Southeastern Foraging: Sassafras

I had my first successful foraging experiment yesterday! My partner and I literally stumbled into some sassafras growing in a friend’s front yard! I took some leaves home, dried them in the oven, and ground them into filé powder, which is an important ingredient in Creole cooking. 

Filé is used as a thickening agent and has a distinctive, earthy flavor. It’s sometimes used to thicken gumbo when okra is out of season. (Now I just have to figure out how to make gumbo vegetarian. 😅)

I’m going to go back later in the fall to (ethically) harvest some of the root and bark, which are more widely-known for their medicinal and culinary uses. The bark and root are the main flavoring agent used in traditional root beer. Medicinally, sassafras can be used in a variety of treatments, including urinary disorders, fevers, and acne. 

I’m also going to try to see if I can transplant one of the plants to my garden once they’re dormant for the winter, but sassafras doesn’t transplant very well, so we’ll see how that goes. 

An Open Letter to Christian Witches

Jesus Christ Statue

On this blog, I often champion the idea that witchcraft is a practice, not a religion, and that a witch can practice any religion, provided that religion does not explicitly forbid witchcraft. I still very much believe this, and the point of this post is not to tell Christians that they can’t be witches. However, as a non-Christian witch who has been deeply traumatized by Christianity, I do wish Christian witches would be a bit more mindful of how they show up in witchy spaces.

Recently, I’ve noticed a pattern of self-identifying Christian witches dominating the conversation and centering their own beliefs in spaces dedicated to witchcraft. Now, I wholeheartedly believe that this is unintentional, and most of these Christian witches seem like lovely people. But it’s still deeply frustrating and upsetting to be promised a safe space and support from other witches, only to be preached at.

Or be told that I’m doing witchcraft wrong because my ethics are not the same as someone else’s.

Or be told that I don’t understand Christianity, despite having spent the first two decades of my life fully immersed in it.

Or have my trauma invalidated because, “Not all Christians are like that!”

Or spend the majority of our time together reassuring and comforting a Christian witch who is uncomfortable with the inclusion of pagan and/or occult elements in a ritual.

These are all genuine experiences I have had with Christian witches in 2021. And in every single one of these situations, the Christian witch had a very negative reaction to any kind of constructive criticism or request that they be more mindful of the diverse beliefs and experiences in the space. Any suggestion that their actions may be causing discomfort for others was met with defensiveness, if not straight-up denial. The result is a situation where Christian witches are at the center of every discussion and demand (knowingly or not) coddling or hand-holding from teachers and facilitators, while those of us who are not Christian are left deeply uncomfortable but unable to express that discomfort without upsetting someone or being accused of creating conflict.

And I get it. I really do. Because for most of the people in the above scenarios, this was the first time they encountered a situation where their religion wasn’t the norm. But what I need Christian witches to recognize and be mindful of is that this discomfort of being surrounded by people who do not share your beliefs is something those of us who are not Christian experience every day.

In the Western world, and particularly in the United States, Christianity is a religious hegemony. (A hegemony is a group with total political, social, economic, and/or military dominance in a given area.) Everything in Western society was designed for Christians, to serve a Christian worldview, and to reinforce Christian hegemony. Everything from our government to our business practices to our media reinforces Christian values. For Christians, this creates the sense of comfort and security that comes from being part of the in-group. For non-Christians, it meas being constantly bombarded with someone else’s religion. For former Christians with church-related trauma, it means reliving that trauma constantly.

Here’s a look at an average day in my life as a formerly-Christian pagan with religious trauma. Please note that this is not an exaggeration — this is a description of what I experienced on the day I wrote this post.

I get up and, because I live with Christian family members, I walk past exactly five images of Jesus and/or the Virgin Mary on my way from my bedroom to the front door. On my commute to work, I drive past at least a dozen churches, including the one I used to attend, where my religious trauma occurred. I stop at a red light, and the car in front of me has a bumper sticker with an image of a cross and the message, “If this offends you now, just wait until you see it on judgement day!” I happen to know that these bumper stickers are for sale not at a local church, but at a privately owned, nominally secular business. When I get to work, the woman who greets me at the front gate is wearing a crucifix necklace.

I work in diversity education. When I get to the office, my boss asks me to join the local Interfaith council because I am the only person in our department who isn’t Christian. My current big project at work is trying to get a transgender speaker to visit our organization and help us lead a workshop to work towards amending a history of transphobia in our organization. My boss tells me today the she isn’t sure the speaker I arranged will be approved, because our administration might not think it is in line with our organization’s values. When she says this, I know she means evangelical Christian values. She doesn’t have to spell it out — there’s a chaplain down the hall from our office.

After my lunch break, my coworkers are talking about a church event one of them attended over the weekend. I do not contribute to this conversation. It has been several months since I attended an in-person religious event with people who shared my faith. As I’m leaving the office at the end of the day, I pass a Bible study group that has set up in our recreation area. On my drive home, I pass the funeral home where my grandfather’s memorial service was held earlier this year. The programs for that service had the Lord’s Prayer printed on them. My grandfather was an atheist.

This is my level of exposure to a religion I not only don’t believe in, but have been actively hurt by, on a daily basis. This is my normal. I’ve learned to live with it, tune it out, and self-soothe, because there is no other option.

When I’m finally able to be around other witches, many of them are coming from similar experiences. I am finally in a space where I can be vulnerable, where I can talk about what I really believe, and where I can receive support from like-minded people. But if there is even one Christian witch in the group, it’s highly likely that this space too will be dominated by Christian hegemony.

It’s a noted fact that a person exists within a hegemony, they have very little ability to tolerate challenges to this hegemony due to a lack of exposure. This is the origin of the term white fragility, which sociologist Robin DiAngelo uses to describe the discomfort and defensiveness white people feel when confronted with “racial discomfort” such as being asked to consider racism as a system they are complicit in and benefit from rather than as the actions of lone extremists. White fragility is something I have personally experienced as a white woman involved in antiracist work, and it’s something I have taken years to work through and am still actively working on. Since DiAngelo popularized this term, similar terms have been used to point to similar phenomena in other hegemonic groups, as in the cases of male fragility/fragile masculinity, cishet fragility, and yes, Christian fragility.

I’m not trying to argue that all hegemony is the same, and I am definitely not trying to say that my personal religious trauma is anywhere near the level of pain caused by the mistreatment of Black and brown people by white supremacist society. My point here is simply that being part of the dominant group breeds a very low tolerance for exposure to other groups.

Christian witches are members of a hegemonic group entering a space historically occupied by marginalized people, which creates an imbalance of power. (And yes, you can benefit from hegemony even if you are marginalized in other areas. Identity is multi-faceted. Queer Christians, disabled Christians, Christians of color, and yes, Christian witches still benefit from Christian hegemony.) The only way things are going to get better is if Christians are willing to do the work themselves of building tolerance for religious discomfort. The rest of us can host as many interfaith and secular events as we want, but if Christians aren’t able to tolerate the inclusion of other belief systems, we’ll never truly be on equal footing. Until Christians stop centering the Christian experience, it will continue to dominate interfaith spaces, including witchy spaces.

I’m asking Christian witches to be mindful of the privilege they bring into interfaith spaces. I’m asking you to be willing to feel uncomfortable, and to recognize that your discomfort does not invalidate the work your facilitators have put into creating the space and/or program. If you truly can’t stand the discomfort, I’m asking you to politely excuse yourself instead of demanding emotional labor from other witches.

Queer Polyamorous Love Spells

As Pride Month winds down, I wanted to share some love spells for a subculture-within-a-subculture that often gets overlooked: queer polyamorous people. 

Polyamory (sometimes called Ethical Non-Monogamy – as opposed to unethical non-monogamy, a.k.a. cheating) is an umbrella term that covers many types of relationships in which everyone involved knows that their partner is seeing other people and is okay with that. Polyamory is more common than many people realize: about 5% of all adults are currently in non-monogamous relationships and about 20% have tried some form of polyamory in the past.

Not all polyamorous folks are queer, but polyamorous people are more likely to identify as queer, and poly folks have always been an important part of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Despite increasing awareness and acceptance around polyamory, it can be hard to find resources for polyamorous love spells. Most of the love spells you can find online or in books are designed for monogamous people. While some of these spells can be adapted for polyamorous love, here are a few designed specifically for poly folks. 

Spell for a Loving, Healthy Polycule

polycule is a group of people who are linked by romantic relationships – it consists of all members of a polyamorous group and all of their partners. It’s sort of like the poly alternative to saying that two people are a “couple.” 

Polycules can take lots of different shapes. For example, a three-person polycule might be a triad (three people who are all romantically involved with each other, sometimes called a throuple), or it might be a hinge (Person A is dating both Person B and Person C, but Person B and Person C are not dating). A five person polycule may all be dating each other, or it might be a combination of couples, triads, and/or hinges. Just because someone is in your polycule does not mean you are actively dating and/or having sex with them.

This spell is designed primarily to strengthen existing polycules, but it could be adjusted to help a single person attract a polycule.

You will need:

  • One candle to represent each member of your polycule (These can be figure candles that match each person’s gender identity, colored and/or scented candles that represent their personalities, or white candles with each person’s name carved into one. If you are single and trying to attract a polycule, simply use one plain white or red candle.)
  • Lavender essential oil
  • Juice from a slice of orange 
  • Rose petals 

To perform the spell:

  • Dress each candle with the lavender oil. As you rub the oil into the candle, say something like, “May we communicate clearly and speak true. May your polycule bring peace and comfort to you.”
  • Dress each candle with a few drops of orange juice. As you do, say something like, “May our love bring you joy and bliss. I seal this blessing with a kiss.” Kiss the candle before setting it down in your workspace.
  • Sprinkle rose petals around the candles to form a circle, then sprinkle rose petals in the spaces in between the candles. Once there are no more noticeable empty spaces, say something like, “Our love surrounds us and connects us. Our love supports us and uplifts us. Our relationship is perfect for us. Our polycule is strengthened thus.”
  • Light the candles and, as they burn, visualize your polycule feeling happy, loved, and supported. Let the candles burn down completely.

Spell to Ease Relationship Transitions

One of the hallmarks of polyamory is less clearly defined expectations for relationship milestones. In her book The Smart Girl’s Guide to Polyamory, Dedeker Winston explains this with the “relationship escalator.” Our society treats romantic relationships (which are assumed to be monogamous) like an escalator, with couples moving up into increasing levels of commitment: first dating, then sexual intimacy, then moving in together, then marriage and/or shared finances, then having children. In polyamorous relationships, each person is free to choose how far up they want to go on the escaltor – in other words, the level of commitment they are comfortable with.

This freedom of movement means that, sometimes, people change their minds. Dating more people does mean more potential for breakups, but it also means changes in the level of commitment each partner is willing and able to give. You may have a more casual relationship with someone but decide you’re ready to share a home with them – but on the flip side, a partner you have lived with and paid bills with for years may decide that they need their own space and want to go back to a more casual level of commitment.

This spell is designed to ease all of the transitions that may occur within polyamorous relationships, from breakups to moving in together to deciding to see less of each other.

You will need:

  • A piece of paper
  • A pen or marker
  • Lavender essential oil OR eucalyptus essential oil
  • A bowl of water (this can be rosewater, full moon water, or just tap water)

To perform the spell:

  • Write out a description of the transition you are going through in your relationship(s), including the old state of the relationship and the change being made to your arrangement. Be sure to include a description of your feelings about the transition, both positive and negative.
  • Anoint the paper with the essential oil. Say something like, “May old energy be released. May our love give us strength and peace.”
  • Submerge the paper in the bowl of water. As you hold it under the water, visualize yourself and your partner(s) surrounded by soothing, pale blue energy.
  • When you feel totally calm and supported, end the spell.

Spell for Friendship Between Metamours

Metamours are people who are dating the same person but are not dating each other. To put it another way, your metamours are your partners’ other partners. These are people you are not romantically or sexually involved with, but are still connected with by your shared love for your mutual partner(s) – which makes them part of your polycule. 

While some people choose not to get to know their metamours, this spell is designed for people who want to have a connection with the other people their partner loves. While you might never be best friends, this spell creates an atmosphere of warmth and cooperation that can help keep things friendly.

You will need:

  • 3+ pieces of string, yarn, or cord in different colors – one for you, one for your partner, and one for each of your metamours (Choose colors that represent each person’s personality to you)
  • Charms or beads that represent friendship and security to you (You can make your own with airdrying clay, or by writing your wishes on a slip of paper, folding it up, and then punching a hole through it so you can string it)

To perform the spell:

  • Tie the pieces of string together, with the string representing your partner in the middle and the others on either side. Say something like, “Family chosen, family found. By our shared love of [partner’s name] we are bound.”
  • Begin to braid the strings together.
  • Add your beads or charms. With each new bead/charm, repeat your incantation. 
  • When you are almost out of string, tie it off. Keep the braid in a safe place or give it to your metamour as a gift.

Spell to Heal Loneliness and Feelings of Being Left Out

We all feel lonely sometimes, and unfortunately loneliness, jealousy, and insecurity don’t go away with the addition of multiple romantic partners. No matter how many people you’re seeing, there will probably be times when all your partners are busy and you have to spend time alone. This can be especially rough if your partners are all on dates with other people, leaving you as the only one without romantic plans for the evening.

This spell is designed to help ease gross feelings at times when you feel like the odd one out. It uses bitter herbs to heal bitter emotions with a soothing act of self-care. Please note that this is not a substitute for talking to your partner(s) about your feelings. Also note that there’s a big difference between occasional lonely nights and legitimate neglect or emotional abuse. If you consistently feel ignored or shut out by your partner, that is a much more serious issue.

Note: This spell is partially adapted from the “Bitter Healing Bath” from Water Magic by Lilith Dorsey.

You will need: 

  • ¼ cup fresh basil (or 1 TBSP dried)
  • ¼ cup fresh sage leaves (or 1 TBSP dried)
  • ¼ cup garlic skin or, if you have them, garlic greens (This will not make your bath smell garlicky. If you don’t have garlic skins or greens, you can substitute 1-2 garlic cloves, but this WILL give your bath a slight garlic smell.)
  • ¼ cup fresh mint leaves (or 1 TBSP dried)
  • 6 cups water
  • A sweet treat, floral tea, or glass of wine or fruit juice
  • (optional) an essential oil with a smell you like and a handful of salt or epsom salt

To perform the spell:

  • Add the basil, sage, garlic, and mint to a pot on the stove and pour the water over them. As you add each herb, ask it to heal your heart and relieve you of bitter emotions.
  • Bring the pot to a boil. Turn the heat down and let simmer for 20-30 minutes to create a potent herbal infusion.
  • While the herbs are simmering, run a bath.
  • After the simmer time is up, add the infusion to your bath water. Make sure to strain out the herbs! It should have a very earthy, herbal, almost grassy smell.
  • If you really can’t stand the smell, add an essential oil for scent. You can do this by mixing a few drops into salt or epsom salt and adding it to the tub. (Never add undiluted essential oil to your bath!)
  • As you soak in the bath, feel the loneliness, jealousy, and other negative feelings leaving your body.
  • After you get out of the bath, enjoy your sweet treat as a reminder to be kind to yourself.
  • Be sure to communicate your feelings with your partners if this loneliness is a recurring problem! 

Spell to Attract a Queerplatonic Partner

queerplatonic relationship (QPR) is a relationship that bends society’s rules for telling apart romantic relationships from non-romantic relationships. QPRs are not romantic in nature or do not fully fit the traditional idea of a romantic relationship. However, these relationships are more than just friendships and they go beyond what is considered normal between friends. For example, two people in a QPR might live together, have shared finances, and rely on each other for emotional support, all without romance. These relationships are often (but not always!) nonsexual in nature. 

Queerplatonic relationships are an important part of queer culture that often gets overlooked. Aromantic and aroace people may find that a QPR fulfills their desire for emotional connection without the expectation of romance and sex. However, you don’t have to be aromantic, asexual, or even queer to be in a QPR. Some people just genuinely would rather spend their life with a good friend than with a lover, regardless of how they identify. 

One person may have more than one queerplatonic partner, and one or all of the people in a queerplatonic relationship may also date people outside the QPR, which is where these relationships can overlap with polyamory.

This spell is designed to help you attract the right queerplatonic partner for you. Like all love spells, this works best when you don’t have a specific person in mind and instead remain open to the possibilities. 

You will need:

  • A written description of the type of queerplatonic relationship you want to attract, including level of commitment, level of intimacy, any hard boundaries, etc.
  • A pink candle
  • Rosewater or rose essence
  • Dandelion root
  • Dried catnip

To perform the spell:

  • Dress the candle with your rosewater/rose essence, then sprinkle it with your herbs. Place it on top of the description of your desired relationship.
  • As you light your candle, say something like, “Our love transcends labels and rules. To my queerplatonic partner I will be true.”
  • As the candle burns, hold your desired partner and relationship in your mind’s eye.
  • Let the candle burn down completely before ending the spell. 

Using Weeds in Witchcraft

In my new YouTube video, I walk y’all through my backyard and talk about some of my favorite weeds and their magical/spiritual uses.

A big part of my growth in my spirituality has been developing a connection with the land and its spirits, and part of that is using local resources I grew or gathered myself instead of ordering things from hundreds of miles away. I genuinely hope this inspires you guys to go hunting for witchy herbs in your own gardens, yards, and parks! 

Currently Reading: White Rage

I just finished White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson. This isn’t the first book I’ve read about the history of systemic, anti-Black racism in the United States, but it is the most hard-hitting I’ve read so far. 

Anderson refutes the conventional narrative of linear progress towards racial equality that most Americans, myself included, learned in school, in church, and at home. She does this by examining the state of civil rights from the end of the Civil War through the 2016 presidential election and illustrating how, at every turn, Black progress was treated as a threat to white supremacy and was met with outrage. This white rage dominates all branches of the American government, where official channels are used to punish Black progress. This white rage is the motivating force behind the gutting of the public education system, the war on drugs, and the far-right nationalist movement that got Trump elected. 

This is one of the most well-researched books I’ve ever read. I actually finished it much faster than I expected to because I didn’t realize it had OVER 100 PAGES of citations, footnotes, and sources. Anderson’s argument may be hard for some readers to hear, but she has the evidence to back it up.

This is a hard book to read from a purely emotional and empathetic angle, because Anderson doesn’t shy away from the cruelty and violence America has inflicted on Black people. However, I really do think this is a book every white person should read. It comes as a much needed wake up call. 

My Queer (LGBTQ+) Ancestor Altar

To celebrate Pride month, I set up an ancestor altar to honor the beloved dead of the LGBTQ+ community!

Ancestor worship has always been something that I was interested in, but hesitant to engage with. Like many queer folks, I don’t feel a strong connection to my biological ancestors, and in fact many of them were people I wouldn’t feel comfortable bringing into a sacred space. 

However, I realized that as a queer person I have a whole new set of chosen ancestors — the people who paved the way for our community. This altar is a special space to honor those activists, artists, and everyday folks who went before, and whose lives and actions culminated in a world where I can safely be out and proud. 

For a more in-depth look at my altar and its symbolism, check out my YouTube video!

The Little Gods: Spirits of Place in Modern Paganism (Paganism 101)

Pink and Yellow Flowers in Bloom

In a previous post, we talked about gods, goddesses, and the many ways they can be worshiped in a modern pagan practice. However, the gods are not the only group of spiritual beings honored by modern pagans. While building relationships with deities makes up the bulk of practice for many people, a lot of pagans work with other groups of spirits as well, or may even work more closely with these “smaller” spirits than with the gods. One of these groups is the ancestors, the spirits of deceased humans who are part of our lineage — we’ll talk about them in a future post.

The other group of minor spirits commonly honored by modern pagans, and the topic of today’s post, are what I like to call the Spirits of Place. This is a broad category that includes land spirits, spirits of natural objects like trees and rivers, and spirits of man-made locations like a house or office building. Depending on your personal beliefs, it may also include animal guides, spirits of inanimate objects, and/or spirits honored in specific cultures like the fairies or the elves.

The idea that the world around us is spiritually alive and aware is present in some form in almost every culture and religion, and the worship of these Spirits of Place is well-documented in most historic pagan religions. For example, much of Irish folk spirituality revolves around appeasing the fairies, which we can understand as a special type of land spirit — this continued long after the conversion period, even after the worship of the Irish gods had faded into obscurity. Many Norse pagans honor the landvaettir (land spirits) and husvaettir (house spirits), which have survived in more recent Nordic folklore in the form of spirits like the Danish nisse or Swedish tomte, who are still honored at Christmas in some parts of Scandinavia. In Roman paganism, the lares, who are both land spirits and the guardians of man-made homes and are closely connected to the ancestors, are given a place of honor. Eclectic pagans may pull from one or more of these practices, or may honor their local spirits in their own unique way.

Honoring the Spirits of Place is not exclusive to pagan faiths. Practitioners of New Orleans Voodoo honor the ashe, the sacred energy, of the Mississipi River, one of their most prominent local landmarks. In Shinto, places and objects are said to have their own kami, which can be understood as gods or as spirits. Even in Christianity’s strictly monotheist system, God is often understood to be physically present in the world around us, a philosophy known as panentheism. I offer these non-pagan examples not because I think pagans should copy these other religions, but because I want to make a point about how pervasive the belief in Spirits of Place really is.

Connecting with the Spirits of Place can help us to engage more mindfully and in more meaningful ways with the world around us. When we accept that every plant, animal, rock, and building has its own spirit or soul, we interact with those objects in a more intentional way. We learn to think about our home not just as a place where we live, but as a spiritual entity that we have an active relationship with. We learn to think of our gardens not as a plot of dirt filled with plants, but as a community of land spirits and plant spirits all working together to provide us with nourishment. We learn to think of our cities not as concrete jungles, but as huge collections of spirits as diverse and fascinating as their human inhabitants. When we open our eyes to the spiritual world that exists alongside our own, we begin to see how the spiritual permeates every aspect of human life.

Connecting with Spirits of Place also offers a way for us to personalize and localize our practice. The Spirits of Place in Los Angeles will be very different from those of Brooklyn, Berlin, or Mexico City. Your local Spirits of Place are closely related to your local biome, as well as to the cultural groups that have influenced your community.

Because of this, the best way to connect with your own Spirits of Place is to learn about where you live. Research your local flora, fauna, and weather patterns — how is your ecosystem unique? Learn about local history and about the cultures who have influenced your area. All of these influences will give you some ideas for how to honor the spirits in your practice.

For example, I live in a temperate climate with four true seasons, clay-based soil, and lots of rain and humidity. Some of the local plant spirits that I feel closest to are the black locust tree, the magnolia tree, poke weed, and the birch tree. Some of the local animal spirits I feel closest to are the crow, the red-tailed hawk, the coyote, and the white-tailed deer. My local land spirits are as steadfast and strong as the nearby Appalachian mountains.

I live in the South, so our local spirits are also shaped by a history of racial oppression and persecution. They have witnessed the displacement of the Cherokee people, whose stolen land I live on today. They have witnessed the transatlantic slave trade and the continued oppression of Black people with Jim Crow and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. They have witnessed devastating poverty in rural communities, including those of my ancestors. These scars run deep, creating a reverberations that I and other Southern folks still feel today. However, with the trauma of the South comes a rich diversity of influences, creating a unique culture unlike any other in the world. My Irish and Scottish ancestors brought their culture with them when they came to these mountains, where it mingled with the cultural influences of our Black and Latino neighbors, the Cherokee influences of our land, a deeply held Protestant Christian faith, and a special brand of magic that is unique to the South. All of this influences my local Spirits of Place, and I try to keep all of it in mind when interacting with them.

I honor my Spirits of Place by learning to identify local plants, respectfully and ethically foraging from those plants, and using them in my spiritual practice. I honor them by feeding the crows, and by greeting the deer when I encounter them on walks. I honor them by remembering the original inhabitants of this land, by supporting Native rights activists, and by donating to nonprofits that support the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, who originally lived in my area. I honor them by actively working to address the issue of racism in the South, up to and including attending Black Lives Matter protests and campaigning for an end to racialized police violence. I honor them by listening to my Cherokee, Black, and Latino neighbors and following their lead on Cherokee, Black, and Latino issues. I also honor them by practicing sustainable gardening techniques, working to lower my environmental impact, and by giving back to the land whenever I can.

If you don’t live in the same geographic area as me, the way you honor your Spirits of Place may look totally different. Don’t be afraid to make this practice your own — once you connect with your local spirits, they will be your guides.

Types of Spirits of Place

There are many, many types of spirits that fall into this category, and the list in this post is not meant to be exhaustive. My goal here is to give you an idea of some of the forms these spirits can take, so that you can begin to recognize the Spirits of Place that surround you in your own life.

Land spirits: These are spirits of specific geographical locations or features of the land. They may be as big as the Mississippi River or as small as the rosebush in your backyard. As you might imagine, these spirits don’t move around much, as they usually don’t venture far from the location they are tied to. In my experience, land spirits have a very stable, steady, and earthy presence.

Our relationship with the land spirits is a direct reflection of our relationship with the land itself. If we live our lives in a way that hurts the land by polluting it or stripping it of resources, it will be much harder to build a healthy relationship with the spirits of that land. The best way to live in right relationship with the land spirits is to treat the land you are living on with honor and respect.

In my personal practice, I call on the land spirits for help in my garden. I make offerings of food that is safe for local wildlife if they decide to help themselves, such as unsalted peanuts, birdseed, bread, or fresh fruit. When I make offerings, I make sure to thank the land spirits for sharing their home with me and for providing me with abundance. You might honor your local land spirits in a similar way, or you may find that another approach works better for you.

House spirits: It is not only natural places that have spirits — man-made buildings also have a spirit of their own. If you’ve ever stayed in a very old house, you probably felt its unique character while you were there. Every building has its own soul of sorts, which embodies the place, the way it is used, and the different people who have lived there. In my experience, these spirits tend to take on the energy of the people who live in or frequently use their building — the spirits of a happy home may have a kind, friendly presence, while the spirits of a dysfunctional business where employees are mistreated may have a mean streak.

Many of us overlook the spiritual importance of our homes. Our home is where we can be most vulnerable, and in most cases it’s probably where most of our daily spiritual practices take place. Our home is the base of operations we come back to at the end of each day. A home that feels safe, comfortable, and welcoming is important to our mental, emotional, and spiritual health. To maintain a healthy home, we need to maintain good relationships with the other people living there — but we can take this even further by striving to have a good relationship with our home itself.

Spirits of objects: Objects also have their on spirits. This applies not only to naturally occurring objects, but to man-made things as well.

Most people with even a passing interest in witchcraft or New Age spirituality are aware that crystals have unique energies and personalities and can act as spiritual allies. What many people don’t realize is that this is not something that is unique to crystals — all objects have a unique spiritual presence, and all of them can be powerful spiritual allies if you take the time to connect with them. A rock from your backyard can be just a powerful as an expensive crystal. So can a favorite sweater, your grandmother’s antique dishes, and even your cell phone.

The best way to connect with the spirits of objects is to talk to them. Tell them that you appreciate the role they serve in your life, and verbally thank them for their help. I find that these spirits don’t typically require offerings in the traditional sense — instead, you can practice reciprocity by keeping their homes in good condition. For example, if you want to connect with the spirit of a favorite stuffed animal, make sure the toy itself stays clean and in good repair.

Plant and animal spirits: Plant and animal spirits are different from spirits of objects because they are physically alive. Plants and animals live and breathe just as we do, which can make them a little easier to befriend and understand than the spirits of inanimate objects. If you’re not quite ready to start talking to your hairbrush, plant and animal spirits can be a good place to start.

Animal spirits are the easiest by far to connect with. Any pet owner will tell you that animals have souls that often seem just as complex as those of humans. Dogs and cats, for example, clearly feel love, joy, sadness, and pain just as humans do. Pets are an excellent way to begin connecting with animal spirits, because you already have a relationship with them in the physical world.

Next time you have a few minutes alone with your pet, try meditating on their spiritual presence. Can you feel their energy? Can you sense the wisdom they carry in their soul?

If you had a pet that died, you might try reaching out to them to see if they want to be involved in your spiritual practice. Dogs especially are very loyal to their owners, and can be called on for protection even after death. If you have ashes or bones from your pet, or if you have items like a collar or a favorite toy, you can include them on an altar or some other special place and make regular offerings of treats or pet food in exchange for their protection.

Some pagans, especially Wiccans and other neopagans, choose to work with familiars, which are a special kind of animal ally. There is a common misconception that a familiar is any animal you feel especially close to, but that isn’t quite how it works. A familiar is an animal that serves as a spiritual ally — traditionally, by helping witches with their magic. The familiar can be a living animal, but it is more often a purely spiritual being.

These animal spirit allies exist in other forms in other pagan religions. In Norse paganism, the fylgja is a spiritual guide that often appears in the form of an animal. The animal form the fylgja takes is closely related to the personality of the person it is attached to, and they are often tied to that person’s fate. In Irish folklore, the fetch is a spiritual double of a human that often appears as an animal. In Kemetic polytheism, one of the parts of the soul is the ba, which often appears as a bird with a human head and which represents a person’s personality. In all of these cases, the animal guide can be understood as an extension of the practitioner, rather than as a separate being like the familiar.

Plant spirits are a little bit different. In my experience, these spirits are quieter and more reserved than most animal spirits, and they tend to work in more subtle ways. Plant spirits are still, steadfast allies that tend to work behind the scenes, so you may not have as many face-to-face interactions with them as you do with animals or land spirits.

The best way to begin connecting with plant spirits is to start keeping a houseplant. As you care for your plant, talk to it! Tell it how much you appreciate it, and thank it for its contribution to keeping your space beautiful and safe. Appropriate offerings for plant spirits are exactly what you would expect: water, fertilizer, and plant food.

Cryptids and folkloric creatures: In the modern era, folklore has given way to urban legends and created a new kind of mythology. Like traditional folklore, urban legends are spread by word of mouth and change organically as they are told and retold. Many urban legends are tied to specific locations, and many of them feature strange and mysterious creatures who can be understood as modern land spirits.

For example, the Loch Ness Monster can be seen as the spirit of Loch Ness. The Jersey Devil is tied to the Pine Barrens in New Jersey. Mothman is tied to Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Although these are some of the most famous modern cryptids, most towns have their own urban legends — if you ask around, you’ll likely find stories of some kind of spectral guardian tied to your area. My college campus has a handful of its own urban legends, including one of a female spirit who appears to warn students of coming disasters. Find out who your local cryptids are, and look for ways to incorporate them into your practice.

These different types of spirits are sometimes filtered through different cultural lenses, which changes the way they interact with humans. For example, an Irish fairy is very different from a Japanese kami, even though both technically fall into the larger category of land spirits. If you feel drawn to a specific tradition’s approach to working with the Spirits of Place, I advise you to do your own research into that tradition — including making sure that it isn’t part of a closed cultural practice which you are not party to. Look for sources written by members of the living culture of that tradition, rather than books written by outsiders.

Connecting with the Spirits of Place

Here are some activities you can do to strengthen your connection with the Spirits of Place:

  • Make offerings. As I mentioned above, you can honor the spirits with offerings. Just make sure that, if you leave offerings outside, you only offer things that are biodegradable and are safe for local wildlife. If you don’t want to leave physical offerings, you can offer acts of service like picking up litter, watering plants, or volunteering at an animal shelter.
  • Create an altar. As we’ve already discussed, altars are an excellent way to create space in your life for the spirits. My herb garden doubles as an altar to the land spirits, with a small Green Man statue to represent the spirits and a place where I can leave offerings. I also have a table indoors where I keep most of my houseplants, which is also a sacred space of sorts. The type of altar you create and its location will depend on the spirits you want to connect with — the possibilities are limitless.
  • Start a compost pile. Compost piles make excellent offerings to land spirits and plant spirits. While compost isn’t quite as simple as “just throw all your leftover food in a pile,” it’s not difficult if you know what you are doing. When composting, it’s important to maintain a balance between carbon-rich “brown” material (leaves, undyed paper, cardboard, etc.) and nitrogen-rich “greens” (fruit and veggie scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, etc.) — you want about four times as much brown as green in your compost. There are some things you shouldn’t add to your compost, like meat, dairy products, and greasy foods. Start your compost with a layer of brown material — preferably twigs or straw to allow good airflow. Alternate layers of green and brown materials as you add to the pile. Every time you add to your compost, verbally express your gratitude to the land spirits. Your compost should be moist, but not soggy — you’ll know it’s ready when it’s dark and crumbly and smells like soil. Use it on your garden and in your houseplant pots, or donate it to a local community garden.
  • Hold a territory acknowledgement. A territory acknowledgement is a way to insert awareness of indigenous people whose lands were stolen from them. You can acknowledge indigenous territory at the beginning of public religious events, or at the beginning of your private rituals. This practice will help you develop a deeper understanding of the history of your land, which can help deepen your connection to it as well as honoring its original inhabitants. A territory acknowledgement can be as simple as: “I acknowledge and honor this land, which is called [indigenous name of your area] and is home to the people of [indigenous nation].” Make sure you take the time to learn the correct pronunciation for these indigenous words. You can find out who originally lived in your area and what they called it by visiting native-land.ca.
  • Donate to conservation efforts. Instead of making physical offerings, make a donation to an environmentalist cause and dedicate it to your Spirits of Place. Look for groups that work in your local area, such as nonprofits dedicated to fighting deforestation and climate change, groups that protect rare and endangered native plants, or wildlife rehabilitation centers. Even volunteering at an animal shelter can be an appropriate offering to animal spirits.
  • Start a garden with native plants. Do some research into your local ecosystem — what plants are native to your area? Which of them are edible? Which of them have spiritual uses? Buy or forage seeds from these plants and start a 100% native garden. Growing and eating food that is native to your area can help deepen your connection to the land, the local plant spirits, and the cycle of the seasons.
  • Replace mainstream cleansing herbs with native plants. White sage, palo santo, frankincense, and sandalwood, some of the most popular cleansing herbs among modern pagans, are all endangered due to over-harvesting. Instead of buying endangered plants from far off lands, try to find a native plant you can use instead. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere where rosemary or lavender is native, you’re in luck! If not, try researching some of the plants in your backyard — you might be surprised what you find. Most plants in the Salvia (sage) family can be burned as incense to cleanse and consecrate a space. This family includes over 1,000 species spread out over Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Many trees also have cleansing properties, especially coniferous trees like pine, cedar, and juniper. Find out what is abundant in your area and find ways to incorporate it into your rituals.
  • Go for a hike. While bringing the Spirits of Place into our homes can be deeply meaningful, it’s also important to get out there and meet them on their own terms. Try to make time to get out in nature, and be open to connecting with the spirits you find on these trips. You don’t have to go far — even hanging out in a backyard or city park can allow you to connect with the land.
  • Feed the birds. And the squirrels, and the deer, or whatever other critters you have. Now, I am not recommending approaching wild animals and trying to befriend them. I am also not recommending feeding animals people food. Nature often rests in a delicate balance, and directly feeding wild animals can make them dependent on humans, which could be dangerous for them. While feeding local animals can be an excellent offering, it’s important to do it in a way that is safe and non-instrusive. It’s best to leave food in a place you know is frequented by animals, then let them find it after you’ve gone. Bird feeders and squirrel feeders are a great way to do this.
  • Clean your house. One of the best ways to honor house spirits? Keep their living space clean! Try to keep your house tidy and be a good roommate to its spirits. Try not to let clutter pile up, and take time to sweep, mop, and dust every once in a while. You can even ask your house spirits to help you keep the house clean — just make sure you’re also doing your fair share of housework, or they may get upset about the unfair arrangement.

These “little gods” of places and objects are often forgotten, but they are an important part of daily pagan practice. While the gods rule over grand concepts and forces of nature, and the ancestors are tied to our family and community, the Spirits of Place make up the ground we stand on, the air we breathe, and the places we call home. Perhaps more than any other group of spirits, they are truly the gods of the everyday.

Resources:

  • Water Magic by Lilith Dorsey
  • Southern Cunning by Aaron Oberon
  • Simply Living Well by Julia Watkins
  • The Way of Fire and Ice by Ryan Smith
  • A Practical Heathen’s Guide to Asatru by Patricia M. Lafayllve
  • Where the Hawthorn Grows by Morgan Daimler
  • Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham
  • Temple of the Cosmos by Jeremy Naydler

Water Magic by Lilith Dorsey (Review)

This review is part of the #SeaWitchReadingChallenge, which I am co-hosting with several other creators for the month of May. If you are interested in participating, check out my announcement video on YouTube.

This is the book I read for the first challenge prompt: “Read a book about the element of water and its use in magic.” This is the first book in the Elements of Witchcraft series, a new series focusing on the four classical elements and their role in modern witchcraft.

I flew through this book — I’m moving this week and working, so I didn’t expect to have much time to read, but I finished it in three days! It’s very easy to read, and I was able to download the audiobook from Scribd to listen to while I was packing. (Although, if you decide to get the audiobook, be aware that there are some truly atrocious mispronunciations.)

Pros

  • I love the diversity, especially in the mythology sections. Dorsey includes water-related myths from several cultures we don’t often see represented in books about witchcraft, including African cultures and several Native American nations. She also talks about the use of water in several different magic systems, from New Orleans Voodoo to La Regla Lucumi to Thelema.
  • I love how American this book is. That may sound weird, but a lot of books on witchcraft focus on a European brand of magic (often influenced by Wicca), even if the author is American. I like that Lilith Dorsey bases her practice in American folk magic and isn’t afraid to say so. It really makes this book stand out from all of the Wicca-lite witchcraft books Llewellyn usually publishes.
  • The sections on herbs and botanicals was very well researched and covered plants I don’t see in a lot of other books. Again, the influence of American folk magic and African Traditional Religions is very clear here.
  • While Dorsey does talk about closed traditions like New Orleans Voodoo and La Regla Lucumi, she makes it clear that people looking to engage with these traditions need to do so by finding a qualified teacher and pursuing initiation. We love to see authors who don’t encourage appropriation of closed religions.
  • Overall, I felt like this was a really solid and well-rounded introduction to the water element and its use in modern witchcraft.

Cons

  • The section on mythology contained some information that, while not technically inaccurate, was misleading or taken out of context. I mainly noticed this with the Norse and Irish mythology since that’s what I’ve studied the most, but I wouldn’t be surprised if other pantheons got the same treatment. This book perpetuates some modern misconceptions that don’t have a basis in the historic material, such as the Morrigan being a water goddess.
  • While I think Dorsey does a good idea of respecting the closed nature of African Traditional Religions, she treats elements of open and semi-closed religions as up for grabs. For example, she encourages readers to use holy water in spells — and if you’re uncomfortable using Catholic holy water, she suggests using Hindu holy water from the Ganges River. This rubbed me the wrong way. If you are not Hindu, you have no reason to use Hindu sacred items in your witchcraft. Taking religious elements out of context and using them for a totally different purpose is still disrespectful, even if that religion is not closed.
  • Dorsey encourages readers to dispose of leftover spell components, like crystals, by throwing them into a body of running water. While I realize that there is a historical precedent for this, it’s 2021 and we know better than to pollute our water sources. Please do not throw things in rivers and streams. You can rinse the item in the running water to cleanse it and then take it with you, and it will have the same metaphysical effect without the pollution.

Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars

Do I recommend? Yes

For a more detailed review, check out my reading vlog on YouTube!

Everything You Need to Know About Pagan Deity (Paganism 101)

Black Ceramic Figurine on Brown Wooden Table
Photo by DarksomeMoon, accessed via Pexels.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, there are many, many, many different approaches to deity within the wider pagan community. While it would be impossible to summarize all of these different perspectives in a single blog post, this post contains some common themes and best practices that are more or less universal and can be adapted to fit whatever system you choose to work with.

In my Baby Witch Bootcamp series, I talk about the “Four R’s” of working with spiritual beings, including deities: respect, research, reciprocity, and relationship. However, when it comes to gods and goddesses specifically, I think it’s important to include a fifth “R” — receptivity.

If you’re completely new to this kind of work and want to avoid making rookie mistakes and/or pissing off powerful spiritual forces, sticking to the Five R’s of Deity Relationships is a good place to start. The Five R’s are:

  • Respect. It’s always a good idea to have a healthy respect for the powers you choose to connect with, whether you see those powers as literal gods and goddesses or as archetypes within the collective unconscious (see below). While not every ritual needs to be incredibly formal and structured, you should always conduct yourself with an air of respect and reverence when connecting with deity. There’s no need to humble yourself to the point of cowering before the gods (and in fact, this kind of behavior is a turnoff for many deities), but you should strive to be polite and follow your system’s proper protocol for things like cleansing, offerings, and prayers.
  • Research. I am of the opinion that you should do serious research into a god or goddess before any attempt to make contact with them. This can be controversial, but in my own experience things seem to go more smoothly when I know what I’m doing. Books are really the way to go for this — the Internet can be useful for connecting with other worshipers and hearing their stories, but it isn’t a good source for nonbiased factual information. I recommend starting with academic sources written by secular experts for a purely historical account that won’t be colored by personal religious experience. Once you have a decent understanding of the basic historical context, look for books by pagan authors who have experience working with this deity. These sources will give you a framework for your own interactions with them.
  • Reciprocity. As we’ve discussed before, reciprocity is a core value of virtually every pagan tradition. Reciprocity is a mutual positive exchange where all parties benefit in some way, and this quality forms the backbone of all healthy relationships with deity. While we benefit from connecting with the gods, the gods also benefit from our worship. Upholding reciprocity in your relationships with deity means making regular offerings to show your appreciation as well as living in a way that your god or goddess approves of.
  • Relationship. At the end of the day, connecting with a god or goddess is about creating a healthy, fulfilling relationship. Like any relationship, it takes time and effort to keep the connection alive. The gods are living, thinking, feeling beings just like you and me, though on a much larger scale. Just like you and me, they have likes and dislikes and require certain things from those who want to work closely with them. Try to approach the gods as individuals, and connect with them as you would with another person. This will naturally lead to much more authentic and organic relationships.
  • Receptivity. To be receptive is to be open and ready to receive whatever comes your way — this is an essential quality for anyone who is serious about connecting with a god or goddess. Connecting with the gods means allowing them a place in your life, whatever they choose to bring with them. It means forming a relationship with them on their terms, and that requires us to give up a certain degree of control. While you should never feel afraid or completely out of control when connecting with deity (if you do, stop contacting that deity immediately), you may very well experience things you did not expect or ask for. Be prepared for these surprises, and understand that when the gods surprise us in this way, they do it in order to help us grow. Let go of any preconceived ideas about what a relationship with this deity “should” look like, and instead let it unfold naturally.

Though there is much more to working with deity than just these values, keeping these values in mind will get you started out on the right foot in your relationships with the gods.

Deity or Archetype?

As odd as it may sound, not everyone who connects with the gods through study and ritual believes those gods to be literal spiritual beings. Some pagans (I would even say the majority of pagans, based on my personal experience) connect with the gods as individuals with their own personalities and agency, but others connect with them as symbols that represent different elements of the human experience. This latter group is working with the gods not as deity, but as archetypes.

The term “archetype” comes from academia, particularly the fields of psychology and literary analysis. An archetype is a symbol that embodies the fundamental characteristics of a person, thing, or experience.

Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung argued that archetypes are powerful symbols within the collective unconscious (basically an ancestral memory shared by all of humanity) that arise due to shared experiences across cultures. For example, Jung would argue that Demeter, Juno, and Frigg all represent the “Mother” archetype filtered through different cultural lenses, reflecting the important role of mothers across Greek, Roman, and Old Norse culture. For Jung and his followers, archetypes allow us to connect to latent parts of our own psyche — by connecting with the Mother archetype, for example, you can develop motherly qualities like patience, empathy, and nurturing.

For comparative mythology expert Joseph Campbell, archetypes represented types of characters that appear in some form in most or all global mythology. In his book, The Hero of a Thousand Faces, Campbell identified the “hero’s journey” as the archetypal narrative framework on which most stories, from ancient myths to modern films, are based. (If you’ve taken literally any high school literature class, you’re probably familiar with Campbell’s work.) Like Jung, Campbell has been hugely influential on modern pagans who choose to connect with the gods as archetypes.

Working with an archetype is a little different than working with a deity. For one thing, while archetypes may manifest as gods and goddesses, they can also manifest as fictional characters, historical figures, or abstract symbols. Let’s say you want to tap into the Warrior archetype. You could connect with this archetype by working with gods like Mars, Thor, or Heracles — but you could just as easily do so by working with superheroes like Luke Cage or Colossus, literary figures like Ajax or Achilles, or the abstract concepts of strength and honor.

When pagans worship a deity, it’s because they want to form a relationship with that deity for some reason. But when pagans work with an archetype, it’s usually because they want to embody aspects of that archetype. In our above example, you may be trying to connect to the Warrior archetype to gain confidence or become more assertive.

The biggest difference between worshiping a deity and working with an archetype is that a deity is an external force, while an archetype is an internal force. When you connect with a deity, you are connecting with a spiritual being outside of yourself — a being with their own thoughts, feelings, and drives. When you connect with an archetype, you are connecting with a part of your own psyche. Because of this, archetypes tend to be more easily defined and behave in more predictable ways than deities, although some archetypes can be very complex and multi-faceted.

On the surface, worship and archetype work might be very similar, but the “why” behind the action is fundamentally different.

If you choose to worship the Morrigan, for example, you may have an altar dedicated to her, make regular offerings to her, speak with her in meditations and astral journeys, and/or write poetry or make art in her honor. If you choose to work with the Wild Woman archetype, it may look very similar to an outside observer — you may have an altar dedicated to the Wild Woman energy, speak with manifestations of Wild Woman (perhaps including the Morrigan) in meditation, and write poetry or make art dedicated to this archetype. However, these actions will have a very different intent behind them. Your Wild Woman altar is not a sacred space but a visual trigger to help you connect to the Wild Woman within you. Your meditations are conversations with different aspects of your own personality, not with a separate being. Your art is an expression of self, not a devotional act. The result is a deeper connection to yourself, not a relationship with another being.

I hope I’ve made it clear that archetype work and deity worship can both be very worthwhile spiritual practices, and that each serves its own purpose. Many pagans, myself included, work with both deities and archetypes.

There is some overlap between worshiping a deity and working with an archetype, and many pagans start out with one practice before eventually ending up in the other. Sometimes working with an archetype leads you to encounter a deity who embodies that archetype, which can lead to a relationship with that deity. Likewise, your relationship with a deity may help you become aware of a certain archetype’s influence in your life, which might lead you to work with that archetype.

Making First Contact

First impressions are important. This is true for making new friends, for job interviews, for first dates — and for your first meeting with a god or goddess. In many cases, the way you behave in your first meeting with a deity will set the tone for your relationship with them.

That being said, don’t overthink (or over-stress) about your first impression. You aren’t going to be cursed or punished if you mess this up — at the very worst, the deity might lose interest in connecting with you, and even that can often be remedied with an offering and a polite apology. While it’s always best to get off on the right foot, don’t feel like you need to be perfect.

So, how do you make a good first impression on a god or goddess? Honestly, the rules are largely the same for making a good first impression on any other person. Make sure your physical appearance is clean and tidy — some systems, such as Hellenismos and Kemetic paganism, have special rules for cleansing before contacting the gods, but it’s always a good idea to take a shower first and make sure you’re wearing clean clothes. Likewise, make sure the physical space you invite the gods into is relatively clean — it doesn’t need to be spotless, but take a minute to tidy up before beginning any ritual. Be polite — there’s no need to be overly formal, but you should be respectful. Don’t immediately ask for favors — how would you feel if you met someone at a party and they immediately asked you to do some sort of work for them?

Beyond the basics, it’s wise to make sure you have an idea of who this god is and what they are like before you reach out to them. This will keep you from accidentally doing something offensive. For example, you wouldn’t want to invite them to an altar dedicated to a deity they have a rivalry with. Likewise, you want to avoid offering food or drink that would have been taboo in their original worship. (Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but when you’re just starting out it’s a good idea to follow the historical framework as closely as possible.)

At the risk of sounding like a broken record: this is why research is so important. Knowing who you are dealing with allows you to deal with them respectfully, gracefully, and competently.

Callings

There’s one aspect of deity worship that is controversial in modern paganism: the idea of being “called” by a deity. This is a question you’ll find many, many heated discussions about online. Do you need to be called by a deity to form a relationship with them? Do deities choose their followers, or do we choose them? How do you know what a call from a deity even looks like?

As I said, this is a controversial topic, but I firmly believe that 1.) you do not have to feel called to a deity beyond being interested in them, and 2.) feeling drawn to a deity’s image, symbols, and myths is a form of calling.

Many pagans do feel like they were called or drawn to the deities they walk most closely with. They may have encountered myths of that deity as a child or teenager and deeply resonated with them, or may have always had an affinity for that god’s sacred animals. They may have dreamed of this deity before knowing who they were, or may have felt a spiritual presence around them before identifying it as a god or goddess.

Many people first encounter the gods in fiction, only for this fictionalized depiction to spark a deeper connection that eventually leads to worship. In the modern era, it’s entirely possible for someone who worships Loki to have first encountered him (or at least a character loosely based on him) in Marvel comics and films, or for someone who worships the Greek pantheon to have first discovered them through the Percy Jackson books. As far as I’m concerned, this is also a valid “call” from deity. The gods are very good at communicating with us through the means available — including fiction.

That being said, just because you don’t already feel a strong connection to a god or goddess doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t worship them. The connection will come with time and effort, just like in any relationship.

Dedication, Patrons, and Matrons

In online spaces such as Tumblr and TikTok, a lot of inexperienced pagans parrot the idea that every pagan needs to have a designated matron and/or patron god and/or needs to be formally dedicated to a god in order to have a close relationship with them. Not only is this untrue, but such restrictions can actually cause harm and/or stunt spiritual growth.

Let’s address dedication first. To be dedicated to a deity means to outwardly declare yourself a servant of that deity, usually with a formal dedication ritual — think of it as the pagan version of joining a convent or going to seminary. It is an outward expression of your devotion and loyalty to that deity. Dedicants are held to a higher standard than the average worshiper by themselves, their communities, and the god(s) they have dedicated to.

Dedication can be a powerful and fulfilling spiritual experience (it’s the backbone of many peoples’ spiritual practice), but it should not be taken lightly. Dedicating yourself to a god or goddess should be a sign of your commitment to them and a deepening of your relationship — it should not be the beginning of that relationship.

Dedication is a lot like marriage. Just like you wouldn’t marry someone you’ve only been on a handful of dates with, you shouldn’t dedicate to a deity just because you’ve had one or two positive experiences with them. Like marriages, dedication can be difficult to get out of — ending your dedication to a deity is possible, but it’s a messy, complicated, uncomfortable process that is sure to shift the foundation of your entire spiritual practice, and not always for the better.

My advice to new and inexperienced pagans is not to even consider dedication until you’ve been practicing for several years. As you begin your journey, your focus should be on exploring your options, forming meaningful connections, and developing a practice that works for you and your unique spiritual needs. Now is the time for experimentation, not lifelong commitments.

But let’s say you are an experienced pagan, and you feel like you are ready for dedication. How do you know if you should dedicate to a given god or goddess?

Dedication may be the logical next step in your relationship with a deity if:

  • This deity has been an active part of your spiritual practice for at least 2-3 years, with no major gaps in contact with them
  • You are comfortable upholding this deity’s values for the rest of your life — and are willing to face consequences if you fail to do so
  • You are willing to dedicate a significant amount of time and effort to the service of this deity
  • You are willing to face major changes in your life outside your spiritual practice — dedicating to a deity often leads to major shifts that may affect our career, family, and/or relationships

If you answered “yes” to all of the above, dedication may be appropriate. This may seem overly cautious, but remember that dedicating to a deity is a serious, lifelong commitment akin to joining the clergy. For context, it takes at least five years of study and practice to become a Catholic priest, a similar amount of time to become a Jewish rabbi, and three years to become a high priest/ess in Traditional Wicca. If you don’t have the patience to maintain a relationship for a few years before dedication, that is probably a good indicator that dedication isn’t for you.

If you are dedicated to a deity or are planning to dedicate, you may actually choose to attend seminary or receive some other formal religious training. This training will help you to better serve your deity in a public capacity, as you will learn skills like religious counselling, leading ritual, and building community. If your program of study includes ordination, it will also allow you to perform legally binding religious rituals like marriage ceremonies. Depending on your path, attending seminary or training may be your act of formal dedication.

Finally, let me make it clear that dedication does not make you a better pagan than someone who is not dedicated. The choice to dedicate or not dedicate is only one element of your spiritual practice, and it is possible to have a fulfilling and life-affirming practice without dedication. Some of the people who do the most work in the service of the gods are not dedicated to them. You may be one of these people, and that is totally okay.

Patron/matron relationships are a specific type of dedication.

The concept of patron deities comes from Wicca and related neopagan religions. As we’ve previously discussed, Wicca is a duotheistic system with a God and Goddess, whose union is the source of all creation. However, because Wiccans believe that all gods are manifestations of the God and all goddesses are manifestations of the Goddess, some covens choose to work with the God and Goddess in the form of other deities (say, for example, Osiris and Isis), which are referred to as the coven’s “patron” and “matron” deities. In these covens, initiation into the coven’s mysteries (traditionally in the form of first, second, and third degree initiations) typically acts as a form of dedication to these deities.

As Eclectic Wicca has gained popularity in the last few decades, there has been a growing trend of individual Wiccans and eclectic pagans choosing personal patron and/or matron deities. Some Wiccans will have a single god or goddess they are dedicated to, while others feel that it is very important to be dedicated to exactly one masculine deity and exactly one feminine deity. This second model is the one I see most often in online pagan spaces, especially Tumblr and TikTok.

The patron/matron model can be useful for some pagans, but it is not one-size-fits-all. As I mentioned, this model of dedication comes from Wicca, and is a very modern concept. In ancient pagan religions, most people would not have been dedicated in this way. That does not mean that this isn’t a valid form of worship (it absolutely is), but it does mean that those who practice reconstructionist paths may not be inclined to interact with deity this way.

The guidelines for patron/matron relationships are similar to the guidelines for dedication in general, but these relationships often (but not always) have a more parental nature. For some people, having a divine mother and/or father figure is ideal — especially for those who are healing from parental trauma or abuse. If you feel drawn to this type of deity relationship, I encourage you to explore it.

On the other hand, you may not have any interest in the patron/matron model, and that’s totally fine! It’s called polytheism for a reason — if you prefer to maintain less formal relationships with many gods, you should feel free to do so.

I hope this post has helped clarify some of the murkier aspects of polytheism and deity work. Obviously, this is only the tip of the iceberg — I could write a book about this topic and many, many authors already have. However, I think the information here is enough to get you started, and I hope that it will provide a first step on your journey with your gods.

Resources:

  • Wicca for Beginners by Thea Sabin
  • A Witches’ Bible by Janet and Stewart Farrar
  • The Spiral Dance by Starhawk
  • Where the Hawthorn Grows by Morgan Daimler
  • The Way of Fire and Ice by Ryan Smith
  • Jessi Huntenburg (YouTuber), “Dancing with Deity | Discovering Gods, Goddesses, and Archetypes,” “Archetype, Deity, and Inviting Transpersonal Experience,” and “10 Ways to Bond with Deity”
  • Kelly-Ann Maddox (YouTuber), “How to Have Deep Connections with Deities”