The Crystal Cave

20170111_002030-3Named for the 1970 Arthurian novel by Mary Stewart, this garden of clear quartz (a.k.a. rock crystal) standing stones rises from a glittering bed of ice blue and frost grey pebbles. The seven stones (a magickal number symbolizing knowledge, awareness, meditation and introspection) stand proudly, admiring their ancient reflection in the surface of a frozen lake. Amongst this winter wonderland, a blanket of forest moss gives us hope for an early, green Spring.

To make this crystal garden, I filled the bottom of an 8” diameter rose bowl with a mix of blue and grey vase filler glitter stones, then nestled an inexpensive 5” round mirror amongst them – remembering to clean off the smudges first! Because none of the quartz points had a flat base, I used white tac adhesive (removable, non-drying and non-staining putty) to help them stay upright, and disguised it with moss and more pebbles. Tweezers and my cell phone stylus helped with placing and securing the pebbles and moss.

20170111_002030-5To add a further wintery touch, I originally sprinkled the garden with faux snow of the shredded clear plastic kind, but the large flakes with their colourful iridescence didn’t fit my theme of icy winter white and just didn’t look right, so I used my tweezers to remove most of them. If I were to do this again, I’d choose the granular variety instead.

I purchased all materials except the quartz and adhesive at Michael’s, although glass containers and craft mirrors can usually be found at bargain stores.

The beauty of this arrangement is that it’s temporary and can be changed according to one’s whim: with the seasons, using different decorative accents, or with minerals or stones that hold special meaning for you. Amethyst, for example, would be a wonderful choice for February!

For more information on the history and properties of clear quartz, please see my blog post here.dsc_5078-3

Royal Resins

20161217_103013-3Gold, frankincense and myrrh. We know all about the first, but have you ever wanted to know more about the second and third kingly gifts, what they are, where they come from, and what they smell like?

Frankincense, myrrh and other aromatic resins such as amber, copal and dragon’s blood are the soft, viscous saps exuded by woody plants in response to injury. When dried and hardened (polymerized) into “tears”, they are used in perfumery, aromatherapy and medicine. There are three main types: oleoresin (sticky, semi-soft), hard (brittle, tasteless and odourless until burned) and gum (gum or tree sap). A resin’s fragrance is due to the presence of terpenes, organic compounds whose strong odour may deter parasites or herbivores which eat or destroy the plant. Except for amber, these resins are harvested two to three times a year by “tapping” the tree: slashing the bark and collecting the resin which oozes out. The final tapping produces the best-quality, opaque resin with the highest terpene content. Amber is “fossilized” (i.e. completely polymerized); copal can be tapped or subfossil (not completely polymerized and much younger than amber). Most resins used as perfume or incense are graded according to colour, purity, scent, age and shape.

Frankincense: “Frankincense to offer have I; Incense owns a Deity nigh.” Frankincense (from Old French franc encens, meaning “high quality incense”) is a gum resin obtained from four species of Boswellia tree. Also known as olibanum (Arabic for “that which results from milking”, referring to the collection process), frankincense has been traded in western Asia, North Africa and China since ancient times. It is depicted in Egyptian tombs, was known to the ancient Greeks, was introduced to Europe by crusaders and is one of the chief resins used in religious rites. Translucent, impurity-free resin is edible and can be chewed as gum and is used in cosmetics and for a variety of medical complaints. Somalia is the major frankincense producer today. Aroma: Sweet, piney, lemony.

Myrrh: “Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume / Breathes a life of gathering gloom; / Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, / Sealed in the stone cold tomb.” Myrrh resin is the yellowish-brown gum of several small, thorny species of Commiphora trees in Africa and western Asia. Myrrh, which means “bitter” in Arabic and Aramaic, has been used throughout history as a perfume and incense and in medicine for its antiseptic and analgesic properties. The Bible mentions it as a rare, intoxicating perfume, and it was sometimes mixed with wine to drink, or, as the carol reminds us, used with natron to embalm the dead. Aroma: Earthy, smoky, musky-sweet.

Amber: Valued since Neolithic times, amber is hard tree resin that is several million years old. In classical antiquity, it was known to the Romans as electrum and to the Greeks as ēlektron (“beaming sun”); we get the name from the Arabic anbar. Amber is found primarily in the Baltic region, Russia, Africa, and the Americas, although seams of it are distributed worldwide. Amber disturbed from seabed sediments washes up on the shore; seams are mined. The “amber” fragrance used for perfume was once made from ambergris – the waxy substance extracted from the intestines of sperm whales – but is now made from other resins and organic compounds such as labdunum and benzoin, plus synthetics. Raw amber stones can be burned as incense, although true amber is costly. Aroma: Warm, rich, honey-like and woodsy.20161217_110330-4Copal: Harvested from the copal tree (Protium copal), this milky-white hard resin has been used for ceremonial purposes in Mexico and Central America since pre-Columbian times. Copal from several species of Hymanaea tree is found in East Africa, and this variety has been used since the 18th century as incense and an ingredient in varnish. Harder, citrine-coloured subfossil copal (partially-fossilized, several-thousand-year-old roots found beneath living copal trees in Africa, Asia and New Zealand) is a cheaper substitute for gem-quality amber and is sometimes sold as “young amber”. As an incense, copal is mellower than frankincense, myrrh or amber.  Aroma: Subtly spicy, faintly reminiscent of cumin.

Dragon’s Blood: True dragon’s blood, an oleoresin, comes from dragon trees of the Dracaena species from the Canary Islands and Morocco. Another common source is the Indonesian Daemonorops draco rattan palm. Like many fragrant resins and spices, dragon’s blood made its way to Europe during the Middle Ages via the Silk Road. The resin is bright red and, when heated, bubbles like blood, and it was believed to have come from elephants and dragons that had died in combat. Other uses throughout history have been varnish, dye, ink, medicine and even toothpaste. Aroma: Strong herbal-floral, perfumey.

How to Burn Resins:

I recommend burning raw, natural resin rather than incense cones or joss sticks, because the latter can be treated with synthetic fragrance, and their quality varies widely. Also, you need only one or two small pieces of resin to scent a room, and the perfume lingers for some time.

Use a fire- and heat-proof vessel with steep sides, such as a cast iron pot or a bowl designed for burning resin (I use a small cast iron cauldron) • Place on a protected surface, as the container will get hot • Fill halfway with sand and place a small charcoal tablet, sold specifically for burning incense, inside (you can break in half for a shorter burn time) • Use a match to light the charcoal, which will give off sparks for a few seconds • Keep away from any combustible material • When the charcoal starts to glow red, carefully place a piece of resin beside it (tongs, tweezers, spoon or fork work well for this) • The heat will begin to melt and burn the resin, which releases that lovely fragrance.20161217_113056-3

Common-sense Cautions: Use only charcoal disks specifically designed for burning incense • Never leave an active burner unattended • Direct contact of resin with lit charcoal will burn up or scorch the resin more quickly and produce a lot of smoke • Burning charcoal creates carbon monoxide, so use with proper ventilation • Allow charcoal to become cold ash; never throw contents of pot directly into the trash • Store unused charcoal disks in a sealed bag to protect from humidity.

The Mugglestone

dsc_4038-3Tiger Iron, also known as Mugglestone, is found primarily in Australia and South Africa. It is a banded stone containing layers of golden tiger’s eye, red (and sometimes yellow) jasper and hematite.

The tiger’s eye quartz in this gemstone demonstrates chatoyancy, an optical effect which creates a luminous sheen reminiscent of a cat’s eye. Indeed, that is where the effect gets its name, from the French œil de chat (cat’s eye). The arrangement of fibres in tiger’s eye is responsible for this chatoyancy.

dsc_4105-3Jasper, a blend of chalcedony and opaque quartz, comes in several colours such as red, yellow, brown, green and blue and can have spots, blotches or stripes. In fact, the name jasper, handed down through the millennia from Asian and Middle-eastern languages, means “spotted or speckled stone”. The red jasper in tiger iron is caused by iron inclusions.

dsc_4080-3Hematite is an iron oxide which can be black, steel grey, silver, or a dark reddish-brown. Its main use is as ore for iron, and the deep red varieties make a pigment. Powdered rouge (used in paint and cosmetics), red or yellow ochre clay and the red drawing chalk, sanguine, all contain various amounts of hematite.

So why is Tiger Iron sometimes called Mugglestone? Some believe that tiger iron is a protective stone which deflects harmful energy caused by the judgments of others. We first saw the term muggle in Harry Potter, of course, referring to non-magickal folk, or to those who don’t believe in magick or consider it evil. How appropriate, then, that this grounding stone, which contains the strength of iron, is often used to repel negativity and provide power, stamina and positive energy in the face of adversity!dsc_4181-4

Reading the Runes

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Terracotta rune set with hessian bag and guide book by Horik Svensson.

The Elder Futhark, the oldest known runic alphabet, is of Germanic origin dating from the 1st or 2nd century CE. Similar to the Greek alphabet, which is named for its first two letters, the Futhark takes its name from the first initial or phoneme of the first six runes: F, U, Th, A, R and K. Each rune corresponds to a letter or sound (transliteration).

There are many theories as to why this system was invented and what it means, but no one knows for sure. Was it an attempt by northern Europeans to imitate Roman script? Did the runes have a practical purpose, such as recording ideas or events? Or perhaps the characters had mystical or shamanistic properties.

The runes are usually referred to in either ancient Proto-Germanic or 8th century Old English, the language of the Anglo-Saxons. (For the runic items I make for my shop, I use the latter.) The words are from nature — usually animals, trees or weather — or are the names of gods. For example, the first rune, shown in the centre foreground of the photo above, is known as either Fehu (P-G), or Feoh (OE). Feoh transliterates as the letter f, means “wealth” or “cattle”, and is generally accepted today as symbolizing wealth, power and success.

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The runes, woodburned onto a cedar plank, with their names in Old English.

Here are the 24 Elder Futhark runes, their ancient meanings and modern symbolism:

Feoh  •  wealth, cattle  •  Wealth, power, success
Ur  •  aurochs  •  Risk, rapid change, stamina, determination
Thorn  •  the god Thor  •  Protection, luck, inner growth
Ansur  •  mouth  •  Advice, deliberation
Rad  •  wheel, ride •   Journey (literal or toward enlightenment)
Ken  •  torch •   New life, fertility, knowledge, the arts
Geofu  •  gift  •  Union, harmony, love, peace
Wynn  •  joy  •  Happiness, success, fulfillment through hard work
Hagall  •  hail  •  Unpredictability, sudden setback
Nied  •  need  •  Restriction, patience, spiritual growth through hardship
Is  •  ice  •  Caution, put plans on hold, waiting
Jara  •  year, harvest  •  Cycles, birth, time of reckoning
Yr  •  yew  •  Positive outcome after delay, inner strength
Peorth  •  pear tree  •  Unexpected inheritance, recovery of what was lost
Eolh  •  elk  •  Protection, beneficial influence
Sigel  •  sun •  Life force, guiding light
Tir  •  the god Tiwaz  •  Battles, competition, vigorous energy, being prepared
Beorc  •  birch  •  Fertility, inception of idea or project, family
Eoh  •  horse  •  Travel, change (made carefully, not abruptly)
Mann  •  Man, humans  •  Separate but not alone, relationships, inner wisdom
Lagu  •  water, lake  •  Intuition, flexibility, receptivity, creativity
Ing  •  the god Ingwaz  •  Completion, good omen, relief is near
Othel  •  heritage, estate  •  Ancestry, the home, land, obligations, karma
Daeg  •  day  •  New beginnings, growth, inner acceptance, security

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Rune necklaces I made recently for a customer in California, of reclaimed Muskoka white pine. I pyrographed the freehand designs and bark-like edging and finished the pendants with linseed oil and beeswax.

Similar to Tarot cards, runes can be cast for divination, or can be worn or carried as an amulet. I wear Tir as my personal talisman because it is the rune of archers.

Crystal Clear

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Rock crystal a.k.a. clear quartz: the Perfect Jewel

Rock crystal (from Greek kruos and krustallos, ‘frost’ or ‘ice’), Earth’s purest form of quartz, is found worldwide and is the second most abundant mineral after feldspar. This colorless, transparent to translucent silicon oxide (SiO2) quartz, also known as pure or clear quartz, forms hexagonal prisms often ending in a pyramid. It measures 7 on the Mohs hardness scale.

The ancients believed pure quartz was superhard, petrified ice and that the gods lived in palaces of rock crystal; knapped tools and weapons such as arrowheads were made from it. The emperor Nero drank his wine from a rock crystal goblet, as this mineral was supposed to quench thirst, and wealthy Roman ladies carried it in their hands during hot weather because they thought it had cooling properties. Pure quartz is the traditional material used to make seers’ crystal balls; 11th century crusaders brought these objects back from the Holy Land, believing they possessed magical powers of divination and healing. Subsequently, clear quartz became popular in medieval Europe as a treatment for a slew of conditions including dysentery, colic, fever, pain, gout and kidney disease. For Native Americans, rock crystal is a good luck stone to be placed in a newborn baby’s cradle. Rock crystal is a symbol of purity, patience and perseverance for the Japanese, who call it tama, the Perfect Jewel. It is thought to open the heart and mind to higher guidance, and is used in the quest to achieve enlightenment.

Rock crystal is considered a semi-precious stone and can be left raw, shaped or tumbled smooth in jewelry, touchstones, carvings and meditation aids, or as decorative clusters or geodes. The genuine stone also had industrial applications and was used in timepieces, but most modern quartz movement watches and electronics now employ synthetic rock crystal.