Thursday, April 18, 2013

Stone Spotting - Sapphire

Our group has a very talented stone worker in our High Priestess, Kat.  Many of us enjoy working with or using stones.  I have always been a rock hound and enjoy finding rocks and carrying them with me.  From time to time I hope to spotlight some stones and their magical properties, history, symbolism, etc.  Today's stone is the sapphire.

The 422.99 carat Logan Sapphire, the second largest known sapphire in the world.

Basics: Sapphire is a variety of the mineral corundum, an aluminum oxide.  Other trace elements in the stone can vary its color.  Sapphires are most commonly blue, but can also be yellow, green, gray, black, purple, orange, or pink.  The presence of chromium creates a red stone, the ruby.  Sapphires have a hardness of 9 on the Mohs Scale (diamonds are 10) and are often used in industrial processes such as drilling or cutting.  Sapphires are found in many places, principally Madagascar, Australia, Sri Lanka, China, East Africa, and North America (mostly Montana).  They are often found together with rubies.  Star sapphires exist and these stars usually have either six or twelve points.  A variety of sapphire called the color change sapphire appears blue under natural light and purple under incandescent light.  These are mostly found in Tanzania.  Sapphires are the birth stone for the month of September.

The Black Star of Queensland, a black star sapphire weighing 733 carats.

Associations: Many will recognize sapphire as the stone in the engagement ring given by Britain's Prince William to his wife Katherine Middleton.  This ring originally was used by his father, Prince Charles, when proposing to Diana Spenser.  Sapphires were previously very common for engagement rings and were seen as a symbol of fidelity and true love.  Etymologically, the English word “sapphire” derives from Latin sapphirussappirus from Greek σαπφειρος (sappheiros) from Hebrew סַפִּיר (sappir) from Old Iranian sani-prijam, from SanskritShanipriya (शनिप्रिय), from "shani" (शनि) meaning "Saturn" and "priya" (प्रिय), dear, i.e. literally “dear to Saturn.”  The Greek term for sapphire quite likely was misapplied, and instead, used to refer to lapis lazuli.  During the Medieval Ages, European lapidaries came to refer to blue corundum crystal by its “sapphire-blue” color, whence the modern name for “sapphire.”  It was said to cure anger and stupidity during renaissance times.  This stone is also associated with wisdom and mental clarity, hence its inclusion in crowns and ceremonial items used by royalty and religious leaders, including the sapphire of Edward the Confessor in the British Imperial Crown of State and St. Edward's Crown.  Because of its blue color it also symbolized a connection with the heavens and was common in rings worn by bishops as well as Hindu religious leaders.

In the Old Testament, Isaiah 54:11 discusses building on a foundation of sapphires.  In both Exodus and Ezekiel God is described as resting on sapphires (a pavement of sapphires in Exodus, a sapphire throne in Ezekiel).  Some traditions state that the original ten commandments were given to Moses on tablets of sapphire.

Sapphires can focus healing energies toward someone who needs them.  They maintain their old Vedic association with the planet Saturn, as well as the blue-tinted Venus.  In some healing practices sapphires are associated with healing bleeding disorders such as tuberculosis, nosebleeds, and cardiovascular issues, as well as burns.

The Star of India, 563.35 carats.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Repost - Baking Better Bread

This post originally appeared last autumn on my Pagan-themed tumblr  

“Cooking means the knowledge of Medea and Circe, and of Calypso and Helen, and of Rebekah, and of the Queen of Sheba. It means the knowledge of all fruits, and herbs, and balms, and spices, and of all that is healing and sweet in fields and groves, and savory in meats; it means carefulness, and inventiveness, and watchfulness, and willingness, and readiness of appliance; it means much tasting and no wasting; it means English thoroughness, and French art, and Arabian hospitality; it means, in fine, that you are to be perfect and always ‘ladies’—’loaf-givers.’” — John Ruskin
Though the notion of being a “lady” seems rather antiquated to postmodern feminist ears like my own, it is interesting to recall that the word lady comes from the Anglo-Saxon word hlaefdig, meaning loaf-giver.  I don’t believe that feeding one’s family and loved ones is solely a woman’s art, but I do take the heart the notion that preparing food for a friend or loved one is an act of love, protection, magic, and bonding.  The receiver must have trust that the giver will feed them well.  The giver has all of the time involved in the cooking to imbue the dish with his or her love, intentions, dreams, prayers, and magic.
Food is a powerful medium in many ways.  It also teaches us lessons we can apply to our lives in other areas.  When making my first Pate a Choux (the pastry used for puff pastries, eclairs, etc.) last week I had one of those moments familiar to many cooks, a moment where all the hard work seemed to be falling apart, the dough didn’t look right, didn’t behave, and generally seemed like an absolute failure.  I trusted the recipe, though, I followed the directions, and then in one single lovely moment it all came together and turned out to be perfect.  That brave step into the abyss and the reassurance of a hand catching you and lifting you is something we all experience in life, and that trust in a higher power, whether the recipe or the divine, is something worth cultivating.
I have made a lot of bread in my time.  I love baking bread, and have done it on a weekly basis for as long as I’ve lived on my own.  I’ve tried to learn about the technique, the chemistry, and the history of baking, and I’ve certainly made enough doorstop loaves to learn a few things.  This past weekend I baked the loaf of bread I have been trying to bake all my baking days.  It taught me that trust in the recipe even when it didn’t seem right, it taught me to not mess with things too much and instead to trust them to turn out, and it reinforced my love of cooking on good, strong cast-iron, the older the better.
In celebration of kitchen magic and this time of year, a time in which we are drawing in as the days draw in, all engrossed in feeding those we love, here is a simple and delicious bread recipe.  Dream as you bake it, and tear into it, hot and steaming, with someone you love.  Happy thanksgiving.
Diane’s Best Boule
Sourdough starter:  If you don’t have active starter yourself, and don’t know anyone who does, it isn’t hard to make your own starter (and by make I mean catch several wild living organisms, strains of wild yeast and bacteria that will do your body a favor by digesting wheat gluten and giving you the staff of life… isn’t yeast amazing?!).  It takes a few days, and there are many different ways to do it.  Here is mine:
Mix 1 cup of water and 1 cup of flour in a non-metal container.  Add a pinch of sugar.  Cover with a cloth and leave out at room temperature (or warmer, 80 degrees is about perfect for yeast).  Check daily.  In 4-7 days it should start looking bubbly with a little liquid on top (the alcohol given off by the yeast, called hooch), and smell sour.  You now have your very own living yeast culture, made from wild yeast unique to your area.  It can be stored in the fridge (covered) for several weeks without feeding (this varies).  It can be frozen or dried for long-term storage, and it will provide you with endless delicious food.  It will be your favorite pet, I promise. 
To feed your starter pour off the hooch on the top, add equal parts flour and water, mix with a non-metal utensil, and leave out in a warm place until it gets bubbly.  This can take several hours.  I will often feed my starter before bed and go on to the next step in the morning.  When feeding add the same amount of water and flour that you need for your recipe (i.e. if you need one cup of starter, add one cup of water and one cup of flour to your starter).  If you can’t wait 4-7 days to try this bread, make a quickie sourdough starter by adding a teaspoon of instant yeast to your water/flour mix, then treat as normal sourdough starter.  It won’t be as sour at first, but leaving the starter out every time you feed it will begin to expose it to wild yeasts.  All starter gets better with time, which is why you should try to get some from a friend. :)
Sponge: This is the start of all good breads, and will help give your bread that wonderful sourdough taste.  In a large non-metal bowl mix 1 cup of sourdough starter, 1 cup of water, and 2 cups of flour.  I use a 50/50 mix of all-purpose flour and whole-wheat bread flour.  Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm space until the sponge doubles in size.  This usually takes several hours, and can certainly be left overnight or all day while you’re at work.
Dough: Now the magic happens.  To your nice poofy sponge add 2 teaspoons of salt, 1 tablespoon of oil of your choice, and a teaspoon of sugar.  I’ll be honest, this next bit I never measure, so I am going to start talking in handfuls.  Your hands are going to get doughy and floury at some point, so you might as well get into it.  Besides, this is a spiritual experience.  Add two handfuls of flour (I use one white, one whole wheat), and start folding and mixing the dough.  It will be very sticky at this point.  There are lots of videos out there about how to knead dough.  I leave it in the bowl and kind of stretch/smoosh it, fold it over, rotate the bowl, and repeat.  Once the flour is all incorporated add more flour, one handful at a time until the dough just barely stops sticking to your hands.  You want it as wet as it can be without being goop you can’t handle.  This is the time to add herbs, cheese, garlic, dried fruit, nuts, etc. if you want them.
Proofing: Shape your dough into a ball (or a boule if you’re fancy and Italian) and place it on a VERY well-floured surface.  Sprinkle with more flour and leave it to sit for about 30 minutes.  Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.  Place in your oven a large casserole dish with a cover - glass, iron, enamelware, whatever you like.  You want the dish to get hot with the oven. 
Baking:When your dough has rested for a while and the oven is hot, carefully pull out the dish.  Gently lift your dough and place it in the dish, cover, and return to the oven for 30 minutes.  The dish serves two purposes - it distributes the heat more evenly over the surface of the bread, and it helps hold in the moisture, giving you a nice crisp crust and chewy interior.  The time while the dough is cooking is another great opportunity for reflection or other workings.  I often will light a candle or say a prayer to Brigid, who protects the kitchen and the hearth.
When you take the bread out of the oven place it on a cooling rack and try to give it at least 10 minutes to cool, this will keep it from tearing when you try to cut it.  Enjoy and give thanks to your quick mind, strong hands, and warm heart for helping you feed yourself and your family.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Quickie - A Free Ebook!

Check out Kent David Kelly's For the Dark Is the Light - a Lyric Book of Shadows.  It is free today on Kindle.  I haven't read it before but got my free copy.  You don't need a kindle to read this - there are android and iphone apps and you can read directly from the computer too.  Anybody else read this book?  What did you think?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Member Spotlight - Me!

The member spotlight is a new feature that will pop up on the blog from time to time so that readers can get a chance to meet everyone involved in Ancient Oaks.  Since this was a spur of the moment decision and I haven't gotten any victims, I mean volunteers, to participate yet, I'll start by interviewing myself!

Basics - Who are you?

Hi!  I'm Diane!  I am a 29-year-old gal and I live in Boise with my Scottish husband, four cats, two dogs, and a big old garden.

Where are you from?

I was born in Seattle and lived there until I was 10.  I am a seafood addict and beach lover as a result.  Our family then moved to Livingston, Montana where I enjoyed the wilderness and the small-town life.  When I was 15 our family moved again to Boise.  I took a while to warm up to it, but now it's definitely my forever home.  I went to University of Oregon in Eugene, and loved living there too.  As part of that I spent a year living in Aberdeen, Scotland, where I met my husband and studied at Aberdeen University.  Aberdeen's a lot like Boise in some ways, and I'd love to go back.

What do you do?

I work in the Student Financials office at Boise State University.  That means I'm a great resource if you are going to college or thinking about it.  I used to do social work and I also love volunteering.

Do you have a magick/ritual name?  Why or why not?

I've never felt it necessary to have a magick or ritual name.  My name, Diane, is the French rendering of the Roman goddess Diana.  I love that, and I can't think of a better name I'd choose. :)

What is your star sign?  Do you think it describes you?

I am a Capricorn.  Capricorn is both an earth and a water sign, and I definitely feel strong connections to both elements.  Capricorns are ambitious, stubborn, hard-working, practical, efficient, detail-oriented, conventional, patient, independent (sometimes to a fault), intellectual, disciplined, sensible, dignified, reserved, polite, competitive, and friendly.  They sometimes seem not to have very deep feelings, but this is usually because they are very sensitive underneath, and don't always feel comfortable sharing these feelings with others.  I think that sums me up very well indeed. :)

How would you define your path?

That's a difficult question for me!  I would describe myself as a green/kitchen witch.  I find powerful energy in cultivating plants and through the transformation of plants and animals into nourishing food.  I also love learning about the history of different crafts and integrating them into my magical practice - especially textile arts - processing raw wool, dyeing it, spinning it, and knitting or weaving it, into garments to clothe my loved ones.  I have also loved to dance and move for my entire life.  Dancing is a very powerful act to me, as is hiking and communing with nature.  I am a bit of a skeptic, and haven't had much religion in my life, even before becoming Pagan.  Most of my rituals are small, quiet, and solitary.  My work with Grove of the Ancient Oaks has been a good learning experience for me in suspending disbelief, opening up and being vulnerable, and sharing these deep things with other people without fear of rejection or mockery.  My chosen deities are mostly from the Celtic and Norse pantheons, as my heritage is predominantly Danish, Cornish, Welsh, and Scottish.  That said, I love learning about deities, myths, and folktales from other cultures and looking for syncretism and parallels between them.  I believe that each deity is a lens through which we understand a small portion of the Divine, which is too enormous for us to ever comprehend in its entirety.  I am a bit of a reconstructionist in my path, a bit eclectic, a bit solitary.  If there's a name for all that, I'd love to know what it is!

How did you get interested in your path?

I am the child of a couple of hippies who I would describe as tree-hugging dirt worshippers.  When I was a kid our lives were very chaotic, and at a lonely and difficult time in my early teens a friend started bringing me to the LDS church she attended.  I found companionship and stability there, and a truly normal way of life.  There were rules I could understand and follow.  There were lots of happy whole families.  There were lots of people who loved and welcomed me.  I decided to convert when I was 14, and spent about a year in the church.  A move to a new state followed shortly after by the suicide of one of my new LDS friends was enough to start me questioning my path, and at the age of 15 I made a list of all the other religions I could think of and started researching.  I read the Koran just after 9/11 while my schoolmates were spewing hate about Islam.  I read sacred texts from Buddhism, Hinduism, various translations of the Old and New Testaments.  As soon as I read the first Pagan book to cross my path I knew Paganism was for me.  It was like someone wrote down what I already believed.  I was 18 when I officially dedicated myself to this path, and I haven't looked back since.

What brought you to the group?

I was a solitary practitioner for most of my practice.  When I met my husband I was thrilled to learn he was a  Pagan too.  I really enjoyed having that connection.  However, my husband discovered a few years ago that he has Jewish roots in his maternal ancestry and began exploring reform Judaism.  He officially converted about a year ago.  During the conversion process I went through a very deep mourning.  It was hard for me to be happy for him even though he was pursuing what made him feel truly whole and happy.  I decided then that I needed to look for other Pagans to share my journey.  I looked at a lot of groups, but none seemed right for me.  When I found Ancient Oaks online, something about it just felt right.  Though I'm often uncomfortable meeting new people and I'm a total introverted homebody, my need to step back from my husband's new faith and reconnect with my own path forced me to be brave, and the nice people in the group certainly made it easier.  I should add that after some time to process I really support my husband's path.  He is very happy, and his congregation is welcoming and kind.  I enjoy worshipping with them, and find that it fits nicely into my belief system too.

What is your preferred way to worship?

Much of my worship is performed silently, and alone.  I am a member of a flame keepers group to honor Brigid, my matron goddess.  We each have one day of each month in which we tend a sacred flame for her.  I occasionally read tarot.  I have an altar that is sometimes set up in my house, sometimes stored under my bed so that I can absorb its energies and it can absorb mine.  I love rocks and often find and carry them with me when the mood strikes.  I also love plants and the magic contained in a single seed.  Planting and tending to green things is a wonderful way to feel my spirituality and connection to the earth.  Often my worship involves making food or fiber items in a meditative and intention-filled way.  I also participate in circles with Ancient Oaks, and I've really enjoyed getting out of my comfort zone and learning how others practice their faith.

What is your role in the group?

I am a member of the council of elders in the Ancient Oaks group.  My role is Guardian of the Air.  I feel a real connection with the Air element, even though I'm a water/earth sign.  Air is the element of movement, of vitality.  It pervades every part of the earth and connects all of us to each other.  I consider Air to be a lighthearted element that is not concerned with what is "supposed to be."  It is a constant effort for a serious neurotic person like myself to pursue that lightness and joy.  It's been very good for me. :)  I also, of course, maintain this blog.  I'm an internet junkie and a longtime blogger (started my first one in 1998) so it's a good fit.

Random fact about yourself?

When I learned that DaVinci could write upside down and mirror image I decided I should learn to do the same, and I'm proud to say I can!  I can also write with both hands at the same time, with the writing mirroring what the other hand has done (backwards with one hand, forwards with the other).

What do you do to relax?

I love reading books.  I am also a bit of a British culture junkie, especially since my husband's from Scotland.  I love Dr. Who, playing tabletop games, and occasionally participating in pub trivia nights with my knitting group.  I also teach and perform Scottish Country Dance with the Thistle and Ghillies.  We'd love to have you join us!

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Well, I'd love to go back to Scotland.  I haven't been since 2007, and haven't seen any of my husband's family since we got married.  I think if I had to choose somewhere I've never been I'd choose Scandinavia.  I'd love to take a pony trek through Iceland or tour the historical sites in Denmark, where some of my ancestors lived.  I'd also really like to see the east coast of Canada - Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island... it's lovely there and the history is really fascinating to me.  Also, lots of good music and dancing happens there, and there are more Gaelic speakers in Nova Scotia than there are in Scotland!

Any suggestions for the group or anything else you'd like to say?

Not much!  If you'd like to be featured for the Member Spotlight, leave me a comment!  I'm happy to sit down and record your answers if you don't feel like typing them out, or you can feel free to copy these questions and type out an email with your responses.  I'd love to feature all our members here eventually!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Pagan Social Networking Sites

For most of my practice, I was a completely solitary Pagan.  I did not participate in groups of any kind.  As an introvert in general I did not feel comfortable interacting with others about something so private and important, and indeed, I didn't really feel the need for companionship in my path.  However, I have always enjoyed connecting with others online, and there are a variety of websites to help you find support and companionship.

Of course, one of the most well-known pagan resources on the web is WitchVox.  This site has been in existence since 1997 and is a great clearinghouse for Pagan/Wiccan news, blogging, and networking.  WitchVox was actually how I found Ancient Oaks in the first place.  The group turned out to be a great fit for me when I really did start to need the support and companionship of other Pagans.  Here is a link to the listing for our Pagan Round Table group run by High Priestess Kat and High Priest Troll.  We also have a listing for the Ancient Oaks Group.

Another networking site is PaganSpace.  It contains a variety of news, blogs, social groups, and event listings.

The Pagan Veil has a lot of informational articles in addition to the ability to connect with others of various paths and experience levels.

Pagan Friends is a UK-based networking site that contains a wiki, forums, blogs, and plenty of chatter from folks around the world.

The Book of Shadows site has been newly redesigned to include message boards, a library of articles, and a forum.

And finally, Witchbook is a forum-style site with a very wide variety of topics and interest groups.

If you've used any of these sites please let us know what you think!  Which sites do you use to connect with other Pagans?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Updates from the Council

There are a few items of note that were discussed at the latest council meeting which may be of interest to members and friends of the Ancient Oaks.

Kat introduced the idea of doing some service for our community, and the project that we are currently interested in is called ReLeaf Boise, which focuses on planting trees in our community in conjunction with the Arbor Day holiday in late April.  This is a no-brainer for our grove.  Who better to look to the trees than us?  Stay tuned for more info or check the social networking pages (links to the right) to get involved.

Ancient Oaks also plans to have a booth at Goddess Fest 2013, which takes place July 27 and 28.  This is always a great event and now that our group has reached its first birthday it's time for us to declare our presence.  Each council member will contribute to the cost of the booth, and we will be sharing our talents and giving out information about the group.

If you know of other events or activities in the Treasure Valley area that might be a good fit for Ancient Oaks, please let us know!