Have Familiar, Will Travel. Part I: “THEY ALL SAID I WAS MAD!”

Note: I link to some products here, but I’m not getting compensated for anything. Trust me, I don’t think any of these companies actually wanted to be associated with this idea.

This was not the post I planned to write.

This was not the week any of us planned to have.

Let me start from the beginning.

Neither my S.O. nor I have family in the area. I left the house I grew up in pretty much the second I was legally old enough to do so, and have moved wherever the wind blew me more times than I can count. He left home for college and job opportunities, to pursue his dreams. The end result is that we’re here pretty much alone, though his family has always been just a phone call away when we needed them. Unfortunately, this awesome family sustained a terrible loss.

Tl;dr: With pretty short notice, we had to find a way to get to a funeral in Mississippi.

We looked up plane tickets — $857 worth of no luck.

We looked up Amtrak — 44-odd hours of no luck.

He didn’t want to be away from home for too long if he could help it. I didn’t want to leave our cats alone if I could help it. We’ve had them for a little over a year and, in that time, we’ve discovered that Pyewacket needs more daily mental stimulation than a human toddler, and Kiko has separation anxiety that will make her try to destroy doors and hit the road in a bid for a Homeward Bound-esque reunion. Since they are both rescues, we also didn’t want to put them through the experience of being taken and dropped off in a kennel-like boarding facility. We also haven’t had to use a sitter in the past, so we didn’t really have anyone we knew well enough to trust them with.

(By the way — If anyone tells you cats are independent creatures, laugh at them. Laugh the high, gibbering laughter of the mad.)

We love them, but they are weird, weird animals. Ultimately, we decided that the simultaneously-most-sensible-yet-most-ludicrous solution would be to take the cats on a road trip.
Yeah, I know.

Two cats. Five states. One car.

It should be noted that these nerds hate being in carriers. They had a vet appointment for some boosters and a general yearly checkup two days before we left, where they sat in the waiting room growling at each other, Pye hissed at everything, and the vet came right out and said, “Yeah, this trip? It’s a pretty bad idea.”

Nevertheless, I kept on keeping on with my dumbass plans.

I’m not gonna lie, this was a long, strange journey. My S.O. was a surprise pallbearer. We visited a rad occult shop in Memphis. Mississippi poisoned our car. I’m going to have to break this up to keep it from turning into some kind of novella.

Cat relaxing in a car harness.

Pye relaxing on one of my S.O.’s old dress shirts.

So! How did we manage to make it through five states to Mississippi and back with a pair of questionably enthusiastic cats? We were fortunate that taking a road trip with pets was actually easier than either of us anticipated, as long as:

  1. We ditched the carriers. Well, not entirely — we used a combination of chest harnesses and pet seat belts to secure them in the car, and saved the carriers for transporting them to and from the hotels. As I figured, they responded way better to the car ride when they were not confined and could see us and what was happening around them.
  2. We made sure they had the right harnesses. Some cat harnesses fasten around the cat’s neck and stomach area. These are alright for walking a relatively docile cat, but not super great in a car scenario — if you stop short, all of the pressure is placed on their throat and stomach. Opt for harnesses that cover the cat’s chest, so pressure is distributed more safely.
  3. We gave them litter box access at all times. Our basic setup was this: Pye buckled in the back seat behind me, a litter box secured in the middle, and Kiko buckled in behind my S.O. The cats’ seat belts gave them just enough slack to hop in and out of the box easily, but not hassle each other. A combination of World’s Best Cat Litter and regular scooping at rest stops kept things odor-free.
  4. We worked to make sure they drank enough. My ex-boyfriend has a cat that developed about $2000 of bladder issues and scared us half to death in the process. Ever since, I’ve been somewhat fanatical about making sure everyone gets enough water (especially male cats. Their longer urethrae make them more prone to blockages). Our guys have a fancy fountain with a filter to encourage them to drink enough, but bringing and using it in the car wasn’t really an option. Cats can also be picky about water, so I was concerned about them not wanting to drink the tap water in a strange city. Solution? We offered them fresh water every time we stopped, loaded up on canned cat food (Solid Gold Mackerel & Tuna Recipe in Gravy, not pâté. It mixes better), and I stirred a little extra water into each serving to dilute the gravy. They tore it up, and got some extra hydration in the process.
  5. We got them fancy beds. Kiko spent most of her time snuggled right up in hers with her little white paws propped on the armrest. Pye decided he did not like beds, and preferred to lay on the floor like the trash gremlin he is.

    Cat resting in a litter box in a car.

    Kiko, bellied up to the side of her litter box so she can see through the windshield. (Just ignore the dusty cat prints on the back of the seat.)

  6. We stopped more frequently. Not by a huge amount, either. We just threw in a couple of extra stops so we could make sure everyone was fed, watered, safe, and relaxed.
  7. I kept an eye on them (especially Kiko). Pye is a big, chill boy whose only cares in life are playtime, getting to put on his Adventure Suit, playtime, getting his face rubbed while he naps, making sure he has enough chicken stars in his bowl, and playtime. Kiko has her tiny anxieties, like the smoke alarm that makes her hyperventilate and the vet’s waiting room that also makes her hyperventilate. While my S.O. did all the driving, I was on cat duty to keep an eye on things and occasionally stick a hand in the back seat to scratch cheeks and rub ears. At one point, a huge semi came roaring up behind us, which startled Kiko and made her pant. At the next rest stop, we moved the litter box so I could hop in the back seat between them and help her settle down. A few minutes later, she was snoozing with her cheek and paws propped on my lap, and that was the end of her fear of trucks.
  8. We had health certificates. These are usually used for shipping or air travel, but it’s better to have them and not need them than need them and not have them. If the car broke down and we found ourselves having to fly, or if a hotel required them before they’d let us get a room, we wanted to make sure we had documentation that they were both healthy, flea-free, and fully vaccinated.
  9. We had a list of pet-friendly hotels and emergency vets along the route. This is pretty self-explanatory. We didn’t want to be left hunting for a hotel in the middle of the night that’d let all four of us stay, and wanted the peace of mind of knowing a doctor was nearby in case anything went wrong.
A cat snuggled up in a hotel bed.

Pye, skooshed up on some cushy hotel pillows.

Really, the two of them were better behaved than either of us anticipated. While I did not think the gloom-and-doom predictions for this trip would be entirely accurate, I still expected them to have more tiny opinions about sleeping in strange places and being forced to hang out in a car for hours at a time. Kiko, who is usually the far less vocal of the two, spoke up regularly when she wanted more food or water. Pye, whose favorite hobby is wandering through the apartment talking to the furniture, napped the whole time and meowed exactly once — after we’d had to pull off a ten hour marathon and he was bored.

If we had to do this again, we would likely try to shorten the trip (as in, drive all thirteen hours at one go), install one of those cameras that lets you facetime with your pets, and pay for double-sessions with a pet sitter to make sure Kiko gets cuddled and Pye gets played with enough. Still, it’s great that traveling with cats wasn’t the disaster we were warned it would be, and it’s good to know that we can do this again if we need to!

A(n Actual)”Starter Witch Kit”

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After Pinrose chose to pull their Starter Witch Kit amidst a heap of (justifiable) controversy, it got me thinking.

“Self,” I says to me, “If you were going to put together a kit for a beginning witch, what would you put in it? If someone asked you to design the Starter Witch Kit, how would you have done it differently?”

And then I started brainstorming.

While I object to the attempt to use witchcraft as a way to sell perfume samples, I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with including perfume as a way to help beginning witches start to connect with witchcraft on a practical level and begin practicing regularly. I mean, I use perfume and cosmetics as part of my practice. Besides, just look at the origins of the word “glamour!”

So, if Pinrose had drafted me to come up with a kit for baby witches, here are the things I would choose instead of their sage/rose quartz/pastel tarot deck/perfume samples combo.

 


 

The Herb

herb

As someone who has taken part in smudging at every pow-wow I danced at, sage and I go way back. That said, it isn’t really part of my practice now — I prefer to fume with other herbs that I have a different relationship with. I’m also not really sure that a cleansing herb is necessarily the best choice here. Don’t get me wrong, learning to do that is important, but there are so many other ways to cleanse things/yourself/your house/your snotty room mate that it seems like a waste of a slot. If I were going to point a new witch toward my favorite herbs to work with, in general, I’d pick:

Cinquefoil. Also known as five finger grass, cinquefoil has as many virtues as it has “fingers.” It’s used in money magic, love spells, luck spells, travel magic, and for protection. For a beginning witch without a spacious herb cabinet, cinquefoil packs a lot of versatility (and punch) in one little bag. Get some wildcrafted cinquefoil from Harmony Hills Boutique here.

Clary sage. I love clary sage. It’s probably my favorite herb to work with. It’s calming, soothing, and good for divination and trance work. I’ve also used it for cleansing. Divination is a pretty key skill to learn (and not one that many beginners feel confident in) so I’m of the opinion that some nice, fragrant clary sage is a good place to start. Get some clary sage from Humming Ferns Botans here.

Mugwort. Mugwort is another solid divination herb. It’s also used for protection, strength, and healing — all things it’s good to develop some magical skill with. Get some organic mugwort from Harmony Hills Boutique here. 

Rose petals. It’s said that rose can stand in for any flower a spell calls for. While not everyone agrees with that, they’re still really versatile. They really shine in love magic, but love magic encompasses a lot more than people give it credit for. Love magic aside, they’re also used for healing, protection, and divination. Give roses as offerings, infuse them in oil, burn them as incense, the world’s your oyster. Get some rose buds or petals in either red or pink from Harmony Hills Boutique here. 

Rosemary. Similarly to roses, rosemary is said to be able to stand in for any herb. This is because, again, it’s really versatile. Love, protection, exorcism, purification, beauty, you name it. Rosemary is also very easy to come by, and this ubiquity means it’s helpful to develop a strong working relationship with it. Get some organic rosemary from Harmony Hills Boutique here. 

 


 

The Crystal

quartz.jpg

I mean, rose quartz isn’t bad… It’s just very obvious that it was only chosen to match Pinrose’s pastel tarot deck. Boooring. If I had my way, I would’ve picked:

Clear quartz. It’s clear, it’s pretty, it’s inexpensive, and it can be used for basically anything. It’s also available in the U.S., so obtaining some doesn’t have to cost a child laborer their eyesight. Pick up a clear quartz from Bliss Crystals here. 

Lodolite. Lodolite is basically clear quartz +, and is found in all of the same places. It should be noted, though, that “lodolite” is kind of a meaningless term — it just means mud stone, and isn’t really an actual, scientific term. That’s why you’ll often see it called things like garden quartz, scenic quartz, inclusion quartz, shaman quartz, or named by its particular inclusions (chlorite quartz, for example). Anyway, with that out of the way, lodolite is an excellent meditation aid. The best specimens can look like they have entire tiny forests inside, or swirls of minuscule galaxies. Hold one and stare into it long enough, and you’ll see where it takes you. Pick up a tumbled lodolite from Gem Realm here. 

Amethyst. Amethyst is good for divination, relaxation, mental magic, dream magic, and lots of other things that involve calming yourself and cultivating mental discipline. As I mentioned previously, this is something that can be challenging when you’re first starting out — amethyst can help. Pick up an amethyst from Bliss Crystals here. 

Black Tourmaline. Black tourmaline is a great stone for grounding, which is something that’s often overlooked. It’s not as exciting as other magic, but it’s probably the most important skill to pick up. It’s also used for luck and protection, two things pretty much anyone can use more of. Pick up some black tourmaline from Bliss Crystals here.

Citrine. Citrine is another variety of quartz, but it’s not as easy to find as it might seem. There are a ton of inexpensive pieces of citrine on the market — unfortunately, most of them are pieces of low-grade amethyst that has been heat treated to give it a yellow-orange color. This isn’t to say that baked amethyst isn’t any good, but it isn’t exactly citrine. Citrine enhances joy, brings luck, and clears negative energy. I know a lot of tarot readers who keep a piece with their cards. Pick up a natural citrine from Bliss Crystals here.

 


 

The Tarot Deck

deviantmoon

Okay, so. We’ve got an herb, a crystal, now for the deck. I feel like I’ve talked about divination a lot here, but that’s because it’s something that’s really important to me and my practice. Divination is more than just trying to predict the future — it can tell you a lot! If I were choosing a tarot deck to show a newbie, I would choose:

The Rider-Waite Tarot. Okay, this is not necessarily the most exciting choice, but that’s why I picked it. The RWT is pretty much as close to a bog-standard tarot deck as you can get, and, until you’re at the point where you can intuit card readings, interpret artwork, and so forth, it’s helpful to get used to using it. A lot of sites and guides to tarot card meanings are based on this deck. Here’s some more information on the Rider-Waite tarot deck. 

The Deviant Moon Tarot. I’m not gonna lie, I completely picked this one just because I like it so much. I use it all the time. The artwork is strange and wonderful, and I love the odd world in it. It’s also not too far off from the RWT in terms of how the suits and trumps are depicted. It’s a beautiful, strange deck with a dark feel, and I’ve never gotten anything but helpful, perceptive readings from it. Here’s more information on the Deviant Moon tarot deck. 

The Animalis Os Fortuna. I use this deck in a religious context, because the animals used in its imagery lend it an added layer of meaning. Not only does a card have the meaning it typically does in a standard deck, but there’s also the animal to consider — the cunning of a fox, the wisdom of an owl, whatever it is manta rays are good at. For this reason, it’s a helpful deck for learning to interpret cards intuitively, and for divination outside of tarot’s usual scope. Purchase the Animalis Os Fortuna deck here.

 


 

The Perfume

november

I have a lot of perfume. Like, close to an embarrassing amount of it. I love it, and I don’t know what I’d do without it. Scent evokes memory, changes mood, and creates an atmosphere. With that said, if I had to pick a suitably witchy perfume, I’d pick from:

Incantation by Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. Described as “vetiver, dark woods, crumbling and burnt black sandalwood and a drop of lemon rind,” Incantation is a sweet, dark, woody scent. The lemon rind just barely comes through, giving the dark woods a brighter, almost floral character. Purchase Incantation here.

Standing Stones by Red Deer Grove. Standing Stones is another woody fragrance. It has notes of balsam, cedar, dragons blood, cardamom, bergamot, and musk, among others. It has an almost smoky, incense-like character, and is one of my favorite unisex fragrances. Purchase Standing Stones here. 

November in the Temperate Deciduous Forest by For Strange Women. Somehow, For Strange Women has managed to perfectly capture the smell of a forest in autumn. It has notes of black tea, bergamot, mushrooms, soil, and dried leaves. This scent has a very pleasant earthiness, offset by the bergamot and faintly spicy smell of autumn leaves. Purchase November in the Temperate Deciduous Forest here.

French Oakmoss by For Strange Women. Oakmoss is a power herb, and this perfume uses it to good effect. The dry earthiness of the oakmoss is offset by the clean scent of lavender, and the fresh green of moss. I like to wear this one while meditating or doing spellwork — the scent is subtle, but powerful. Purchase French Oakmoss here. 

 

And there you have it, a build-your-own Starter Witch Kit, pretty much guaranteed to fit your needs better than a perfume company’s marketing ploy.

 

… And this is why I shouldn’t rush.

I celebrated Mabon the other day. Like most of my celebrations, it was small, short, and simple — lighting candles at my altar, sitting quietly, giving thanks, remembering the meaning of the season.

All of which are actually super difficult to do if I’m feeling anxious.

I have a tendency to try to push through things when I’m not feeling well. (Let’s be real, though. If I waited until I felt well, I’d never get anything done.) I’ve long held that rituals are not necessarily for me — true piety is observing them even when I’m not personally getting anything out of it. Prayer does not always have to be a refreshing, uplifting experience to have value. Sometimes even meditation is difficult work, but it’s work that I have to do.

The thing is, the ritual structure I follow has a kind of built-in way to tell if I’ve completely effed it or not. Tripped over my words too badly? I’ll get told. Unacceptable offering? Oh, I’ll hear about it. This isn’t something that’s been a problem before, luckily — even when my offerings have been small and simple, I’ve always been given signs that they were good enough.

It doesn’t help that it’s a structure I’m not entirely familiar with yet. It’s a bit more complex than what I used for most of my life (read: winging it), and the formality of it trips me up on occasion. To be honest, if you had come to me a little over a year ago and said I’d be doing things this way, I probably would have asked what you were smoking.
I digress, though. That’s a story for another time.

Anyway, for this ritual, I was confident! I had these fancy little cakes, I placed them in the offering bowls, I sat and said the words… and I rushed through them because holy butts anxiety sucks super hard and I felt like I was about to die.

And then came the divination.

I use tarot cards for the divination portion of my rituals. The particular deck I use (the Animalis Os Fortuna deck) is pretty helpful here. In addition to standard tarot meanings, the animal imagery of this deck gives it extra layers of meaning that allow the cards to be interpreted in a way that’s more conducive to this particular type of ritual divination.So I shuffled, drew, and…

Not only did I get called out, I got called out with The Moon. The warning, anxiety-indicating Moon, of all things. Like a big, black-and-white finger pointing right at my clenched hands and racing heart and going, “WTF?”

Crap.

I concluded the ritual, now wondering what I’d done. Sure, I had tripped over my words, but corrected myself. I’d said the wrong words at some points, but corrected that, too. But, while I’d been willing to offer fancy cakes, there were two things an impending anxiety attack kept me from offering — my attention, and my time.

I ate something, drank a little water, and waited for the feeling to pass, resigned now to having to repeat the ritual. I had no cakes to offer this time, just clean water and some sweet oil. But I took my time, I spoke well, and I let the anxious feelings dissipate.

And this time, even with my offerings as simple as they were, it was accepted.

There is no physical offering valuable enough to make up for an unwillingness to give my time and attention.