Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Silly Rituals & Strong Hearts

A reader from Texas wrote me with a question about a recent post. Usually these are questions about livestock, small business, or local places to lodge for workshops. Instead this woman asked me about three branches in her area that could offer protection, as she didn't have birches and maples in her backyard. I wrote her back explaining that the trio of herbs I used are from folkways of the British Isles so their woodlands and legends would be local to their fauna, but since I have a Giles-and-Willow-level collection of grimoires on hand I looked up traditional protection herbs for the southwest of America. It didn't take long to see that Cactus, Amaranth, and Rosemary did the trick. Other trios included Oak, Elder, and Willow or Aloe, Burdock, and Sage. In a pinch a small circle of cloth, roughly the size of the palm of your hand filled with rosemary, cinnamon, and mint and tied up with some string is said to go right in your pocket and protect the person. You can get those herbs at the grocery store.

Now, I am sure a whole lot of you are rolling your eyes or smiling at the folklore I just presented. It must sound like total hooey, witchcraft, or old wives tales. A bag of plants or a bundle of sticks can not do anything to stop a tree from falling on your car or from catching the flu this winter. You would be correct. 100% correct.

But herblore isn't about magical properties and whimsical happenings. It's about intention and action. While it may sound ridiculous to carry a sack of spices in your purse you need to look at the whole picture. Choosing to do such a thing shows intention, it shows you care about the outcome. Collecting tree branches or making an herbal pouch is choosing to act instead of doing nothing. It is saying "I am worth the effort to protect." and instead of worrying or doing something destructive (complaint or spreading your fear) or distracting (Real Housewives Marathon with ice-cream) with your time you are choosing to do something that appears ridiculous but in reality is totally shifting your thoughts about yourself. As silly as this old folklore may seem do you understand that mental shift? It's why prayer is so powerful in the words of the believer, It's choosing to act instead of be a victim.

Now, if a hurricane ripped apart this farm no trio of sticks would save me. This is not Harry Potter. But think about the mentality of the person who feels they have the power to change their lives through the smallest action? Example: think of all those people who lost their homes to tornadoes these past few years. Imagine a woman returning from her evactuation to the crumbled remains of her old house. She may see what's left of her front door, and a trio of branches blwoing gently in the wind among the remains. Some might scoff at the sight of it, thinking how stupid it was to think three sticks could save anything. But that's not the mentality of such a person. I bet a person who hung branches for a storm has the mental attitude that they can always make a difference if they act. And that is a mentality that helps in any disaster. A Branch-hanger may lose everything she has in a storm but you can bet as she walks around the remains of her home she'll pick up a few pieces of it to store in a box in her new home, a reminder that she survived the worst. Perhaps thinking she deserved to be saved in the first place is what made her evacuate. Perhaps that was the protection all along. And a person who survived a storm certainly has gratitude in her heart, the kind of heart we need in a world that never stops falling apart, where storms never cease.

So do branches stop hurricanes and floods. Of course not. But action, caring, prayer and hope certainly help in any disaster. I choose to believe that these old rituals, spanning hundreds of years and millions of people, have been handed down to teach us such lessons in an easy, digestible way. I carry herbs in my pocket not because I believe they are storybook magic tricks but because smelling them all day, feeling them when I go for my wallet, finding them on laundry day reminds me that I care enough about myself to want me to be safe. It's like a hug, or a word of encouragement. It's also a reminder that when I worry I can either do something positive and change my thinking or do something negative. Worst of all, I could ignore the world around me and do nothing at all.

I prefer to be thought of as silly, eccentric or old-fashioned with my revived traditions than to feel powerless in an overwhelming world. I think it is just that thinking that created Cold Antler, and what could be more magical than that? That IS the magic, folks.

I choose to live in a world where I can affect my own life. I choose to believe that my actions, however small, cause change. I choose to believe that being a positive, powerful, and loving person can only bring me more positive, powerful, and loving people into my life. I believe in horse hair, hawk feathers, and dog smiles. I believe in efforts of will, hard sweats, and getting lost in prayer. I believe there is more to this amazing life than just dirt, sex, and death. My life has always been magical because of this. My life has always been saturated with gratitude and luck. That's worth looking silly to those with harder hearts or rational minds.