Last but not least in my series of snooping into the lives of some friends: Jen Rue. Many of you know her fabulous blog or perhaps her shop (links below). Enjoy!
Do you have a favorite book on witchcraft – perhaps one that influenced you? Asking me to choose a favourite book is like asking me to choose a favourite plant. Oh look…you did that a little further down the page…
I will say that now in my practice, my favourite “witchcraft books” are my field guides to local flora, poetry books, and cookbooks, with fairy tales and folk stories thrown in for good measure.
The first books I read, borrowed from a friend, were Starhawk’s “The Spiral Dance,” “Drawing Down the Moon” by Margo Adler (which I shamefully still haven’t finished), and Cunningham’s “Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner.” I then floated around quite a bit reading whatever my tiny library could get in for me – which was very little, as most of the witchcraft books had gone missing.
I think the first two books I bought were “Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs” and one of Christopher Penczak’s books. I would have to say that in the first few years of my journey, Christopher’s books, especially his Temple of Witchcraft series were my biggest influence. I was inspired by how knowledgeable and open minded he is, and how he is always researching, testing ideas, and finding his own way. He has such a deep passion for his work. Although I don’t have the same practice as I did then, I still love his books and I’ve learned a great deal from him.
How long have you been practicing & how did you come to your path? As far as number of years of formal practice – I’m a baby-witch. As of early 2015, it will be seven years since I stumbled across a chat thread talking about Wicca. The woman who was facilitating on that thread was terribly patient with me and a few others and we grilled her mercilessly. She sent us out looking for books and I never looked back. She is still one of my treasured online friends.
My practice today looks much like my life as a child. I grew up running through the woods around my home, working in my grandmother’s garden, camping, fishing, sitting around the feet of the adults, listening to stories. My parents believed in road trips, good music and tall tales, and having family dinners at my grandparents’ home at least once a month on a Sunday night. Although my grandparents are gone now, those things are still important to me.
I was raised Southern Baptist. I believed in magic and faeries, and talking animals, so Jesus wasn’t a hard sell for me. I left the church in my teens, but returned in my early twenties looking for some kind of connection. I thought I found it for a few years, but it wasn’t what I really needed. I went for a counselling session with the pastor, and I told him that I wasn’t finding God in the church. I was finding God in my garden, and in my nieces’ eyes, and on walks with my dog. He said “perhaps your church isn’t a building,” and it was exactly what I was waiting to hear. That was about 13 years ago.
How does being a witch help you in everyday life? There are a hundred answers here – I’ll try to give you one. It doesn’t make life easier, but it makes life richer. I feel a connection in a way…well, in a way I always have, but could never understand before. Even the smallest things seem important, like mowing my lawn, or cooking or cleaning. I do everything with a great deal more presence. And that’s probably the best way to describe it for me. I feel like I’m present in my daily life – not just getting it all over with so I can get on to the good stuff.
Not that I’ve seen it anywhere but your photos (we need to remedy that), but your valley looks lovely. Does living where you do influence your path? It does. I was fortunate in that I grew up with parents who were outdoors-people. Weekends, especially Sundays, were family time and it was important to my parents to be out in the hills or driving through the valley on day trips. They instilled a great love for this land in me, and it has only grown over the years. I drive up the road into the hills and wander around, sometimes for wild-harvesting, but more often just to be out there, breathing, observing. I walk by a river at the edge of my little town each morning. My altar is littered with stones, herbs, feathers, cones, and bits I’ve picked up on my walks. I sometimes wonder how long I could survive without being in the valley – I feel like it is a part of my soul.
The Wheel of the Year gets a bad rap – usually from those of us who don’t consider ourselves Wiccan, but also from those who feel that the celebrations don’t really match the seasons where they live. Here in the valley, it’s about as close a fit as you can get. It’s a spectacular area for agriculture, and by February the thaw begins and orchardists and viticulturists are out in their orchards and vineyards trimming their trees and vines. At Samhain, the final harvests of tomatoes, squash, and late pears and apples have just come in. Every sabbat falls upon some agricultural activity, save Yule (unless you are wassailing the fruit trees). Tuning in to the seasons as they progress in the valley and growing food and medicine with the land, is central to my practice. I may not hit every sabbat on its assigned day, but I’m definitely observing and celebrating the cycles of the land here.
I know your garden is rather extensive and the valley gives you plenty of opportunity for wildcrafting. What’s your favorite herb (yes, I’m making you pick one) and why? This really is the most difficult question to answer. My response changes all the time with the seasons, and often depends on the plants that are appearing around me. It also changes as I gain more experience with, and knowledge of, plants I might be working with.
If I had to pick one today, I might choose common garden sage, because I’ve been struggling with a bit of a cold, and I find a sage tea calming and a nice way to ease a cold or fever out. It works well as a throat gargle, and of course, this time of year tastes fantastic with turkey! Plus, I’m a tactile witch – always with the touching – and I love those fuzzy little leaves! I often just pick one to sniff and carry around with me.
What is one piece of advice you’d give someone new to the witchcraft path? I don’t know that any one piece of advice fits all. Witchcraft is so varied now, in the way people practice it, and even how they define it. My advice has always been to find a way to befriend meditation and I still believe that it, as a tool, is invaluable. I always go back to it. But I think that new folks might want to spend a good amount of time looking into why they want to follow this path. I don’t think it’s the easy choice. Sure, we have fun toys and great parties, and if you want to be a full moon and sabbat witch only, then rock on – but you can find a good party in a lot of places. I think doing some real checking in to why this particular path or lifestyle is important to you is useful.
What is one thing you’d like to accomplish before you die? I live a small life, but a really rewarding one. I’ve had adventures, and travelled. I’ve had great loves, and helped raise my nieces. I have amazing friends and live in one of the prettiest places on earth. My life doesn’t feel like it lacks for anything.
I think, if it counts as an “accomplishment,” I’d like to meet the people that make me smile – those online friends that I’ve made, that are so cool, and brilliant, and funny. I can think of about a dozen or so, right off the top of my head (you included) that I’d love to gather with and hear them tell their stories, and sip luscious drinks together, long into the night.
What are two things about you not too many people know? #1 – I love a drink, but I’m not a big drinker. If you come across me online, I’m inevitably going to be mentioning alcohol. This is how rumours get started, I’m sure. I really love a drink. But I like one. One really great glass of wine when I’m out for dinner, or one well-made martini, or some fabulous concoction that a bartender has invented. I once spent an entire party with the same glass of whisky, just getting my tongue wet. There are always exceptions to any rule though – like when my best friend makes a blender of her famous lime daiquiris, or the trip I took to Mexico a few years ago. (Vacations don’t count, right?)
#2 – I’ve pretty much been afraid my entire life. Of everything. And I used to think that the goal was to be not afraid, and I worked toward that. But that never really had any staying power – being “not afraid.” So I decided that I’d just be afraid and do everything I wanted to do anyway.
I’m afraid to fly, but I travel by plane. I’m terribly shy, but I make an effort to talk to strangers. I’m terrified of fast carnival rides, so I took a trip to California with a friend and went on roller coasters in four different theme parks. I’m afraid of heights, but I walked a rope bridge across ravine, and I went skydiving. I’m nearly paralyzed by spiders, but if they are in my house I get a glass and a piece of paper and pray they don’t jump on my face and eat me before I get them outside. Telling myself “don’t be afraid” doesn’t work. I just say “fuck it – let’s try this anyway.”
And finally, coffee or tea? Both, of course. Like pretty much everything else, the preference will shift slightly with the seasons. I drink more tea in the Winter and Spring. More coffee in the Summer and Autumn. I couldn’t even tell you why.
Jen is the author of the Rue and Hyssop blog and sells her herby goods through the Etsy shop Three Cats and a Broom (and if you’re planning a trip to British Columbia, I believe her stuff is in one or two brick-and-mortar stores, too). Follow her on Twitter @rueandhyssop.