Good morning friends,
Writing to you from my sheepskin nest next to the woodstove, a warm blanket wrapped around my shoulders and a mug of cardamom coffee tucked between my legs. This is my first missive since returning back home from pilgrimage. I went a-walking on the Camino de Santiago; a very old pilgrim route across northern Spain. I would love to share more about this time in future newsletters, but I’m still figuring out how to put words to an experience that feels so expansive, sibylline and ethereal. 
I told a friend yesterday that I need to put in some “hearth-hours” to arrange the past few months into my being, to begin to feel into how walking over five hundred miles has shifted me. To let the pilgrimage keep working on me. I am ready for the winter visioning time; those long nights staring into the fire and thinking about nothing and everything at once. So instead of offering words about the pilgrimage this morning and in honor of the upcoming Tending The Hearth: Winter Folk Magic course, I will share an ember that lives in my hearth and warms my home.
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A few years ago, I went to look at a little house on an old quarry road. Even before entering the house I loved the place immediately; there were tall nettles all around that lead to a quiet stream, lilacs in all directions, and purple self-heal flowers dotting the yard. I loved all the stone on the land the most, bluestone everywhere, including the front stoop that was made up of two big steps of bluestone. But when I opened the front door, the first thing that I saw was the woodstove, seated in a place of honor directly across from the entrance, welcoming everyone into the home. It felt like the central spindle of the house; the crux of the home. The woodstove also rested on a slab of bluestone, grounded. This is it, I told myself. 
That night, I went home and had a dream about the house. In the dream I had painted a large red snake on the wall behind the woodstove, which is actually the small stairway leading up to the second floor. The snake in the painting was also traveling up the stairs, looking like it had emerged from the hearth. When I woke from the dream, I wrote in my journal that the hearth-snake felt magical, but I wasn’t sure why. I placed an offer on the house that morning.
A few months later I was painting the walls and floors of this old quarry road house, getting ready to move in. I had just received the keys to the house earlier that morning, it was my first day being in my new home. It was late-summer and the front door was open to the screened-in porch to keep the air flow moving. I had been standing in the kitchen, drinking water, taking a quick break, when I heard a slight rustling sound outside. I looked out to the stone front stoop and there were two red snakes entwined like ribbons, mating. Their yellow heads looked as if they were floating in the air. The hearth-snake was very real. And very alive. I backed away behind the screen door and sat down on the hearthstone that held the woodstove and watched the snakes from this place. 
When the snakes were done with their spiral dance, one moved quickly off into the grass toward the mugwort patch and the other sat on the stoop for a moment before winding its way under the stone stoop of the house. I felt like I had just seen something that was supposed to be a secret. Not only is it a wild thing to see snakes mate; these snakes were gleaming, venomous copperheads, usually very elusive snakes. The land spirits had made themselves known and I immediately understood that I was a guest in this house. All day I felt electrified by this sighting. That night before leaving the house to let the paint dry, I left some dried flowers that I had grown by the stoop as an offering. I wished I had more to give. I came better prepared the next day.
That first winter in the house, I dreamed of snakes often. I started deep research into snake lore and myth. I learned that my Polish ancestors believed that the spirit of the house would often take the shape of a snake. Snakes embodied the spirit of the house hearth, the center of life and death of the home. So offerings would be made to ensure good health and happiness for every being in the house. Each night, a bowl of ritual milk would be left out by the hearth for the house snake. This ritual act would feed the hearth-spirit and maintain the balance of the home. Even though the hearth-snake was often invisible (children had better luck seeing them), the milk was left each night. Feeding the unseen, feeding the hearth, feeding the spirit of the home. I began to do the same. I left offerings at my hearth, on the bluestone slab each night: milk, honey, bread, cake, song, story, poem. These nourishing ingredients that keep me hearty all season, all offered back. Each winter, I imagine the snakes hibernating, dreaming in their den under piles of bluestone in the woods, receiving the milky dream offerings from my stone portal to theirs. 
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I never painted the snake on the wall from my dream. I didn't believe that my limited painting skills would honor the hearth-snakes enough. However, I did commission the wondrous and talented Catherine Sieck to make a copper snake talisman for the hearth. It is full with the story and magic of this house and I am so grateful to her for understanding and being excited about my strange request when I emailed her about the copperheads in 2020.
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So. I suppose this hearth story is one long way of saying that if you are interested in conjuring the spirits of the hearth this winter, registration is open for this season's Tending The Hearth: Winter Folk Magic. 
In this series of eight classes, we will work within old European folk traditions to invoke ancient hearth-tenders and root these deep winter practices in our own lives. Class themes include: the realm of the kitchen witch & herb cookery, the cauldron, the underworld pantry, home spirits, oracular work, dreaming, winter feasting traditions, guising, folklore of the bedroom, Hestia and mask making. Home/hearthwork will be assigned such as creative writing, medicine making and relational readings. We will learn about the language of winter through reading winter-themed folktales and poems. 
Please note that you do not need to have an active hearth to participate in this course- there are many ways to do this work without a physical hearth space. However, you will be encouraged to work with fire in some way each week - a simple beeswax candle works beautifully.
After many requests, I am happy to say that class this year will be offered on Sundays to try to accommodate more schedules. And as always, the access to the recordings are provided until the Summer solstice.  Learn more and register here.
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If you've made it this far, thanks for your time and attention today. I will also let you know that applications for Herbal Mystery School 2023 are open. I'll send more info on that soon enough. 
With warmth from the woodstove, x