Here we are in the final stretch of winter, the countdown to spring... there is still snow and ice outside. Besides the evergreens and the occasional grocery store tulip that I purchase out of desperation, I haven’t seen a green flowering plant in a while. But I am singing spring into being. I sing to the growing sun, I sing to the birdsong that has returned to the air. My hearth is still lit, but I don’t get up in the middle of night anymore to keep it burning. I let the fire go out and build a new one in the morning, the bones of the house are not as cold these days. In the full slumber of night, I dream of picnicking under catalpa flowers and the snakes returning to the stream. This morning I noticed the lilac buds, still bound tight to the branch, for the first time. I’m not sure they were there yesterday. I touched each one I could reach, in praise and awe. My partner gifts me cream from the cows he tends - this milk has recently returned as calving season is now here. After a long winter of no milk, he is now making yogurt and cheese again. I pour this cream into my morning black tea, envisioning the way the milk will taste when the cows are on pasture, munching green grass again. I can almost taste it. I offer a bit of the cream to the beehives, to the rose bush, to the great pine that has been my north star this winter. Everyone is thanked, blessings abound. The maple sap drops into the bucket. The ground is full of water from the snowmelt, my clogs are covered in mud from running out to the mailbox, each step that isn’t a crunch from the snow is a squish from the mushy ground. I started some seeds this week with the new moon. I picked up branches from the yard that fell during the winter storms. I am breaking them down to build new garden beds. I will layer the cut branches, leaves and other lawn-mulch, then compost. Creating the ground for the medicines to grow. My body craves the taste of nettles. I am ready to sing myself awake for them in their season.
There are many types of magic that I practice, but I teach publicly about folk magic. Folk magic is for the people and by the people. Plain and simple. It is rooted in land-based relationship, a land-based way of life. This means the actual land outside your front door, it is not an abstract form of magic nor has it been frozen by book record. Folk magic swims in the stream down the road, blossoms from within the comfrey flower, flies from branch to branch in the pine forest, rides the subway, sleeps in the barn next to the cow. A real relationship to the land is the root of folk magic, as it is rooted in a way of life. It’s not just a conceptual honoring of the seasonal cycles, it is practiced through daily observance. To know a tree intimately as one would know a friend, or one would know their kin, is vital. Deep intimacy with land is nurtured through these traditions. Folk Magic comes from relationship, not the idea of relationship. And at this time of the year, I am preparing my seasonal practices, songs, prayers, festivals, celebrations and day to day happenings to honor the emergence of spring.
My ancestral folk healing and magic practices came from people who were once deeply connected to the land where they lived. Yours probably do too, whether or not you are familiar with them. The rituals that were enacted evolved from the intention of being in right relationship. Praying to local water spirits to avoid drought. Placing mugwort into the shoe for a protective blessing before a journey ahead. Giving offerings to the olive mother tree to ensure a bountiful harvest (a beautiful Palestinian olive harvest song can be heard here). Tying a piece of fabric onto the hawthorn tree as a fertility prayer. Anyone could carry out these practices as anyone is able to assert their will, pray for healing, divine from the land & wish for a good harvest. These rituals came from the desire and need for balanced relationship. They are not religiously based. Not only did magical and ritual acts come from the desire for reciprocity, but also from listening to land speak. The relationship was not formed from solely human-centered need, but from the aliveness and voice of land (And may it continue to be so!). Divination and reading the signs and omens are one way in which my ancestors listened to the land and responded with acts of magic, offering and ritual; following the lead of the land to maintain balance between human and non-human communities.
At the heart of it, folk magic is not rooted in control or colonization. It does not other. True folk magic does not thrive within the context of nation-state because nation states work to control and have mastery over the land and the people who are a part of that land. Folk magic is rooted in participating in the complex, dynamic web of relationships that make up life; knowing that everything is woven together. Folk magic inherently resists borders because magic operates outside of human constructed borders. We even see this in the hedge crossing practices from Teutonic lands, spirit-workers who jump the hedge to commune with spirits and the unseen world in liminal spaces. This is space that cannot be defined by a property line. Magic moves outside of relational time and space. Magic is always shifting, always turning, always expanding and contracting, always binding and unbinding. This is exhibited in the work of the spinners, the work of the weavers, the work of the spinsters. The work of the Fates, those who spin and measure and cut the thread. This magic includes the ancestors & spirits who came before us, all who are present, and all who are to come. The land that magic belongs to is embedded in the land of relationship. When relationship to land is under threat from colonization and capitalism, the traditions that weave people to the land are also in danger. However, magic resists empire. It is our common ground.
Similar to springs emergence, I see growth of longing to re-member these ways. I do believe that this work is important for folks of European-descent to provide foundation and embodied understanding. There are ancestors of mine that belong to diaspora and there are ancestors of mine who are colonizers. I hold both within. By remembering the practices of my ancestors, so much transforms. First, I understand how crucial it is to work toward rematriation of land here on Turtle Island. To offer my resource and effort to transform systems of colonization, exploitation and schism into reparations, justice and land-back. Second, I remember the ways of practicing magic that are embedded in my bones. That yes, at one point, my people did have relationship to land that was reciprocal. This creates context for my practices and for my own embodiment. Rather than trying to reconstruct the same exact rituals that my people practiced (which would be impossible, the root has been cut and my feet are planted elsewhere) I can look to them for inspiration, context and instruction. Most importantly, I need to honor the place I live, this land that I am on. Let me practice a new pattern of relationship to the land here, one that is not rooted in extraction and violence.
So let us begin with where we are, today. I often suggest that folks head outside first, instead of to the books, to see what emerges. Let us begin by grounding, bringing presence to where we inhabit. Where do you sit in web of this ecology? Where do you sit in relationship to the ancestors of this place? What elemental layers of spirit live here - earth, fire, water, air ~ how have they shaped the land you are on? What animal familiars are here? Can you learn the indigenous names of the place where you live? What are the first stories of this place? How does weather express itself seasonally? Are there certain streams, street corners or trees that speak to you? Spend time here, bring your offerings, sing your songs & begin.
If you'd like to join us for more practice and inspiration this Spring, there are some spaces left in Sap Rising, a class that is rooted in European folk magic practices.  We will review traditions and most importantly, honor emerging traditions. More info on the class is below, but some of the class themes will include: honoring the flowering branch, sex magic, sacred springs, egg charms, and trees for the quickening time of year. We start on Tuesday. Class recordings are available and posted until the summer solstice. 

With heart and prayer for a measure of peace,
x Liz 

p.s. a poem-spell offering

by Jim Moore

Small olives taste best.
Small stars shine farthest.
Small birds call
most sweetly. Small lives,
we are small, small ives.
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