I agonized a little over the title of this blog. I had several in mind – The Wicked Wild, The Dread Meadow, Sickle & Sage, Milkwinter Alchemy – but none of them felt exactly right.

Rowan & Bone occurred to me quite out of the blue when I stopped trying, and I knew at once it was perfect.

My first exposure to the rowan tree was through a novel called The Witching Hour by Anne Rice. There is a lot of silliness in her novels, but they remain a guilty pleasure. I highly recommend The Witching Hour, although you can probably skip the two sequels. It is, in many ways, a ridiculous book, but contains nuggets of wisdom and is a helluva fun and engaging read.

The main character, Rowan Mayfair, is a powerful witch. In Rice’s universe, witches are born, not made, and a witch is defined by psychic powers: second sight, telekinesis, clairvoyance, and so on. Each generation has its most powerful witch, and she (or he) is marked by a visit from “the man,” a potent spirit known as Lasher. Rowan is sent away to be adopted at birth in an attempt to spare her the complicated fate and inescapable doom of her foremother witches, and given the name Rowan because the bush was sacred to her Scottish ancestors, known for warding off evil spirits and dark forces.

The tree and its lovely name stuck with me longer than the story. I do have some Scottish ancestry, but more than anything the rowan’s protective powers called to me. I’m not afraid of much, but malevolent spirits – demons – terrify me. It is an ongoing struggle for me to not let this fear rule my spiritual journey.

(Funny: I have never once beheld a rowan tree in person. I’ve only been to one place where they grow – northern California – and there I never left the city of San Francisco. (If there are any in the city, I didn’t know or notice.) Where I live – in temperate zone 8 – it’s too hot for rowan trees.)

One of the least appealing things to me about the popular incarnation of neo-paganism – usually presented as Wicca, even by those who aren’t sure of the difference between paganism and Wicca – is its emphasis on “white witchcraft.” (As in the threefold law and the Wiccan Rede.) What this has done is turned witchcraft – at least in the current popular imagination here in North America – into a toothless benignity, a digital illustration of a maiden with long blonde hair wearing a pentagram necklace and hugging a doe. Witchcraft has been reduced to silly candle spells written by neophytes and published on tumblr blogs with names like The Grimoire of Persephone StarDolphin. It’s been repackaged and sold to a Christianized society that fears and loathes the very idea of a curse or a reckoning, who blanches at the word “necromancy,” and who wants their neo-paganism declawed, sanded down to soft edges, prepackaged under cellophane, and utterly devoid of the unpleasant truths of the real history of witchcraft or folk magic: that it was born of blood and bone, of sickness and necessity, for healing that sometimes hurt, to smite the enemy and leave his ruin behind you.

This was what I was looking for in my practice, and I finally found it when I began exploring European folk magic and the history of Celtic shamanism.

And that’s where the bone comes in. I am not a “white witch” or a Wiccan priestess. I do not go by Moongift and I do not say “Blessed be.” I am a witch, a worker of magic, a rootworker. I use bones and animal parts in my workings. I use tobacco, alcohol, blood, menstrual blood, spit, urine, and other substances that make the pastel pagans gag. I commune with the spirits of snakes and spiders. I call out to the night creatures. I gather dirt from the graveyard. I seek the spirits of the dead.

If this scares you, ask yourself why, and don’t be content with a pat answer like “It’s wrong” or “It will come back to you threefold.” Ask yourself why you think that way, and how you know for sure it’s true. Read more. Speak with those who follow other paths. Always seek the truth. Never settle for the easy solution.

I work for fertility, peace of mind, healing, productivity, and good fortune – the rowan. I also curse, cross, command spirits, demand justice, and cross the hedge – the bone.