Sunday, December 30, 2012

Want some Free Gift Cards?

If you're like me, you look for any way you possibly can to cut the cost of items you're purchasing. One of the ways I do that is to buy off Amazon, which touts prices generally lower than that of a retail store. But do you want to get an even better deal on the items you buy from there, and other stores as well? Why not use Swagbucks to earn some free Amazon gift cards!

That's right, you can earn FREE gift cards, just by doing things you would normally do online, like searching, polls, surveys, watching videos, shopping your favorite stores, and even playing games. There are gift cards to Amazon, Wal-Mart, tons of major restaurants, and even you can turn in your points for cold hard cash.

In general the turn-in rate for points on the gift cards is as follows:
$5 GC - 450 to 500 points
$10 GC - 1,000 points
$25 GC - 2,500 points

It continues to increase by $5 for every additional 500 points. But if you're not into gift cards, why not browse the tons of other prizes as well? I've gotten posters, books, electronics, and more off of this site, all for free.

On average, I earn a $5 Amazon gift card every two days, or a $15 Amazon gift card a week. While that may not sound like much, it adds up faster than you would think. I generally only get on Swagbucks before bed, and surf for maybe an hour. I make sure to do all my "dailies" which are the NOSO and daily poll, which gives you 3 points. Then I do the daily survey offered on the main page, which gives me 60 points, and then watch all the 1 point videos offered. Most of them are under 30 seconds, and there can be up to 10 on the main page. Then, if I want more points, I play a few games, watch some short videos on Swagbucks TV, and do a few more quick surveys. All of that activity adds us pretty fast, plus, you can get extra points just for searching in their tool bar!

Not to mention, there is a daily points goal meter, and if you reach it you get extra points. So why not give it a try today, and make life a little easier with some free stuff, and free cash?

Love and Lightning Bugs,

Disclaimer: I was NOT endorsed at all by Swagbucks for this post, I just really like this site. :)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Why I Watermark

So...I just got this in my inbox on Facebook:

"First things first, How are you? 2nd i would like to ask if you can send me all the pictures and videos you have of all the reenactments you have. That would be greatly appreciated. Sorry for bothering you with this request it is kind of urgent though and i would like them if you can by the end of next week. Also if you know anyone else who may have pictures and videos can you let me know? Thank you Isabella, od Bless and Happy Christ Mas!!"

Umm, no. No I will not. That's over 2,000 images...and you're not paying for the right to use any of them. Sadly though, this is not the first time something like this has happened, and it just keep me focused on watermarking all my publicly shared images.

As a blogger, any image I post here is considered "public". Therefore, I can't filter who sees them, and more importantly, who could steal them. So watermarking your images is as important as ever! Just to show you what I mean, I Google Image Searched one of the images on my blog.

I dragged one of the images I often use into the search bar, and up popped all the links that using that image. Thankfully, all the links were mine. But often I have GIS other images, such as those taken at reenactments, and people had stolen them, and were using them without my permission! No one wants that for their photos, especially those that may be of your children or pets. SO even though it may be a pain, and a bit time consuming, it's worth it to take a few minutes, and put your watermark across an image.

I myself made a .png file that I can simply drop onto the photo, re-size it, and save it. It saves time, but still protects the image from being easily stolen.

Above is the logo I use, and below is the logo in use on a photo. I designed it so that you have to tilt the screen, or look at the image at an angle to see it. That way If someone does steal it, I can see the watermark, while others may not.

So remember, take a few minutes and watermark your images.

Love and Lightning Bugs,

Monday, December 17, 2012

15 Days of Yule: Herbal Sachets

I'm sorry everyone! I really dropped the ball on this series, as the last week has been really stressful and busy for me. Being Pagan, I prefer to give handmade gifts, filled with my love and energy. That means it takes me much longer to get ready for Yule and Christmas...and usually my fingers give out after a certain amount of hours.

On that note though, I thought I would give you a fun Yule gift idea!

Herb sachets are an easy, and festive, way to spread some holiday cheer during the season. These simple sachets are easy to make, and you can either use them as ornaments on your tree, or give them away as gifts. You'll need the following:

  • Bay
  • Cloves
  • Juniper berries
  • Orange peel, grated
  • Orris root
  • Peppermint
  • Pine
  • Rosemary
  • Squares of your favorite holiday fabric
  • Colorful ribbon
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Small bells

Mix the herbs together in a bowl. Blend varying proportions of each until you've got the scent you want. Here's a hint: start small!

There are a few different ways you can 'package' the herbs, but some of my favorites are in felt, and in small bags. For the felt, I like to make smaller felt birds, then fill them with the herbs, finish sewing them up, and then hang them on my tree!

You can also use a spoon to place the blended herbs into the center of a square of fabric. Pull the corners up and tie with the ribbon. Tie a cinnamon stick and a couple of bells in place as well. Use a second piece of ribbon to create a loop so you can hang the sachet if you like.

Timesaver tip: you can buy small tulle bags in holiday colors and spoon the herb blend into them. Pull the drawstring closed and tie shut, then hang up on your tree, or give them to a friend.

Love and Lightning Bugs,

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

15 Days of Yule: The Yule Log

As the Wheel of the Year turns once more, the days get shorter, the skies become gray, and it seems as though the sun is dying. In this time of darkness, we pause on the Solstice (usually around December 21st, although not always on the same date) and realize that something wonderful is happening.

On Yule, the sun stops its decline into the south. For a few days, it seems as though it’s rising in exactly the same place… and then the amazing, the wonderful, the miraculous happens. The light begins to return.

The sun begins its journey back to the north, and once again we are reminded that we have something worth celebrating. In families of all different spiritual paths, the return of the light is celebrated, with Menorahs, Kwanzaa candles, bonfires, and brightly lit Christmas trees. On Yule, many Pagan and Wiccan families celebrate the return of the sun by adding light into their homes. One of my favorite traditions – and one that children can do easily – is to make a Yule log for a family-sized celebration.

A holiday celebration that began in Norway, on the night of the winter solstice it was common to hoist a giant log onto the hearth to celebrate the return of the sun each year. The Norsemen believed that the sun was a giant wheel of fire which rolled away from the earth, and then began rolling back again on the winter solstice.

As Christianity spread through Europe, the tradition became part of Christmas Eve festivities. The father or master of the house would sprinkle the log with libations of mead, oil or salt. Once the log was burned in the hearth, the ashes were scattered about the house to protect the family within from hostile spirits.

Because each type of wood is associated with various magical and spiritual properties, logs from different types of trees might be burned to get a variety of effects. Aspen is the wood of choice for spiritual understanding, while the mighty oak is symbolic of strength and wisdom. A family hoping for a year of prosperity might burn a log of pine, while a couple hoping to be blessed with fertility would drag a bough of birch to their hearth.

In my house, I usually make our Yule log out of pine, but you can make yours of any type of wood you choose. You can select one based on its magical properties, or you can just use whatever’s handy. To make a basic Yule log, you will need the following:

  • A log about 14 – 18” long
  • Pine-cones
  • Dried berries, such as cranberries
  • Cuttings of mistletoe, holly, pine needles, and ivy
  • Feathers and cinnamon sticks
  • Some festive ribbon – use paper or cloth ribbon, not the synthetic or wire-lined type
  • A hot glue gun
  • All of these – except for the ribbon and the hot glue gun -- are things you and your children can gather outside. You might wish to start collecting them earlier in the year, and saving them. Encourage your children to only pick up items they find on the ground, and not to take any cuttings from live plants.

Begin by wrapping the log loosely with the ribbon. Leave enough space that you can insert your branches, cuttings and feathers under the ribbon. In my house, I place five feathers on my Yule log – one for each member of the family. Once you've gotten your branches and cuttings in place, begin gluing on the pine-cones  cinnamon sticks and berries. Add as much or as little as you like. Remember to keep the hot glue gun away from small children.

Once you've decorated your Yule log, the question arises of what to do with it. For starters, use it as a centerpiece for your holiday table. A Yule log looks lovely on a table surrounded by candles and holiday greenery.

Another way to use your Yule log is to burn it as our ancestors did so many centuries ago. For myself, before I burn my log, I write down a wish on a piece of paper, and then insert it into the ribbons. It’s my wish for the upcoming year, and I keep it to myself in hopes that it will come true.

Image via

If you have a fireplace, you can certainly burn your Yule log in it, but I prefer to do mine outside.If you have a fire pit in the back yard, on the night of the winter solstice, gather out there with blankets, mittens, and mugs full of warm drinks to burn your log. While watching the flames consume it, discuss how thankful you all are for the good things that have come your way this year, and how hope for abundance, good health, and happiness in the next.

Love and Lightning Bugs,

Monday, December 10, 2012

15 Days of Yule: Dealing With Non-Pagan Family

In some families, the holiday get-together is something we look forward to. In fact, it may be the only time you even see some members of your family. However, if you're a Pagan or Wiccan, and the rest of them aren't, there are times when the winter holidays can be a bit awkward. So what can you do to make the season's celebrations a bit more harmonious?

First of all, remember that this is a day for families to get together and enjoy themselves. It's not a day to battle about religion or anything else. If your family celebrates a Christian holiday, no matter how you feel about Christianity, don't choose this as the day to talk about how ridiculous you think the Baby Jesus story is.

Recognize that just because you celebrate the Solstice or Yule doesn't necessarily mean that your whole family wants to hear about it. If your family is uncomfortable with your choice of spiritual path, Christmas dinner at Grandma's is not the time to bring it up. While it's nice to be able to share your beliefs with people you love, if it makes them uncomfortable, drop the subject, at least for now.

Start a new tradition. If your family is willing and open, consider asking them to join you at your home for a Solstice breakfast or something similar. This way, they can see what how you celebrate, and then you can join them a few days later for Christmas.

Keep communication open. If a parent or sibling asks questions about your beliefs, answer honestly, but don't let them antagonize you. If your sister tells you you're a sinner who's going to burn in hell, step back from the discussion. Say, "You know, I'm sorry you feel this way, and I'd be happy to discuss it another time, but not today. Pass the gravy, please."

If your family says a Christian blessing before eating, don't make a scene. You're not obligated to participate, but what you could do instead is offer up a silent thanks to the gods of your own tradition.

If going to a family member's home holds unpleasant memories for you -- if you grew up in an abusive family, for example -- then take something along with you that makes you feel better. Bring along a favorite crystal, a sachet with soothing herbs, or a piece of jewelry that makes you feel grounded. When you feel yourself getting stressed out, take a few minutes to get away from everyone who's making you feel frustrated, and try to re-center yourself. Remember, you're just visiting, and you'll be going home soon.

If you're taking your spouse or partner with you, talk to them ahead of time about any concerns or fears you may have about seeing your family. Sharing these worries is healthy, plus it will allow you to present a united front.

Keep your alcohol consumption to a minimum, or don't drink at all during a holiday event. Booze tends to make us say things we normally wouldn't, and the last thing you want to do is get in a drunken shouting match with your mom just because she thinks your pentacle necklace is tacky.

Finally, understand that while people can change, they don't do it overnight. If there's a conflict about spiritual beliefs at your family's holiday dinner, wait until another time to work on it. Realize that if even your family doesn't approve of your religion, they still love you.

Love and Lightning Bugs,

Sunday, December 9, 2012

15 Days of Yule: Mistletoe

In 50 C.E., the Greek physician Dioscorides wrote his Materia Medica, establishing himself a place in medical history. As one of the ancient world's most knowlegable herbalists, Dioscorides found that mistletoe helped cure his patients of external tumors. He wrote that it “has the power to disperse, soften, drawing and assisting tumors of the parotid gland and other lesions…” Some forty or so years later, Pliny the Elder wrote of the treatment of sores and epilepsy with mistletoe in his Natural History. He also described its use in magic and ritual.

Pliny wrote that Druid elders performed rituals in which they harvested mistletoe -- a botanical parasite -- from oak trees with golden sickles. It was collected under a waxing moon phase, and then fed to animals to guarantee their fertility. As part of the rite, a pair of white bulls were sacrificed, and if prayers were answered, prosperity would be visited upon the villages.

No one loves a party like the ancient Romans, and their festival of Saturnalia is one of the most well-documented celebrations of the Winter Solstice. This week-long bacchanal included exchanging of gifts, lots of food and wine, dancing and music. Slaves got the week off work, courts were closed, and all kinds of debauchery took place. This festival honored Saturn, of course, and he was an agricultural god. To keep him happy, fertility rituals took place under the mistletoe. Today, we don't quite go that far under our mistletoe (at least not usually) but it does explain where the kissing tradition comes from.

As the Roman Empire crumbled and Christianity spread, a rumor began in France that the cross upon which Jesus died was made of mistletoe. As punishment for its involvement in the crucifixion, the plant was forbidden to grow out of the earth, and was demoted to being a botanical parasite. It now has to have a host plant, such as the oak or the ash, apparently more well-behaved and virtuous trees.

During medieval times mistletoe was again recognized for its medicinal properties, and appears in several folk remedies. To ward off demons, twigs of mistletoe could be hung in bundles over a door. In some countries, springs were placed in the stable to protect livestock safe from local witches. Mistletoe was also known to rural people as the best cure for barren women; in fact, mistletoe seems to have been a cure-all for any problems with conception, because early societies were baffled by its method of propagation  Interestingly, the Cherokee people used the North American strain of mistletoe as an abortifacient.

The plant we know today as mistletoe has no roots of its own. What it does have is tiny extensions called holdfasts, that grip onto the bark of the host plant. They also serve as a sort of umbilical cord, and suck the nutrients from the host. Because of its dependence on the host, mistletoe is only found on living trees. Mistletoe plants can be either female or male; only the female has the beautiful but highly toxic berries.

Because mistletoe is a parasite, you can grow your own fairly simply -- as long as you're willing to sacrifice another plant as a host. The kind available in the stores at Christmas is harvested while immature, so don’t bother trying to use those berries as starters for your plants. Instead, wait until spring, when you can pick some plump, white, mature berries.

Be sure to get one from a host plant similar to the one you wish to use as a host for the new growth. Choose a hardy branch on a healthy mature tree, and make a few small incisions in the bark. the further up you can go, the better -- it allows for more sunlight to reach your seedlings. Remove the skins from the seeds, and place them inside the tree bark. Cover the seeds with some jute or other protective covering, or you'll end up with a big bird feeder and no mistletoe.

Plant lots of seeds, because you need both males and females to propagate the new growth, and only about ten percent of seeds actually germinate properly. It takes about five years, but eventually your mistletoe will reach berry-producing size.

Remember, mistletoe berries are poisonous. Consuming large quantities of leaves or berries can be fatal – especially to young children, who have been known to ingest berries. If someone is suffering from mistletoe poisoning, get them to an emergency room -- do not try to treat this yourself. Mistletoe should not be used by nursing moms or pregnant women.

The great thing about mistletoe is that if you use it magically, you don't have to worry about taking it internal. Considering all of its wonderful magical properties, it can be used in many different ways.

  • Place leaves in a pouch for an ill person to carry on their person.
  • To draw love to you, hang mistletoe over your door.
  • Place leaves in a sachet for a woman having trouble conceiving.
  • The Norsemen laid down their arms if they met beneath a growth of mistletoe -- why not use it in a working to end strife and discord in your life?
  • Follow the ways of the Druids, and hang mistletoe to bring abundance your way.

Love and Lightning Bugs,

Saturday, December 8, 2012

15 Days of Yule: Wassailing

Did you find it interesting that the Holly Kind was actually one of the origins of the Santa Clause story? Guess what, that's not the only thing that started out as a pagan tradition...

The tradition of wassailing (pronounced to rhyme with fossil-ing)is hardly a new one. In centuries past, wassailers went from door to door, singing and drinking to the health of their neighbors. The concept actually harkens back to pre-Christian fertility rites -- only in those ceremonies, villagers traveled through their fields and orchards in the middle of winter, singing and shouting to drive away any spirits that might inhibit the growth of future crops. As part of this, they poured wine and cider on the ground to encourage fertility in the crops.

Eventually, this evolved into the idea of Christmas caroling, which became popular during the Victorian era, and is still seen today in many areas. If you think your family or friends might enjoy starting up a new, musical tradition, why not gather them together to go out a-wassailing for Yule? The following are traditional, secular wassailing songs which were performed back as early as the days of King Henry VIII. Although some are Christian in background and make references to "God" in their original form, I've made Pagan-friendly substitutions in some places. You can always change these to accommodate a particular deity of your tradition.

After you get home from your night of singing, relax by your fire with a pot of spiced wassail or hot buttered rum!

The Wassail Song (traditional English)

Here we come a-wassailing
among the leaves so green.
Here we come a-wand'ring
so fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
and to all your wassail, too,
may the gods bless you, and send you
a Happy New Year,
the gods send you a Happy New Year.

Good master and good mistress,
as you sit beside the fire,
pray think of us poor children
who wander through the mire.
Love and joy come to you,
and to all your wassail, too,
may the gods bless you, and send you
a Happy New Year,
the gods send you a Happy New Year.

Bring us out a table fine
and spread it out with cloth;
Bring us out a farmer's cheese,
and some of your Christmas loaf.
Love and joy come to you,
and to all your wassail, too,
may the gods bless you, and send you
a Happy New Year,
the gods send you a Happy New Year.

Gloucestershire Wassail (multiple versions available, believed to be Saxon in origin, Middle Ages)

Wassail, wassail all over the town
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown,
We bring a bowl made of the white maple tree,
and with the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee!

So here is to Cherry and to his right cheek,
the gods send our master a good piece of beef
and a good piece of beef that may we all see.
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee!

And a toast to Dobbin and to his right eye
pray the gods send our master a good Christmas pie
a good Christmas pie that may we all see.
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee!

So here's to Great Big Mary and her great big horn,
may the gods send Master a good crop of corn,
and a good crop of corn that may we all see.
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee!

And a toast to Moll and to her left ear,
may the gods send our master a happy New Year,
And a happy New Year as e'er he did see.
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee!

And here is to Auld Colleen and her long tail,
may the gods guard our master that he never fail,
a bowl of strong beer! I pray you draw near,
and our jolly wassail it's then you shall hear!

And here's to the maid in the lily white smock,
Who tripped to the door and slipped back the lock,
Who tripped to the door and pulled back the pin
For to let these jolly wassailers in!

Apple Tree Wassailing (Somerset, 18th Century or earlier)

Hurray, hurray, in our good town
The bread is white, and the liquor brown.
So here my old fellow I drink to thee,
and the long life of every other tree.
Well may you blow, well may you bear,
blossom and fruit both apple and pear.
So that every bough and every twig
may bend with a burden both fair and big.
May you bear us and yield us fruit such a store,
that the bags and chambers and house run o'er!

Love and Lightning Bugs,

Friday, December 7, 2012

15 Days of Yule: The Legend of the Holly King, and the Oak King

Yesterday, we talked about the history of Yule, and today I thought I would cover the legend of the Holly king, and the Oak King.

In many Celtic-based traditions of Paganism, there is the enduring legend of the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King. These two mighty rulers fight for supremacy as the Wheel of the Year turns each season. At the Winter Solstice, or Yule, the Oak King kills the Holly King, and then reigns until Midsummer, or Litha. Once the Summer Solstice arrives, the Holly King returns to do battle with the old king, and defeats him. The Holly King then rules until Yule.
The Holly King, the Lord of the Winterwood and darksome twin of the waning year, rules from Midsummer to Midwinter. At Midsummer, he goes to battle with his twin, the Oak King, for the favor of the Goddess. He slays the Oak King, who goes to rest in Caer Arianrhod (A palace in the heavens, otherwise known as the Aurora Borealis) until they do battle again at Midsummer. The Oak King and Holly King are mortal enemies at Midsummer and Midwinter, but they are two sides of a whole. Neither could exist without the other.
Painted by Raven Willowhawk, this image depicts the Holly King, cradling the infant Oak King.
Two themes run throughout the Holly King and Oak King legend. The first, of course, is the two great yearly battles between the two. The second is the sacrificial mating, death, and resurrection of each in his season. At Lammas, the peak of the Holly King's reign, he sacrificially mates with the Great Mother, dies in her embrace, and is resurrected. This is an enactment of the natural fertility theme of the season, and is not uncommon in other mythologies: Osiris, Tammuz, Dionysus, Balder, and Jesus are only a few other gods who die and are resurrected. The Oak King on the other hand, mates, dies and is resurrected at Beltane. This aspect of the Holly King and Oak King is not widely discussed, but is an important element in their roles as fertility gods.
Often, these two entities are portrayed in familiar ways. The Holly King frequently appears as a woodsy version of Santa Claus, and was indeed the basis of the Santa Clause story. He dresses in red, wears a sprig of holly in his tangled hair, and is sometimes depicted driving a team of eight stags. The Oak King is portrayed as a fertility god, and occasionally appears as the Green Man or other lord of the forest. During each respective half of the year, it's common to have tokens of the reigning God in the home. Pressed oak leaves and acorns for the Oak King, and Sprigs of Holly for the Holly King.
Ultimately, while these two beings do battle all year long, they are two essential parts of a whole. Despite being enemies, without one, the other would no longer exist.
Love and Lightning Bugs,


Thursday, December 6, 2012

15 Days of Yule: History of the Holiday

For people of nearly any religious background, the time of the winter solstice is a time when we gather with family and loved ones. For Pagans, it's often celebrated as Yule, but there are literally dozens of ways you can enjoy the season. However, in a society where the ancient stigma against something can and does persevere, despite the best efforts of the people...I wanted to shed a little light onto what I believe. I thought it would be fun to break it down into a 15 day segment post, about the different facets of a wonderful holiday, called Yule.

Many cultures have winter festivals, which are in fact celebrations of light. In addition to Christmas, there's Hanukkah with its brightly lit menorahs, Kwanzaa candles, and any number of other holidays. The Pagan holiday of Yule takes place on the day of the winter solstice, around December 21. On that day (or close to it), an amazing thing happens in the sky. The earth's axis tilts away from the sun in the Northern Hemisphere, and the sun reaches its greatest distance away from the equatorial plane. As a festival of the Sun, the most important part of any Yule celebration is light -- candles, bonfires, and more.

Four thousand years ago, the Ancient Egyptians took the time to celebrate the daily rebirth of Horus, the god of the Sun. As their culture flourished and spread throughout Mesopotamia, other civilizations decided to get in on the sun-welcoming action. They found that things went really well... until the weather got cooler, and crops began to die. Each year, this cycle of birth, death and rebirth took place, and they began to realize that every year after a period of cold and darkness, the Sun did indeed return.

In the Northern hemisphere, the winter solstice has been celebrated for millenia. The Norse peoples viewed it as a time for much feasting, merrymaking, and, if the Icelandic sagas are to be believed, a time of sacrifice as well. Many of the traditional Christmas customs you enjoy now can all be traced back to Norse origins.

Winter festivals were also common in Greece and Rome, as well as in the British Isles. The Celts of the British Isles celebrated midwinter in a fashion unlike most other cultures. Although little is known about the specifics of what they did, many general traditions persisted through time. According to the writings of Pliny the Elder, this is the time of year in which Druid priests sacrificed a white bull and gathered mistletoe in celebration. Being a follower of the Celtic beliefs, most of my Yule celebrations and traditions will be taken from this specific region.

When a new religion called Christianity popped up in the British Isles, the new hierarchy had trouble converting the Pagans, and as such, folks didn't want to give up their old holidays. Christian churches were built on old Pagan worship sites, and Pagan symbols and traditions were incorporated into the symbolism of Christianity. Within a few centuries, the Christians had everyone worshipping a new holiday celebrated on December 25.

In some traditions of Paganism, the Yule celebration comes from the Celtic legend of the battle between the young Oak King and the Holly King....but that's a story for tomorrow.

Love and Lightning Bugs,