No one here gets out alive…

A very wise woman shared simple insights with me many years ago, on a day when it was widely reported in broadcast and print media that heart attack & heart disease were no longer the number one cause of death in the USA. She said, “That only rearranges the mortality statistics. Everyone dies of something.” Further along in that conversation, which ranged across probability theory, Mark Twain, and basic statistics, she gave me an example of just how one can make a true statement that gives a completely accurate single statistic which nonetheless implies a huge lie:

Very few people die over the age of 100.

Yep. Very few do. Very few live to the age of 100, either. But it’s a clear instance of the truth in Mark Twain’s famous quote:

There’s lies, damn lies, and statistics.

What brings all this up, you may ask? Simple—the intersection of two events: the recent celebration of Candlemas, one of the Traditional Wiccan fire festivals overseen by our Horned Lord of Death and Rebirth—January 31–February 2; and, the annual World Cancer Day on February 4 together with its media coverage on assorted outlets.*
*Compounded by the possibility that my companion animal and retired service dog Molly was reaching her virtual expiry date. More on that below.

About 45 years ago, I wrote a matched pair of epigrams:

Life is a death sentence.   Death is a life sentence.

Think about it. Everyone dies. Humans have the dubious honor of consciousness and foresight, so that they may know, and perhaps fear, what happens to them in the next moment or day or year or century. Thus, being alive is to have been sentenced to death from the outset. That’s the first sentence.

The second sentence? We live our lives with death. The death of others we do not know, the death of others we do know, and the death, eventually, of our own being.

Decisions, decisions…

About Molly. She’s a 14-year-old Bichon Frisé, my long-retired service dog, and sufferer of Cushing’s disease (people get it too, look it up if you care). And rather slowly, in the past four months, she has been reducing her activity and changing some habits and demanding more of me…and being less able to tolerate any absence of *me* from being the Molly-mommy. When she first had to retire as service dog (illness), she’d pine when I left her for a few days’ travel, but would begin eating after the first 24 hours or so. Last fall, when I spent a three-day visit with Craft family, she would not eat for my entire absence. Which meant she didn’t get her medication either, given it’s routinely dispensed atop her meals. Other behaviors stressed me (and I’m still recovering from a surgery three months back) as well as her. I was preparing myself to decide that the kindest thing would to be to put her down (I travel out of state for a week mid-month)—because she is painful even asleep, by the yips and whimpers.


When awake, Molly still enjoys her food, processes it appropriately, solicits tummy rubs from her occasional visitors, and spends a lot of time on our ever-shorter walks being noseblind while she “reads the bulletin boards” at every tree, telephone pole, lamppost, and rock garden along our way. Tail-wagging still happens a couple of times a day. And her personality is still pretty durn perky. Ouch.

Yesterday, a wonderful woman who loves her, too, has volunteered for the caretaking—whimpers and meds and pee pads and all—enabling me to attend the conference I was forced to miss a year ago. And today her vet says if doubling up on the current arthritis med doesn’t improve matters, Molly can have an actual pain scrip…and recommended fish oil (equal EPA & DHA) for her to improve the joints and maybe her mild dottiness…subtle stuff like forgetting how to unwind from those poles and trees on our ever-shorter walks.

So. My friends have been told that “the governor called, and Molly’s been reprieved.” And I slowly recover from the stress of believing that the only way out, this time, was final. No one here gets out alive, her nor me, but both of us have time together for a while yet.

Afterword: Molly passed with the assistance of a traveling veterinarian on August 1, 2016, at the age of 15 and a half. She had added doggie dementia and cataracts to her handicaps, and I made the difficult choice to release her. Her ashes were scattered outside the port of Tacoma—within visiting distance.

Post-scriptum: I have my likely end in sight as well.

Roots…the mundane ones

a mystery father…

All my life I have known that I have no blood relationship to the surname I was born with. Y’see, my Y chromosome donor was legally adopted by a stepfather (second husband) around the age of 12, and stopped being Albert Edward Williams and became Albert Edward Snavely. The image above, of his biological father’s World War I draft card, gives some details that have enabled me to dig a generation or so further back…and it turns out that Albert Constant (?Constantine) Williams was the “stepson” of Herman Carl Taetsch & Hulda T. Taetsch—she being the older of that couple and having had only one biological daughter, but three Williams (Charles, Theresa, and Albert) children are listed on their 1910 & 1920 census records as step children. Interesting!

However, I have never had all the data on who the heck my actual father was and his roots, although when I turned 18 and was a college student, I learned that he had converted to Judaism and changed his name to Abraham D. Knapp…because he was getting Social Security disability benefits, and as one of his dependents I had to sign SS forms to say that I was a full-time college student once I turned 18—my mother knew, but as a minor, she got the few bucks each month on our behalf, and simply gave it to us as cash allowance, something we had not had until around age 14.

Anyway, my great-grandmother on the maternal side had done a ream of research on her family…in the 1930s when that mean a lot of letter writing and visits to libraries and such—I inherited the remains of that paper research about 40 years ago. And one of my first cousins did a bunch of research on my grandfather’s side around 1990, and shared the resulting GED file around the family. And my sporadic hunts into trying to look up some genealogy when I didn’t even know whether my sperm donor was still ALIVE? Argh.

But I tackled it once more, taking advantage of all the free trials and such. The gift of a skilled amateur genealogical research got me several key data points that I now have puzzled through. Oral memory of what my mother said at various times to my sister and to me have helped to confirm the data that I found. Marriage records for either my paternal grandmother’s first or her second marriage are not being found online…is there an equivalent to Nevada in the Atlantic NE coast region? I seem to recall an old 1930s B&W movie making reference to a gent proposing to his lady that they drive down to Maryland to elope because Maryland did not then require a license… And New Jersey only just barely has any of their marriage records of the past century online, not a truly searchable database (which is where the paternal grandmother was born so because usually women are married from their home turf, it doesn’t matter that Connecticut has all its vital records searchable and online, if she married in NJ.)

What I have learned from this effort is that one may hit a “brick wall” at the most surprising places in any genealogy, and will likely discover new friends trying to break through such brick walls. I have a fourth cousin in Capetown, South Africa, who is sharing the hunt for one ancestor whom we know

  • where he was born & christened Henry Emmett…,
  • when he married,
  • when his daughters were born and that they were all in the 1841 UK census…

…but not how he acquired an extra surname

  • between joining the Royal Navy aboard the HMS Hound in 1846 as Henry Emmett, “gunroom steward”, and
  • his settling in Jamestown, Saint Helena (the island in the middle of the south Atlantic ocean, which was the home port of the HMS Hound,
  • and having his entire family there where wife Sylvia Emmett, née Wright, died in late March 1852 as Sylvia Bennett,
  • where Martha Priscilla Bennett received letters from her affianced whaler in 1854 & 1855,
  • where Henry remarried, probably in late 1854 or early 1855, given the regards sent to Martha Priscilla’s stepmother in the 1855 letter but not the 1854 letter
  • where both daughters Sylvia & Martha Priscilla Bennett stood  sponsors to an infant cousin Elizabeth Emma Bennett at her christening in 1855,
  • where both daughters wed their respective spouses in the spring of 1856 (parish registers found)
  • and, finally, where Henry Bennett himself died at the end of February 1859.
    But the only records we have found on Saint Helena are of the two daughters’ marriages.

It’s a mystery.

Likewise another mystery—the whaling captain in my family tree (all New England families probably have a whaler or three in their tree somewhere) is my great-great-grandfather, born to a British Army officer who married a Spanish girl while stationed at Gibraltar in 1820s.

Can find no data about his father, although his rare birth location makes him a snap to find in despite having the “John Doe” sort of name—William Brown. And, oddly enough, a fellow researcher/descendant of that specific William Brown made contact with me through a St. Helena genealogy group online—and helped me find some pieces of the Henry/Martha Priscilla Emmett Bennett puzzle! But we are both still stuck at the brick wall of who fathered Captain William Brown, master whaler.

I suppose I will have to learn to live with it.

Makers, Metal, Magic…

Choosing to Keep the Craft in the Craft

Another Kind of Forge

A phrase has been ringing in my head for many years now: craft in the Craft. The bending and shaping of witchcraft has as much to do with the hands-on magic of the artisan as it does the spiritual growth of the psychic or the practical aid of the healer. It’s an intrinsic part of my practice, one that’s so usual—in the medievalist circles I’ve frequented since the first northern California Renaissance Faire rang my bell in 1966—that I’m frequently taken aback by less hands-on approaches to magical tools and appurtenances. I first undertook hand-spinning at age 15 at my the Northern California Renaissance Pleasure Faire, and went home with a simple wooden drop-spindle of medieval ilk waiting for a fleece to card. My engineer mother provided a raw fleece from a co-worker’s offspring’s pet sheep that had to be sheared annually for its health—and I got to wash and “garble” the smelly wool by hand in a big galvanized tub on the patio that summer. Then I spent my first year or so of junior college toting a canvas bag of hand-carded wool with the spindle in it, and every time I had to sit and wait for a ride from hither to yon, I was spinning.

Why learn to spin fiber, card wool, weave a belt, dye a shawl?

In fact, I went on to acquire a compact Ashford spinning wheel (New Zealand, kit-built by me), used it to spin more of that carded wool, and to ply it (twist two or more threads into a stronger resulting yarn), and later dye it brown using black walnut leaves I gathered from remnant orchard trees now become street trees. When I inherited a WPA miniature table loom that had been my great-grandmother’s, I wove a belt of the result, and it is still more magical than my initiate’s cord.

The Renaissance Faire also walked me from just barely competent in making my own clothes (necessity, I never fit into the off-the-rack lockstep sizes imposed on the human race by fashionistas), to learning to make historic clothing and the simple principles of using cloth as thriftily and effectively as possible. Which led to my design and creation of my Scottish country dancing ball gown, pictured at right. From scratch! As I recall, I used more than13 yards of 108-inch-wide cotton unbleached muslin and 27 yards of cotton Torchon lace in that dress.

dress designed and hand made by Deborah Snavely c. 1972

My stubborn adherence to craft standards when preparing Craft items drove my excursion into the smoky world of blacksmith’s apprentice in search of a Witch’s blade that met my requirements. It beguiled me into teaching a class in robe-making several times, and later attempting a related book project which collected its first publisher rejection. It has taken me out into parkland dotted with residual hazel orchards in search of broomstaves, led me into archery studies using only non-recurve wooden longbows, caused me to discover that Eugene has a City Forester (who assisted my coven one January with pruning birch twigs off mature street trees for our besom-making project), and set me planning when and where to dig clay to experiment with hand-built pottery. While all these projects appear demandingly in front of me and recede ghostlike behind me (whether or not I complete them), in the background of my mind runs a quiet question mark: why? Why learn to spin fiber, card wool, weave a belt, dye a shawl? Why hand-sew a garment, embroider a dragon, carve a walrus from a laurel tree gall? Why fill my brain and weary my muscles handling unfamiliar tools in unfamiliar ways to achieve marginal-quality results?

What’s so important about knowing how a thing is made?

My only answer is craftsmanship—the art that makes as much of the maker as the made. When my blacksmith friend asked me how I wanted to finish my blade, he heaved a sigh of relief that I didn’t want the “authentic” hammer-marks. Then (and only then) he confided the smith’s scorn for the customers who insist on hammer-marks “to show that it’s handmade.” He’ll try to educate a customer that hammer-marks are the last thing a quality smith leaves on a piece…and if the customer insists, then he charges ’em extra for the insult to his art.

Such understanding of the physical making leads to an understanding of the made thing. And that is the place where craft meets Craft, when such understanding flows over into a psychic comprehension of its essence, forging that critical connection between the shaper and the shaped.

Feeling thus, of course, I chose to forge my blade myself. And of course, my winter “coat” is a hand-made cloak. And of course, I’d really rather have a hand-thrown stoneware drinking bowl (mazer to the museum addicts) holding the water on my altar. In the end, the making of me is what this is all about; a forging process begun long since.

Metal Talks

When I first began asking Conrad, a domestic blacksmith and decades-long close friend, whether he’d help me make my witchy blade, he cautioned me that he wasn’t, himself, actively pagan. Moreover, he went out of his way to let me know that if magical or psychic elements were required, they were my bailiwick. I assured him that what I needed was the metallurgical limitations and design-for-use guidance, the forge and the coal and the hammers, and some muscle when my desk-jockey’s arms weren’t up to a particular task. He was comfortable with that.

It’s not that he’s not pretty pagan! There’s a lovely pair of carved soapstone figures in simple early Norse style that lives on a household altar (his term) stretch of shelving that’s prominent in his living room. A pair of soapstone candlesticks I saw once and bought for him and Margaret bracket the cupbearer and swordbearer nicely. Whether the smithy brought out the pagan in him or he went into smithing because it appealed to his pagan self, who knows. But he’s pagan in the way I used to be in my teens, not practicing but a fellow traveler, more interested in the tangible historical crafts than the intangible Witchy or Wiccan Craft.

He may not have noticed the magic in his forge, but I did. He complimented me on the quickness of which I picked up how to crank his air blower for optimum heat and minimum smoke. Now, I’d done it a time or two before—about five years since. For my money, it felt a lot more like being tuned to all the elements as they came together during the process. Working the blower had a very masculine flavor, all fire, and air. I made it a point, unconsciously at first, to stand grounded, feet apart, well-balanced on both of them.

I recall vividly him telling me that he was “a psychic brick” (this in the midst of getting the fire up to heat for the major shaping). He spoke of his difficulty seeing a picture of what he wants to accomplish beforehand, and I told him about visualization techniques. But he’s wrong! Firstly, he spoke not ten minutes later of the moments when he doesn’t seem to have to decide what to do with the metal, it and the hammer just do what’s needed; the shape that comes out is right and balanced and lovely. Secondly, he makes some hanging lamp designs that came about by that means. I waited to catch my breath (because his comments had stolen it) and pointed out gently that he was talking about what I call magic—which made fair nonsense of his claim to complete “brickness”.

hand-forged athame, designed & 85% made by Deborah Snavely

When it came to taking my turn wielding the hammer, to shape the curve and the point and the flare of the blade-blank using three- and six-pound hammers, I slipped into my role almost as easily as I had that of apprentice bellows-cranker. Conrad’s preparatory briefings had warned me to build up my forearms in particular, so the hammers were manageable in my hand. He’d spoken of the need to strike so as to shape both sides of the heated iron at once—half with the hammer and half with the anvil—and the concept seemed to go straight from my ears to my hands when it came time to act on it. In two trial blows, I was doing what was needed well enough that I could tell it was working, even before he commended me.

During the actual, critical forge-work, when he used six- and twelve-pound hammers on the not-so-mild steel of my workpiece to flow the metal into a roughly diamond cross-section with a minimum of blows and the least stress to the metal, I cranked the forge blower (bellows if it had been medieval) and grounded myself and stared at the piece, forming the image of my blade into an overlay that lay ghost-like on the anvil around the metal. Conrad made steady reference to my rough sketch for length and width.

Of the many magical moments I experienced during the project, that was one of the high spots, wielding hammers on my rudimentary blade, while feeling the metal flow because I wanted it to, rather than because I was forcing it to. This phase of the work drew on the tangible feminine energies of earth and water, as I planted my feet against Gaia, let her tug do more than my share of the work of the forging, and watched the iron flow like sluggish mud. From then on, throughout two months of shaping work with a pair of drawfiles, I had no question what my blade looked like, only how long it would take me to expose that hidden shape to the world.

Before we were done, I told Conrad how similar were his magic and mine, and how thoroughly he under-rated his own abilities with his “psychic brick” putdown. I also remarked that if he stopped thinking of himself in that fashion, he might find it easier to connect to the voice of the metal. And he nodded.

Blooding the Blade

“Everything in a forge is either hot, sharp, or heavy.” My dear friend and blacksmith Conrad began his safety lecture with the traditional smith’s caution, adding that the warning probably dated back to lectures given seven-year-old apprentices a thousand years ago. I was there to forge my ritual blade, with his coaching and assistance. I never hankered to be a blacksmith, but I’ve done a bit of wire jewelry work, and studied metal-work techniques at the time. So when my workings began to demand that I acquire a ritual knife, I called on an old friendship to ask for help and got it.

It’s not really so surprising that I know a working blacksmith; I’ve been a medievalist most of my life. You tend to have friends in odd trades when broadsword fighting (well, watching broadsword fighting), Scots and Saxon domestic crafts, and early music performance are among the interests you pursue outside of office hours. As a witch, it’s amazing just how much those interests prove useful to adding breadth to my understanding, my tools, and my magic. When I first began solitary practice, I wanted to keep my tools few and simple. A wand sufficed me nicely where more formal traditions specified an athame. (I can’t find that word in the Oxford English Dictionary, so I don’t use it—it’s a blade, I call it a blade.) However, as I progressed, I found the blade itself intruding into my meditations and dreams until I reconsidered. Like most successful magical workings (crafting!), the object was real long before I began the process of making  it.

Conrad knew what I wanted the blade for, of course. Like most medievalists, he numbers many pagans among his friends (the intolerant find some other hobby). Scoping out the size of the project and how much of it I could do, we went over the questions of how tough or springy a blade I would need, how big and how sharp, what uses I’d be putting it to, what metal-working methods I wanted to use. My magical instincts demanded no motor-driven work in shaping the ironwork, especially the blade, which eliminated modern knife designs that require hollow-grinding or elaborate shaping. His practical knowledge of forge technology and metallurgy set other limits. At the end of the discussion, we’d winnowed through the options to describe a leaf-shaped blade (I knew what it would look like before we started, but not why) that “would be a good, serviceable blade in 10th or 11th century northern Europe,” as he told me.

When I’d made my request, by phone, been accepted and encouraged and guided to a design, and finally began our (multiple) working sessions, I found that magic and legends, craft and Craft all tangled in our conversations while we worked. Ideally, it still takes two to run a forge—an assistant and a smith—one feeding the fire air and fuel or holding the work or fetching the next tool, another hammering or prepping the next step. Sometimes I was the tentative smith, being coached through every step aloud, and sometimes I was the assistant, much more confidently. (I’ve spent time in that role before, helping him finish a project while keeping him company.)

It was during the major forging session that the conversation turned to tempering the blade, which raised legendary metal treatments. Japanese and Norse legend alike describe quenching magical blades in blood, or (shudder) in the body of an expendable slave. Setting aside the fact that slaves were expensive property just about anywhen, there’s a simpler explanation. This “blooding” more likely reflects a pragmatic acknowledgment of reality: no matter what you’re doing in a smithy, you’re going to cut, bruise, or burn yourself sooner or later—possibly all three.

Me? Yes, I did…I had the forged blade blank clamped at a height to draw-file it into shape while seated. I took a break from that sweaty labor without unclamping it, and ran a knee into the point as I stood up, long before it had any sharpened edge; it drew blood quickly and easily just the same, and I felt a fool. Blunt or sharp, it’s a weapon, and—I’d been warned.

Turn, Turn, Turn…

Among the Wiccæ, we speak of the wheel of the year—for the great fire festivals, called Sabbats, held at the “cross-quarters” of the traditional British calendar, immortalized in holidays and university customs and land transactions of the past 1500 years in that island, taken together with the ancient seasonal markers of equinoxes and solstices recorded in stone at Newgrange and Stonehenge and many other sites, which the Wiccæ also celebrate as “lesser Sabbats” or at lunar “esbats” (full moon circles) as mundane life and its tyrannical calendar allows.

At our Greater Sabbats, we raise energy from our circle to assist the Great Mother and the Hornéd Lord in “turning the wheel” of the year.

Greater Sabbats

All Hallows
As the Celtic peoples marked their days to begin from the twilight between sunset and dark, so they marked their years to begin from the midpoint between autumn equinox and winter solstice.


May Eve & May Day, Beltane

At Lammas (Old English for loaf-mass, meaning the gathering at the time of new loaves, just at the time of the grain harvest), tradition called for games of the sort we now call Highland Games—in honor of the solar deity Lugh (whose name is part of the other name for this sabbat, Lughnasadh), a deity revered in myth for his skill at every craft and talent. I here present a tale suited to Lammastide.

Lesser Sabbats

Yuletide (winter solstice)
The winter solstice (in the northern hemisphere of Earth) occurs December 21 (give or take a day if you’re fussy about your astronomy). I count that date as Yule proper, and count the days from there to January 1 as the Twelve Days of Yuletide. The Scots celebrate New Year’s Eve & New Year as their own Hogmany, a Celtic take on Twelfth Night. Within those 12 days, the amount of increasing daylight is less than about 1.5 minutes. By the end of the twelve nights, it is possible to see that the sun, the daylight, is beginning to return to the earth even without clocks and timepieces and such—a true cause for celebration at the end of those twelve days.

Lady Day or Spring Festival (spring equinox)
The spring equinox is busy—in life, in husbandry, in agriculture. The March hare is visible in the full moon of the season, and eggs become available as more sun enables hens to begin to lay. (A source of protein after the dark of the year with one’s remaining stock carefully tended to give the next generation, and the last of the salted and smoked meats long since eaten.)

Midsummer (summer solstice)
At the height of the sun’s light, at British (and similar) latitudes the summer solstice gives twice as much daylight as dark. Gardens and fields demand constant maintenance, while the tasks that need doing occupy most of that daylight.

Harvest Home (autumn equinox)

In the USA, our late November “Thanksgiving” reflects a ghost of the autumnal harvest feasts. In the UK, Michaelmas (the feast of St. Michael and all the angels) occurs a few days before the end of September, and is a traditional countryside feast time. The grain harvest is complete, the fruit harvest is in full swing, and seasonal fishing and early hunting (culling the wild herds) give a great plentitude of choice on “the groaning board” (the planks of simple trestle tables that support all the foods at hand.


Many years back, I started a book on chakras. By the time I published it, I had altered the term to the English word gyres. Why? Because chakra is a Hindu word, referring to a yoga concept. And no matter how many languages English thieves from, I determined that a good Old English word was more meaningful to a British Traditional Witch’s practice than a Hindu one.

Hence, I come to my point. English has its roots in Old English (also known as “Anglo-Saxon”)—and the Norman Conquest of England (1066 CE) remains evident all over everyday words. Animals, food, management, actions, seafaring…oh, so many. And when I come to writing spell texts or affirmations, visualizations or wardings, I find that Old English words carry much more heft than the Latinate “synonyms” of Old French. Here’s a few examples:

Old EnglishOld French

With these examples to lend a hint, I believe you’ll take my meaning that Old English words carry more heft than any Norman French loan-words—if only because they are very largely one syllable instead of several.

Perfect Love & Perfect Trust

An essay by Deborah Snavely
Note: Previously published in the BAPAN by Bay Area Pagan Assemblies (501(c)3), 2000

The phrase “perfect love and perfect trust” (perhaps) originates with the ancient Western Mystery Schools. Modern occult students find it in both Masonry and British Traditional Wicca (BTW). The phrase has made its way into the popular culture of New Age witchcraft, eclectic “Wicca,” and do-it-yourself traditions of all sorts. As a result, the published discussions of perfect love and perfect trust seem to have seized on the words and assumed that modern meanings of those words apply.

All arguments about the origins of BTW practice aside, there seems reason to believe that significant elements of surviving magical folklore persist within the practices that are currently being expanded beyond Gardner’s wildest dreams. If there are survivals of older practice within modern Craft, this phrase perhaps being one of them, does it mean the same thing that it meant to its originators?

Words today morph in a matter of hours, or weeks. Many English words have come to mean the very opposite of their original meanings (look up the oldest meaning of pompous, some time).

So, let’s take a look at the words themselves, and their roots. Plain, historical, mundane definitions provide a reality check. Even the current-day #1 definition of a word can mean less (or more) than most folks think. In this case, I will focus on the earliest definition of each word because other meanings often drift from the central point of a word.

Let us review the word “perfect” to begin with. I will also pursue the “see XXX” references for the word roots, just to provide context for root meanings.


Perfect, a. [OE. parfit, OF. parfit, parfet, parfait, F. parfait, L. perfectus, p.p. of perficere to carry to the end, to perform, finish, perfect; per (see Per-) + facere to make, do. See Fact.]

Brought to consummation or completeness; completed; not defective nor redundant; having all the properties or qualities requisite to its nature and kind; without flaw, fault, or blemish; without error; mature; whole; pure; sound; right; correct.

Per-, A prefix used to signify through, throughout, by, for, or as an intensive as perhaps, by hap or chance; perennial, that lasts throughout the year; perforce, through or by force; perfoliate, perforate; perspicuous, evident throughout or very evident; perplex, literally, to entangle very much.

Fact, n. [L. factum, fr. facere to make or do.]

A doing, making, or preparing. [Obs.]

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition

When we look at the roots of a word, the source language(s) often give us hints to the heart of the word’s basic concepts: “to carry [on] to the end.”

Looking at the two Latin roots (Per and Fact) of the word “perfect,” we could define it as meaning “an act carried through.” In modern slang, one might define “perfect” as an adjective meaning, “take it to the limit.” Hmmm, something to chew on. For that matter, the sports term “follow-through” comes to mind rather vividly—a term I use in magic, too.

Next? Oh, yes, “love.”


Love, n. [OE. love, luve, AS. lufe, lufu; akin to E. lief, believe, L. lubet, libet, it pleases, Skr. lubh to be lustful.]

1. A feeling of strong attachment induced by that which delights or commands admiration; preëminent kindness or devotion to another; affection; tenderness; as, the love of brothers and sisters.

2. To regard with passionate and devoted affection, as that of one sex for the other.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition

The older definition comes first, the “brotherly love” definition (there’s probably another whole essay in that simple fact). In the source language list, the Sanskrit source-word definition clearly indicates that both the “brotherly love” and “sexual love” definitions have accompanied this word across its usage through ages and language families. Nonetheless, the “feeling of strong attachment” is the older definition of the English word. OK, now we have enough information to take a look at the first entrance password: “perfect love.”

Perfect Love Is…

Assembling the definition of definitions, we read:

A feeling of strong attachment, carried through or intensified.

In fact, Gardner wrote of his own strong attachments to the New Forest Coven folks, partly related to their feelings that they had shared history in past lives. That connection was how he came into the Craft in the first place. Gardner also wrote of the strong feelings that individuals working magic together can develop, something that, in my opinion, qualifies as another aspect of “perfect love.”

But there’s another, more important, aspect to this definition: it describes the operative force behind magic itself. Emotion, intent, direction, and follow-through: these are the cornerstones of what makes magic work. So in the phrase “perfect love” we have encoded how to enable magic!


All right, moving on; here’s the definition of “trust”:

Trust, n. [OE. trust, trost, Icel. traust confidence, security; akin to Dan. & Sw. tröst comfort, consolation, G. trost, Goth. trausti a convention, covenant, and E. true. See True, and cf. Tryst.]

1. Assured resting of the mind on the integrity, veracity, justice, friendship, or other sound principle, of another person; confidence; reliance; reliance.

Webster’s Revised Unabridged, 1913 edition, online version.

See True and Tryst? Let’s check those out, just to see how they relate to all of this.

True, a. [Compar. Truer; superl. Truest.] [OE. trewe, AS. Treówe faithful, true, from treów fidelity, faith, troth; akin to OFries. triuwe, adj., treuwa, n., OS. triuwi, adj., trewa, n., D. trouw, adj. & n., G. treu, adj., treue, n., OHG. gitriuwi, adj., triuwa, n., Icel. tryggr, adj., Dan. tro, adj. & n., Sw. trogen, adj., tro, n., Goth. triggws, adj., triggwa, n., trauan to trust, OPruss druwis faith.]

Conformable to fact; in accordance with the actual state of things; correct; not false, erroneous, inaccurate, or the like; as, a true relation or narration; a true history; a declaration is true when it states the facts.

Tryst, n. [OE. trist, tryst, a variant of trust; cf. Icel. treysta to make trusty, fr. traust confidence, security.]

Trust. [Obs.] n. An appointment to meet; also, an appointed place or time of meeting; as, to keep tryst; to break tryst. [Scot. or Poetic] To bide tryst, to wait, at the appointed time, for one with whom a tryst or engagement is made; to keep an engagement or appointment.

Webster’s Revised Unabridged, 1913 edition, online version.

Surprise! Here’s a still-older, and much more concrete, meaning of trust, embedded under tryst. Why does that matter? Because I’m looking at the roots of the words, to see just what solid matter may underlie all the conceptual hot air expended on these terms.

I note that trust is an extremely abstract concept in its modern meaning; almost every term used in its primary definition is abstract and it takes a lot of them to try to define it! “Assured resting of the mind on the integrity, veracity, justice, friendship, or other sound principle, of another person…” That’s quite a string. It’s important to note that the examples used in the definition for trust do not lump all the exemplary “sound principles” into the definition:

trust means counting on someone for integrity (wholeness) or veracity (truthfulness) or justice (even-handedness?) or friendship…though not necessarily all of the above.

In more mundane terms, trust means being able to count on another person for some specific, positive quality (sound principle) or behavior.

Perfect Trust Is…

Hence, “perfect trust” becomes “being able to count on someone carrying through on a principle or behavior”…or, equally, “being able to count absolutely on someone’s principle or behavior.” One behavior I believe is meant is that of keeping appointments.

In a broader sense, looking at the intertwined meanings of true and trust, some other definitions of the phrase perfect trust exist:

  • speaking only [magical] facts (the power of words)
  • keeping [magical] appointments (such as esbats and sabbats)

Perfect Love and Perfect Trust Are?

Now where are we?

  • Perfect love = feelings of strong attachment, carried through.
  • Perfect trust = being able to rely on someone in the extreme.

And when you put them together, you combine the familiar (family-type) ties of relationship (plus the emotional capability for magic) with the reliable opportunity to gather together (to work magic). The crucial ingredients for a magic-working group or family…encoded into a pair of passwords. Paying special heed to the point where these passwords are introduced, we note that they apply specifically to the locale of a magical meeting: the circle.

Taking all of this together, I see three very important points that little resemble some of the more New Age–style expositions on this topic:

  • Perfect love and perfect trust apply within a magical circle.
  • Perfect love and perfect trust are goals, not laws.
  • Perfect love and perfect trust encode within them the essence of magical witchcraft practice.


©2000–2023, Deborah Snavely, all rights reserved.

Make your own hand-sanitizer…

Make your own hand-sanitizer…

Bottles of isopropyl alcohol have been a staple at every drugstore, pharmacy, and grocers since Victoria reigned the British Empire. Most of it is 70% alcohol (the other 30% is water). In the same locales, one can generally find 90% (or higher) isopropyl alcohol. Both are generally sold in pint (16 oz/0.47L) or quart (32 oz/0.95L) bottles, and cost $2–8. Either one is the crucial ingredient in making your own hand sanitizer—and it’s a lot cheaper than buying brand-name versions in tiny bottles.

You’ll want a small spray bottle (more than one is best, so you can keep them in many places around home, work, auto, etc.)


  • 1 pint (16 oz) rubbing alcohol, 70% by volume
  • 1 oz glycerin
  • 0.5 oz skin-friendly oil (apricot kernel or sweet almond or your preference)
  • 3-5 drops each of essential oils (not fragrance oil!)
    lavender, spearmint, geranium, lemongrass, lemon, sweet orange

You may choose other essential oils for preference; in particular, lavender, rosemary, thyme, sage essential oils are all antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal.

  1. Using a clear measuring container, first add the alcohol.
  2. Add the glycerin and stir with a stainless steel implement until completely transparent, with no cloudiness.
  3. Add the skin oil.
  4. Drip in the essential oils of your choice.
  5. Stir again until entirely mixed.
  6. Using a small funnel, fill your empty, clean spray bottle(s), add spray caps, & label them.

Clothes & Clothos…redux

Clothos—the Original Fate

The Greeks loved their triads, every bit as much as the Celts (the oldest proto-Celtic & Celtic sites, in  the Austrian mountains, are several hundred miles northwest of modern Greece). Mythologies will tell you there are three Fates, one to spin the metaphorical threads of life, one to measure its length, and one to cut it to that length. However, any weaver knows one person does all three…and that one deity is Clothos (or Klotho). From Her name we derive the words cloth, clothes, clothing, and so on. Here are my collected blog posts on the subject of natural fibers, fabrics, and more.


Fiber Correspondences

Historical clothing is a major interest of mine: not the elaborate costumes of court, cathedral, and carnival that are badly redesigned in Cecil B. deMille epics, or even well-represented in the better theater and film efforts of more recent years; no, my interest is in the everyday clothing of the ordinary person, such as I might have been if I lived a dozen centuries ago. As I became involved in the Craft, I found that there are correspondence lists for almost every class of substance I could dream up—herb, color, and musical pitch, rocks, crystals, and precious stones, planets, stars, and constellations—but nothing I’ve read treats at all with the everyday take-it-for-granted magic of fiber, clothing, and garments. In the course of developing some classes that apply textile and costume history to pagan clothing, I’ve developed the following fiber correspondences.

There are four major natural fibers used now and historically in Western clothing manufacture: linen, wool, cotton, and silk. Among these four, I find several polarities. Linen and cotton are vegetable fibers and generally cooler to wear, while wool and silk are animal fibers and insulate the wearer, so that in Northern climes they are used to warm, while in the tropics they serve to cool. I associate the vegetable fibers with Mother Gaia and the Green Man, while the animal fibers evoke Herne the Hunter and Clothos. The sturdier fibers, linen and wool, correspond to the feminine, while the more ephemeral cotton and silk correspond to the masculine.


Linen is the natural bast fiber prepared from the long, pointed leaves of the flax plant, family Linaceae. Flax seed and linseed oil are all flax products. Linen fiber is tough, downright rugged. It requires extensive treatments from the leaf to a fiber that one can spin. There’s drying and beating and soaking and rotting (retting is the industry term) and beating and combing…the minimal prcess takes 13 steps, commercially it takes at least 29 steps. The resulting


long, sturdy fibers explain the folk tale descriptions of women spinning until their fingers bled. Such fiber naturally makes a strong thread and stronger fabric which softens only slowly with wear. Linen has been historically used for rope before hemp was available. Linen sheets require ironing to smooth them into a surface comfortable for sleep. The newest steam-iron still gives “linen” for its hottest temperature setting—and even so, most linen needs to be ironed damp in order to relax the fibers and smooth the surface. Like the element of Earth, linen is tough stuff.

Caption: This composite photo illustrates many steps of making Irish linen.

Linen goods, like all household fabric goods, were valued highly over the past millenia. Victorian households inventoried them, sent them for laundering with a laundry list to prevent theft, and repaired them regularly. Long before that, in medieval households, linens were inventoried, itemized, valued, and specifically distributed to heirs in wills. Household linens spun or woven, decorated or collected by young girls formed a substantial part of their dowries among working and professional classes. Between linen fiber’s toughness to prepare, resistance to change, longevity in use, and value to owners, it becomes evident that the element of Earth is its native home.


Wool is the long hair of sheep and other hairy mammals—cashmere is the hair of the cashmere goat, angora the hair of angora rabbits and goats, and camel’s hair is just that. Almost any long-haired domesticated animal around the world has been shorn or combed for its wool: musk ox, llama, dog, rabbit. Just as these coats and fleeces insulate and protect the animals from cold or wet, strong sunlight or high winds, so do those shorn fleeces and clipped hair provide humans with fibers able to lend us those same protections.half-shornsheep
Wool has the significant virtue of keeping one warm even when wet. Lanolin, the natural fat present in sheep’s wool (unless scoured out), is water-repellent, for one thing. Moreover, the microscopically kinked and scaled fiber surfaces maintain trapped air pockets throughout the fiber, which act as insulation regardless of how wet it is. Such insulation effects historically have served inhabitants of Saharan regions against the desert heat and chill, as well as inhabitants of the sea-faring peoples of the British Isles and Europe.

Caption: A half-shorn sheep demonstrates the amount of wool produced by one sheep in a single year.

Wool is also naturally fire-resistant. Wool fiber and fabric is difficult to light on fire and tends to self-extinguish, lending extra effectiveness to the historical fire-fighting technique of smothering or beating out small blazes with a wool blanket or rug. In similar fashion, the historic hearth-rug is a sheepskin fleece or heavy wool rug, on which hearth-fire sparks smolder quickly out. (Unfortunately, the synthetic fibers often used instead of wool are the very opposite of fire-safe, taking a spark or flame easily. Even those that resist the first heat, often do worse, flaring when they catch, and melting into goo that adheres to flesh in a fashion nastily reminiscent of napalm. Ask any burn-unit nurse about debriding a polyester burn and watch them shudder.)

Thus, a defining quality of wool is its antipathy to fire and flame and ability to retain or protect against heat. Taken together with its ability to insulate human and animal against the chill of wet weather, Water is its innate element. Remember, Water is the polar opposite of Fire.


The cotton boll is the fibrous outer coating of the seed pod of a genus of tropical mallow plants, Gossypium, requiring tropical climates, or hot subtropical, to flourish. Its light, open structure burns easily, cleanly, and quickly.

cotton-bollCaption: Cotton ready for harvest.

The fine, light cellulose fibers of the cotton boll form the means of wind-distribution to spread those seeds. That same fineness enables the spinning of extremely fine threads. Such fine threads in turn allow such closely woven lightweight fabrics. Such finely woven cloth makes up into cool, breathable clothing and bed-clothes. Modern cotton sheets often specify the thread-count per square inch on their packaging. Egyptian cotton, an extra long staple (natural fiber length) cotton, was used in clothing from at least as early as 3600 BCE. Our very word gauze is believed to originate with an Arabic word, and physically, gauze weaves of cotton resemble the “mist linen” worn by Pharoahnic Egyptian nobles, as depicted in a goodly number of tomb paintings there.

Similar quality long-staple Pima cotton was grown for clothing and decoration among the pre-Columbian peoples in south America—surviving examples of Pima cotton textiles there date to as early as 4400 BCE.

Today, hot- and warm-weather garments are almost exclusively made of cotton fabrics. Absorbent cotton has allowed humans to work in tropically hot and humid conditions, such as the British Raj in India, exhibiting almost a magical affinity to both use heat and protect one from heat. And candle and lamp wicks are now made of cotton almost exclusively. This affinity for Fire defines the native elemental correspondence of cotton.


Commercial silk is the fiber spun by the larvae of an Asian moth, Bombyx mori, when it becomes a pupa, spinning as much as a mile in a single cocoon. The fineness of the silk fiber when unravelled is so great that a single filament of silk was used to create one standard (a denier, used to measure linear mass density) for comparing fibers. An airborne creature for the element of air—seems obvious, no?
Most sericultured (the technical term for raising Bombyx for silk) silk is made from killed cocoons, though silk noil or raw silk is made from hatched cocoons, as is wild silk. Those intact cocoons allow the thinnest of fibers, sometimes as fine as a mere three filaments to a single thread (before spinning or plying).

Caption: A handful of cocoons ready to unreel.silkcocoonshand

If you’ve ever handled the type of silk fabric called habotai, or the silk kerchiefs used by jugglers, you’ll have a sense. And those kerchiefs seem to defy gravity as they take their time when novice jugglers learn how to snap their wrists with each toss upwards, allowing the kerchief to expand in its own breeze and thus drift, not drop, earthward again.

The silk fiber consists of a continuous protein chain, making it extremely strong for its weight. Spider silk, at about one-tenth the denier and one-fourth the diameter of silk, is considered to be the world’s strongest natural substance, based on materials standards of tensile strength-to-weight ratios. This extreme light weight and equally extreme strength of silk made it the fiber (and thus fabric) of choice when early experiments with lighter-than-air craft took place in the early 19th century.

L. Frank Baum’s 1904 description of the Wizard’s vari-colored green balloon in the first Oz novel specifies panels of fine silk fabric. The term “parachute silk” is still used in some circles, although nylon supplanted silk in parachutes and similar applications during the Second World War.

Silk fabrics can be extremely lightweight and compressible. So much so that a 19th-century test for lingerie quality was to pass a woman’s full-skirted, many-tiered silk petticoat completely through a wedding ring. At the same time, silk woven into heavier fabrics (noil, dupioni, etc.) such as are used in suiting or upholstery resembles wool in its ability to insulate against warmth or cool.

Just as young spiders disperse from their hatch sites by spinning a bit of gossamer to the breeze and riding the flying filament(s) to their new homes, a living bit of thistledown, so does the silk gossamer of the Bombyx moth enable it to fly to its native element of Air.

Fabric Correspondences

In a previous post, I discussed the elemental correspondences I find in individual natural fibers. In this one, I’ll continue with correspondences I’ve found to various weaves, covering commonly available fabrics in the U.S.A.

The weaver’s terminology is woven into the very fabric of the English language. Entire trades and family names remind us of the processes used in the making of fabric: weaver, walker, fuller, dyer, draper, napier, tailor… Our language is full of fiber references: we have close-knit families, prize our heirlooms, find ourselfs at loose ends, spend time woolgathering, and find our good temper wearing thin. We can be fleeced by a dyed-in-the-wool con man, strung out on coffee, shuttled back and forth between two places, and find ourselves in a run-of-the-mill day job.
Many use the phrase “warp and woof” but would look sheeish if asked what exactly it meant. warpOn even the simplest loom, long threads are strung on a frame and held taut to provide the strength of a fabric—collectively called the warp. Filler threads weave (threaded under and over in a regular pattern) tightly or loosely across the warp at right angles—collectively called the weft, or woof (both words originate in Anglo-Saxon.) weft

Any fiber may be spun to a fine or thick thread, a coarse or smooth finish. The weaver’s choice of threads combines with the weave pattern and closeness (thread count) to create a huge variety of fabrics. Most often silk and cotton are used in the lighter, finer threads and fabrics, while linen and wool are used for the sturdier, heavier ones. Fabric names from all corners of the world are now English words that describe different fabrics:

  • nankeen— from the place name Nanking (Chinese smooth cotton made from an Asian vegetable fiber)
  • denim—from the French city “of Nimes”—de Nîmes. Sturdy cotton fiber woven similar to wool serge,
  • scarlet—originally meaning a rich woolen cloth.  The expensive vivid color that wool scarlet was often dyed became the name of the color itself by the end of the middle ages.
  • muslin—named for the Persion city of Mosul. Originally an exceptionally high quality fine-weave cotton, expensive and valued. Now commonly used in inexpensive sheeting, upholstery underining, and in drafting garment patterns.
  • calico—first imported c. 1600 CE from the Indian city of Calicut. A fine even-weave cotton, commonly printed with patterned decoration. In the USA, calico today refers solely to the printed fabric.
  • gauze—debatably either from the Arabic gazz (meaning raw silk) or the city of Gaza (where it was made). Originally a transparent open-weave silk. Today cotton gauze is used in many applications, from cheese-making, to medical bandaging, to insect netting that protects sleeping people in malarial regions.
  • cambric, from the Flemish city Cambray. First referred specifically to finely woven linen shirting, later imitated in cotton. The now-commonplace chambray fabric originated similarly.

Any weave can employ any fiber, in theory. It may not be all that practical to try weaving velvet out of flax, canvas of silk, or corduroy out of woolens, but it is at least possible to attempt. Of course, correspondences, as always, vary among individuals. If you’re familiar with fabrics and fibers, use your own sense of what’s true. If not, perhaps you can use this information to enrich your practice.

Magical polarities further enhance the personality of a garment to suit its wearer. Although cold weather may demand a warm robe and cloak for an outdoor circle, any fiber can be used to make them. (Wool is the commonest choice for warmth.) But if allergies or magical properties prevent, then silk or cotton may fill the need. If a midsummer ritual calls for a “watery” fabric—to encourage empathic connections, perhaps—but even wool gauze (challis) seems too hot, cotton velour may answer, using the weave correspondence instead of fiber. As with any magical enterprise, the correspondences that work are those that ring true for you.


The lightest, airy weaves used in clothing include gauzes, laces, chiffons, lawns, batistes, and challis. Such weaves intentially allow air to penetrate the fabric and reach the skin.

  • Of these fabrics, modern gauzes, lawns, and batistes are usually cotton fiber, although linen lawn or batiste may still be found.
  • Chiffons are most commonly seen in synthetic fibers that imitate the lustrous original (but expensive) silk. Silk chiffon is available from specialty importers.
  • Challis is usually made of wool or a wool–silk blend. Wool challis is an instance of a fiber commonly used for warm and heavy fabrics being used to the opposite purpose.
  • Other light and sheer fabrics include net, tulle, and mull. Most of these fabrics are transparent or translucent, and many are quite fragile, tearing or snagging easily. Tulle, for instance, is a type of netting (historically silk). Common uses in the twentieth century included veils (both bridal and for hats),  as well as the 1950s “new look” use for the tiered petticoats that supported the gathered skirts of the post-war shirtwaist dresses—and are traditional in square-dance circles. Further, tulle has long been used for ballet costumes, from the token skirt called a tutu, to the longer full, floating skirts seen in nearly every production of The Nutcracker.
  • eyelet-lace-fabricModern lace fabrics are most commonly machine-knit or woven using nylon, acrylic, acetate, rayon or polyester fibers.  Some cotton lace fabrics (rather than edgings) have returned to the market in traditional lace patterns, and eyelet cotton never left it. Fortunately, the resurgent interest in natural-fiber clothing has made available a great many more traditional lace trims and fabrics. Readily available as edgings and trims, machine-made cotton eyelet is available as lace trims and full width fabrics. Machine-made cotton bobbin lace is more common as various widths of edging, from tiny picot weaves to several inches wide.  Silk machine-embroidered laces are rarely available (as always, at a price). Traditional linen lace trims are also available in a few specialty locales.


The workhorse clothing fabrics today are most often cotton, a fire fiber itself. Work, especially any that requires physical energy, likewise corresponds well with fire. When selecting fabric weaves to correspond with fire, I have selected those both historically worn for energetic occupations, as well as those worn in places and locales with high temperatures. Sturdy yet cool weaves such as broadcloth, corduroy, twill, denim, canvas (duck), seersucker, and serge are all in common use wherever hot conditions prevail: gymnasiums, gardens, kitchens, aboard ships. twillweaveTwill originally described a weave pattern which produces a strongly diagonal appearance on one side; modern twill is usually that weave used in a single-color cotton. Twill weave is also used to produce both denim and serge. Cotton work shirts, once routinely dyed a paler blue than the indigo of brand-new blue jeans by re-using the same indigo dye bath for the lighter weight chambray fabric, gave rise to the term blue collar as one who worked a in physically laborious profession such as carpenter, factory worker, longshoreman, etc.    Caption [right]: the staggered 2-over, 2-under weave creates a strong fabric with a diagonal appearance.

  • Denim is commonly cotton (woven of colored warp threads and white weft). US navy dungarees, farmers’ and mechanics’ overalls, and contractors’ jeans are examples of the workaday garments worn where sun or engine heat demands both the breathability of cotton and the ruggedness of denim garments.
    Wool is traditionally used in a similar twilled weave known as serge, common in UK constables’ uniforms.
  • Broadcloth, corduroy, and seersucker each has its own characteristic weave.
  • Broadcloth is smooth, tightly woven tabby, common in workers’ uniforms of many sorts.
  • Seersucker is a fabric woven with alternating narrow stripes of loose and taut tension threads that produce a slight puckering in the loose-weave bands, often using white for the loose stripes and colored warp thread for the taut stripes. Heavy seersucker in dark blues was used rail workers’ uniforms in the steam age, and remains traditional there. Lightweight seersucker suits are a common sight among professionals in the southervelvet_corduroyn US, both humid and desert climes, and women’s Armed Forces summer uniforms are made of cotton seersucker.
  • Duroy was an English coarse weave sometimes used as a strainer. Cord-duroy added thicker cords in the warp direction, similar to the modern fabric  “ribcord,” but with the cords closely laid, and evolved into the pile (napped) fabric we know today. Modern corduroy consists of a woven fabric with rows of pin-width velveteen stripes. This classic corduroy is known as pinwale (wale meaning a raised weal or stripe); wide-wale corduroy having wales up to 1/2 inch have been made at times.


Fabrics with pile have extra threads woven into fabric and cut to stand up at right angles to the flat surface. Such are traditionally luxurious: plush, velvet, velveteen, velour, fur felt. Corduroy is made the same way, and can fall into either category depending on its other qualities. Also, satins with their shining surface and sliding hand evoke water in both appearance and touch. Such sensuous, luxurious surfaces correspond readily with things emotional, intuitive, psychic—the slippery senses.

  • Velvet, once made only in silk, is now most commonly synthetic or rayon, with better quality fabric available in cotton. Silk-blend velvet may be found in specialty import shops.
  • Velveteen, with its shorter pile and biased lightcatching quality, is routinely cotton. Unlike velvet, velveteen has a nap, a bias to the direction in which it catches the light, and how it feels to the hand, where one direction glides with the grain but the opposite direction bristles against the grain.
  • Plush, like twill, simply describes the weave of the fabric, the deep, soft nap of one surface, and may be made of any fiber.
  • Velour, a heavy pile fabric, is made heavier on sturdier backing for use in upholstery or similar applications; most modern velours use machine-knit (jersey) backing instead of woven.
  • The formal silk top hat was traditionally made of a silk felt so deeply napped it is called fur felt—reflecting historical use of real fur to make hats. The historical slang word beaver meant a top hat, made originally of beaver pelt sheared to a smooth sheen with a distinct bias.
  • Satin, orginally made of fine, smooth silk, makes the satin weave all the more successful at capturing light for a shiny surface. satin-weaveCotton woven using this satin weave is called sateen.   Caption [right]: Satin weave displays longer segments of warp fibers, allowing the smooth silk fibers to catch and reflect more light. One drawback to the satin weave is that these longer runs of fiber are more exposed to potential snags or damage, rendering the fabric less durable.
  • Moiré fabric was originally known as watered silk, having a wavy appearance to its surface, as if it were rippled. Unlike satin-weave fabrics, moiré requires a sturdier weave, such as grosgrain or taffeta. Moiré may be woven of silk, cotton, wool, or rayon.    Caption [below]: Photo of taffeta moiré fabvic showing characteristic ovals and ripple patterns. moire


Finally, there are the thick, heavyweight, or structural fabrics: monk’s cloth, canvas, heavy woolens, felts, and hemp or linen weaves.

  • Duck cloth (usually called canvas; doek is Dutch for the word canvas) is a simple plain-weave cotton cloth of exceptional sturdiness. tabby-weaveUsed for sailmaking, uniforms, and workman’s garb, duck remains a workhorse fabric. In the late 19th century, the corporate inventor of “levis,” Levi Strauss & Co. patented the copper-rivet reinforced worker’s pants known worldwide today as blue jeans. (Yet another city name, the workhorse fabric jean was made in Genoa, or Gênes, in French.) Early in the company’s existence, Strauss experimented with brown duck as another fabric to make into dungarees (“bib overalls”) and jeans (“waist overalls”). Duck of various weights (7 ounce up to 18 ounce, measuring the weight of a 36×22-inch piece; heavier duck is made but not numbered) may be used for everything from clothing and laundry bags, to duffle bags and hammocks and sandbags. Historically, canvas met the needs of sails and sacks, sandbags and tents, capable of withstanding long exposure to sun and weather when finished as “oilcloth” with several coats of linseed oil.      Caption [right]: Plain or “tabby” weave.
  • The term woolens describes the whole range of heavier, bulkier wool fabrics, regardless of weave. The difference between “worsted wool” and “woolen” is the length of the fiber; worsted uses long-staple wool that spins fine and strong, while woolen is short fiber which must be spun thicker and is necessarily much fuzzier from all the short-fiber ends in the thread. Wool is the fiber, woolen and worsted are the types of wool.  Wool fiber has been re-used in the past. woolmark-logo The word “shoddy,” specifically meaning wool fiber re-used in new wool fabric which quickly breaks down in use, dates to the U.S. Civil War 150 years ago. Shoddy has come to describe any poorly crafted work. Hence, the wool industry trademark for “virgin wool” (Eurozone “new wool”), which has appeared on Pendleton Woolen Mills labels for decades. felted-wool-blanket
    • Woolen, made of carded wool, has a fairly short staple (natural filament length), is likely to felt when laundered; one reason why laundering wool is not a task for the novice.
      Caption [left]: A woven woolen blanket that’s been felted, either accidentally, or in manufacturing.
    • Worsted, of combed wool, has a longer staple can spin to extremely fine threads, and thus weave to a lightness and fineness used for men’s summerweight suits even in New York City. (If you ever wondered how Middle Eastern nomads could wear wool, this is part of the answer. The other part is that wool insulates, whether against heat or chill.)


  • Monk’s cloth describes a particular heavy, loose-weave fabric that was historically made of wool. Modern cotton monks-cloth is easily recognized—the weave pattern uses a very loose tabby pattern of four threads warp and weft interwoven. The resulting fabric resembles the appearance of a cotton thermal blanket, in which air pockets woven into the fabric act as insulation in hot or cold weather. Monk’s cloth woven of solid color cotton often is available at modern fabric suppliers.
  • Felt, although sometimes an entirely non-woven fabric, has also been made by weaving heavy wool yarn and shrinking and napping it to produce an extremely warm fabric with a water-repellant surface. Modern felts are usually synthetic fiber, non-woven, and used solely for non-structural craft work. However, the process of felting wool can be closely reproduced in a modern washer, as many an incautious launderer still learns today. (Hot water, soap, and steady, gentle agitation allow the surface of the wool fibers to ratchet more and more tightly together.) Thus a deliberately felted blanket woolen can produce a fabric similar to a traditional felt, greatly improving the insulation value and adding it to the woven structural strength.

Whether your fiber project requires a careful choice of magical correspondence or just the best fiber and fabric for a purpose, some understanding of the options on today’s market can help modern pagans choose to suit their needs and ends.

Footnote: magical consideration aside, walking lightly on Gaia’s surface is helped by choosing natural fibers over synthetic ones; no one has ever answered one question satisfactorily: what happens to polyester fabric in a landfill? So far as we can tell, xeno-archeologists of the 40th century may find those wrinkle-free knit slacks and polyester leisure suits in near-wearable condition when their humanologists dig our middens!

A Word About Wood—
Natural Fire Management

The first article I ever wrote for a Pagan magazine described my attribution of the four common natural fibers to elemental correspondences, in which I spoke about wool corresponding to elemental Water. There’s good reason for that. When exposed to flame, wool ignites reluctantly, the char spreads slowly, and tends to self-extinguish. These facts were used in early 20th-century quality-control textile testing of wool fabrics, according to the 1942 industrial Encyclopedia of Textiles. Every householder knew those fact before the days of synthetic fiber and central heating.

The Hearthrug

Historic home traditions in fire-fighting and fire prevention may puzzle the millennial generation. A hearthrug, as its name says, was a rug laid before the hearth or hearthstone. Modern dictionary definitions merely state that their purpose was to protect the floor—if your home had a floor made of wood—a luxury in many cottage households, while earthen floors were commonplace. Back to the wood floor; sparks jumping outward from the hearth fire—a cook-fire & heat source at once, were a commonplace event that marred that cherished wood floor. Hearthrugs were, of course, were made of wool. And wool hates to burn! A hearthrug, whether a whole sheepskin, a patterned wool weaving, or a rag rug that recycled the rags of worn-out wool clothing, lay where the sparks from an open cook-fire might leap, and extinguish any opportunistic flames that tried to take hold.

Blanket Means Wool

Home fire-fighting equipment consisted of a bucket of sand (not water) and old blankets—no one in the 19th century felt any need to specify that blankets were made of wool. During my childhood, Army surplus blankets—those olive-drab green remnants of WWII & Korean War oversupply—were routinely a few layers of the bedrolls mother taught us to make (what’s a sleeping bag?). The family camped with them in Mohave Desert, in Joshua Tree National Park, and in Sequoia National Park we discovered the environment on the western edge of the continent. By the time we lived in northern California in the mid-1960s, I recognized the value of that traditional fire-fighting technique, when dog-day grass fires saw every able-bodied man grabbing a blanket or throw rug as they ran towards the edges of the fire to contain & control it, often accomplished before the local all-volunteer fire department could arrive—who then wetted down the entire site to prevent surprise re-ignition. Wool blankets, wool area rugs, wool horse blankets: emergency equipment on ranches, farms, homesteads, and ordinary households.

Wool has a magic all its own.

IMPORTANT! Don’t try this with just any blanket today—
synthetic fibers like polyester, acrylic, or fleece will flare,
stick to human skin, and retain heat long after active flame is gone—
more like napalm than fire-suppressant; people have died wearing polar fleece.)

©Deborah Snavely, 2006, 2015, 2019 all rights reserved.

Joseph Chapman: My Molly Life – James Lovejoy (Independently Published)

A read for all seasons…

Out in Print: Queer Book Reviews

Buy from Amazon

James Lovejoy’s début novel is an impressively researched, charming story about a young man coming of age in 18th century London. As a portrait of lower-class strife, the story has the feel of a Dickensian tale with added subject matter on how gay men might have lived centuries before homosexuality was decriminalized.

Joseph narrates his own story, and he gets off to a compelling start with a childhood that sounds as sordid to the reader as it seems quite normal to the narrator. His father was a “waterman,” ferrying passengers on the Thames, an occupation that afforded their family of five plus a grandmother a two-room flat in a crowded renthouse.

A fever made worse by the misguided medical treatment of the time takes his father’s life. In a delightfully curious turn, his mother re-enters the boxing stage to make ends meet. Women’s boxing was in fact…

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A Spectrum of Opinion: Chromosome Testing

Twenty Years Later…Just as Relevant

In the Winter 1997 issue of the Pagan Muse & World Report, we began running a forum feature entitled  A Spectrum of Opinion. The three points of view represented below are just as relevant today as they were twenty years ago when first published—say, rather, even more relevant in a day when corporate entities like and are advertising spit tests for the low, low price of $99…

NOTE: reprinted without change except editing for grammar and spelling from the original.

I Want to Know

by Sharon Steiner

Chromosome testing? I’m all for it. Who would not prefer to know whether the child they are carrying may have any of a number of genetic disorders that could cause problems for the child and or the family? If there is a possibility of Down’s Syndrome (significant mental retardation, minor physical effects), would it be better to abort the child, or are there resources available that would enable you to care for the child as needed? It seems to me that children have so many problems anyway, that knowingly bringing into the world one who must fight twice as hard just to stay even with their peers ranks as cruelty of the first water.

If one knew that one had a chance of developing Alzheimer’s (premature senile mental deterioration), is it not better to be able to know beforehand and take steps to have one’s affairs in such order as to enable one’s caregivers to effectively care for you when that time comes? Or to have the means available to take one’s own life before reaching the point of needing care? If one is aware of the probability of passing on to one’s children bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, would you not prefer to know and so make an informed choice whether even to have children?

Of course, there is also the possibility of using chromosome-testing information frivolously—say, to ensure that one had the smartest and prettiest child on the block. In fact, I would find this use the most likely, given the very human proclivity to vanity. For some insight into this possibility, just look at the pet-breeding industry. Some breeds of pets are fast becoming nonviable as a result of genetic manipulation.

I guess the question is whether one wants to have all information available to make informed choices, or to continue to stumble around in the dark. Admittedly, the human race has done a fair job of stumbling around: we have produced a fair lot of geniuses and we have gotten a fair piece down the road of exploring our world and ourselves. DNA testing can be another tool to find out about both. There will no doubt be a number of misuses and foolishnesses, but this is what we are here for, to explore and find out.

You Can’t Go Back

by Deborah Snavely

I come from a long, matrilineal line of women’s cancers. My great-grandmother died of breast cancer; my grandmother more indirectly, of an intestinal blockage caused by one too many abdominal surgeries, including the hysterectomy for cervical cancer. We live to ripe old ages anyway, but when it comes to death, breast or cervical cancer has been in every single woman’s life, right down to the currently living generations. My sister’s had an ovarian cyst, my mother was a 39-year breast cancer survivor, and I’ve periodically quit caffeine in an attempt to dodge the fibroid bullet.

So when I heard that they’d developed a chromosomal test for one of the contributors to breast cancer, I had to think about taking it. But it didn’t take me long to decide that it was still much too vague a definition of risk to suit me. Only a small percentage of breast cancers are genetic, according to the current research. So, if I test for the chromosome, and I come up positive, does that increase my chances of actually getting it by any amount? No. My risk is still the same as it was. But now I know that my chances are 1 in 7 instead of 1 in 8. So? Does that mean some nosey-parker health insurance company is going to jack up my premiums?

When it comes to chromosome testing like that, I’m not sure knowledge is power; it may be that ignorance is bliss! That possibly mutilated myth of Pandora and her box comes to mind: once you’ve opened the box of information—eaten of the fruit of the tree of knowledge—you can’t go back, you can only go forward. Once scientists had started theorizing how to split up atoms, those little bits of intrinsic matter once thought indivisible, it was only a matter of time before human curiosity led someone into trying out how to do it. The genie was out of the bottle.

In the same fashion, we must now deal with the rapidly increasing collection of genetic data thrust upon us by the march of science, curiosity, and that common drive to be able to fix things for people. Helping people is one of our social instincts, just as is hurting in response to being hurt. The Human Genome Project, ambitiously determined to map the entire sequence of DNA in the human animal, contributes stray new facts every week. Medical researchers meet them in the middle with chromosomal markers found to identify a particular trait or disease or predisposition. And actuarial bean-counters sniff along behind them both, noting the associations between a particular family history or genetic trait and various diseases. Why? Insurance—that juggernaut business casino that bets you you’ll live long enough to pay more in premiums than your family will get when you die. Didn’t anyone ever tell you that the house always wins? They get their percentage off the top.

In a long-winded autobiographical article last year [1996], a New York Times Magazine staffer went through a research project’s chromosome testing for a relatively rare condition that’s statistically likely (better than a 50% chance, I think it was) to affect him. It’s grouped in his family tree, so he knew it was in the range of possibilities; he’d made his will at a relatively young age. Still, this was different. This wasn’t just the odds—humans gamble every day. This was him. His genes. The test wouldn’t indicate certainty that he’d get the disorder, but it would verify whether or not he had the potentially deadly gene. The researchers provided counseling, both about the relationship between the statistical data they were compiling and what they knew about the disorder, and personal counseling to help him decide whether he wanted to hear their results—which had some small percentage for potential in- accuracy, after all. Existing methods for determining DNA details are extremely slick, to be sure, but we’re using macro tools to examine micro events; there’s almost always some small chance of the observer affecting the outcome. In the end, he decided he didn’t want to know.

It’s a position I can sympathize with: make preparations, then live every day as if it were your last.

Will Big Brother Test You, or Will You Test Big Brother?

by K.C. Anton

In a broad sense, humans have worked with genetics since the first herdsman or farmer realized that if they forced the mating of certain animals or plants, they could get a planned offspring. Through the ages this manipulation has, by its very use, determined the “nature” of this planet and the societies that reside on it.

Scientifically, we are once again at a crossroads (Hecate’s turf), where we, the people of the world, need to re-evaluate our feelings regarding this question. Genetic science, and specifically human chromosomal information, has reached the point where hard questions must be asked.

I believe every society comes to the conclusion that it “needs”; it changes what it wants into what it needs, creating an excuse for its actions, thus soothing its collective conscience. The answers a society reaches in these philosophical waters builds the direction that that society will follow for years, decades, or centuries, if it’s lucky. This pattern has been proven repeatedly; seldom has a society taken the time to choose whether the route it takes is preferred, or the ramifications understood.

The hard sciences were affected by this pattern for centuries—by religious philosophies before and during the European Renaissance. Astronomy, theoretical mathematics, and medicine are examples of what happened when men decided that they had control of themselves, their actions, their environment, and their fate. They were the center of all, until proven otherwise.

We laugh at their simplistic and obviously “unenlightened” outlook on the world. As you smile and smirk at the audacity of our grandsires, remember that we also answered these questions in our society—through the use of atomic energy, controlled livestock breeding, and agrarian genetic manipulation to produce bigger, stronger, and larger yields. Human medical inoculation and preventive medicine are only a sampling of how we have already altered our world and ourselves. We have created a world in which our own natural selection is and will be affected profoundly. This power is why genetic chromosomal testing must be looked at and consciously decided upon by the individuals in the world’s society. This issue will have far-reaching effects in the years to come; I see it as a major nexus in our societal and world history. As an example of these effects, the insurance industry already has far-reaching influence shaping our society via health, travel, lodging, and business insurance. Overall, this industry runs upon choices made by actuarial charting—the percentage or chance of a particular occurrence happening when a certain amount of the variables are known.

Insurance gambles on percentage of risk in a given situation. The more variables you can control in a situation, the more you can predict the outcome and the less of a gamble it is. With chromosome identification, you can “chart” the possible outcome of a person’s offspring much better than without. The insurance industry is very interested in chromosome testing. Should you be concerned? Possibly, if only because it is the job of the insurance industry to plan for societal trends to come, decades in the future. The rest of us have a hard time seeing where we could be next year, let alone in 2020. But think about the prospect of governmental policies:

  • keeping people from marrying because they have the potential for familial abuse.
  • denying couples children because there is a potential of passing on “unpleasant” physical or emotional characteristics.

Such restrictions are possible. Just as we now eradicate disease before it can infect a human host, chromosomal manipulation offers the possibility of eradicating cancer, viruses, mental illness, and physical infirmity.

Now is the time to consider your thoughts and feelings on all of these questions. Take action to inform others. If you choose not to share your thoughts and thus help form the world’s opinions on these questions, that’s okay. Others are acting on their decisions, too, and the world will change and be created anyway.


Privacy in this 2018 world is rapidly evaporating. Data gathered from all sorts of sources infests how the technology we use daily interacts with us…and behind the scenes are the programmers and algorithms and actuarial analysts manipulating emotions and opinions so visibly in our world. If you choose not to believe that foreign hackers altered the results of the 2016 presidential election in the USA, you are welcome to live in your fantasy world. Alas, the rest of us have to deal with Brexit and Trump and strongman politics…which makes me, at the least, reluctant to give anyone DNA data to play with!

Hippocrates Would Be Proud

A topic revisited…

On September 22 1996, Dr. Philip Nitchke assisted at the world’s first legal doctor-aided suicide,* made possible by the Northern Territories (Australia) enactment of a voluntary euthanasia law that became effective on July 1. At the Darwin, Australia, home of Bob Dent, Nitchke connected up the retired carpenter, who suffered from advanced prostate cancer, to a computer-controlled “death machine.” Dent answered a series of questions on the computer keyboard, until it asked the penultimate one, whether he understood that a yes answer to the final question would, after 15 seconds, inject him with a lethal mixture of barbiturates and muscle relaxants. It then asked him simply, “Are you ready to die?” Dent answered yes, and died with his wife at his side.

*The Australian Northern Territories  outlawed physician-assisted suicide within before 1999.
At present, several U.S. states, and several countries around the world legally  allow either passive euthanasia (refusing/withholding life-extending treatment) or physician-assisted suicide (“death with dignity”). Oregon’s statistics, the first U.S. state with such a law, record fewer than 250 persons per year making use of this choice.

Euthanasia Is Witchcraft?

The controversial law that made this event possible is hedged with precautions: it is only available to those terminally ill, they must be evaluated by two doctors and a psychiatrist, and patients must wait nine days after evaluation before an injection can be administered. Nonetheless, the usual suspects are mustering in opposition. Clerics along with conservative doctors are mounting an effort to create national legislation outlawing the practice. Some aboriginal leaders join in because they believe euthanasia is a form of witchcraft. The belief seems to stem from an aboriginal concept that is the flip side of the Asian belief that if you save someone’s life you are responsible for it. In the same vein, according to sources familiar with aboriginal ideas, if you take someone’s life, you have taken control of his soul—and that’s witchcraft, by their lights.

Thou Shalt Do No Murder

Let’s look at that: the taboo against murder is very nearly universal among humankind. That doesn’t stop humans from killing each other in all sorts of other ways: self-defense, war, plain old accidents. Causing someone’s death directly without their permission or knowledge is taking control of them, certainly, and heinous…but what about with their permission? at their request? Curing someone is taking control, too, you see. That’s why so many Pagan belief systems teach that a patient must give permission for any healing beforehand. Requiring permission leaves control of a person’s own being in the hands of that individual.

So, are we then responsible for the soul of someone who slips—and breaks a neck—on the banana peel that missed the compost heap? That scarce commodity “common” sense, I think, would say no; you didn’t mean to, it wasn’t intentional. Intent is the key. You planned to kill him, you meant to kill him, youdid kill him; that’s first degree murder. You didn’t plan to kill him, but in a moment’s fury or despair or misery or terror, you acted and did kill him, that’s still murder, but second degree—except in self-defense. You didn’t plan to, didn’t intend to, but your actions caused his death, that’s not murder, that’s manslaughter. Thus embedded in our statutes is the belief that intent counts. It’s what you mean to do that matters.

First of All, Do No Harm

Among the initiatory mystery traditions of ancient Greece are the spiritual Eleusinian mysteries, the mathematical Pythagorean mysteries, and the medical Hippocratic mysteries. Yes, Hippocrates founded an initiatory tradition of physicians, who all swore, as M.D.’s today still swear, to “first of all, do no harm.” The traditional Hippocratic oath includes a promise not to provide “a deadly drug.” I note that there exists very nearly no drug, pharmaceutical or herbal, which can be defined as not being at least potential toxic!

That command is uncannily like the Rede—the nearest thing to an ethical “law” among witches and magic users. And their decisions and actions must, like those of magic-workers, take into account relative degrees of harm. For, if pain itself were harm, then no doctor in all of history could in good conscience cause the pain of setting a broken leg, excavating a bullet or arrow, lancing a boil, stitching a gash. Yet the consequences of such inaction will be predictably worse for the patient; so they harm the fewest the least, and go ahead with the procedure.

Heroic Measures

That same rationale, however, is applied today in cases where the outcome is no better than a crap shoot. Using toxic compounds and near-lethal radiation, doctors try to make the human (host) environment fatal to a deadly parasitical growth, no matter how much suffering the treatment causes the patient. It’s an approach similar to that of the body’s own immune reactions, when the fever, histamine, and swelling, produced to kill off some invading bug, go on to create miseries and even life-threatening conditions of their own. The question usually becomes, is the host human strong enough to survive the prescribed treatment?

In these cases, we’re at the edge of Hippocratic territory—are we doing no harm?—yet such medical action is routine today, the world over. Doctors bump heads with Hippocrates every time they provide resuscitation treatment to a patient who has documented a wish not to receive it. The reason, for it’s more than an excuse, is the law. Not taking action to preserve any scrap of life, regardless of human or dollar cost, has become more hazardous to a doctor’s livelihood than taking action. Hence, between bureaucracy and statute, doctors are squeezed into a pattern that’s only now being broken up—by too many tales of medicine gone mad.

Brain-dead hulks “live” for decades with machine and hand-tending, vacuuming up precious medial and financial resources. Experienced physicians know the system so well that they’ll have tattooed on their sternum the words “no code”—hospital slang for “do not resuscitate, the patient has signed the papers”—only to awaken attached to machines, with broken ribs and a week-long life expectancy, because “it’s not a legal document.” No wonder the world fears medicine—the prospect of surviving can be infinitely more terrifying than the prospect of death.

Punishing the Dead

Christianity judges everyone, even the dead. It is from Christian medieval teachings that some of our weirder laws spring, such as the law that makes it a crime to commit suicide (Christianity is built around a final judgment). Medieval suicides were denied Christian burial for committing the mortal sin of self-murder…unless they did so while insane. This heartless practice—for denying religious services undoubtedly hurt the surviving family, while damage to the deceased is debatable—led to the routine practice of declaring suicides to have taken action while “of unsound mind”—a euphemistic convention that allowed for funeral and burial according to local custom. Some 19th-century wit said that suicides were deemed “of unsound mind” because any other conclusion would cast doubt on the soundness of mind of those who choose to remain among the living.

Limiting Choices

Modern psychiatry would have it that suicide attempts are commonly cries for help; but what of the successes? What of the 88-year-old man and his 85-year-old wife who quietly take a “Final Exit” rather than be forced by infirmity, bureaucracy, and insolvency out of their 35-year home? What of an advanced AIDS patient whose disfigurement and disability has cost him his assets, his home, and his friends? What of the young pregnant girl, cast off by a “God-fearing” family to the mercy of the streets? What of the cancer patient, untreatable beyond continuing toxics and pain-killers, unable to pursue the activities that make life life? What of social pariahs who, like Socrates, choose a cup of hemlock over exile from their life’s meaning? And what of society’s prisoners, who face that most personal of violent crimes, rape, while imprisoned; is it societal concern, or vindictiveness, that dictates such elaborate precautions against inmate suicide?

Control and Consent

These questions all relate to the issue of controlling one’s destiny. Regardless of my belief of what is right for you, I should not dictate—nor should society. Mr. Dent of Darwin chose to exit peacefully, with assistance, maintaining control of his life and his death. My late uncle chose to go on living as long as it worked; yet, in the end, he, too, chose “no heroic measures.” For a man afraid of death, as my uncle was—who might have lived months longer, medicated and hospital-bound, periodically losing parts to surgery—was this suicide? Perhaps. He died naturally the night before his transfer to a hospice; after less than a week in hospital. Yet we learned that he had refrained from using prescribed morphine for a year before he died. What pain one may survive with fortitude, another may find unendurable. But each—Mr. Dent and my uncle—made his choice, kept control, and gave consent.

To Relieve Suffering

In September 1996, Dr. Nitchke told the press that Bob Dent sought to end his suffering by dying, and that his role as doctor was to listen to the patient, and to try to act to relieve that suffering. In the end, Nitchke made Dent’s suicide possible. So did the person who wrote the controlling software program. So did the people who passed that law, the first to be put to use.

Hippocrates would be proud.

This blog entry originally appeared in the Pagan Muse & World Report Winter 1997 issue as the column “Conversations Over the Forge.” Slightly updated, it remains largely as written.