All posts by mariedees

A witchy writer of mystery novels, romance and erotic romance.

Marie’s St. Augustine Ghost Encounter

St AugustineSt. Augustine, Florida, is the oldest continuously occupied European-settled city in the United States.  And some spirits have been occupying it considerably longer than others.  So if there was any place I was likely to experience an encounter with a ghost, this was it.  Better yet, I was going to be there for three whole days on a conference set up by the Tampa Bay Ghost Watchers.  So even if I didn’t find a ghost, I was going to learn a lot about them. Because, I’ve been on ghost hunts before, and I just don’t find ghosts.  And since Dad worked in electronics, I know a little too much about what can really set off that EMF detector.  But that’s a different story.  This one is about the ghost.

Because in St. Augustine, I didn’t make it past the first night without bumping into a ghost. We were out in small groups being given tours of various haunted locations in town by local experts, and since these weren’t the standard guided tours, we had more time to stop and explore various locations.  I took some pictures and nothing much happened. Until Huguenot Cemetery.  Huguenot Cementery.  Now every ghost tour in town will take you to the cemetery and tell you about the various hauntings.  What they may not tell you is that the grassy area outside the cemetery remains undeveloped because it is believed to have been used as an unmarked burial ground during one of the cities yellow fever plagues.

Now, I wasn’t sure why we were all poking our cameras through the closed gates of the cemetery (it was late at night) when we were apparently walking around on top of other graves.  So I wandered away to stand quietly in a spot between a palm tree and an oak tree.  As I stood there, I felt something just brush my arm. Now is Florida, this is more likely to be a bug than a ghost, but it didn’t feel bug-like.  Then I noticed the cold spot. From about waist height down, the air around me was chillier than it should have been for a muggy Florida night.  As I stood there, moving my arm up and down and deciding that, yep, there seemed to be something unusual going on, my friend Elizabeth join me. She was able to feel the same distinct cold spot.

In this case, the haunting didn’t feel spooky or scary.  Instead I picked up more a sense of loneliness. People, adults and children, died and were buried in haste, then forgotten.  We left our ghostly friend where we found him.  But if you ever visit St. Augustine, stop outside Huguenot cemetery and take a moment to remember the people the guides don’t tell the ghost stories about because time forgot them.

 

The Witch Bottle

Recently I attended a witchy gathering where we all made witch bottles. If you’ve never made one, I suggest doing so because you’ll be taking part in an ancient form of protection magic. Witch bottles are put together to draw in and trap evil directed toward a person. They can protect against spells and malice from a witch, but also from evil thoughts sent by those with no knowledge of how their energy manifests. They help keep evil influences away from the house and those who inhabit it. Various types of witch bottles have been recorded. Archeologists have even unearthed one from Colonial Pennsylvania, proving the use of witch bottles was well known in our witch-worried colonies.

Making a witch bottle isn’t difficult but gather some witchy friends put your witch bottles together in a group if you want to draw from each other’s knowledge and share supplies. To put ours together we had a selection of glass bottles, each with a cork. We had a bunch of sharp pointy objects including pins, needles, and nails. Various herbs and hot spices including cayenne pepper, which I managed to get on my hand. Then I made the mistake of touching my face. Part of the night is a bit of a teary blur after that. I remember glitter because I had that on my hands (and face) too. We didn’t add any body fluids in the group meeting but blood, spit or even urine can be added to aid in the protection. I’m fairly sure my bottle had some cayenne pepper induced sweat in it. We filled out bottles with olive oil then put the corks in tightly and blessed them.

If you make a witch bottle, you can bury it in your yard. Or if you don’t have a yard, place it in a large potted plant by the door. Some people even tuck them in an inconspicuous place inside the doorway. Ancient bottles have been found inside the walls of homes. I’ve been told that if I move I should dig my bottle up and take it with me. But I wonder what an archeologist will think if centuries from now he finds my purple bottle filled with sharp objects, olive oil and herbs. Including that cayenne pepper.

Follow me to unrealistic Cassadaga, Florida

When my first novel, Tea and Witchery, was entered in the Royal Palm awards for Florida, one of the judges returned a low score with one reason scrawled on the sheet – Too Unrealistic. (I have to note that the other two judges gave it nearly perfect scores.) But that “too unrealistic” comment has always amused me because the mystery novels are set in Cassadaga, Florida, a town many people find unrealistic.

Why is Cassadaga unrealistic? Well, it’s a town created for Spiritualists and psychics. Perhaps what catches people by surprise is that they don’t expect to find a town like this tucked away in Central Florida somewhere between theme parks and the beaches. But it is there. It’s been there longer than Disney has been in Florida.

Cassadaga was founded in 1895 as a Spiritualist camp and winter retreat for Spiritualist from Lily Dale in New York. My mother still remembers the camp back in the 40s and 50s when it was really only open to visitors in the winter months and when the Cassadaga Hotel used to host dances in what was then a ballroom.

The town now gets more business in summer than in winter and the ballroom is long gone. But the hotel is still there as well as the Colby Memorial Temple which holds Spiritual healings on a regular basis. The town also has half a dozen bookstores and even a post office. Plus various houses and apartments which can be leased from the Spiritualist Camp — if you can prove that the spirits want you there. Most of the inhabitants of Cassadaga offer psychic readings of some sort. On one side of the street, you’ll find the Spiritualists who tend to have their own views on how readings should be conducted. On the other side of the street, you’ll find the renegade psychics who use tarot cards and other forms of divination. And the two sides do have their arguments from time to times.

If you’re ever in Florida, I suggest stopping by for an afternoon visit. It really doesn’t take much longer to see the place. If you’re there in the evening, you can take the Orb Tour. Or you could stay overnight in the hotel and decide if it’s really haunted. But I’ll warn you, it may seem a bit unrealistic, this quiet little Florida town where chats with the dead are just an everyday occurrence.

Inspiration and Motion Sickness

I’ll start pointing out that this probably isn’t good “how to” advice at least not in a direct way. But people often wonder how a writer comes up with story ideas and sometimes the “training” to think creatively comes in unpredictable ways.

I’m prone to motion sickness. I can get seasick in a rocking chair or on a swing set. Growing up, we took lots of car trips and I spent lots of time with my eyes closed trying to focus on anything to keep my mind off being car sick. I was also an avid reader, but attempting to read in a car wasn’t a good idea. So, I told myself stories. Lots and lots of stories. They weren’t polished stories by far, but over the years anything spotted outside the car window became fodder for a story.

I still suffer from motion sickness, but fortunately not when driving myself. But the day job always involves a commute of some sort. These days it’s under 30 minutes. But that drive time is always a great time to think about story ideas. Trust me, it’s less distracting than the people I see chatting on the cell phone or texting while driving. Or the person who was actually reading the last Harry Potter book by propping it on the steering wheel while driving down the interstate.

Now, I don’t recommend learning how to become seasick as a way to seek your muse, but there is a lesson I’ve learned from it. Inspiration can’t always be planned but sometimes you can plan to allow yourself some unplanned thinking. Time to let your thoughts drift and not to worry about forcing the direction. If you have trouble letting your thoughts wander, meditation classes, yoga and other activities can help. I’ve found weeding the garden is a great time to let my thoughts drift and story ideas to surface. Besides it’s much more pleasant than car sickness.

Religion, Spirituality and Money

I’ve been watching news out of India this past week about Swami Nithyananda and the scandal he and his organization are caught up in. Those have inspired this post. I am acquainted with Swami Nithyanada’s Life Bliss organization because they took over Hindu University near me in Florida. I’d been taking yoga classes with a wonderful instructor at the school before the takeover. Afterwards, the classes were offered by the Swami’s Life Bliss Foundation and included meditation and watching a video of the Swami’s teachings. Now I don’t have enough experience with Hinduism to comment on the teachings though there have been accusations that they were both borrowed from others and highly westernized. (I did have a bit of a confusing conversation with one organizer who insisted that the Swami’s teachings his organization were not actually Hindu because she didn’t believe in Hinduism.) But what finally made me reconsider the organization was the simple issue of money.

Now, it is not that I believe that religious organizations should or can be completely free from monetary issues. Our local Wiccan Cooperative asks a small fee for rituals so they can help pay for space and supplies. And when I attended the meditation sessions, which were free, I didn’t object to donating money or supplies to help make sure we had tea and other minor needs for the meetings. But I do have a problem when I sense that any religious organization is using fees to make a profit or control who joins the group. And I soon began to sense that I was seeing an organization that had structured itself to attract Westerners willing purchase Spirituality to join the ranks while keeping the poor or money conscious at a distance.

How? Well, while the basic meditation each week was free, the other programs that the foundation offered were not. And in fact, increased in costs during the period I was with the group. At weekly mediation session, we were often encouraged to sign up for the more expensive programs, which involved multiple levels all increasing in cost. Then there were the talks given by the Swami during his travels, which often required a fee for attendance. It seemed that again and again after the meditation sessions people would sit around discussing what program or talk they wanted to attend and what the cost was. When asked about the increases in price, the organization responded that the Swami had become so popular they needed to raise prices to ensure space for true devotees.
Huh? Now, I spent years working in the tourist industry. When you set a price point for entry to a theme park or a room at a resort, what you are doing is actually selecting the level income you want your guests to have. Why? Because this level of income will also determine the amount of money they spend on merchandise, food and other items that well, frankly are a large portion of your profit. So, when a religious or spiritual organization that sells books, CDs and other paraphernalia sets a price point for admission, my wisdom tells me that they’re looking for members with money that can be spent on programs and merchandise.

Currently many in India are angry over the way such actions are influencing people’s perceptions of what Hinduism is. As Western Pagan, we can learn from this. We are avid readers and love to buy books. We often take classes from local experts in everything from Wicca to tarot reading. And then there are items for the altar, sacred jewelry, scented oils, candles, and such that we love to buy. All of this is fine, as long as we remember – no one can sell us spirituality or enlightenment or the Goddess. The connection to the God and Goddess lies within each of us, and they don’t charge an admission fee.

Being Pagan in the workplace

As a working Pagan I spend at least 40 hours a week at my job. Which means a large chunk of my time isn’t spent in my garden or in a sacred space I can create at home but at a large, modern office.  Being Pagan, I enjoy having sacred space and sacred items around me, but being Pagan in the workplace can often stir up controversy.

First you’ll want to decide just how much of your personal life you want to reveal at work. If you live in the United States you are guaranteed freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination in the workplace.  But the reality is that taking legal action against an employer is a long and arduous process.  Even then the law can’t protect you against every action from every employee.  If you are passed up for promotion because you are Pagan, that can be a legal case. However, if a co-worker refuses to sit near you at lunch or eat your contribution to the potluck because she’s afraid of being cursed, it isn’t a legal issue.

You are probably the best judge of those around you and how accepting they’ll be if they find out that you are Pagan. Don’t be afraid to rely on subtlety rather than overt declarations of your religion. I’ve found that people often feel that everyone should speak out and forge the way for various causes. But sometimes it just isn’t the right time or place. In my last workplace almost everyone knew I was Pagan except one very conservative director.  He believed I was Catholic, which to him was as foreign as Paganism. He seemed to just interpret anything I brought in that was Pagan as a Catholic thing. So the very obvious Goddess necklaces I wore had to be the Virgin Mary. My current workplace is far more open and creative and so I am enjoying the freedom to be my Pagan self at work.

Creating a Pagan Workspace

How much space you’re able to devote to creating a Pagan space at work will depend on your work environment. In my last job I had an office. Currently I have a small desk, but I’m free to decorate it as I want.  But I do have to keep in mind that although my desk is considered my personal space, it is not truly private. This means things will be seen, touch, picked up and even played with. Even if I ask people not to touch, the cleaning crew comes in when we’re not there.  So, I don’t bring anything in that I feel needs to be a protected or private space.  But here are some things to consider for a desk.

A Pagan Calendar is a good way to keep in touch with the days.  Actually, you can get one from the Pagan and the Pen to set as the calendar on your computer monitor.  I have a planner from Seasons of the Witch that I also use.

Pens, letter openers, bookmarks, mouse pads, and coffee cups can often be purchased with a Pagan theme be it fairies, dragons or wizards. Often these may simply be seen as interesting toys.

Crystals, shells, feathers and other natural items are often simply viewed as decorative. Although I’ve found that the crystals do tend to attract interest. People often want to pick them up and hold them.  My large rose quartz crystal ball is often borrowed when someone is stressed out.

Statues, symbols and signs can range from simple and symbolic to overt declarations of one’s faith.  Work with items that you feel comfortable bringing into your environment whether that’s keeping things subtle to making a bold statement.

Smudges, candles, incense and oils can be tricky because of safety or health concerns.  Burning candles, incense or smudging may be prohibited in most workplaces for fire safety concerns and because people don’t want to breath the smoke.  Oils are more accepted but remember, dousing yourself with sacred oil will  be viewed the same way as the person who overdoes the aftershave or perfume.  Just a touch is enough. Or keep a vial or sachet of a favorite scent handy for when you want a little boost to your day.

If you don’t have a personal space at work, there are still ways to affirm your beliefs at work.  You may be able to wear a necklace or jewelry that is sacred or special to you. Keep in mind; this doesn’t have to be a large pentacle. Many gemstones have Pagan associations that are only recognized by other Pagans.  Or you can wear a small carving of a totem animal. If jewelry isn’t permitted or must be left off for safety reasons, you can work out a ritual for yourself that’s as simple as wearing a bit of essential oil to work or keeping an amulet in your pocket or purse.

But remember one lesson a wise older Witch passed on to me. You don’t need to declare your beliefs if you feel they will put you in danger.  If you feel uncertain about how you’ll be received, then go slowly.  Many witches remain in the workplace broom closet and only come out at safe, Pagan-oriented events.  You must make the choice that works for you.

What is an urban pagan?

I’ve been thinking about this post while clearing out dead brush from a hard freeze in Central Florida. Am I an urban Pagan? Well, I am fortunate enough to have a house—a tiny 2 bedroom set amidst the sprawl of Orlando. My yard is about as small as it legally can be and still qualify as an individual lot. And on a winter day, like today, I hear a constant hum of traffic from toll road a couple miles from the house. Years ago I used to pass a field of cows on my way to work. That’s now a subdivision and I dodge construction barricades on my way just about anywhere. The last time I gazed up at a night sky full of stars was the night Hurricane Charlie knocked out all the power in the area. He also took out most of my garden and actually dropped a neighbor’s tree upside down into their above ground swimming pool. If I’m not an urban Pagan, I’m on the edges of urban-ness.

None of this brings to mind the vision of the old cottage witch wild crafting herbs by moonlight. The problem is that sometimes we get stuck in our vision of what we think we should be and forget to look at what we have. See, I have this vision of being Miss Marple and living in a little English cottage, preferably thatched, where I spend my day sipping tea and solving the occasional village murder. Okay, maybe not the murder part, except fictionally. Otherwise it’s a bit tough on the village. But I want the cottage and the garden! I want foxgloves to grow in my garden. They melt during Florida summers. Florida doesn’t seem very Pagan. But Florida is where of my British friends come to escape the English weather. It seems a human condition to not always appreciate where we are.

This year, part of my daily meditations are simply to appreciate the space I have been given on this earth, regardless of size, location, lack of foxgloves or abundance of mosquitoes. This is a good year for re-examining things in my life since last year I went through a major job upheaval and I’m now working a new job and a new lifestyle with more writing and less stress. Throughout the year, I’ll be blogging my thoughts and experiences as I go through my journey and garden quest. I won’t promise major revelations on life, the garden and Paganism. Just the musings of a simple garden witch.