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The Author's Corner

 

Ellen Dugan

Visit Ellen's website

 

Garden Witchery:
Magick from the
Ground Up


Elements of Witchcraft: Natural Magick for Teens


 

Garden Witchery:

TWPT Talks to Ellen Dugan
©2002-2003TWPT


TWPT:   Tell me about your introduction to Witchcraft. Was it something that took hold early in your life or was it more of an adult venture?

Ellen:   As a kid I was fascinated with mythology. All those Greek/Roman Gods and Goddesses. I always wondered why did folks stop talking to them? Weren’t they lonely? I loved the garden, the woods and all of nature. I felt a connection. I was at home there and out of step everywhere else. As my psychic abilities developed as a teenager, so did my interest in magick, folklore and the Craft. After I finished high school, I got a job, fell in love, married young, and started a family. As my kids started to grow older, I began to search for more answers. How to control my psychic abilities was at the top of the list, and everywhere I looked I kept bumping into the topic of “magic”. So, being a typical Virgo, I studied everything metaphysical that I could get my hands on and discovered natural magick and Wicca along the way. I was pretty surprised to discover that what I had believed in my heart all along, had a name. For me it just fit. I was home.

TWPT:  Do you have a particular tradition of Witchcraft that you practice? Are you more of a solitary or do you practice with others in a group setting?

Ellen:   I guess you could classify me as “Eclectic” I am happiest following my own inner path. I imagine some folks would refer to me as being a Hedge Witch or maybe a Practical Kitchen Witch. I actually think of myself as a “Garden Witch”.  The path of the natural magician and practicing herbal/ garden magick is right where I belong.

I practice solitary, and I practice with my teenage daughter. I also work with a circle of women and their families. Some nights
it’s just the ladies and other times there are kids ranging from babies to high-school aged. Sometimes the husbands or boyfriends show up. But we are defiantly a family oriented group. 

TWPT:   Do you find that your gardening enhances your spiritual practice or has your spiritual path led you to become more involved in earth centered activities? Sort of a which came first question.

Ellen:  Which came first the Garden or the Garden Witchery? Hmm . . .  well, in truth, they sort of evolved together. To me, gardens have always been magickal places. Gardening and the Craft are two of my favorite things. I have found over the years, that they compliment and strengthen each other. Such as working with the natural cycles of the garden and the celebrating the
“Wheel of the Year”.

TWPT:  What is involved with calling yourself a Master gardener? What kinds of levels must you achieve and who is it that judges whether these levels have been objectively attained?

Ellen:   I became certified as a Master Gardener in the winter of 1999-2000, through the University of Missouri and my local county’s University Extension Office. MG certification requires a semester’s worth of college level courses in horticulture, and then a year long Master Gardener (MG) internship, serving at least 30 hours of volunteer time in the community working on MG projects.

For my intern year, I designed and helped maintain a butterfly garden in a local park. I helped care for a garden in the historic district of my hometown and finally, I represented the group at various MG events available to the general public, answering general gardening questions and doing plant diagnosis. I rounded that up by lecturing to garden groups and clubs on a variety of topics such as container gardens, and flower gardening.

To maintain status as a Master Gardener you must put in an additional 6 hours of education time- per year, and about 20 hours of volunteer time annually. Currently, I do this by teaching Adult Education classes as a MG. on Flower Folklore and Flower Gardening, at a local community college. My Adult Education course runs for three consecutive weeks, and each class is 2 hours long. One series of classes is held in the summer, another is held in the fall.  

I also help to teach/ train the new MG interns every year by lecturing at two of the classes that are required for their certification. One class that I teach is on the topic of “Perennials, Annuals and Biennials”, the other class I teach to the interns is “Home Landscaping”. 

TWPT:  Were there any books that had an early influence on your choice of  paths? Are there some books from your initial exposure to Witchcraft that you Still recommend to those who ask what they should read to start off?

Ellen:  Scott Cunningham’s The Truth about Witchcraft Today and Magical Herbalism were some of the first
magickal/ Wiccan  books that I ever owned. They are still some of my favorites and yes, I recommend them all of the time for beginners.

TWPT:  Were there any problems associated with those around you not understanding the path that you had chosen and if so how did you handle these situations?

Ellen:  Yes, when I  seriously began to practice, I shared my excitement with a couple of girlfriends. Looking back now, I just cringe. I mean the psychic- clairvoyant thing came in handy for my friends, I could do psychometry,  I read the Tarot and worked the local psychic fairs . . . they all thought that was pretty cool. When will my sister get pregnant? What will my baby be, a boy or a girl? That sort of thing. 

But magick and the Craft really frightened them. I was young and we all had small children. (We are talking the late 1980’s here.)  The idea of Witchcraft freaked them out more than a little bit. I lost some friends, my kids lost some playmates, (they didn’t want their children playing with mine anymore,) and I learned an invaluable lesson.

I had mistaken their fascination with metaphysics as an interest in all things witchy and wonderful. Oops. So, I learned the hard way to be a bit more discreet and to wait for them to ask me about magick, instead of  just volunteering the information. Many Witches have similar stories to tell, and I think that learning when to be silent is simply a part of earning your stripes as a Witch.

TWPT:  When was it that writing first began to exercise some pull on your life? Was it always understood or felt by you that someday you would end up writing books or did that come later?

Ellen:  I have been writing for myself since I was a teenager. In my journals, I penned short stories and I kept them all in a huge 3 ring binder. When I was confirmed in the 8th grade I remember telling my parents that if they were going to make me get confirmed, then I didn’t want anything with a cross on it. (My Pagan tendencies were starting to leak through I suspect). Instead, I asked them to get me a typewriter, because I wanted to be a writer. My parents came through with a little, green manual typewriter.

I kept writing off and on through high school and then early in my marriage, but knew I hadn’t found my niche yet. So, I set the dream aside for a while. When my three children started school, I was able to take more time for myself. So, I started writing again. But I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write. A romance novel? A mystery? How could I get my foot in the door somewhere? My goal was to get something in print before I hit 40. Then one day I saw an add in the back of Llewellyn’s Magical Almanac. It was a call for submissions for articles for future Almanacs.

So, I bought a used computer and a really dodgy printer and started putting ideas for a magickal article down on paper. I sent in a submission in late fall of 1997. I got an answer 6 months later. They liked the article but didn’t have any room for it, that year. Would I mind waiting for next years Almanac?  So, my first published article was featured in the Llewellyn’s Magical Almanac 2000.

Soon after that, I tried another article and they really liked that one. It was entitled “A Witch’s Garden” and was published in the 2001 Magical Almanac. That’s when  I started to seriously consider writing a magickal book. It took me about a year to save up for a decent computer and about 10 months to research and write my first book, Garden Witchery.

TWPT:  How is it that the urban Pagan or Witch might incorporate some of your ideas about gardens into their limited spaces? Is there such a thing as a green thumb and if you don't have one are you doomed to be plantless?

Ellen:   A Witch without plants? Are you kidding? If you’ve got limited space then think--Containers, containers, containers!  Try window boxes, try hanging baskets. I haave lots of friends who live in the city or in small apartments nothing stops then from planting in containers. In Garden Witchery there is a whole section in Chapter 5 devoted to magickal container gardening.  What about community gardens? Or creating a little oasis on your balcony or windowsill. How about houseplants? The possibilities are endless, everyone can add a touch of nature to their lives. As for a green thumb, well it’s more a mind set really. If you want something bad enough, like learning to garden, you can always find a way.

TWPT:  Who is your book Garden Witchery aimed at? At those who practically live in their gardens or at those who are looking to learn about the relationship between their gardens and their paths?

Ellen:  This book is aimed at everybody, magickal or mundane. No one is safe. Gardening is fun! You ought to give it a try!

To answer the second part of the question, I have extensive gardens that surround my house. I also have three active teenagers, a husband, and a job. I volunteer with the MG’s, and teach classes, and I write. So I don’t “live in” the gardens. They are my escape hatch, my pride and joy, (Coming in a close second to my kids.)  I love my home and my gardens. They are a part of who I am. But I don’t devote every waking moment to the garden.

That being said, working with a garden (or in pots and containers) will help tie you to the influences of the earth and connect you to the four seasons. Working with the soil and tending plants is a spiritual process. If you want to be connected to the earth, then try tending it. Grow some tomatoes, raise some flowers. Try performing a spell with a flower or herb that you have grown yourself. Wow, it really works better!  Just get out there and interact with nature.

TWPT:  How integral is having this kind of knowledge (as given in your book) as it pertains to choosing to be a Witch as your spiritual path?

Ellen:   This ties in nicely with what I was starting with before. Many Witches become frustrated with a lack of advanced techniques or resources. Magickal Herbalism is considered to be a major magick and if you really want to expand your magickal skills try growing and then using your own plants, flowers and herbs in personalized spells that you then create. That’s one way to expand your knowledge and to increase your magickal skills. Teach yourself something earthy and new.

TWPT:  Do you have any warnings to give about handing out advise to others about health uses of certain plants and herbs?

Ellen:   As a Master Gardener I am not allowed to discuss herbal medicines or make recommendations for herbal treatments to the general public. I usually tell folks to go to a licensed qualified herbalist. It’s too easy to make a mistake with herbal medicines. Better safe than sorry.

TWPT:  Do you go out on the road to share your knowledge as a master gardener and a Witch through lectures and classes? Do you enjoy the interaction on this level as opposed to the solitary work of creating your books?

Ellen:  With my classes at community college and during book signings and flower folklore lectures, I am able to share some of my knowledge. I really enjoy talking to folks about gardening, whether it’s magickal or mundane. I lectured to about 75 senior citizens on “Flower Folklore” at an Elder Hostel put on by the community college last fall. What a crowd! They were so much fun and full of great comments and questions. I was able to do a Tussie-Mussie demonstration for them and they were very enthusiastic.

TWPT:  Do you ever do any hands on teaching when it comes to gardening?

Ellen:   Yes, as stated before and in my classes at college. My second class is a hands on demo of how to create little hand-held, theme bouquets (Tussie-Mussies) and all of the symbolism and flower folklore within the arrangements. These are created with flowers and foliage straight from my gardens. I show up with a big container full of odds and ends from the garden, and people are always surprised at how gorgeous they –the Tussie-Mussies- turn out with ordinary flowers from the garden.

During class I usually make a bouquet for love and another one for healing. In the autumn classes, I arranged fall garden flowers for protection inside of a hallowed out pumpkin. The class really liked that idea. As for hands on in the garden, if you drop by when I’m outside in the gardens- you get put to work, or sent home with plants or veggies. My neighbors and friends drop by quite often during the summer for free plants and gardening advice.

TWPT:  How difficult is it to take a subject like gardening and make it useful to those who are just reading your book and who have very little gardening experience?

Ellen:   For me it’s not difficult at all. Working in nurseries and garden centers over the years taught me how to talk to folks with all different experience levels about gardening. I am passionate about gardening and natural magick. I want to share that information. It sort of spills over onto the pages.

TWPT:  Is Garden Witchery your first published book? Did it achieve the goals that you had in mind for it? What kinds of reactions did you have from your readers about your book?

Ellen:   Yes, it is my first book. The book has only been out for two months. It went into a second printing, just a couple of weeks after it was released, so I am very pleased with it’s success so far. The reactions have been very positive. From both Witches and non-Witches alike. With the Witches the reaction has been “Ooh, pretty! MINE!”  As they snatch it up and thumb through the pages. They stand there and grin and tell me that they love magickal herbalism, flowers and how they can’t wait to get home and try it out.

On the other hand,  the mundane gardeners thumb through it, look me over and ask a few questions. They usually tell me that they are into faeries and quietly admit to wanting to grow a faerie garden. So I point out chapter 7 (It’s entitled Faery magick), and then they start to smile and become excited that the plants that are listed in the chapter, are ones they can actually get their hands on.

You know, there are plenty of non-magickal folks out there who love gardening and really get into faeries, herbs and flower folklore. They seem to enjoy the book as well. This book gives them a way to learn more, and to experiment with magick and have a little fun.

TWPT:  Could you give us an overview of Garden Witchery and who would benefit from the material that is presented.

Ellen:   The idea behind Garden Witchery is to inspire folks to get outside and to discover the magick and wonder of the garden and of nature, that is all around them. It’s about creating your own enchanted backyard or personal outdoor space with the trees, plants and flowers found growing around you.  There are flower fascinations and herbal spells.  This book is full of common-sense information about cold hardiness zones, soil requirements and it givers the reader a realistic, easy-to-find and grow, listing of accessible magickal plants.

There are garden plans and plant suggestions for moonlight gardens, container gardens, faerie gardens, Tussie-Mussie gardens, and children’s Samhain/ Harvest gardens. There are listings of common magickal trees, shrubs and plants, even ground covers. The reader will learn the magickal meanings of plants and herbs from the perspective of color, scent and the language of flowers. There is a whole chapter devoted to faeries and faerie magick. To round things up there are “Garden Witch Crafts” such as seasonal wreaths, sachets, bath salt projects and charm bags.

Finally, there is a spell worksheet for the reader to experiment with and a gardening journal for you to keep your magickal garden notes in and a few extra seasonal spells and charms tucked in the journal for you to try. 

TWPT:  Any advice for budding (pun intended) authors about taking their ideas for a book and making them into a reality? What kind of characteristics would be most beneficial for success as an author?

Ellen:   Sure, write a great, original and clever book. Look at things from a fresh perspective! Then send for and follow the writer’s guidelines to the letter. Send in the most professional looking submission that you can. And then take a deep breath . . . and mail it in.

As to characteristics of a writer . . . determination,  imagination and an ability to work hard. Writing is hard work. You won’t be sipping tea and listing to soft music while you quietly and effortlessly crank out the pages. You’ll be juggling your life and writing all at the same time. Be prepared to work harder than you ever have before. So take it seriously, believe in yourself and go for it!

TWPT:  Is the act of writing easy or difficult for you? Is there anything you do that helps when you reach a block and the words just don't seem to come?

Ellen:   Writing is not difficult for me. What makes it a challenge is juggling a job, a marriage and three teenagers. It’s carving out the time to get in front of the computer and churn out some pages.  I usually get up early in the morning and get started. Then I take break and get the kids out of the door and off to high school. Then I squeeze in some quality writing time before I have to go to work later in the day. 

There are days when I feel lucky to get a couple of pages done, and other days when I can’t get it all on the paper fast enough. So when I’m on a roll . . . I just go with it. If I’m having a problem, then I get up and do housework, or pull some weeds, or I grab my gardening tools and work in the garden. Sometimes I take a walk, or hit the library and do more research. A change of scenery usually helps. Every so often I’ll let the chapter sit and cook for a day, and then I’ll come back to it with a fresh perspective.

TWPT:  I've heard that you have another book that will be making an appearance soon entitled Elements of Witchcraft , would you like to give our readers an advance peek at what this book will be covering and why you felt the need to write it?

Ellen:   My second book will be released this May. It is entitled Elements of Witchcraft; Natural Magick for Teens. The book should be available any moment now. It was just put up on the Llewellyn web site a few days ago.

Elements of Witchcraft is a teen primer on the theory and techniques of natural magick. The book is divided into four sections.

Section I is “The Nature of Magick” , this section covers magick 101 and the basics, personal power, raising magickal energy, and ethics and the rule of three.

Section II is “The Elements of Nature”, A chapter devoted to each element, All about the elements, correspondences, and elemental charms and spells. 

Section III is “Looking deeper into Natural Magick” An introduction to magickal herbalism, creating your own tools and work spaces, The God and Goddess and the Wheel of the Year.

Section IV is called “Walking the Path of Natural Magick” This section covers A chapter on being properly prepared, circle castings, outdoor sacred spaces, living a magickal life, and it includes a Teen Witch test to help the reader see just how much they have learned so far. Performing rituals, and even a section on “magickal quickies” for when you need to conjure up some instant magick.

Why did I write it? So many teens are looking for a good book on the Craft, and this is the kind of book that I would want my teens to read. It has common sense information and straight talk about magick and Witchcraft. I believe that studying natural magick, and learning to work quietly with the four elements, and all of their various associations, is a great way for a Teen to begin their magickal studies. This type of magick is practical, affordable, fun and very user friendly.

TWPT:  With summer fast approaching will you be making any personal appearances around the country at some of the festivals or conferences this year? If so please share the details with us so that your readers will be able to connect with you in person.

Ellen:   I will be appearing locally, doing book signings in and around the St. Louis area this spring and summer. Check the Llewellyn web site www.llewellyn.com  then look under “authors” for more details.

I will be at INATS West (International New Age Trade Show) in Denver with the gang from Llewellyn, from June 28-30. I’ll be signing both of my books and doing Tarot readings and clairvoyant readings at the Llewellyn booth.

I will also be speaking at the Kansas City Pagan Pride Day. The date is  August 23. For more information about the K.C. Pagan Pride Day event, try their web site at www.ipagan.net/kcpride/  

TWPT:  What advantages are there to having an extensive or even a modest garden as a practicing Witch?

Ellen:   Well, for one thing, you have hands on magickal supplies!  Even if you grow a little window box full of herbs like rosemary, thyme and sage, those are all magickal herbs! They like bright sunny spots and are easy to grow, even for beginner gardeners. Just imagine what you could do with those little babies! Rosemary for love and healing, thyme to increase psychic powers and to aid in a good night’s sleep, sage for wisdom and protection . . .

TWPT:  Being an author sort of takes you out of the closet to a certain degree, has there ever been any negative reactions toward you because of your beliefs? This covers both family or non-family.

Ellen:   With the general public? Not so far. . Nothing I couldn’t handle. Mostly the comments have ranged anywhere from, “You’re a Witch . . . isn’t that interesting?’ to a middle-aged guy at a book signing this spring, who looked over the book, read the author bio and just grinned at me. Then asked me if I was really a Witch, My answer was “Yes sir, I am.” He laughed, told me that I had guts, and asked me to sign the book for him.  So, I did. He shook my hand and told me that I wasn’t what he expected, and that it was nice to meet a real Witch.

As to my family, my husband and three teens have been very proud of me and incredibly supportive.  My non-Pagan parents, siblings and their kids have been very excited and enthusiastic about the books. My parents and Aunt even came to my first book signing. I don’t know who was more excited to be there, them or me.

TWPT:  In your own personal garden what are some of the essential plants that you grow and use on a regular basis in the practice of Witchcraft?

Ellen:   Oh boy, how much time do you have?  My gardens are extensive and wrap around the house. I use just about everything in some way or another. Here are a few examples; maple, elm or oak leaves, a bloom from a viburnum shrub. Rose petals, culinary herbs, violets, hosta leaves, coral bells, lily of the valley, lavender, coreopsis, peonies, pansies, ferns, hydrangea blooms, mallow, coneflowers, sunflowers, tansy, and several different varieties of yarrow. Just about everything planted in my gardens has some kind of magickal significance or use. And I put them to use quite often.

TWPT:  Finally, do you have any words of wisdom that you would like to share with your readers about gardening and how it can impact their lives?

Ellen:   This is from chapter one of Garden Witchery and I think it answers your question beautifully . . .

“As gardeners, be it magickal or mundane, we cultivate more than just herbs and flowers. We are cultivating a sensitivity and appreciation for the environment. By tapping into the magick of the earth, you increase your abilities and strengthen your magickal expertise. To walk with power means that you move in tune with the powers of nature, the powers of the earth herself. This is a very important step toward becoming a responsible magician and a jubilant guardian of the earth.”

So in closing . . . get out there and see what you can discover by getting your hands dirty!  Have fun, Harm none and Blessed be.

TWPT:  Thank you so much Ellen for taking the time to talk to us here at TWPT and speaking for myself and Boudica I'm sure that we will be putting in our time in the garden this year with Spring already upon us. Good luck with your new book and all the best for future projects down the road.