Monthly Archives: August 2011

Pentagram Ward

Warding circles are used to define and protect a space for a variety of reasons. Witches and magicians use them to protect our homes from unfriendly spirits and mortals. We also use them to define and preserve our ritual areas between formal rites.

The pentagram ward is the rite I found, so long ago, misrepresented as the Lesser Banishing of the Pentagram. They are admittedly similar, but the Lesser Banishing is a ceremonial rite, requiring a ceremonial magician’s tools and formal incantations.  My pentagram ward is somewhat simpler.

The pentagram – with or without a circle around it – is a symbol of elemental power, representing the microsm. Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit. A ward drawn with such a glyph draws power both from the idea of the pentagram and from the elemental energies of the physical and astral planes.

A warding circle begins, as do all rites, with grounding and centering. Breathe.

Face forward and focus your will. Using one’s tool of choice – knife, wand, sword, hand, eye – draw a pentacle in the air in front of you; fill it with enough power that it glows before your eyes and stays where you put it.

Focus your will on the rightmost point of that pentacle in the air and turn 90 degrees to your right, drawing a quarter-circle line as you go. At the edge of the line you have just drawn, cut another pentacle in the air and fill it with your will as you did the first.

Repeat this process twice more, drawing a total of four pentacles in the air, one in each of the four directions: before, right, behind, and left. The left circle being charged, complete the greater circle with a final quarter-turn. Feel the circle snap closed, feel it fill with power.

Your ward is complete.  It’s simple.  Magicians might even scoff.  But it does the trick under most circumstances, and it makes an excellent framework upon which to hang more sophisticated protections.

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Inner Temple

I have long called this technique the “House of Memory”. Some call it the Inner Temple. Some build a palace, others a city, still others a cave. Although I call it a house, mine is in fact a castle. Many of my friends have built or found glades, mountains, and forests in the weird recesses of their minds.  As I speak to more and more witches in my life, I have come to understand that what I once thought was a a unique exercise in visualization, projection, and memory (possibly of my own invention) is, in fact, something that many of us have done deliberately, unconsciously, or even in a previous life.  Despite – or perhaps because of – this intuitive prevalence, I find little mention of this technique in books or even on the internet.

Some of my readers, I’m sure, have been long familiar with this and similar techniques.  If you’ve built one already, what do you use it for?

Finding or Creating a House of Memory

Begin by entering a meditative trance: relax the body, relax the mind, and drift off into the Void (or the astral or wherever it is you go when you trance). Once in a trance-state, focus on a room. From the floor to the ceiling, make it around yourself… as if you were looking at it through your own eyes, actually standing inside the room. It is best to make it simple, so that it is easier to visualize it as the same every time. Build every aspect of that room; be sure to include a door, if you are going to have more rooms than the first. Make every important detail… in fact, every detail you can cram into the visualization… paradoxically, remember to keep it simple so that you can recall it exactly as it was. If there are bookshelves, include them.  Keep them empty for now, you can add to them later.

Once you have completed building your first room, look at it. Walk around inside the room, observing and trying to memorize every detail. The texture, the smell, the color – maybe even the taste.  Don’t be worried if you don’t get it quite the same every time, that’s natural; there will be some parts, quite likely, that will be different every time you’re there. Once you have the room solidly in your memory, leave (preferably by the door, if there is one) it helps maintain the “reality” of the construct.

Come back. After a while—a few hours, a day or two, even a week—come back to your house of memory, trying to rebuild it in your head as accurately as you can. Simply the act of rebuilding it will stretch your “mental muscles” and improve your memory as well as your skill at visualization. Repeat this step until you are confidant in your ability to recreate—or, rather, return to—the room each time.

If you are planning on adding further rooms or areas to your House of Memory, begin doing so now, before the “permanence” is too well established.  Depending on your personality, a certain amount of transience can be good.

Begin filling your house of memory. However you wish to file the information is up to you… some use scraps of paper in bottles. I use books. One might wish to create a filing cabinet or indexing system of some sort.

Return to your house of memory often.

Maintain it… simply sit and think (meditating upon the house, then sitting down inside and meditating there is a method of reaching deep levels of relaxation and meditation), file information… dust the shelves. Without putting effort into the House, it will eventually fade out.

Through this construct, which exists in both our own minds and as a place in the astral realms, we develop the foundational skills needed for more complex visualizations, for astral projections, and for shamanic journeys. Further, we can, with practice, bring others to our Houses of Memory or seek our theirs in dreams and journeys.

The House of Memory is a real place in the more subtle corners of reality, and rituals performed here can be as effective as those performed in material reality.

Practitioners inclined to visionary work, underworld journeys, and the like can use the house of memory as an Inner Temple – a place to connect with the divine, to meet guides and powers, and as a starting point for exploration of the inner worlds.  Teachers can bring their students to their own inner spaces to help instruct them.  There are probably uses for the house of memory / inner temple that I have never imagined.

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August Dark Moon Esbat

Two weeks ago, Aradia and my mother helped me lay the foundations of my house-wards.  Since then, though, my dreams have been more troubled than my waking life, alone, can account for.  I’m accustomed to living in a tightly Warded space, and although the neighborhood is quiet … it’s not that quiet.  Besides, I’ve been performing the Qabalistic cross daily for the entire interim: I was ready for a badass ritual, and I needed to prepare the space for rituals to come.

I began with a shower – a ritual cleansing that I often forgo.  I cleansed the space with a blend of sage, lavender, and kava – not my usual mix, but it was what I had on hand.  I called up an elemental circle, asking the powers, creatures, and beings of the quarters to guard my space so long as I abide there.  I charged a bottle of Dark Moon water to mix with my flying potion, and for whatever other uses I can find in the next month.  I made sacrifices to my household gods and spirits – mead for Dionysos and for the Nameless Ones; absinthe for the Nameless Ones, my journey-mask, and Tsu. 

Drawing on the theories of Frater Barrabbas, I opened a vortex within my initial circle and raised a cone of power as well.  With that power I turned to my oldest, but in some ways best, tricks: my Pentagram Ward, a structure upon which I will build more sophisticated wards and protection spells.  My power raised and protections in place, I could do what I’ve been putting off to long.  Doning my mask and downing my flying potion, I returned to the Underworld.

The world tree took me down to my Inner Temple, where Tsu, one of the spirits I work, with was waiting.  She pointed me toward a portal, and I followed.  Interestingly, the portal led first to campus, where I found another portal that led me into a void where I found the Leopard of Dionysos.  I was relieved to see her – I’ve been lax in my practice for a while, and I was afraid my allies had deserted me – but she reassured me that he was unconcerned by my absence; Rhea, on the other hand, was waiting for me.

I descended to a grassy plain I’d seen before, and went deeper into the Underworld via the Temple of Rhea I had seen before, during my initiation.  Dionysos appeared briefly – a translucent image, but still a presence – and I descended further.  I found the Magna Mater in a vast cavern, gargantuan and reclining as before.  I abased myself and apologized for not delivering Pasiphae to her before I left Kansas City.  A realization came to me suddenly: “This is all for my benefit, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” she conceded, and pointed me to a tunnel leading down.

That tunnel, in turn, led to oceanic depths I had encountered before, most recently while exploring the Elemental Realm of Water.  It occurred to me that perhaps the Power I had encountered here had not been knocking me around for her own amusement, but that perhaps there had been a purpose.  I swam in the direction she had thrown me and discovered a passage leading up.

That passage led me to more familiar territories, the caverns beneath a ziggurat I had “discovered” in my earliest spirit-journeys.  Reaching light at the top of the zigurat, I encountered a spirit I had almost forgotten – a winged stone serpent placed atop that temple, whose nature I have never determined.  After a brief, silent communion with him, I was returned to the heart of my Inner Temple.

I concluded my journey with a brief but fruitful conversation with Tsu, and returned to my body to put a lid on the vortex and close the circles.

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My Unruly Mind

This afternoon I was working on my Greek homework.  In particular, on memorizing the alphabet.  To aid with this, I turned to my Tower of Memory*, pulling one of the many blank books from the shelves.  I placed the book on the table, pulled as pen from the air, and opened the cover to the first page.  Or tried to anyway.  The book refused to cooperate, pages flapping until it was open to the middle.
I tried putting the book back on the shelf and starting over.  I tried leaving my trance state, casting a circle, and entering a deeper trance.  I could feel the pebbled texture of the cover, smell the leather and paper. Still, the book insisted on opening to the the middle.  One of the spirits I work with was there the whole time, laughing at me.

It’s been some time since I started a new “book” in my Tower of Memory.  As I think on it, though, I’ve had this problem before.  I’m better at visualization now than I’ve ever been, but there are still times when my mind refuses to cooperate with me. 

I know that my visualization needs work.  I have had enough experiences where my body and the mortal world were simply gone to know that I am capable of full, six-senses visionary work.  (Though I also know that this is simply not going to happen every time no matter how good I get.)  But I also know that the mind and the Otherworlds have rules (largely unwritten, which is part of why I keep this blog: in the hopes that someone else will be aided by my fumbling experiences) different from those of the mortal world.  Which, of course, beg question: is this a failing on my part, or something about the nature of this particular visionary technique that I don’t know?

* In his Temple of High Witchcraft, Christopher Penczak talks about using a portion of the Inner Temple as a “Tower of Memory”. This, of course, is not a new idea by any stretch of the imagination. It’s not even new to me: I’ve been using both techniques for as long as I’ve practiced magic. I couldn’t even begin to cite my original sources, cribbed as they were from message boards and FTP sites back in the Cretaceous Period of the Internet, when HTTP was shiny and new, everyone’s homepage was on lysator, and geocities hadn’t happened yet. (I mention these things first, so that if you haven’t heard of the technique you can go look it up; and second, to re-establish that Penczak is not my first or only source by any stretch of the imagination, just one I’ve been drawing on recently.)

If I can’t find a good link on the subject in the next few days, I’ll post an instructional write-up of my own.  It’s strange that, though I’ve been working with these techniques since I was sixteen years old, I still don’t feel confident to impart them to others.

ETA:

A basic instruction for creating the Inner Temple in the first place: http://www.plotinus.com/exercise_temple_of_light_copy%281%29.htm

A non-occult conceptualization of the Palace of Memory: http://litemind.com/memory-palace/

These are adequate, but I think, however, that I will still refine my decade-plus-old write-up of the Inner Temple and House of Memory. 

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The Room

I got my first college care package this week.  Of course it was from Aradia.  She quoted Adrianne Rich for me at length:

Night-life. Letters, journals, bourbon
sloshed in the glass. Poems crucified on the wall,
dissected, their bird-wings severed
like trophies. No one lives in this room
without living through some kind of crisis.

No one lives in this room
without confronting the whiteness of the wall
behind the poems, planks of books,
photographs of dead heroines.
Without contemplating last and late
the true nature of poetry. The drive
to connect. The dream of a common language.

–Origins of History and Conciousness

She muses about whether the room”is the space one inhabits or the the Creative Mind itself.  It is both.  It is my too-dark, faux-wood paneled living room with the bright white cinderblock wall in front of which I built my altar.  It is the echoing cavern of madness where I listen to my muses and transcribe their nearly-incomprehensible wails onto the lining of my skull.  It is more.

It is also my life here: a white room with two doors.  One of the doors locked behind me when I came in, though there is a fire-ax hanging beside it, the words “Break In Case of FUBAR” painted carefully in white-and-red across the class.  I haven’t found the other door yet, only the walls.  Empty walls marked by a few snapshots – faces of people who might be friends or enemies or (worst of all) indifferent – and scattered windows I can’t quite see out of.

She goes on to quote Lorrie Moore: “This is good for your writing.”

Of course it is.  No matter how good or bad it gets.  And whether at the end of this period I go on, as planned, to a Masters in History and a Doctorate in Greek mystery cults; if I end up selling my writing much earlier than I can comprehend; or if the world as we know it ends, and I find myself presiding over a temple of freaks, geeks, and survivalists who aren’t quite sure how I ended up in charge.  This is good for my writing.

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The Concerns of Being a Man-Witch

It bothers me, sometimes: being a man (however queer) with aspirations to leadership in the NeoPagan community. 

Witchcraft is supposed to be Womyn’s Religion. We honor a Goddess before a God, exalt the role of the High Priestess, assert that the “feminine principle” is the dominant power on the inner planes.  And yet … too often our leaders and teachers are men.  Gerald Gardner.  Alex Sanders.  Raymond Buckland.  Carlos Castaneda and Michael Harner.  Raven Grimmassi, Ed Fitch, Oberon Zell.  There are great women, too, of course: Doreen Valiente, Margot Adler and Starhawk and Z Budapest.  But what does it say that I – a man who once called himself Scholar Mage, who has read as many histories of witchcraft as how-too manuals – can think of so few ladies who had as much influence on modern NeoPagan witchcraft as these.

(I’ll leave alone entirely, for the moment, the overwhelming preponderance of gentlemen over ladyfolk in ceremonial magick which has been so influentialon the NeoPagan movement as a whole.  I’ll also leave for another time the discussion of such inseparable couples as  Gavin and Yvonne Frost, or Janet and Stewart Farrar, and the erasure of Rosemary Buckland and so many other influential wives and partners.)

To make matters worse, when we think of the grand disasters, whose are the names that come to mind most readily?  Amber K, Edain McCoy, Silver Ravenwolf.  Really, what makes Ravenwolf (whose work I won’t touch) so much worse than Penczak (whose work I’m embarrassed about, but make extensive use of)?

Witchcraft is supposed to be Womyn’s Religion.  So where are the women?  That’s a silly question: of the groups I’ve worked with, women made up a little more than half their number; of the solitaries I’ve known, women made a solid 2/3 majority (leaving Heathens and Not Wiccan Damnits out of the count for the sake of this discussion).  Instead I should ask: where are the women leaders?  The lady-writers reshaping the movement with their brilliance?

There’s a part of me that wants to cop out and take an easy answer: the good ones are at home, leading covens – too busy with the real Work to publish self-aggrandizing through publishing.  But Deborah Lipp (brilliant and under recognized, at least in the circles I run in) manages both; that’s part of what being brilliant is about.  An even easier answer is that they’re squeezed out by a sexist publishing industry that’s too afraid of risk to print anything but another idiot Witchcraft 101 – With a Twist!  This feels closer to the truth, at least.  Maybe a portion of the truth, a part of the problem.

But I wonder sometimes … if I’m not part of the problem, too.  Not me, personally (I hope), but man-witches in general – still struggling (or not) to escape the patriarchal paradigm that privileges our worst ideas over any woman’s most brilliant.  If the preponderance of male writers and leaders is a passive (or active) force keeping women out of the public sphere in this community, even as it is in the mainstream world.

What, then, is my role as a male witch?  How can I serve the community that has sheltered me?  How do I pass on the knowledge I’ve acquired after a decade and a half of struggling with Mysteries and a sea of mediocre books (spotted rarely with islands of genius)?  How do I create the small, intimate, power magical community – the coven, ideally, or temple failing that – that I can’t seem to find ready-made?  How can I do these things without furthering the problem?

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At the Gate of a Labyrinth

After a five-day ordeal called New Student Orientation, I am officially matriculating.  There  My first class, appropriately, was Ancient Greek.  But I’ll talk about all that later.  Right now, I have a decision to make.  I want to work in the art-metals department to help pay for school … which is leaving me with a dilemma.

There aren’t any work-study openings left.  The head of the department didn’t come right out at say it, but it was made clear to me that they all go to his seniors.  There are, however, openings in his advanced metalworking class.  Two problems: that costs money, and I’m already taking a full course load.  He’s willing to work with me, though, so I have three options: to take the course (and with it the full additional cost and workload), to work as a TA under him (and work out the cost on an ad-hoc basis), or to leave my course load alone.

Being a magician, I of course consulted the Tarot – my Crowley-Harris Thoth deck, to be specific; I’ve been using it for my daily readings and carrying it around with me rather like a child with a favorite blanket.  I did a modified version of the Decision Game (Banzhaf and Theler, pp 44-45) spread for three options instead of two.

My results are as follows:

The significator is the Queen of Swords – I’m struggling to impose rational order on what might be a fundamentally emotional decision.

The first path – to take the course – procedes from [XV the Devil] to [10 Wwands “Oppression”] to [VII the Chariot].  In some ways, the Devil aspect of this is easy to see: the temptation of the fire, metal, and hammers calls strongly to me; the temptation to do something I already know I’m good at, to keep my hand in; to make every penny of my tuition count.  The generative aspects seem more metaphorical, but one can never be quite sure.  Looking at the 10W, I was initially confused.  After closer examination, however, I feel that it is simply stating the obvious: that I will be overworked, pushing the limits of my time and energy.  That it will end in the Chariot is most interesting: that the class will give me the opportunity to move forward in some meaningful and powerful way.

The second path – to take the TA position – is more clear.  [XI Lust] leads to [XII the Hanged Man] and ends in [9 Swords “Cruelty”].  This is probably not the way to go.  But then, half-measures rarely are.

The final path – to skip it and leave my course load as is – begins with [2 Wands “Dominion”] and leads through [the Knight of Wands] to [the Queen of Wands].  The 2W gives me pause, as Banzhaf talks a lot about risk-taking in relationship to this card; this seems strange to me as this is the path of not taking the risk.  The Knight of Wands is more clear: this is the direct path, the road of staying focused and on target.  The Queen of Wands seems to promise leadership opportunities at the end, and perhaps other opportunities as well that I can’t foresee.  It is also interesting to me that here, on the “stick to the books” path, is where I find the most fire cards.

One rarely expects clear answers from the Tarot, but rarely have I gotten answers quite so ambiguous.

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Q-Crossed

As a part of my burgeoning studies in ceremonial magic, I have now performed the Qabalistic Cross ritual every morning for the last three days.  I can already feel it making changes to my aura: my crown chakra is rising, my root is descending, and the two stars at my shoulders are becoming semi-permanent fixtures.  I had not anticipated these precise changes, but they seem to confirm a theory of mine: I don’t believe that the human aura has pre-configured centers of power.  I think that those nexi and meridians are formed as mystics, witches, and magicians work magic – particularly the internal kind.

When I was taking Aikido in high school, and first establishing my magical practice, I read a great deal about chakras, but the only ones I could actually feel were my Third Eye, my One Point – very important to Aikido practice, to the exclusion of all others – and my Root.  Of them all, though, only my Third Eye was where I expected it to be.  My One Point and Root were both low.  The One Point only a little bit, too close to my genitals; but my Root seemed to hover somewhere below my feet unless I sat cross-legged. 

It was only after years (and years, and years) of pointed practice that I could detect the others, and they always faded quickly when my practice lapsed.  I can still feel them in my aura now, of course: although my practice has not been as regular as I might like, lately, I’m still very near the top of my game.  But as I begin this very different regimen of ritual and meditation, I can alread feel them mutating.

Which leads me to wonder (more.  Again.) what the purpose of the Qabalistic Cross ritual is.  The resources I can find that talk about the why suggest that it is primarily about centering, both in the sense of ground-and-center and in the larger sense of realizing one’s position as the center of one’s own universe (the King of the Kingdom Malkuth, the Keeper of the Garden).  But it seems to me that it’s doing more than that. 

Is it to begin making the changes to the aura that will be furthered by the Circulation of the Body of Light, the LBRP, and all the rest?  is it, as Rufus Opus has suggested of the LBRP, to “season” one appropriately to be devoured by the Secret Chiefs?  The answer, I suppose, is the same as always: more research, and more practice, are required.

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Sacred Space to Establish Space

When I drove across three states to go to college, almost a fifth of what I brought pertained either to my altar, or my magical library.  I set up my altar even before I set up my bookshelves or unpacked my clothes.  Since them, I have spent hours poking and prodding at it, trying to tune it properly to the new space and my new needs.

When I took it apart back in Kansas City, I had high ideals of putting it together so that the symbolism was clear and consistent, with cosmic forces at the heart, building outward to symbols of the mortal world.  Unfortunately, the gods whose idols make up my altar would have no part of that.

This evening, at last, I think we have reached a compromise: an arrangement that displays them as they wish to be displayed and fits my need for a pattern of some sort, all while still leaving me the space I’ll need to work.  It’s somewhat unbalanced at the moment.  There are gods who need spaces, but for whom I have not yet found or made adequate icons or idols.

Altar-Cropped

The topmost level consists of a candle rack where I have anchored protective spells for almost twenty years.  Behind it is a slice of blue geode, given to me by my grandmother when I was a child – it has been a part of my altar for as long as I can remember.  In front are a pair of quartz crystals, mined and cleaned by Pasiphae and Aidan in Arkansas; and a dragon-bell given to me by a neighbor in St.Louis.

The next level is divided into three sections.  You can see Dionysos clearly on the left, and at his feet is a Maenad.  Sharing that shelf are a paper skull, representing mortality; and an anvil marked with a fire glyph, which I work with when honoring Hephaestos.  You cannot quite see my ritual blade.  In the center section are the God and Goddess statues I have been working with as I struggle to reconcile my fundamental queerness with heavily gendered archetypes that seem to work so well for others.  In between them is the altar-box Aradia made me as an Initiation-gift, a world tree painted on one side; the other bearing six small drawers, each filled with an elemental power.  On the right is my ritual chalice; a rubber purple Ostara egg from a ritual several years ago; a copper bracelet and ring in the shape of serpents, which I used to channel the spirits at the Farmhouse Séance.  My cauldron completes the set, but that section needs a great deal more attention.

The lower level is divided into five sections: three along the wall, an elemental circle in the center, and a working surface.  The back left section contains a variety of tools – my jeweler’s hammers, saw, and and bench pin; a gong and striker; a sickle-shaped ritual knife, and several cloths.  The central recess contains my sun-god maks and a piece of driftwood found in Chicago.  The back right section contains my visionary mask, my Orb (long story), the statue wherein lives a spirit I work with (though I haven’t seen her since Heartland), and a rose and candle from my Phi Theta Kappa induction which will be incorporated in my altar to Athena as soon as I find or make an appropriate idol.

IMG_4204

The elemental circle is fairly straightforward: candle nubs saved from the altar where I worked with Aradia, Pasiphae, Aidan, Chriotus, and D; a quartz crystal, a flame-shaped stone and a clay censer, a stone, a blue bowl and a sea shell, each accompanying their respective elements; in the center is a clay pentacle I made. 

The rest is all working space: a mad collection of tools and spells and memories and works-in-progress.  The five stones – one beside each element, one atop the pentacle – are for a project I’m working on, as are all the stones lined up in the front: blending the hot-stone massage I’m learning with the ceremonial magic; the four will be marked with elemental sigils, others will be marked with zodiac and planetary seals.  There’s a money spell in the back left, and a bottle in which I dump excess lust (that one never worked right – it overfilled almost immediately and I always had more … still handy from time to time, though).  The giant sage wand was a gift from a shamanic practioner at Heartland 2009, who took Aradia and I on very interesting inward journeys.  The pile of quartz are also from Pasiphae and Aidan.  There’s a green soapstone container full of all the hematite rings I broke in highschool, which I’ve kept for spell components.  And more.  And more.  There’s even more below and inside the altar table.

This is where I work.  By the way, I’m crazy.

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Corn Moon Rite

I posted about my full moon reading yesterday, but the ritual itself bears mentioning as well.  It was the first in the new home, the last I’ll be able to perform with Aradia until Yule at the soonest, and the only magical rite in which my mother has ever participated. 

In keeping with that last point, and because we were all too overwhelmed and exhausted to do any serious heavy lifting, we kept it simple.  Rather than alternating in silence, as Aradia and I usually do, or assigning a call to each of the participants – as we have historically with larger groups – I took the lead, calling on the “powers and spirits” of each element, while Aradia and my mother followed behind.  We cast the circle hand-to-hand, and a storm hit exactly as we finished.

We called upon the moon to help establish the household and to aid in the transition.  The three of us then worked together to charge a bottle of water with moon energy.  Finally, we closed the circle and went outside to see what was going on.

The storm was still blowing in, but the tree outside my front door had already dropped a massive load of sticks and twigs.  This was where my mother really shone, and proved that with little or no actual instruction in what I do, she already knew enough: she encouraged me to collect a particularly attractive fallen twig to add to my altar.  As the storm continued, I set the moon water outside to continue charging, along with my amethyst orb.  Both were tingling when I brought them in shortly before dawn.

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