Making Talismans

I’ve always loved making altars. My house is full of them … or, rather, is one big altar.

Using altars, in all the ways I did before illness descended in 2001, is no longer an option, long story short. Making talismans has picked up the slack. Many are ones I can wear. My body is an altar, and I adorn my body with magic.

Every talismanic pendant, necklace, hair adornment, or scarf I make for myself is magic for my altar. You’ll often see me wearing two or three magic pendants. I almost always wear the same enchanted earrings and rings every day, and did this long before the illness came, but these magical staples are accompanied by ever-changing Fey-touched adornments.

In the evening, choosing which talismanic pendants, necklaces, hair adornments, or other pieces to wear the next day is a meditation, part of a spell.

Making talismans for myself, both to wear and to place in my environment, is an important part of my magic and spirituality. I constantly make new items. Crafting and using them have become vital stepping stones. Each one—both the making of it and its use—paves my shaman path, furthering my journey. Each piece calls me, in a different way: calls me back to myself, calls me by one of my true names, calls me to my ancestors.

Others call my heart’s desires to me, invoking prosperity, protection, wisdom in a specific area of my life, success with a specific project, or whatever else I might long for.

In 2001, illness came as a permanent guest. By 2004, I only had months to live. However, now, I’ve another 20 years in me. Talismans are one of the things that made all the difference. In fact, I get healthier every year.

When I was first sick, a physician told me that most people in my situation never get back out of bed and can accomplish nothing for the rest of their lives. I am up and about and doing all sorts of things! Some day, I might completely recover and bid farewell to my longtime guest, a teacher I will no longer need. Talismans are helping pave the way. Though almost 70, I don’t feel old, just ill, and the illness decreases constantly. Eventually, old age will catch up with me. But, ha, it hasn’t caught up with me yet, and I’m 68.

I make talismans for every purpose possible, and might make several talismans to the same purpose.

I make so many talismans, but it works out beautifully. After they have served me—and many of them continue to serve me for years—I might combine several of them into one necklace or wall-hanging, one grand spell. Or, when a charm tells me to do so, I will pass it on to someone else or to the earth. Some charms I will probably always keep, they continue to hold me up. Some charms I will asked to be buried with.

When I have time, I make talismans for other people. … Well, I’m constantly making digital talismans for my students, but I don’t usually have much time to make many non-virtual amulets except for myself.

I make talismans out of wood, stones, beads, bones, and feathers. Or I spin cord from silk, wool, and bamboo. I dye silk cloth and paint it. I calligraph words and symbols on paper or tree bark. Spoons and forks and anything else at hand might become a talisman. Magic is in everything, so anything can be used to make a talisman. Or can be used as a talisman without being crafted into one.

The cast-iron skillet in which I fry my breakfast eggs is a talisman. After all, a pentacle is an amulet, and what better pentacle than a heavy cast-iron piece in which the four elements combine: the heat from the stove, the fruits of the earth, the moisture in foods, and the scents filling the air.

Perhaps a pentacle and frying pan would be better named ritual tools. Or altars. But words can limit magic. Everything is an amulet, altar, magical tool. Unlimited by definitions, imagination is allowed to bring us in mystical directions we might not notice otherwise.

As distracting as words can be, they are equally useful, wondrous, and enchanting. If I frame a shoe as an “amulet,” that might show me its magic and how to use it. The next day, if I frame the shoe as an “altar,” other valuable ideas might emerge. Ditto framed as “magical tool.”

Dividing a shoe into amulet, altar, or magical tool as strict categories is beside the point and self-defeating. These words—amulet, altar, and tool–can evoke significant perceptions, and the perceptions evoked by one word might overlap with perceptions evoked by another word. That’s not a problem; the point is to find power; I refuse to forsake power by restricting myself through the mental rigmarole of categorizing everything into little boxes.

Magic is in everything.
I am its altar.
I am the magical tool on which I draw the most.
I am a talisman.

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The Figa

The Figa
Reclaiming Women’s Power and an Italian Amulet

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A figa is an amulet in the shape of a closed hand. Often, the tip of the thumb peeks out between the middle and index finger. The figa represents a woman’s genitals and is a charm for protection and good luck. It is also a talisman for fertility.

Even as a youth, I was drawn to the figa, not only as a talisman but as an archetype. It held tantalizing mysteries, and its antiquity and exotic roots were a delicious contrast to the American 50s bland norm.

I acquired a new figa recently, and shot the above photo, so you could see it. Isn’t it beautiful? I absolutely love it!

I purchased my new amulet here; the shop has more, each one different: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ErikasCollectibles

I’d already had a figa for … hm, I don’t know how long. It could be 30 or 40 years, or far less. I don’t remember how I acquired it. I was raised in an Italian, shamanic family-tradition. Otherworldly sensibilities were so typically present in our home, a part of daily life. A figa could slip into my life seamlessly back then, the entry not as noteworthy as it could be for people who aren’t constantly surrounded by that sort of thing.

Yet, despite my familiarity with Italian folk culture and my intense draw to this charm, I rarely saw one that I thought beautiful. I was never fond of my old figa, had wanted a new one forever, but couldn’t find one that pleased me till now.

My finally liking one is significant to me as a woman. Read on to learn why.

Seeing my new figa, which is very feminine, sweet, and elegant, I realized by comparison why I’d rarely liked a figa in the past. For one thing, they’re usually quite macho. An object that is supposed to embody female sexuality should … embody female sexuality.

Plus, figa figures are often crude. The crudeness repelled me, though on a subconscious level until I saw my new sweet, elegant figa. The crudeness—again, I experienced this subconsciously—was like being slapped in the face, shamed for being female.

Instead, I adore my new charm. Its sweet, feminine elegance is powerful magic and significant healing.

I was blown away by the shop’s photograph of this piece. And I did my best when I took the photos for this post, but it’s even better to see it in person; its exquisite artistry almost took my breath away. The careful sculpting of an elegant, feminine hand, enhanced by the marbling of its resin, makes it a true treasure.

It triggered a train of thought. The charm must not only be an Italian folk symbol for female sexuality per se, but also imply lot more. The figa must have originally symbolized everything—everything—a woman can be if she is unbound; her full being realized and expressed. The amulet must have once represented this totalness of being and potency in all parts of life. Otherwise, I do not believe the charm would have become so incredibly popular. It is worn not only by Pagans but by many Italians, including Christians.
FigaPic1SmBe clear, when I write, “Everything a woman can be,” I’m implying everything a human can be. I am positioning a woman’s sexuality as potency, the same way a man’s sexuality is often viewed as potency in his business and all other parts of his life.

I love folk art, folk magic, and the place where the two intersect. I also believe one might better understand a piece of folk art if one knows the cultural norms prevalent when the piece was made. That includes pop culture. Enter Kenneth Lane. The figa I bought is a vintage Kenneth Lane.

What was occurring around jewelry designer Kenneth Lane when he had the urge to create a figa that would be neither vulgar nor shaming? What in the political climate impelled him? Or did something solely personal to him serve as motivation? (The political always impacts us personally, but you know what I mean.) Whatever it was, we owe him a debt.

I mean, “figa” is Italian for the demeaning term “pussy.” The styling of most figa figures reinforces that nastiness. I do not object to a figa shaped roughly in a spirit of exuberance, or if a limited skill set did not allow finely honed lines. What I oppose is the consistent vulgar representation and the overall gestalt it feeds, a deeply hurtful cultural norm.

By the way, I see nothing wrong with a masculine figa per se, but there’s something wrong with a feminine symbol generally being masculine.

In any case, Kenneth’s jewelry was popular with Hollywood stars. Although many Pagans wear a figa, the pendant is also popular with non-Pagans. So people can knock pop-culture all they want, but I bet Kenneth’s pendants made women of all kinds proud of being women.

Kenneth’s styling was powerful. It wasn’t until I saw it that I could understand by contrast how demeaning most figas are and reclaim another part of my power. His rendering of the figa was able to heal me from a cultural norm so deeply ingrained and horrible that it still hurt my soul despite my fierce pride in my female nature and witchy wildness. I have a new piece of my magic as a woman and a new piece of my womanly pride.

What had been a sacred image in ancient Rome lowered in value until it became used as a rude gesture. A symbol that once must have honored women came to denigrate them. I believe Kenneth helped change that. I hope my thoughts here help a bit, too.

The profound power that exists in every human is diminished when we reduce anyone’s power through shaming depictions.

But when we shine a light on the wonderfulness of those around us, our own powers shine.

… Now the only problem I have is how to stop myself from buying all the figas in the shop. There’s a gorgeous variety, each piece quite different. I’ve already bought a second one. Here it is on my altar:
FigaPic3SmI will treasure these figas always. Here’s where to acquire an outstanding charm: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ErikasCollectibles

Spirit Doll

SpiritDoll1Sometimes our friends/clients don’t need “help,” even if we have skills capable of creating positive change for those we serve. Sometimes we serve a person best by investing our skill set in honoring them—and their circumstances—exactly as they are.

Here’s an example. I know someone who’s suffered extraordinary difficulties for years. I foolishly wanted to meddle—”save” her. I wanted to give her spiritual healings. I wanted to teach her shamanic exercises to become stronger. I wanted to show her abilities she doesn’t know she has. I wanted to make a protective amulet to ward off negative energy around her. I wanted to, I wanted, I wanted. None of it was what she wanted … or needed.

Mind you, everything I longed to do for her is perfect for many of my clients. And could be perfect for her at another time.

But the following is what I did. I made her a totem. As I chose objects for it, I let go of what I thought was “right” for her. Instead, I selected items to honor and celebrate who she already is.

The totem’s sole purpose (oh my, voice-recognition translated that as “soul purpose”) was to represent how wonderful she is. I completely let go of all other agendas. That included releasing the thought that her experience of my celebration might empower her to make changes I felt could help her with her struggles. She knows best, not me.

So there’s a long bone bead with stars in it, because if anybody has stars in her bones, it’s this woman. The wood is European Elder—sambucus nigra—and is a piece so young that it’s mostly soft, spongy pulp—fragile, as are we all. Its youth also gives it a wondrous sensitivity like my friend’s, and a gentle, subtle, yet dynamic magic that my friend has. The ladybug portrays another aspect of that.

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Three luminescent cobalt beads represent the mysteries she lovingly serves. A bead that is probably tiger’s eye and one that is probably goat horn represent how down-to-earth she is; she modestly infuses sacredness into her daily mundane responsibilities, though they are immense and humble.

A purple bead symbolizes the beauty of her spirit and the beauty she gifts people around her. A leaf indicates her care of Gaia’s children. I made the wool bead on top because … well, she’ll know why. And I had to add something sparkly because she is Fey.

At some point in its creation, this wall-hanging chose to be a doll. (Heh, a wall-doll.) So I spun yarn (which I felted a bit to help it set, since its winding wouldn’t be held tight by a weaving or the like) to shape the body.

Is “totem doll” an actual term? … This totem doll represents her spirit. … The term “spirit doll” is popular nowadays. … I could call it a “poppet,” because that’s a term for a doll used in magic. Not that I expect my friend to do spells with this, unless she wants to, but this doll was used magically in that I blessed it. And to play with words, “poppet” is a traditional term of endearment; making this artifact was an expression of love.

SpiritDoll3Creating the poppet was an unexpected gift to myself: I no longer need to fret about someone I hold dear. Affirming some of this woman’s wonderful attributes reminded me she has many other amazing powers, so needs no rescuer; she has every resource she needs within her, including the ability to ask for help when she requires it.

In case someone reads this post as an either/or proposition: I do not usually choose between helping friends/clients create positive change and honoring them exactly as they are. Most of the time, serving them both ways is beneficial.

Facilitating shifts they want in themselves and in their lives is a more respectful process if I also mirror back to them, in word, visual art, or ritual, their beauty and power—including that which is hidden to most eyes and that which they do not even see themselves.

It feels important to mention this sort of mirroring and affirming of those around us can require as much skill, thoughtfulness, and magic as does helping them make changes. For example, I have the psychic ability to see the beauty and power in people, even if they cannot.

Why is it important to mention the skills involved? Because people with lots of skills for creating change can feel frustrated when they can’t use those abilities for someone they care about. But you can apply your gifts another way—to honoring someone just as they are—and accomplish something vitally important. People need to be respected for who they already are. People need to be fully met right where they are.

Sometimes trying to “help” someone robs them of dignity. If instead, we honor them as they follow whatever path they choose, achieve victories that are important to them (as opposed to victories you think they need to gain), make the mistakes they need to make, and explore the parts of themselves they think vital to explore, we give an invaluable respect. That respect is also known as “love.” So mote it be.

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