The Effect of NeoPaganism on Manslaughter and Marigolds

In response to my post on herb magic, Aidan wrote:

“Where was this when I first got involved with herbalism and really had no idea just HOW MUCH 2oz of chamomile flowers really was? It’s been years and I still have a full jar. I will never not have chamomile again. I’m probably going to die and be buried with a jar of chamomile flowers.”

And man, can I sympathize. Because fucking calendula.

Toward the end of my drinking career, this narcissist dipsomaniac gentleman caller with whom I was terribly smitten asked me to make an herbal charm for a court case he had coming up. Calendula is considered lucky in matters of the law, so I phoned a few places to find some, and had the following conversation with the sales clerk of a local occult shop, which I promise I am not making up.

Clerk: “Hello! Thanks for calling [redacted]!”

Me: “Hi, I just have a quick question. Do you carry an herb called calendula?”

Clerk: “We sure do!

Me: “Great, I’ll be right…”

Clerk: “Do you know the other name for calendula?”

Me: “Actually, I don’t. But I just wanted to see if…”

Clerk: “Marigold! So if you’re ever looking for calendula and can’t find it, you can also ask for marigold.”

Me: “Good to know.”

Clerk: “Because you see…”

[Insert 10-minute lecture on the mystical properties and various ritual uses of calendula/marigold.]

Clerk: “… so after you’ve asked the Goddess for Her permission, leave the polished stones in a silver bowl of blessed water under the Full Moon. And that’s how you use calendula correctly!”

Me: “Well, wow, very interesting. Thank you for the information. So I guess I’ll drop by in a bit to pick up some calendula.”

Clerk: “Ooh, sorry. We’re sold out.”

Had this interaction gone down face-to-face, no jury in the world would’ve convicted me.

Anyway, I did some more searching and finally found calendula. I made the herbal charm, his court case ended favorably, and he turned out to be a rip-snorting douche-canoe. And then I got sober. The End. Sort of. The mid-credits scene is as follows:

all the calendula

This is my leftover calendula. Nations will rise and fall before I run out of calendula. I won’t just be buried with calendula; I’ll be buried in calendula. The flowers themselves are edible and apparently have medicinal qualities, but I’ve had them for so long that I don’t know if it would be safe to actually ingest them. And of course, if I toss them out or cast the petals to the winds or whatever, I’ll immediately find myself in an emergency situation where one of the other bystanders/passengers/hostages will go, “If only we had some calendula,” and everyone will look to me with hope and desperation, and I’ll have to be like, “Oh. Sorry. I got rid of it. But I do have some spikenard…?” And then we’ll all die.

At this point, I’m about ready to just stuff an oversized body pillow with calendula to serve as a surrogate snuggle buddy when Ben‘s not in town. But before I start stitching, if anyone out there is gearing up to contest a traffic ticket or something, just let me know, and I’ll make you a potent herbal charm. Out of a duffel bag.

Witch Up and Grow a Pair

Back when I amused myself with such triflings, I got into an argument with a crazy person on a listserv who firmly believed that gay men could not and should not practice Wicca, because (if I’m interpreting her mad ramblings accurately) we don’t know how babies are made. I was banned from the list shortly afterward for pointing out an excellent place for her to stick her opinions on homosexuality, which was probably for the best, as I was wasting way too much time caring about what she thought. But every once in awhile, when the wind blows warm or the crickets sing, I’m reminded of that dear, lovely whackjob, especially when I’m discussing Wicca with other gay guys.

Because while Men Who Love Men are inherently liminal beings who are more than suited to practice Witchcraft of any kind, a goodly number of us are scared of lady bits. And that bugs me.

Before we go any further, I should own that between all the skyclad rituals and bondage seminars that cut into my sitting-around time, I am tragically jaded when it comes to nudity. I routinely find myself in situations where I hear things like, “See how I placed the crotch rope next to her labia instead of across her labia?” so I honestly don’t have strong feelings on nekkidness one way or the other. That clarified, I’m extremely put off by the animosity gay men often display towards even the very thought of vaginas, as if their existence is somehow a threat to ours. (“Do you support same-sex marriage?” “No. I am a vagina.”)

I’m sure there are a few guys out there who are genuinely phobic, but for the most part, this phenomenon is firmly couched in misogyny. We are men, after all: Our social conditioning asserts that women serve a singular purpose, and if we do not have a need for that service, women are ultimately useless. And just as straight men will brag about their sexual prowess and/or dominance to prove how manly they are, gay men seem to rate their own manliness on how much revulsion they’re able to exhibit towards the female reproductive system. Homophobia would be wiped out completely if straight dudes and gay dudes compared notes and realized we’re all on the same page when it comes to objectification.

A Pagan buddy with whom I occasionally circle recently came over to hang out, and he saw the Snake Goddess statue I keep enshrined in my living room and was all, “Eww, boobies.” I wasn’t planning on using this particular statue in our work together, since it’s delicate and doesn’t travel well, and I’ve already had to glue one of the snakes back on. But with his reaction in mind, I went ahead and snagged a sturdier alternative, and I really think I made the right decision.


The back of the statue is inscribed with the Greek word kefi, which, roughly translated, means joy, freedom, and loving life. I liked the thought of literally bringing kefi into our rites, but I chose this statue for a few other reasons:

a) It isn’t representative of any specific deity, so one is able to mold individual connections and associations around it.

b) Trothwy has another piece by the same artist, and it is remarkably potent in ritual.

c) Goddesses have lady bits, bro. Scary or not, you’re going to have to deal.

The Doctor is in. Or at least nearby. Definitely on his way. Lemme have him call you when he gets here.

So my friend Christopher and I were idly brainstorming what it would look like if I had an online presence as a spiritual worker, and things got a wee bit out of control, and we ended up with this:


We were originally going to call it “Doctor Demidaddy’s Four-D Witchcraft,” but then we realized that Doctor Demidaddy actually has five d’s, and we didn’t know if the Fifth Dimension would be touchy about misappropriation of name and likeness. Plus I’m more than a little chagrined about our inability to count single digits. Our credibility would be shot if we ever decided to branch out into numerology.

ETA: Sarah says that Doctor Demidaddy is my best brand name to date, but I think she’s mainly just relieved that I’ve stopped retitling my notary business. I do kind of regret not running with ThumperStamper, though. Nobody steal that domain until I work through the last of my buyer’s remorse.

Caducifer’s Herbal (or, I’ve Got All This Spikenard and I Don’t Know Why)

I didn’t really have any mentorship when I first got interested in magical herbalism, although I lived in the Greater Houston area, so what I did have was access to an abundance of occult and New Age bazaars: If I wanted to do some witchcraft but didn’t have any good greenery to futz with, I could just run over to Body Mind and Soul, or Elemental Magick, or Karmic Fortune, or Lucia’s Garden, or the Magick Cauldron, or Metaphysical Matrix, or Rhyandra’s, or Simply Magick, or the Stanley Drug Co., or Tranquil Thymes, or Temple’s Gate, or the Witchery and buy whatever I needed. And while only BMS, the Cauldron and the Witchery remain from those days, Absolem’s, Celtic Odyssey, Indigo Moons, Pixie’s Intent, Raven’s Moon, and the monthly Thorn & Moon Magickal Market have risen up to fill out the ranks. Plus we have around 70 botánicas and yerberias.

I’m just saying we’re good on herbs.

The thing is, I learned a lot about where to shop for herbs, and how to properly weigh them, and who had the best selections and best prices, but I didn’t learn much about the properties of the herbs themselves, nor how to identify them without a label, nor how they relate to one another. So if I was working on, say, a spell for eloquence that called for deer’s tongue, it wouldn’t occur to me that bay leaf might make an effective substitute. Or I would go crazy trying to track down slippery elm bark for a spell to stop gossip, not realizing that clove buds would’ve worked just as well.

It also took me awhile to understand that unless I was making potpourri in bulk, I would never need more than a pinch of any given herb for a magical working. But herbs are usually sold by the ounce, so that’s what I would purchase, regardless of what alternatives I might already have at home. And I didn’t quite grasp that an ounce of light, leafy, finely-chopped material goes a very… very… long way. (See title of post.)

I’ve noodled before about witchcraft being a practice, and just like any other, you’ve got to get a good handle on the basics before gathering up all the super-specific stuff you may or may not ever use. Like, listen, I know you want to buy that asafoetida, because it’s got an awesome name and just seems terribly witchy overall, but I promise there is very little chance you will ever need it. First off, it’s primary, historical use is to make pacts with demons, and there are any number of ways to do that that don’t involve a taproot with an odor traditionally referred to as “devil’s dung.”

The best rule of thumb when stocking up on herbs comes from something Athena tells Ted the Bellhop in the first scene of Four Rooms: “Mostly what we need is from the kitchen.” With that in mind, here are 12 herbs that I recommend any newly-stamped witch have in their cupboard, all of which can be found reasonably priced at your friendly, neighborhood Safeway:

Bay Leaf

I don’t want to get into specific attributes and correspondences, mainly because there are tons of excellent resources out there that cover the topic much better than I ever could (my favorites being Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs and Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic). Suffice it to say, all of these herbs have a variety of uses, and they can be mixed and matched in what I think of as “broad strokes” witchcraft:

  • A sachet of basil, marjoram and rosemary will make a home safe and peaceful.
  • Allspice, cinnamon and thyme will draw money.
  • Add rose petals to ginger and vanilla to make a love charm.
  • Throw black and red pepper in with some salt to banish the fuck out of ne’er-do-wells.

There are other common herbs that come in handy for more tailored work, but if you need to work a spell right this very second, at least one of the above will get the job done.

PS: The only herb not on this list that’s definitely worth having around is lavender. It’s not normally available at the grocer’s, but it’s still easy to find and multi-purpose as all get out, plus it can take the place of pretty much anything you don’t have on hand. Casting a love spell? Lavender. Warding against the Evil Eye? Lavender. House smell like week-old curry left out in the sun because you burned a bunch of asafoetida to make a pact with a demon even though I specifically told you not to? Lavender.

I mean, lavender won’t get rid of a demon, but it might make him feel pretty. Which will at least be a point in your favor.

*Most of these herbs can be found in the Spices and Seasonings aisle, with the exception of chamomile and mint — for those, you can bop over to Coffee and Tea. (Just make sure you’re getting a tea that’s nothing but chamomile or mint, versus a blend with multiple ingredients. Fun fact: Valerian, which is often included with chamomile for nighttime teas, is also used to make pacts with demons. You can totally still drink it to treat insomnia, but, y’know, maybe don’t chant over it while it’s brewing.)

Located in Chicago but Serving the Earth’s Gravitational Pull

This month’s Facets of Leather was mostly comprised of interviews with leatherpeople of cultural import, including Sir John (President of NLA-International and Living In Leather LLC), Tim “ASH!” Hotchkin (International Leather Boy 2015), and Gary Wasdin (Executive Director of the Leather Archives & Museum). And hey, we’ve gotten so much better at staying on topic, that our Superfan‘s latest meme only cites two tangents, which is definitely a new record.

Facets 5.10.20
The Zoom frame is a very nice touch.

Out of all the guests we’ve had on the show, Gary is my new favorite, because before we started recording, he was like, “Is there anything I’m not allowed to say? Because I have a potty mouth.” In response, Robert and I went over the seven words you can’t say on TV, along with FCC guidelines as they apply to late-night radio, and everything went swimmingly — Gary was knowledgable and professional and said insightful, educational things. So at the end of the interview, I was like, “You did a really good job of not cursing! Would you like to let fly with some expletives?”

I expected everyone to laugh and move on, but instead, Gary took a deep breath and bellowed a veritable Pandora’s box of obscenities: Like, I’m pretty sure there are now at least 32 words you can’t say on TV. Since we pre-recorded the segment, our producers were able to excise all the invective, but as far as I’m concerned, anyone who can scorch ears that intensely on cue is an icon in his own right.

This month’s musical selections were all over the place, but we played a song awhile back that continues to reverberate with me, that being Australia’s entry to Eurovision 2019. The note she hits at 2:02 is a mood unto itself. Plus, y’know, who doesn’t want to ride a giant wedding cake topper while an evil shadow witch flails about in the background?

Nobody. That’s who. The defense rests.

Mountains so lofty, treetops so tall. Both of these are euphemisms.

Today is the 100th birthday of Touko Valio Laaksonen, better known to the world as Tom of Finland. You can celebrate the life of this visionary erotic artist however you see fit, but personally, I’m going with emulation:


PS: Have you watched the movie? If not, OH, YE GODS OF NORTHERN EUROPE, WATCH THE DAMN MOVIE ALREADY. Douglas and I saw it in the theatre and gave it two hypermasculine, blatantly phallic thumbs up.
Douglas also may or may not have cried like a little leatherbaby. I don’t rightly recall, being too busy weeping myself to pay close attention to his emotional state.

PPS: Click here to turn the title of this post into a complimentary earworm. You’re welcome.

Ripcord Wide Shut

[A gaggle of terribly fabulous preppies breeze in and cast their eyes about the store.]

Preppy 1: “Let’s buy something fun!”

Preppy 2: “Yes! Let’s.” [to me] “Do you have any masques?”

Me: “Sorry, but we don’t carry… masks, other than the pup hoods.”

Preppy 2: “Really? No masques?”

Me: “None at all, I’m afraid.”

Preppy 2: “No glow-in-the-dark masques we could wear?”

Me: “No glow-in-the-dark anything.”

I was kind of hoping he’d keep upping the ante (“Really? No glow-in-the-dark, sequined and feathered masques that bring ancient, undying curses down upon those who dare possess them? Not even a floor model?”), but instead he just wandered away. Although later, a straight couple came in, and the guy immediately went, “Oh. This is one of those bars,” and they turned around and left. I don’t know if he meant a gay bar, or a leather bar, or a gay leather bar or what, but in my mind, he was like, “Damnit. I was specifically told that all the queers would be wearing masques.”

Sorry to disappoint, my good breeder. But here we only hide our identities behind clever nicknames.

Ship of Tools

[A conversation between myself and Rok.]

Me: “Did I ever show you the awesome paddle I bought while I was at IML?

Rok: “You did not, but I’d love to see it!”

Me: “Great!” [digging through my paddle bag] “Let’s see, where… aha, there you are! C’mere, little guy…”

Rok: “Wait. Did you… did you just talk to it?”

Me: “Well, yeah.”

Rok: “…”

Me: “How else is it going to learn to respond to the sound of my voice?”

While our friendship is solid, Rok occasionally can’t even with me, and I’m pretty sure this was one of those times. And okay, so I probably don’t need to talk to my paddles as often as I do (most of them don’t even bother talking back), but they are extensions of my will, and as such, I need to put the same care and discipline into handling them as I would any other tool.

With that in mind, please brace for sudden segue and find below an exchange I’ve witnessed roughly eleventy-billion times over the course of the last two decades:

Wiccan Newbie – “I’ve been reading this book that says a wooden wand with a carved phallic tip represents the East and the element of Air. But I’ve got some feathers lying around, and I want to use those instead. Is that okay?”

Wiccan Oldie – “My dear, I haven’t used ritual tools in ages. They’re just crutches after all. Real Witches don’t need them.”

And now, a translation:

Wiccan Newbie – “I don’t want to put any effort into this. Please validate me.”

Wiccan Oldie – “My dear, I’ve never put any effort into this. Please validate me.”

A bit harsh, but I gotta tell you, this is one of my biggest NeoPagan pet peeves: Not only seekers who try to find easier, softer ways right from the get-go, or teachers who’d rather put on airs and treat students like serfs than actually, y’know, teach, but that attitude of “real blah blahs don’t need blee blahs.” Real Witches don’t need tools; real Druids don’t need… important… Druidy things… okay, I don’t know what Druids need. But you get the idea.

Ritual tools are a lot more than seasonal decorations. The wand does correspond to the element of Air, but if that were its sole reason for existing, I’d glue some paper to it and make a fan; the ritual knife may be associated with Fire, but it’s got purposes other than to just sit pretty and look Fiery.

Merriam-Webster defines a tool as “a handheld device that aids in accomplishing a task,” or “an instrument or apparatus used in performing an operation or necessary in the practice of a vocation or profession.” And just as a knife or a wand is more than a convenient symbol, so Witchcraft is not simply a belief system: It’s a vocation, a Craft in and of itself. And if I’m going to craft anything, I’m going to use the appropriate tools to do so.

Let’s say I want to hang a picture on my wall. I could try pushing a nail into the stucco without any outside help, which would probably work, but would take forever and obliterate my fingers. I could also try banging it in with the heel of a shoe, which would be more effective, but would still take time, and the clunkiness of the shoe would mess up my aim: I’d have to make several attempts to get it right. Or, I could just use a hammer and have the nail exactly where I want it within three seconds.

But for fun and the sake of redundancy, here are a couple of hyperbolic, kink-related examples:

“Okay, so now just put your hands behind your back, and I’ll visualize the rope around your wrists, and you won’t be able to move.”

“Wouldn’t it be more efficient to use actual rope?”

“Of course not. Real rope bondage riggers don’t need rope.”

“Punish me, Sir! I’m going to pretend to feel the sting of your flogger, while you glare at my back with intent.”

“I… was actually planning to flog you with this flogger.”

“Ugh. Fine. Whatever. But real doms don’t need floggers.”

Tools come in handy. They enable us to work exactly and efficiently. My knife is used for salutation and to carve out ritual space; my altar is a touchstone and focal point that allows me to not have to put stuff on the floor; my cup keeps me from having to chug my consecrated sparkling grape juice straight from the bottle. And sure, there are a whole gaggle of ways to practice Witchcraft without accouterments (because, as the late Peter Paddon once pointed out, if you can’t do magic naked in a bunker with a plunger, then you can’t do magic at all), but turning one’s nose up at a given tool without making the effort to understand its purpose is just lazy. And real Witches are, as a whole, decidedly not that.

It’s tempting to toss out the aspects of occultism that strike us as unnecessary, or boring, or just plain icky. (Click here for a relevant quotation on the subject.) However, the more we get rid of, the less we have to work with, both phyiscally and spirtually. And we should be working at this, y’all. We work a spell, cast a circle, tread the mill, turn the wheel; we bind, we cut, we open and close. Witchcraft, at its core, is an active, energetic practice.

So practice it. Break a sweat. Pick up a crutch and get busy.