Litha Altar

IMG_0587Getting ready for my favorite Sabbat of the year.

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Oak leaves for the Oak King.  🙂

green oak leaf on wood

Pretty cool chalice, huh?

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Wishing you and yours a happy Litha!

Blessed be.

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25 Books to Nourish Your Inner Witch

From lucid dreaming to tarot reading to real-life ghost stories, this list suggests a little something for everyone.

Getting ready for your first summer getaway?  Make sure you pack something to enhance your magical practice!

I included the link to Amazon for each book for your convenience, however, I strongly recommend you check your library first, particularly if you live near a major metropolitan (but even if you don’t).   My local library consistently surprises me with what they offer in terms of occult volumes and books about witchcraft.

In no particular order:

25 Books to Nourish Your Inner Witch

Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming by Stephen LaBerge and Howard Rheingold.  If you’ve never experimented with the soul-rocking experience of lucid dreaming, this book belongs on your night stand.  Start it at the beginning of the next lunar cycle for a bite-sized breakdown of how to dream lucidly—and yes, you can learn it.

The Master Book of Herbalism by Paul Beyer.  One of the few books to include both the metaphysical (“magical”) properties of herbs, and the medicinal, this definitive guide finds an indispensable place on the herbalist witch’s bookshelf.

The Moon:  Myth & Image by Jules Cashford delves deeply into the rich historical symbolism of the moon and its cycles.

The Haunted: One Family’s Nightmare by Ed Warren.  A chilling, well-documented book about a family that claimed to live in a haunted house in Pennsylvania, this nonfiction account makes a page-turning read for anyone with an interest in the paranormal.

A History of Witchcraft: Sorcerers, Heretics & Pagans.  I’m always interested in books about witchcraft written by non-practitioners.  This one focuses mostly on the roots of European witchcraft, which puts important context to the art of the modern practitioner.

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Garden Witch’s Herbal:  Green Magick, Herbalism & Spirituality by Ellen Dugan.  This lovely introduction to green witchery presents earth magic in friendly and approachable format.

Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carol.    This classic-yet-still-edgy fairy tale takes the reader to an alternate reality of enchanted rabbit holes and articulate, hookah-smoking caterpillars.  Alice in Wonderland inspires even the most practical witch to imagine the unseen worlds around her.

Kitchen Witch:  A Year-Round Witch’s Brew of Seasonal Recipes, Lotions & Potions for Every Pagan Festival by Soraya.  If you tinker with the idea of bringing your magical practice in the kitchen, this book aims to crack open your creativity and get you started.

Learn Calligraphy: The Complete Book of Lettering & Design by Margaret Shepard.  With today’s generation all but driving even basic cursive to extinction, the art of calligraphy remains on the endangered species list of education.  But it’s a wonderful skill for anyone who keeps a paper version of their Book of Shadows.

Sea Magic:  Connecting with the Ocean’s Energy by Sandra Kynes.  If you plan to head to the coast this summer, let this book inspire you to work with the energy of the ocean.  As an avid sea witch, I enjoyed the author’s imagination and enthusiasm for the growing art of sea magic.

Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients Into Foods & Remedies That Heal by Rosalee de la Foret.  This recent-release and instant hit in the herbalism community maintains a 5-star rating with almost 1000 Amazon reviews—no easy feat in any genre.  Check out this excellent introductory guide to the most natural medicine in the world.

Wheel of the Year: Living the Magical Life by Pauline Campanelli.  In a way, this book inspired Moody Moon’s blog.  Campanelli’s intuitive approach to the turning of the seasons sparks creative ideas and infuses everyday projects with a warm, magical glow.

Beeswax Alchemy:  How to Make Your Own Soap, Candles, Balms, Creams & Salves by Petra Ahnert.  Nothing beats making your own ritual candles from scratch.  Even if you already developed and honed candle making skills, this book still makes a lovely addition to the candle maker’s library.

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Designing Your Own Tarot Spreads (Special Topics in Tarot Series) by Teresa Michelson.  Or any book in the Special Topics in Tarot Series, which I discovered years ago and still refer to as a professional tarot reader now.

Organic Body Care Recipes: 175 Homemade Herbal Formulas for Glowing Skin & a Vibrant Self If you consider yourself a “natural witch” and love to make your own body care products, this book offers the best recipes for homemade body care.  You won’t find subtle, intricate techniques like this on Pinterest.

Your Book of Shadows: How to Write Your Own Magickal Spells by Patricia Telesco.  For the newbie witch.  To the frank annoyance of more seasoned practitioners, many new to witchcraft eagerly go about requesting spells for very specific purposes that generic spells fail to cover adequately.  This book makes an easy answer to those requests:  Why not write your own?

Utterly Wicked: Hexes, Curses & Other Unsavory Notions by Dorothy Morrison.  Morrison bravely covers the topic of hexes and curses, a subject that pagan writers before her refused to “touch with a ten foot pole” (as she explained in her recent interview with me.)  Morrison uses techniques from hoodoo and voodoo traditions, as well as other eclectic ideas, to fill this long-standing gap in pagan nonfiction.

Warrior Goddess Training: Becoming the Woman You Are Meant to Be by Heatherash Amara.  While not specifically written for neopagans (I suspect the author intended to reach a broader, more mainstream audience), this book clearly draws on modern goddess spirituality to inspire confidence and strength in your life.

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Pagan Holiday:  On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists by Tony Perrotet.  If you plan to head to Europe this summer, toss this one in your suitcase.  In this unique travel book, Perrotet & his girlfriend follow the path of ancient Roman-pagan tourists to historical sites that continue to draw crowds today.   I love the premise so much, I wish I thought of it myself!

Talking to the Other Side: A History of Modern Spiritualism by Todd Leonard.  Did you know Abraham Lincoln’s wife regularly invited spiritualists to the White House to communicate with the dead?  If you ever wondered how the Ouiji board rose to fame and found a place in the mainstream American household, this fascinating history of spiritualism covers the topic thoroughly.

Wicca Essential Oils Magic: A Beginner’s Guide to Working with Magical Oils, with Simple Recipes & Spells by Aleena Alastar.  This freshly-printed potion-making guide introduces the concept of using essential oils for magical purposes.

The Interfaith Alternative: Embracing Spiritual Diversity by Steven Greenebaum.    This much-needed endorsement of religious tolerance reads especially relevant in the current climate.  Although written primarily for people of major world religious faith, the lesson is a universal one.  Particularly recommended for those on an “eclectic” spiritual path.

Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods & Heroes by Edith Hamilton.  This classic read introduces the basics of the major European pantheons.

Witchy Mama: Magickal Traditions, Motherly Insight and Sacred Knowledge by Melanie Marquis.  As a recently blessed mother of one “witchlet-in-training,” I discovered surprisingly few books on the subject of raising a child in the Craft.  This lovely volume makes a wonderful gift for the expecting pagan mom.

21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card by Mary K. Greer.  This clever approach to tarot reading offers something for the beginning and advanced reader alike.

 

 

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40 Ideas for Your Handfasting

Planning a handfasting?

Don’t want it to look like a cross between a goth convention and a renaissance fair?

Or maybe you’d like to include a few subtle pagan touches to your traditional wedding that your pagan friends will understand, and your other guests will probably miss entirely?

Here are some modern ideas for the chic witch.

40 elegant ideas for your pagan handfasting

Consider a candlelight-only ceremony.   Nothing creates an ethereal, “elevated” atmosphere like candlelight.  Consider cutting electric lights and using lanterns and candles alone to light your ritual.

Choose your color schemes with magic in mind.  It need not be as obvious as “red for love.”  Perhaps you choose deep purple because you feel a psychic bond with your partner, or emerald green because your connection feels “earthy” and honest, or a deep yellow because you share an air sign.

Fill cauldrons with fresh wildflowers and floating candles to use as centerpieces or table decor.  It doesn’t have to be a super-witchy, Halloween-inspired affair.  Dutch ovens in french country blue are lovely for a rustic theme, for example.

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Carry a bouquet of herbs.   Botanical herbs make gorgeous bouquets and they smell amazing,  Choose local, in-season herbs with meaning for marriage, like rosemary for love, life-everlasting for longevity, or dill for marital passion.

If your ceremony is seated, leave scrolls with a prayer or chant on the chairs for your guests to repeat at some point during the ritual.  The united voices of all your loved ones blessing your relationship adds a powerful emotional and spiritual element to the ceremony.  (Better for full-on handfasting where all the guests are comfortable with full rituals).

Speaking of seating, try a spiral seating arrangement.  Aside from very unique advantage of letting everyone have a front row seat to the aisle march, the spiral subtly symbolizes the feminine divine as well as the lifelong inward journey of relationship commitment. 

Mark your circle with something beautiful.  Wherever you plan to stand for the ceremony, make a fuss about marking the border of where your clergy will cast the circle.   Be creative.  Here are some examples:

-For a spring or summer handfasting, ring the circle with fresh wildflowers.

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-For a fall handfasting, use autumn leaves, acorns and harvest fruits.

-For a winter handfasting, play with evergreens, pine cones, and molded ice create a wonderland feel.

-For a seaside handfasting, arrange seashells, hurricane lanterns, or nautical rope.

-For vineyard weddings, use grapes or grapevine.

Choose a dress with a connection to your ancestry.   Was your mother born in Mykonos?   Pay homage to her homeland with a drape-y Grecian gown.   Irish roots?  Try a delicate dress of intricate lace.

Give your handmaidens something inspired by your tradition as gifts (especially if many of them are also in your coven).  Here are some ideas:

-Gift certificates for a tarot reading.  Most tarot readers will be happy to creative gift certificates for bridesmaids or handmaidens even if they don’t normally offer them.

-A sachet of herbs blended for friendship and sisterhood.

-Rose quartz earrings or necklaces (symbolizes love in friendship).

-A bottle of herbs steeped in high-quality olive oil.  Choose herbs for friendship, loyalty or bonding.

-Personalized spell kits (baby blessing for the pregnant handmaiden, home blessing for the new home owner, passion spell for the newlywed in your circle, ect)

Give out mini smudge sticks to your guests as wedding favors or to use during your send-off. 
Floral ones like these are especially lovely for handfastings.

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floral smudge

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Feature the Elements.   Be creative.  If you think about the setting and mood, a few obvious options will likely leap to mind.  Consider the following examples:

-Hang wind chimes from tents (Element of Air)

-Use elegantly potted herbs as centerpieces at garden handfasting (Element of Earth),

-Have a fire pit at the reception of a backyard handfasting (Element of Fire)

-Use floating candles in your centerpieces (Element of Water and Air)

-Release butterflies during the ceremony (Element of Air)

-Feature exotic seashells in the bouquets of a beach wedding (Element of Water).

-Give your guests bubbles to blow for your send-off (Element of Air).

-Give your guests sparklers for your send-off (Element of Fire).

Begin your reception with a traditional cakes and ale.  Instead of serving cake at the end, start your reception with dessert.  Serve mini cakes with ale during the toasts.

Tie cloth napkins with love herbs or spices.  Rosemary or thyme are both nice, subtle  love symbols for spring and summer months, or cinnamon sticks for winter and fall.

handfasting place setting

Serve seasonal, local food.  Farm-to-table catering provides earthy, delicious food that is connected to land around you.  I can’t think of anything more pagan than that.

Let your handmaidens/bridesmaids wear flower crowns instead of carrying bouquets.

Make lavender-filled sachets for your send-off (or let me make them for you!).  You will never forget running through a cloud of lavender.  This classic love herb smells amazing!

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I fasted for 40 days to seek spiritual insight. This is what I learned.

A nearly universal feature of spiritual traditions around the world, fasting plays a role in Christianity, Judiasm, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and countless other religions.

But with the exception of some pagan reconstructionists, fasting isn’t something emphasized in modern witchcraft or neopaganism in general.

The lack of information about fasting as a pagan or occult practitioner lead me to experiment with it from that perspective.

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Before we go into exactly what motivated my personal experiment with fasting, let’s go over what didn’t:

1.  I did not fast to lose weightI did, of course, lose weight.  And to the extent that I feel transformed physically by the inner revolution of the experience, I suppose weight loss contributes to the sense of “rebirth” into a new body.  But weight loss was not the primary goal. Also, I never left a healthy weight range, although I was on the higher end of that range before the fast, and I am on the lower end now.

2.   I did not fast to debate about the health benefits/dangers of fasting.  All kinds of claims loom around the internet about fasting and its benefits to health.  Some of them are pretty plausible (fasting increases insulin sensitivity) and some of them are downright dangerous (fasting cures cancer).  I’m not here to make any claim about the health risks or benefits.  That’s not what I was out to do.  I’ll let people far more qualified than I deal with those issues.

I ask you not to confuse this article with an endorsement of fasting in general, but simply consider it an account of my experience with the practice.  It really isn’t for everyone.

Fasting powerfully effected both my mind and my body.  I entered this journey with a lot of respect for what I was about to do, and I set limits.  The most important for me:

1.  I planned to stop immediately if fasting interfered with my work, or my ability to care for my child.

2.  I planned to stop immediately if I dropped below a healthy weight.

3.  I planned to stop immediately if I felt fasting seriously effected my emotional or physical health.

3.  I did not fast to support a spell.  But I think that would be interesting.  This fast was not part of a spell or ritual, but I think fasting in place of an offering to add power to spell work or ritual is an interesting idea.  I may try it.

Please note:  Mine was not an absolute fast, or a water fast.  I ate about 500-600 calories once a day, which was enough of a challenge for me.  I don’t know that the exact nature of the diet itself matters, but I tried to stick to simple, humble meals.   Mostly plain vegetables and rice.

Here’s why I did want to fast:

1.  To enhance the mind/body connection.  I tried short water fasts of 2-3 days before this experiment.  Very quickly, I experienced how sharply and directly fasting connects the mind to the body.  I wanted to know if a longer fast might deepen this connection.

2.  To promote mental clarity.  In particular, Buddhism and Hinduism have rich traditions of fasting to aid meditation.  Experienced fasters often claim enhanced abilities to visualize, more vivid dreaming and longer attention spans.  As someone with lots of interests and a notorious tendency to jump from one task to another, the idea of heightened concentration really intrigued me.

3.  To promote and deepen compassion for others.  Please do not misunderstand me.  As an otherwise well-fed person living in the first world, I obviously recognize that a voluntary period of fasting for personal spiritual growth bears no comparison to the hunger experienced by those living in starvation around the world.

However, I think at least exploring the sensation of deep physical hunger opens a sense of greater compassion for those who live without the luxury of daily bread.

Gandhi’s fasts especially inspired me to try fasting as an act of reverence.   Reading about his life during this time enriched my fast.

4.  To strengthen self-discipline.   Self-discipline behaves much like a muscle—the harder you work it out, the stronger it becomes.  I didn’t believe in the beginning that I could really do this for 40 days.  I was wrong.  And being wrong about that makes me wonder what else about my own limitations I’m wrong about.

5.  To change my relationship with food from one of impulsivity and thoughtlessness to one of mindfulness and respect.  Fasting forced me, in a very direct way, to confront the hang-ups about food my culture and upbringing impose on me.

In that way, I found it nothing short of life-changing.

Fasting taught me a lot, and almost all of it surprised me.  Here’s what I learned.

Fasting intensified my sense of mind/body awareness powerfully.  Just becoming aware of the sensation of physical hunger verses “mental” hunger is a revelation in a world where many of us go weeks without ever hearing our stomachs growl.

Even though this wasn’t a true water fast, I think this fast required more discipline than the short water fasts I’d done before.  Whereas in a true water fast, your hunger eventually subsides and stays that way for a very long time, eating once a day means triggering the metabolism and appetite.

Resisting it in that period after a meal really tested me, especially if I was in a setting that encouraged feasting, where well-meaning friends and family pushed food in my direction.  That none of them knew about the fast probably exacerbated it—-but I don’t know.

Knowing may also have made some of them more insistent.

By the way: people are really, really weird about fasting. 
While the acceptance of fasting as a practice varies widely in different cultures, in the United States, people seem particularly unsettled by it.  It’s almost taboo.  If you go around telling people you’ve dropped down to 500-600 calories a day, they usually:

1.  Think you have an eating disorder.  Particularly if you fall on the lower end of your weight range.

2.  Believe that abstaining from regular meals is inherently unhealthy.

3.  Question your mental health or think you are involved in a cult (if you tell them it’s for spiritual reasons).

4.  Do, think or say something equally ridiculous.

For all these reasons, and also because I think silence intensifies acts of reverence, I only told my husband about my fast.

Surprisingly, no one else seemed to notice.

To the annoyance of servers all over town, I ordered a lot of tea and water at restaurants, but I still went out with friends and family.  I continued to teach two yoga classes and two belly dance classes a week.  I chased after my toddler with plenty of energy.  I ran my handmade website without any extraordinary difficulty.

It interfered much less with my day-to-day living than I expected.  Actually:

Fasting definitely sharpened my focus.   In the beginning, it really interfered with my thinking.  A constant state of hunger distracts even someone with laser concentration.  Personally, I’m kind of flighty as it is.  So I struggled.  A lot.

I fought my impulses very hard at first.  I doubted myself.  I rationalized.  I bargained.

But eventually, the hunger goes away.  It’s bizarre.

After about a week, the hunger started to fade.   I read about this phenomenon, but I doubted it completely until it happened to me.

After two weeks, as my stomach began to tighten up and even small amounts of food left me feeling very full, it became almost more difficult to eat than not to.  At first, I found it a little alarming.  It’s so counter-intuitive.

However, once it happened, a fog seemed to lift, and suddenly, my sense of focus and awareness opened up a lot.

Reading, writing, meditation and creative pursuits held my attention much longer.  I often got “lost” in my tasks in a way that more shallow concentration simply doesn’t accommodate.

Prolonged fasting demanded much more from my mind than my body.  Before the fast, I expected to experience a near-debilitating toll on my body.  In fact, I felt energized most days.

Generally, I don’t engage in high-impact exercise.  My regimen mostly consists of low-impact dance, long, brisk nature walks and yoga.  But my active life continued mostly uninterrupted.

In fact, I was able to go deeper into more challenging yoga poses, relax more fully in them and hold them longer.

But mentally, fasting completely reworked my wiring.  I never realized how impulsive my relationship with food was until I spent a month constantly reminding myself: don’t lick the spoon, don’t taste-test the spaghetti sauce, don’t take the chocolate mint on the dinner check, don’t accept the free sample at the grocery store, and yes, a stick of gum counts.

For strength, I left offerings of bread or food on . . . pretty much any altar that welcomed them.  Certain Hindu and Buddhist temples in particular encourage food offerings, although you must be careful to look up the specific customs of what offerings are appropriate (meat almost never is, but in some cases, neither is garlic or mushrooms).

Sometimes, I just went on a walk with dog or baby and left offerings of handmade bread in the woods.  I found this really cleared my mind and kept me centered.

I carried also wore or carried tiger’s eye to remind me of my own inner strength, and I left the 5 of Pentacles tarot card on my altar.

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The Five of Pentacles is sometimes called “The Poverty Card” and symbolizes humility.  It seemed appropriate.

All of these things comforted me as I struggled through the more challenging hours and days of my fast.

On the upside, my one pauper’s meal a day tasted amazing. 

An old English proverb goes something like this:  “Hunger is the best spice.”

Even if it was just brown rice and raw vegetables with no sauce or butter, every flavor exploded on my tongue.  I noticed a heightened sensitivity to spices and salt.

I also found myself much more consciously grateful for food, much more respectful of how I used it, and more aware of when and how I ate it.

I went to the farmer’s market get the freshest possible ingredients.  I rubbed green beans between my fingers and gently squeezed cucumbers, fully appreciating them with all my senses when I made selections.  I prepared almost everything from scratch.

And I took my time eating.  I took pleasure in it.  It took much less to feel satisfied.

One benefit of my fast did not occur to me until I checked my bank statement:  Fasting saved me a lot of money.

Our food bill often creeps pretty high—not because we eat a lot, but because we eat well.  I try to feed myself and my family whole foods, avoid fast food, processed food and mostly either make my own or get it from a trusted source.  This benefits my health, but it doesn’t benefit the purse strings.

I set aside this extra savings.  Initially, I thought about using the money to buy canned goods for a food bank.  But local food banks proved surprisingly difficult to find!

So I plan to donate the money directly to a charity yet-to-be-determined, preferably one that benefits world hunger.

(ETA:  I donated to the organization Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition.)

Now, a few reality checks.

While this proved to be a mostly positive experience for me, I want to avoid downplaying the intense and sometimes unpleasant side effects.

I was often irritable.  I noticed some pretty sharp mood swings during my fast.  Nothing super dramatic, but I sometimes felt “blue,” or unable to tolerate minor inconvenience.   This usually passed quickly.

I was cold all the time.  As my resting metabolic rate started to drop, so did my body temperature.  Even on warm spring days, I wore sweatshirts and socks.  I think this type of prolonged fast would be much more uncomfortable during the colder winter months.

I had a hard time sleeping.    Fasting undeniably interfered with my sleep cycles.  Particularly once I entered deeper ketosis, I went at least 48 hours without sleep several  times.  However, I experienced sharp mental clarity and the lack of sleep didn’t seem to impact my performance on any level I was aware of or made aware of.

Simply put, I struggle to sleep deeply, but I also didn’t seem to need as much sleep.

In general, fasting was really, really hard for me.  Like most people, I fought a lifetime of conditioning to maintain a strong fast.

Although I fasted without any serious impact to my daily life, my inner world rocked completely.

To give you a point of reference, I lived under the burden of a pack-a-day smoking habit for more than a decade before I quit 6 years ago.  This 40-day fast tested my will at least as much as the first 40 days I quit smoking.

Having said all that, I definitely want to do it again.

Feel free to leave any questions in the comment section, or share your own fasting experience.

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What’s New at Moody Moons?

Fresh from the workshop!  Click on the link to be directed to the product page for a full description.

Ommmmmm . . . . gorgeous meditation beads up for grabs!  (Very, very limited supply.)

Getting ready to plan your vacation?  Get your travel altar squared away.

Also available for your portable convenience, mini sage bundles fresh from my garden.

Make sure to order your Litha oil soon!  I sold out last year.

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Strawberry Passion Spell

Right about now, the ruby-colored jewel of the spring garden emerges:  strawberries!

Yesterday, I tip-toed barefoot into the garden to find the vines heavy with gorgeous, juicy red fruit.

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When I see them popping out, I automatically think, “Beltane is coming!”

I often think of Beltane as “our” Valentine’s Day, and an ideal time to cast beauty spells for attraction.

But this year, I decided to go with the closely related lust spell to enhance romantic feelings and encourage . . . recreational fun for lovers.  *wink*

If you plan on celebrating Beltane “the old-fashioned way,” why not try enhancing your passion with a little kitchen magic?

strawberry passion spell for the kitchen witch

For this spell, you will need:

*strawberries
*1 part cocoa powder
*1 part honey
*1 part water
*splash of vanilla extract
*pinch of cinnamon

Also:
*a small saucepan
*a whisk

In folk magic, the strawberry symbolizes passion, romance and fertility, making it the ideal ingredient for a love spell in the kitchen.

Grow your own strawberries for the best quality spell ingredient, but at least get your strawberries from a local farmer.  Or, as a last resort, find organically grown strawberries in the supermarket.

Cocoa powder finds a place in traditional medicine almost anywhere it grows.  Particularly, some indigenous healers use it as an aphrodisiac.

Its metaphysical properties share this energy.  🙂

cocao powder

Honey “sweetens” temperaments and softens hearts.

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Okay!  Let’s whip up a little passion potion to pair those little beauties with.

Combine cocoa powder, water and honey in a small sauce pan over medium heat, whisking constantly for 2-3 minutes and stirring in a clockwise motion.

In kitchen magic, the spoon or whisk equates with the wand.  Take this opportunity to raise power and infuse your ingredients with the energy of your intentions.  Try a simple, cutesy chant or “draw” symbols in the chocolate with a spoon and watch them disappear.

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That’s a lot of powerful love ingredients in one little potion, but let’s add a couple more.

A splash of vanilla extract adds warmth to the heart and dispels any lingering or hidden resentment.

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Finally, add a dash of ground cinnamon to “heat up” passion.

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Bring your chocolate and strawberries into the bedroom.  Or wherever.  (A naughty picnic somewhere secluded?  *wink, wink*)

How you eat the magic is up to you.

strawberry dipped in chocolate

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