnettle

Lamium purpureum
Purple deadnettle
a.k.a Archangel

Purple dead nettle is popping up all over the place at this time of year, including here at the little Victorian. Aside from being cute and sporting a pretty combination of purple and green, it is both medicinal and edible.

For eating:
It doesn't have a strong flavor, but it is a superfood, packed with fiber, iron, antioxidants and vitamins. I've had it raw, but it can also be cooked. It looks pretty on a salad.

For healing: The leaves and flowers can be dried and teas can be made from the plant either fresh or dried. Purple deadnettle is a diuretic, styptic, astringent and tonic, among other things. It's leaves can be bruised and applied to cuts.

For witching: Popping up in the earliest spring-like moments, purple deadnettle is a maideny herb. In older folklore it was said to be a cheerful herb that makes the heart merry. It grows enthusiastically were groundcover is patchy or where the soil has been disturbed, pointing to a tenacious nature and the ability to make something lovely and useful out of a barren environment. It is called deadnettle, because sometimes folks mistake it for nettle, but this gentle plant has no sting. Archangel is an alternate term, coming from the time time that it blooms and the saint's feat day.

For wildlife:
Bees, helpful pollinators, enjoy it enormously.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lectio Divina (lex-ee-oh dih-vee-nuh)

Christianity and various forms of ancient and modern witchcraft and paganism have mutually adapted and adopted elements since Jesus arrived on the ancient scene. The lines between are ever so blurry sometimes. Which brings us to: the Lectio Divina (divine reading), which is a Catholic practice that has been fruitfully be adopted and adapted by people of any faith, but I think perhaps especially so by those who practice magic and seek to both hone their ability to focus with intent and also to open themselves to divine and intuitive inspiration.

Although the foundation of this practice is reading, it is the opposite of how we normally read. This practice lets the words open naturally so the reader can enter a text on a very different level. If you are interested in giving it a try, here are some steps that I use:

1. Read. Select a brief passage from a text that is appropriate to your practice. Read it aloud, slowly. Do not be hurried. You might also choose repeat it more than once, perhaps employing a significant number such as 3. Or you might try reading the text with different emphases and tones of voice to see how those changes affect your experience of the text. Note which words or phrases stand out most to you.

2. Meditate: In this context, meditation means holding the text gently and letting yourself explore the effect of it. Play with it. Turn it this way and that. Questions you might employ to approach this time include: What is the word or phrase that stands out most? What annoys you? Inspires you? Does the reading make you physically feel anything (e.g. a sense of light, a tension in the chest, weight, etc.)? Did you find yourself smiling or furrowing your brow? What effects did the different methods of reading convey?

Once you have been able to see your reactions to the text, ask yourself: What does this passage have to do with my life right now? How does it relate to my path and my choices?

Here’s what not to do: Think about context. I know, it seems out of character for me to say that-- but I am not talking about scholarship here-- just one meditative practice. Don’t try to think about the rest of the book, text or surrounding controversies, cultures, histories, debates and traditions. There is no need to go off on a theological treatise in defense of the text. The text is the ocean. Let it roll over you. Let it inhabit you.

3. Pray: Your prayer is your immediate response to the text. Any response is appropriate.

4. Integrate: Rest for a moment and allow the meaning of the experience to sink in. Let the experience change something for you. Do something new. See something differently. At the very least, jot down your insight.

Fairy house, groundcover

Things in this photo: Handmade clay fairy house, purple deadnettle, white clover and speedwell in bloom

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Wee gingerbread and podcasting

Being a folk Victorian tenant farmer's house, The Little Victorian is not the ornate, gingerbread-y thing one might imagine, but this snapshot shows a few of her period details. Actually, the house across the street is what you imagine, but that's where the wealthy people lived back in the day. And that's why this is the little Victorian. The big one is over yonder.

Well! Onto another subject entirely. So I had the opportunity to join in on the recording of a podcast, which was pretty exciting. The official discussion was a bit over an hour, but I think we were coming up on four hours when we all got off of Skype. At some point it became clear that the host was still recording our unofficial conversation, most of which I have to admit I hope never sees the light of day. Perhaps due to a combination of red wine and exhaustion after a long day I got caught up and kept forgetting that recording was still happening. On the flip side, there were bits in amongst those hours that were in fact very much on topic-- that topic being Michael, the kindly werewolf/nursing student, who was the primary guest of the show. The whole kit and kaboodle was fun and both the guys were great. Will post when the podcast is available.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Kyphi on the dark moon

Knowing I would not have time to start it from scratch today, I began making my first batch of kyphi over the weekend. Kyphi is incense based on ancient Egyptian temple incense that has wine, honey and raisins as its base. It is every bit as gooey-sticky as it sounds. Along with the sticky base there are piles of herbs and resins to grind, hunched over a mortar and pestle. There is the time to cure of a month at the very least, making kyphi a labor of love and a great opportunity to infuse the work with energy and intention. So far I love the process and tonight I'll be forming my kyphi into smallish chunks and setting them up to cure. If this batch turns out to be viable as incense, I'll be sure to share more about the process.

For now, I recommend this extremely expensive book, which can be found in part on Google books: Sacred Luxuries by Lise Manniche.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Celtic Rain Blessing

It rains a lot here in the winter, which helps to bring us an early and green spring. I love this little blessing, especially when I stop appreciating the rain and get annoyed.

May the blessing of the rain be on you—
the soft sweet rain.
May it fall upon your spirit
so that all the little flowers may spring up,
and shed their sweetness on the air.
May the blessing of the great rains be on you,
may they beat upon your spirit
and wash it fair and clean,
and leave there many a shining pool
where the blue of heaven shines,
and sometimes a star.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Hearth Altar

The front room's hearth is my indoor altar. I switch things up often, but this is how she's been looking since Candlemas. I really do love being able to have my hearth as my altar no matter how it's decked out.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Grey Cloak for Candlemas

Candlemas was busy enough, but candles were made and ritual occurred with this wee mixed media painting propped up at the hearth. When I made this I had no conscious idea of why, exactly. She feels Candlemas-y to me though. Something about the grey cloak and darkness contrasted with the bright flowers and golden rays, perhaps. Maybe she's Brigid. Maybe.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Paperwhites for Imbolc

Our first set of paperwhite bulbs bloomed obligingly for the Solstice and Christmas, and now the second set is celebrating Candlemas with me. White flowers in a red ceramic pot are perfect for Candlemas, and as an added bonus, buying paperwhite and amaryllis bulbs after Christmas generally means getting them half off.

My plans for the holiday itself are uncertain, but may involve making candles with a good friend and fellow witch in the tradition and having a class with a lovely, witchy student. It will definitely involve having a session with a life coaching client, going to class and doing a simple ritual involving many, many candles (of course!).

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Valentines Day meets Candlemas

Irritatingly enough, Candlemas/Imbolc doesn't really correspond to a holiday celebrated widely in US culture. Valentines Day is about as close as it gets. But, Valentines is closer than you might think in terms of symbolism.

Like most modern witches, I don't live an agricultural life, so the gestation process of ewes celebrated by Imbolc is not so relevant to my experience of the season rooted in my locale. Early February is cold here, and grey. The promise of rebirth is still hidden. The symbolism of spare, wintry decor, plus candles and kindling fires resonates. The importance of focusing on loving relationships also resonates. Not in term of greeting card romance and shiny gift-giving, but in terms of the sort of warmth that comes of caring relationships with family and friends. The heart theme of Valentines Day makes seasonal sense to me both in terms of valuing relational warmth during a cold time and also because both the color red and the symbolic link between the heart and the element of fire point to the themes commonly celebrated by Pagans between winter solstice and the spring equinox.

In this spirit, I made this crazily simple heart ornament. The wooden ornament itself was picked up on clearance after the winter holidays. Making this ornament involved just a few steps. First, I painted the heart a dark, cool espresso brown. Once it was completely dry, I painted the heart red. Using a light touch, I let some of the brown show through. Vintage sheet music was torn into a heart shape and glued on. The whole thing was lightly sanded to add a bit more tattered wear.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Transitioning winter décor

The Christmas-Solstice tree and sundry other bits and bobs came down at the end of the 12 days of Christmas. It can be such a challenge to figure out how decorate between the end of the holiday season and Candlemas/Imbolc. This year, I am choosing simple and spare- mirroring the pared-down nature of the landscape at this time of year. The pinecone garlands from my pinecone garland tutorial are still up. My paperwhite bulbs have died out, but a new set are growing. I still have evergreen branches pruned from my yard arranged in an antique enamel pitcher. My mantel/altar is very white and spare, with the silver and mercury glass of the holiday season tucked away. For now I am filling the open spaces with creative expression, room to breathe and fresh ideas.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Vanderbilt Invasives Resource

I love the many photos on this page from Vanderbilt. It makes identification of these super common Middle TN invasives easy:

Tragically, we have both bush honeysuckle and non-native privet at the little victorian. The privet is staying put for the time being, but I reluctantly admit that the bush honeysuckle has to go. I actually like the bush honeysuckle in our yard. It is in a place in the yard that needs small trees-- and it is free and already mature. It keeps its leaves later than the big tress and grows them early. It makes nice flowers. Buying big, native trees is probably not in the budget this spring, so that area is going to look pretty sad for some time. We could plant tiny, native trees or perhaps non-native, but non-invasive trees picked up cheaply at the farmer's market.

So why is the bush honeysuckle relatively high on the list of things that need to change? Not because it is invasive. But because it makes berries that birds eat... BUT with a wicked twist. The berries are actually unhealthy for the birds. It's like fast food. They fill up on the honeysuckle berries, but the berries lack the nutrition to sustain the birds through their migrations, etc.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Painting a bluebird

I have had this canvas sitting in my various kitchens over the course of the last decade. It had a print on it that I liked, but recently I was struck with an urge to paint over it. So now we have a wee bluebird. My husband has a softspot for bluebirds and he’s a chef, so this little birdie wound up being for him.

I’ve been doing quite a bit of painting lately, so maybe more goodies later.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Tennessee Native Plant Sale

Even though it is months away, I am looking forward to Cheekwood's native plant sale:

March 31 2012

10:00 am til all plants are sold!
Early bird catches the worm at this annual springtime plant sale. Arrive early for the best selection of native plants to add to your garden. Choose from spring blooming wildflowers such as trillium and celandine poppies or summer blooming ones such as black-eyed Susans and summer phlox. Do not miss our great selection of shrubs, vines, and small trees. There is something for everyone’s garden at the sale. Sponsored by the Garden Club of Nashville.

Image: Trillium erectum. Photo by Ramin Nakisa.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Native Wildlife Gardening Resources

As promised, here is a selection of my current collection of online resources that relate to native gardening in a generalized way across the U.S.-- from locating information about your ecoregion to knowing the needs of wildlife as you work to create habitat:

Locate a broad ecoregion by zip code and download a planting guide:

From the US Forest Service, a set of resources about native plants (especially wildflowers) and how to avoid or replace dangerous exotics:

Basic info on ecoregions from the National Wildlife Federation:

Ecoregion mapping from the US Forest Service:

U.S. Forest Service, Gardening for Wildlife:

Ecoregional Maps and Descriptions:

NWF: Creating a wildlife-friendly garden:

USGS Landcover Trends by Ecoregion:

I like to curl up with a hot cup of tea and use these links to plan for Spring. Lots more to come on the Southeast/Tennessee/Nashville Basin!

Native Gardening Post on the Pagan Household

An article I wrote about some tips gleaned from my exploration of native gardening at the Little Victorian is published at The Pagan Household now:

Guest Poster Button

The Pagan Household is a delightful spot (me aside) so do check it out!