rituals of buying and selling

Sunday morning.
I unlock the door of the little apothecary, switch on the lights, and choose some music for the day. Then, when I’m ready, I light some incense and mist some ‘Prosperity‘ Findhorn flower essence blend around the space – a ritual to start the working day.

‘The Restorers’ – Druid Animal Oracle, by Will Worthington and Phillip Carr Gomm

 I wouldn’t pride myself on selling snow to the Inuit – at least, not unless they needed snow, which seems alarmingly possible these days – because where is the pride in selling someone something they don’t need? But, in this little shop above the river, I pride myself on helping people find the things they do need, which brings a modest kind of financial prosperity to the apothecary, and a spiritual kind of prosperity, comfort and joy, to me.
The truth is, I am quite good at selling, for a sort-of-anti-capitalist. I value things which have been made with skill and love, and I am good at helping others to find appreciation of these things, where there is genuine appreciation to be found. I never push, but I am good at understanding what people need and want, and at helping them to find their way towards it; sometimes by buying something, sometimes by taking away samples, or by trying something new. A lot of people coming in for Echinacea pastilles recently have also left the store with my tried-and-tested sage gargle recipe for sore throats:
Put two heaped teaspoons of dried sage – the supermarket stuff is fine – in a mug. Cover the herb with boiling water, place a plate (or any kind of cover) on top to stop the volatile oils from evaporating, and leave to cool naturally with the plate still in place. Strain into another cup, removing all the sage, and gargle with this infusion for as long as you can manage.
This kills sore throats better than almost anything else I have encountered (tincture of sage works best, but this is more difficult to come by).
I love doing this. It is profoundly empowering to discover that we can treat our own coughs and sniffles at home with everyday kitchen herbs. Sharing this information gives people a friendly, helpful introduction to the world of complementary therapies, which can sometimes seem like an intimidating barrage of quasi-religious mysticism from the perspective of a nervous or skeptical newcomer. Much like newcomers to paganism, people are often pleased to find that things are friendlier, more practical and more down-to-earth than might be expected. Skepticism is honoured, questions are welcomed.

‘Bee’ – Druid Animal Oracle, by Will Worthington and Phillip Carr Gomm

 Little hints and tips like my sage gargle might cheat the store of a sale or two in the short term (though they are more likely to encourage people to come forward and buy something they might have felt shy about buying, before we struck up a rapport), but they establish a relationship. And any kind of exchange – financial or otherwise – is built on the foundations of relationship. So even in the world of retail, I manage to find sanctity in what I do: work as worship, work as love made visible.
And making a little bit of money from it, to keep me going in the short term, doesn’t hurt.


Vernal equinox: the sun rose at 6:22 am, entered Aries at 10:39 am, and sets tonight at 6:22 pm. And though the sun was hidden all morning by the rainclouds, the afternoon is beautiful.


artwork by Thalia Took: http://www.thaliatook.com

I’m feeling strangely non-verbal today. March usually sees me tensing like a coil, ready to spring into action as the days get longer and the leaves unfurl. This year, things are definitely blossoming, but quietly; growing roots as well as shoots.

I’ve taken a step back from a full-time job that didn’t suit me. For now, I am a part-time assistant at our local apothecary, getting back in touch with herbal remedies – my first and abiding vocational love. It’s an incredible, unprecedented (terrifying, guilt-inducing) gift, to have the stability and security of a home with a low cost of living, allowing me the freedom of this choice. Appreciating this gift, and making the most of it, is my challenge for the season.

At this time of year I often get run down: the tell-tale sign is symmetrical red spots on my neck, above my glands. This lunchtime I checked my bank balance to see if I had enough for a bottle of tincture of cleavers, which is the best remedy I’ve found. I stopped myself – it’s spring, there is cleavers growing everywhere, and meanwhile I’m serving my notice at work with only one more paycheck left from my ‘proper’ salaried position.

So instead of picking up supermarket daffodils and pre-prepared remedies on my commute home, I will walk to the station through the woodland footpath. It means arriving home past 8pm, but it also means collecting my own wild remedies free of charge, to decorate my altar and to heal my body.* Precisely the kind of balance I am seeking.

Top of the season to you all /|\

*p.s. there is so much to say about the ethics of wild harvesting, but as I wrote above: I’m feeling strangely non-verbal today. I’m incubating so many ideas – ideas for writing about divination, foraging, healing, gardening and growing – but they are still only just beginning to bud, and I’m learning not to force them, and to trust that some of them will simply open up to be written when they’re ready. Another challenge for me, with my typical Arian impulse to do everything already!

p.p.s. found some!


coffee and creativity

About a year ago, I wrote a blog post reflecting on my caffeine addiction, after learning that caffeine leaches into the sea around our coastal towns and cities and causes molluscs to secrete stress hormones.

I still haven’t kicked the habit, although it mellowed slightly as I left my stressful job, started doing work I loved, and moved into a greener, quieter city.  I am saving myself for September; it gives me a month of long, lazy breakfasts with a full cafetière once my partner returns.  But over the course of the past year, the idea of giving up has become an unavoidable question of when, not whether: the growing sacrifice of ignorance, at the core of my druid path, has left me unable to turn away from the truth that this addiction stunts my spiritual growth (such as it is).

Today, aptly enough, I came across an article on the relationship between caffeine and creativity.  I suppose some part of me – the part of me that secretly pictures myself sipping my black morning coffee on a pavement table in Paris (where I have never been), smoking gauloises (which I have never smoked) – thought that coffee was at least the habit of an intellectual.  But, as the article relates, “the resulting mind-state is one of narrow focus and “hyper-vigilance”: great for ploughing through predetermined tasks, but poor for the insightful forging of connections between disparate ideas.” – as anyone who has ever pulled an all-nighter with the help of a few cans of red bull will know: you do your planning first.  I used to have a formula worked out at peak times of stress: read, plan, drink two cans of red bull, write write write and eventually collapse into a gibbering wreck on the carpet with very little idea of how or what I had managed to write, but safe in the knowledge it was done.

Nimue yesterday wrote a thought-provoking blog post about “Slowing Down for Druidry” in a world that favours speed.  Oddly enough, I read it without much sense of recognition;  I have always tended to take life at my own pace, disappearing into a book (often up a tree) whenever I wanted to slip out of the current of frenzied activity around me.   The habit took me all the way to Cambridge, and I have spent the best part of a decade recovering; my caffeine addiction is the last vestige of those burnout days.  Most of my other harmful crutches fell away once I found my own two feet, but the tiredness stayed with me, and so did the coffee.  The lack of a sense of recognition is what reminded me I still had an addiction to address.

Interestingly, Oliver Burkeman’s article and Nimue’s blog post reached almost the same conclusion, from their different respective directions.  It is not the caffeine, suggests Burkeman, but the ritual associated with the coffee that promotes creativity, creating time and space for the mind to wander in search of inspiration.  This is not coffee drunk in desperate gulps from a paper cup while striding between meetings; it is sacred time.  It is also the best reason I have come across to give up coffee.  Coffee will always be slightly alien to me, as a plant; I drink it because, as a slightly careless borderline-anaemic, it allows me to ignore the warnings of my tired body.  And, as any pagan knows, ignoring your body is ultimately detrimental to the pursuit of creativity.  So I am saving up for a teapot, a fine china cup and a selection of the herbs with which I have the deepest and most powerful relationships.  More than a substitute for coffee, these herbs are what the coffee has been substituting all along: the best medicine for body, mind and soul (not to mention tastebuds).

My favourite ritual was given a wonderful nickname by a former flatmate: teatime with the gods.  Choosing, blending and infusing the herbs, sitting before the altar and sharing a cup of inspiration; it needn’t take any longer than it would to fill a cafetière or boil a percolator, and it goes so much deeper.