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DARKFLOWER NEWSLETTER #1: Spinning Our Web


The Hanged Woman: Arachne

from the forthcoming Darkflower Oracle Deck

8" by 10" prints available in the Darkflower etsy shop later this week!

Tons of new items arriving as the week progresses!


Hello, folks, and welcome to the first official Darkflower newsletter! Rather than send out a gaggle of mini blog posts, we'll be gathering everything into a twice monthly newsletter with articles and letting you know about markets, classes, new items, and featuring artists and practitioners in the pagan community. There's a lot to cover this week, so let's get started!


Hecate: The Triple Goddess by Tava Baird



 

The Witch of Wolfcroft: Introduction to Pagan Practice


As someone who has been practicing for over three decades...okay, fine, nearly four...I often get asked "where do I start?" I am currently writing a series of introductory workbooks that teach the type of witchcraft that I practice (called Spiral Pathways Witchcraft). The first workbook currently has nine people - some of them brand-new, some of them experienced practitioners - working their way through the lessons and giving me feedback to ensure that I serve you well. Here's an early chapter from Workbook One on the modern pagan community and our history.


History

There are two types of history I would like to touch on: the history of the modern witchcraft movement, and your own. As a person with an archaeology degree, I like to know the historical context of everything, and my students seem to find it very helpful, too.

Let’s start with a bit about the modern witchcraft and pagan movements.


Modern History

The internet is a wonderful thing. I’m old enough to remember when there was no internet. If you wanted information about witchcraft, you had to find a metaphysical bookshop or get lucky in a library. There were newsletters around then too. And because there were a lot less people accessing the information, the information was much easier to comprehend. Today, I can gather twenty pagans in a circle and every single one of them will tell me that the word witch means something different. I spend a ridiculous amount of time asking people what their actual practice is and what the words pagan, coven, and witch mean to them. Due to this massive variety of definitions, I think it’s important for me to share what I think these words mean so that you know what I’m referring to in future lessons. And because I’m a teacher and historian, I’m going with the following:


Pagan: A person who models their belief system outside of the established major religions. Most often polytheistic (meaning the belief system is structured with more than one Goddess or God.) For example: Christianity, which is monotheistic (meaning there is one God) is not a pagan belief system. Someone whose beliefs include interactions with the Germanic/Norse pantheon of Thor, Odin, Loki, Freyja, etc. would be considered pagan. Modern pagans often look for a connection to nature and seek out pre-Christian belief systems. A witch is a type of pagan, but a pagan is not necessarily a witch. In Latin, pagan meant “rustic” or “from the country” and was applied to people who followed belief systems tied to the land, seasons, and crops. The word heathen has been applied in a derogatory way to pagans and non-pagans throughout history, generally to insinuate that the person was amoral and godless. Many modern pagans I have met are rather enamored of the term these days and have reclaimed it. 


At the Pagan gatherings I go to there are Celtic pagans, Germanic pagans, people who work with Greek and Roman pantheons, people who follow African and Asian and Middle Eastern practices, people utilizing Native American practices, and people who have angels and daemons in their wheelhouse. Often the path that people choose is linked to their own ancestry, but not necessarily. Alternative healers of all stripes hang out in the pagan community too: at every event I run into sound healers, Reiki practitioners, aura readers, and more. One nice thing about the pagan community I move in: they’re very accepting of diversity, as most all of them know what it’s like not to feel that you fit in. There are no pagan police, so anything goes. It’s a lovely thing, but can also be confusing sometimes. Just keep asking questions and decide if you are comfortable with the practices of the person you are talking to before joining in.


I’ll be using pagan to mean anyone with a spiritual belief system outside of large major organized religions. 


Coven: The traditional meaning of the word coven is “a group or gathering of witches who meet regularly”. That’s how I’m going to be using it. It used to be that you had to be invited to join, and that there was generally an initiation of some sort. The thing was, you didn’t want your coven to be very big, because…well, people were persecuted for witchcraft. The witchcraft revival movement, which we’ll get to in a minute, tended to have covens of certain types of witches: i.e., Alexandrian, Garnerian, Dianic, etc. But the truth is that there have always been solitary witches who practice alone or with a friend on occasion, and it doesn’t make you any less a witch if you are a Solitary. It can just be a bit lonely at times.


What you find today is groups of pagans online using the word coven in a new way. The people in them are not all witches, and it’s as easy to join as joining a Facebook group. These groups will sometimes just chat for company, but some host markets, gatherings, full moon rituals, and do charity work together. Just keep in mind: anyone can join. Just because someone’s in a coven doesn’t mean they’re an experienced magickal practitioner. They might not even be who they say they are. And they might not even be pagan. On the other hand, I have met some truly wonderful people through my local online coven. Just like in all areas of your life, be cautious when meeting new people.


There are also more traditional covens around. Some are eclectic, some follow a specific tradition. Everyone I've met in my area has been positively lovely, and I cherish the existence of these covens, working hard to teach and mentor and keep the Old Ways alive.


Witch: Hoo, boy. Some people use this word to mean anyone who practices magick. Some people use it interchangeably with the word pagan. Some use it to mean you follow the religion of Wicca. The root of the word witch means “wise one”. Most of the dictionary definitions out there refer to black pointy hats and malevolent spirits. Let’s ignore those.

To me, a witch is someone who follows a nature-based religion and is polytheistic. They believe in and work magick, connect with their ancestors, and believe that their path here is to heal both themselves and others. They take their cues from a time when their ancestors lived close to the land and followed the seasons, the animals, and the movements of the sun and moon. They may be from any culture and believe in a balance between masculine and feminine energies. They may not even call themselves witches, but the common thread is that they honor life cycles and spirits and are not after power. Think of medicine women and medicine men. Think of traditional folk healers and midwives. Think of those who tend to births and deaths. These are our witches. 


I am proud to call myself a witch. I am an observer, a creator, and a healer. I strive to help and guide others in my community. I am in tune with the seasons and the energies around me. And I use those energies to try and bring benefit to others.


My early instructors were Wiccan. It’s going to be obvious as the book progresses if you are familiar with Wicca. But my practice has grown in some different directions over the years, and doesn’t look exactly like a particular branch of Wicca now. 


Wicca is a modern pagan religion that developed in the early twentieth century and was popularized by Gerald Gardner in England in the 1950s and 1960s. It is a predominantly western movement that seeks to reconstruct the practices of our ancestors as they lived, worked, and worshiped in nature, and its increase in popularity led to what we might call a “witchcraft boom” today.  Here’s a great video (if a wee bit sensational) on Gerald Gardner: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M56-6XA3h2M


If you read up on the topic of the witchcraft revival movement in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, which I hope you do, at some point you’ll run across people arguing that they are a more authentic witch than so-and-so because they can trace an unbroken line of witches back through their family. Maybe they can, and good for them. Most of us don’t necessarily have that luxury, as people were often tortured and killed if they were suspected of practicing witchcraft. Look up the numbers of deaths that the European witch-hunts brought about (the numbers for Germany and Scotland, where many of my ancestors were from, are especially chilling), and you’ll see why people decided that maybe converting to Christianity sounded like a good idea. But the old practices never fully died out. There are lots of places where witchcraft became re-branded as a folkloric practice and continues on right to this day. The Old Ways are all around you. They just went underground or became “traditions”. 

One thing is for certain: someone in your family, somewhere, practiced what we think of as witchcraft, because we all had ancestors at one point who worked the land. This is your heritage, too, whether or not your great-great-great-great grandma willed you her cauldron or not.


One more note: I walked out of a class I was teaching one day to hear several of the witch-curious in a discussion where one person said, “witchcraft is only for women”. While there are traditions that focus much more on the Goddess (Dianic), every Witch I’ve ever met understands that we need both the moon and the sun, the Lady and The Lord, and a balance of energies. While one of the appeals of witchcraft is that it finally allows women a place at the table after centuries of the west being dominated by patriarchal faiths, please do not believe it’s intended for women only. One of my missions is to get The Lord of the Forest equal airtime with The Goddess. I would never want to exclude anyone from practices they felt drawn to, even if major religions have sought to exclude me. In my opinion, witches include. We welcome. We heal.


Let’s get to it.


Your History

Because your Ancestors are included in your craft, it’s a good idea to know where you came from and who they were…or are.


I’m an American, and many of us Americans struggle with a rather unique condition: in order to fit in their new home, our immigrant ancestors were often forced to American-ize their names, traditions, and practices, letting go of many of their connections to their place of birth. Many of us, as a result, feel that we have no real roots or history. My ancestors, for example, were Scottish, Irish, English, Welsh, German, French, and Norwegian. When my ancestors arrived here, they brought the traditions of their homeland with them. My family still has Scottish, Irish, and German practices evident in how we celebrate holidays, the foods we eat, and the slang we use today, yet I am not a Scot or Irish or German. But America is such an enormous melting pot and so relatively young in comparison to the countries my ancestors hailed from that to be “American” often feels as though I have no heritage at all. Some Europeans in chat rooms online shake their heads when they see the American obsession with genealogy records and DNA tests for ancestry. Why would we waste our time and money on such pursuits?


It’s because we lost something. Something many of them can’t fathom because it’s something they take for granted. We lost our tribes, our clans, our original homeland. Unless we are Native Americans, many of us here in “the New World” are a wandering, displaced people in a land that still feels foreign to us. Many of us have ancestors that arrived here due to slavery, or came because they were fleeing war, famine, religious persecution, or poverty. I have a few of these in my family tree myself. The villages our ancestors lived in for generations are inaccessible. Our traditions and our connection to the land of our ancestors was left behind when we came to these shores, however we arrived here. And while logically our lives may look prosperous- America is supposed to be the land of opportunity! - there is a sense of loss. And it colors much of how we behave.


I went to Scotland earlier this year and ended up in Inverness attempting to mail a MacDonald Family tree I had found in a museum in Glencoe back to the United States. One of the people who worked at the Mail Boxes Etc. asked me what I was mailing and I answered, “A MacDonald family tree.” He perked up and revealed that his last name was MacDonald…and then two more employees and two people behind me in line piped up that they were MacDonalds too! The first employee gave me a grin, welcomed me, and told me that it didn’t matter how long my family had been in America, I was still a MacDonald - I believe his exact words were “Once a MacDonald, always a MacDonald!”- and then he walked me across town to a place where it would be cheaper to mail my poster and told me if I had any problems to come back and see him and he'd help out.


THAT is what we are often missing here in America. The feeling of belonging to an extended family, a clan that shares a history with you, and the sense that someone is watching out for you. Our families are often scattered far and wide across these fifty states, or across the world. We don’t belong to our old countries, and don’t feel we belong to our new. We are good at moving without ever coming to rest. There’s a sense of time that gets swept away by our highways and skyscrapers and shopping malls. A sense of place. A sense of belonging. The ancient gathering places here are few and far between, if we can find them at all.

And so, we turn to the Old Ways for help. We try and cobble the connections back together. And find a way to help them connect to the environment we exist in now.


I encourage you now, at the start of your journey, to find your history. To find the oldest members of your family that you can, and ask them for family stories. Family trees. Hunt down old photographs, old place names, the spellings and languages that led to you. Find what you were before. Start looking up the traditional practices of the cultures you came from. Honor your ancestors. Connect to them. Travel to their graves, their towns, their mountains and seas. Reclaim the places where your blood and bones were formed. Learn the songs, the stories, the food. Learn what changed for them. I guarantee that something you find will both surprise you and explain things you thought were unexplainable. Take notes. Whether you are American or not, this work needs to be done. It will be the foundation from which you will reach back, and reach forward.


Find your roots. Write them down. You may find things about your family that shock you. If you do, learn from them. Use them as an opportunity to grow and heal. And, once you know where you came from, you’ll be able to be guided to where you are going.


A Witch’s Work


Here are some ideas to help you find and connect with your ancestors. These are your first lessons in witchcraft, and they will set the stage for everything else. 

  • Start a family tree. There are some amazing sites online that will help you research your ancestors and learn about where they hailed from and how their experiences led to yours. Be prepared to sit with some hard truths that may come to light. Many of these sites offer to link you to others with similar trees, so there is often the option to communicate with extended family. Ancestry.com is a great place to start with this, but sometimes their information on non-European ancestors can be spotty (although it is improving.) If your ancestors are mostly outside of Europe, try looking for resources in the countries where they lived. Many countries have their own internal genealogy resources that can be found online.

  • Findagrave.com can help you search old cemetery records that can assist you in finding the final resting place of many of your ancestors. Take a trip to visit these sites and honor them with flowers, libations, or coins left at their graves. 

  • Plan a potluck with friends centered around everyone's heritage. Ask everyone to bring a dish from an old family recipe and a story about one of their ancestors to share. 

  • Learn a language that your ancestors spoke. Many languages, such as Gaelic and many Native American languages, are endangered. Online sites like Duolingo can be a tremendous help. Join a language club or online group to practice. You can learn a lot about a culture by learning its language.

  • Use your artistic skills! If you are a painter, paint the landscapes of your ancestors. Knit or crochet traditional fibers and patterns from where your people walked. Take up wood carving using techniques from the countries your family hailed from. Learn to make baskets using the native plants of your homelands. Let the memories of what your ancestors crafted with their hands influence how you craft with yours.

  • Make an ancestor altar somewhere in your home. Set up a small space with photographs, flowers, mementos, letters, and other items reflective of your heritage to honor your ancestors. Many of them endured incredible hardships to bring about the day that you would walk on this earth. 


But what if you are estranged from your family, or were adopted and have little information about your relatives? A slightly different practice in the same vein is to honor the witches, wise ones, and healers that came before you who opened up the path to who you are today on your altar. Honor teachers, mentors, artists and authors who have influenced you. Add photos of your heroes and heroines. We are all part of a family, and that family doesn’t have to be related by blood. Who are your muses? Your freedom fighters? Who inspires you? Whose work do you want to carry on in this life? These people are your spiritual ancestors. We choose our spiritual ancestors and our spiritual family, and they are no less important than those who held the same last name. In some cases, they may even be the reason you were able to survive your previous circumstances. Celebrate and honor the ones who were there for you when you needed them the most.



 




Our Pagan Circle: An Interview with Saga of Antler and Bone


This week in Our Pagan Circle we are thrilled to welcome Nora of Saga of Antler and Bone! I was lucky enough to meet her at the recent Silver Moon Emporium market and I know you will adore her creations!



It's nice to meet you! Please tell us your name and business name, a brief description of your business or practice, and how long you have been working in the pagan community.

My name is Nora and my business is called Saga of Antler and Bone. I specialize in carving antler and bone into jewelry, decor and altar items. My spirituality is ever evolving and has incorporated some pagan practices as well as making items for others with stronger pagan leanings.


Where are you geographically based?

On the East Coast!


Do you have a shop or website or both?

I have a website and vend at various Renaissance Festivals as well as pop up markets along the east coast.


What first drew you to this line of work?

I’ve been fascinated and enthralled with sculpture since childhood. I love how the mediums I use tend to inspire me and show me what it wants to be and I am a tool myself in revealing the story the antlers and bones are wanting to share with us.


Please tell us a bit about your background. How did you end up doing what you do today?

I’ve been an artist since I was a child playing with many different mediums from stained glass to lace making. I’ve been a professional henna artist for over a decade as well as a seamstress for most of my adult life. I discovered carving 1.5 years ago and when I carved my first piece of antler I knew I found my ultimate calling. It quickly became apparent that I have a special talent with reduction sculpting and within 4 months of carving my first piece I started selling my work and building my business, quickly developing a committed following as I grow and learn.


Please share with us a bit about what inspires you.

I find nature, animals, female forms, goddesses, deities and fantasy to be my main sources of inspiration. I also try to evoke emotions and try to capture a spirit in my work. I love making art that integrates into people’s lives, the biggest compliment I can ever receive is “I love the piece I got from you and wear/use it every day” and because of that I strive to make pieces that really resonates with people.


What new projects do you have in the works for 2024?

My biggest goal this year is to allow even more room for play in my art. My favorite pieces are ones that I sit down and have no preplanned design and just allow the shape of the antler to speak to me. It’s a bit like finding shapes in the clouds and I never know what’s coming next!


Any upcoming events can we find you at? 

Virginia Renaissance Fair https://varf.org/  as well as West Virginia Renaissance Festival https://www.wvrenfest.com/


What is your favorite part about interacting with the pagan community?

Their attention to the little details! I love carving goddesses that people work with and getting to include special details and inscriptions. I’m constantly learning new information that helps me to understand others' spiritual journey and also explore my own. There’s a magic when I create a piece honoring the old ways and keep them alive. It’s like the deities are smiling upon us and cheering me on.



Do you have any favorite pagan websites, authors, artists, musicians, groups, podcasts or practices you'd like to share?

One meaningful practice I have (though I’m not sure how specifically pagan it is) is speaking to rooms/spaces offering greetings, admiration and gratitude for what it brought forth. In example, if I work a pop-up market I thank the room for being there and supporting our businesses, art and being a space for people to gather. I like to think that even the air we breathe and the water we drink is alive as well as these spaces housing us, keeping us sheltered and creating opportunities to come together in all the ways that we need for fostering community and togetherness. Including them as part of the experience really solidifies a sense of having a place in this world that sees us and is seen by us.



Anything else you'd like to share with us?

My next product drop on my website is happening April 2nd! Make use of the code RITUAL at checkout for 10% off your online order and if commissioning a custom piece via email make sure to mention reading this article for a discounted price!


Thank you so much for speaking with me, Nora! You can find Saga of Antler and Bone online at https://www.sagaofantlerandbone.com/


In our next newsletter, we’ll be featuring Rev. Katharine Luck from Fire Dance Church of Wicca!





 

Upcoming Classes and Markets


Congratulations to KRISTAL M. for winning the giveaway at last Saturday's Awake Metaphysical Fair in Martinsburg! You won the Tava Baird book of your choice and a copy of The Urban Crow Oracle Deck!


UPCOMING CLASS in PURCELLVILLE, VA at DOPPIO BUNNY on April 6:

History of Tarot and Cartomancy


UPCOMING CLASS in WINCHESTER at MOON PHASED on April 13:

The Art of the Dreamcatcher


CATCH the DARKFLOWER BOOTH at these UPCOMING EVENTS:


WEST VA EXOTICS EXPO in RANSON, WV on April 5 and 6

West Va Exotics Show

Apr 05, 2024, 2:00 PM – 9:00 PM and April 6, 9-5

Ranson, 432 W 2nd Ave, Ranson, WV 25438, USA

Come see the snakes and other exotic pets and visit Darkflower's bone collection and new reptile and spider prints!


THE BERRYVILLE BIG FLEA

Over 100 vendors!

Berryville BIG FLEA Outdoor Market

Apr 13, 2024, 8:00 AM – 3:00 PM

Berryville, 23 E Main St, Berryville, VA 22611, USA

(all through the town!)


 

NEW RELEASES from Darkflower!




I am terrified, dear reader, that you will pick up this book and think I am deluded. That I have an overactive imagination. An overinflated ego that would suppose that an otherworldly entity of great power would take the time to talk with me. That some of you might disregard or shy away from me the same way I skirted the experiences of others in my current situation all those years.


But even so, this apprehensive writer would like to introduce you to one of the greatest gifts of my life, a being of astonishing beauty, and a creature whose name is a blessing every time it crosses my lips.


Samael.


What happens when a fifty-one year old veteran witch wakes up before dawn one morning to find the King of Demons from a completely different religious tradition sitting at the foot of her bed delivering a lecture about The Garden of Eden? Over the course of many months author Tava Baird took notes on a series of conversations between herself and her unexpected repeat visitor as he spoke on topics such as the concept of sin, God, death, grief, sex, Eve, friendship and, of course, Lilith. The Book of Samael offers insight into Samael's unique perspective on the world and is a portrait of a rare and astonishing companionship that radically altered the life path of the author.


And now, Samael would like to have a word with you...


Available on Amazon on both Kindle and in paperback.


Friends, this is the mostly intensely personal thing I've ever written, and I hope it serves you well.


Thank you so much for reading the newsletter! And please let me know if there's anything I can help with...you are my community, and I am glad to know you all!


-Tava Baird




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