Pretty In Punk

Convenience Comes at a Cost [Part 1 in D.I.Y. Series]

February 26, 2018

Convenience Comes at a Cost [Part 1 in D.I.Y. Series]

This series of posts will explore the benefits of adopting a D.I.Y. approach to common household cleaning, gardening and personal care products for those who have the capacity, resources and time.  For the purpose of inclusivity the recipes I share will contain ingredients that are as affordable and easy to acquire as possible; although due to environmental, financial, geographical or health reasons they may not be accessible to, or usable, by everyone.  For this I apologise and I will continue to research more universal options, updating information as it becomes available.

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It's said that "cleanliness is next to godliness" and in my mind this translates to: impossible for any of us mere mortals to achieve.  Perhaps of more relevance to our 21st Century lives however is the fact it’s an exhausting, expensive and never-ending process.  Further, when we consider the number of requisite products to be purchased it becomes extremely time-consuming to select each item from everything on offer, made yet even harder to navigate because we all have different micro needs.  As a result, and completely understandably, we often purchase whatever is made readily available to us out of sheer convenience.

In this age of super-consumption marketers have tapped into this idea of convenience, training us to purchase certain items thinking we'll not only get the most for our money but that they'll legitimately better our lives in some way.  Sometimes, however, more is not more.  There are many environmental, ethical and health issues associated with a lot of these products but without access to or the time for extensive research we continue to make uninformed purchases, not knowing the issues they present.

Consider household cleaning products: we are told via elaborate marketing campaigns that "nothing will be as effective on dirt" or that we need these products in order to protect us (and our loved ones) from bacteria.  In fact, some marketers use blatant scare tactics in the hope that if we fear the common household bacteria, dust mite or germ enough we’ll use every single one of their products to turn our home into a super-sanitised zone.  'Industrial strength' is one marketing-infused brand attribute that suggests cleaning products will make our homes cleaner and that the job will be done faster, cheaper or both.  In reality 'industrial strength' tells us the cleaning product is so strong that it doesn’t belong in our home.

As for personal care, whilst it's not uncommon to spend a lot of time considering what drinks and food we put in our body, little time is spent choosing what to put on our bodies.  Again having found ourselves inundated with endless products which tell us we need to look cleaner, fresher, and younger, we pick that which believe will do all of the above.  These products tend to be chemical-laden and contain numerous unpronounceable names, some of which are so complex that our natural pH level is upset and we find ourselves in a vicious cycle using one product after another to restore our natural balance.

The truth is many ingredients in products we’ve grown to trust are harmful, but most consumers aren’t aware of either the hidden dangers they present to our health, nor how pervasive these health threats are.  Some of the most common ingredients found in household cleaners and personal care products, for example, are known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors or neurotoxins. 

Carcinogens cause cancer and promote cancer’s growth, whilst endocrine disruptors mimic human hormones and confuse the body with false signals.  Exposure to endocrine disruptors can lead to numerous health problems and have been linked to (amongst other things) reduced fertility, premature puberty, miscarriage, challenged immune systems, ADHD, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and certain cancers.

Neurotoxins alter neurons and affect brain activity causing a range of problems from headaches to loss of mental ability; and whilst you may be thinking that the diluted aspect of off-the-shelf cleaning products reduces or altogether eliminates the threat of getting sick from your floor polish, window cleaner or air freshener, many of the toxins found in these products are bio-accumulative meaning the chemicals do not purge easily from the body and over time even mild exposures can add up to toxic levels.

One of the most counter-intuitive health threats is that of household disinfectants.  Common sense tells us that killing household germs protects our health, however disinfectants are pesticides which are fat-soluble and therefore difficult to eliminate from the body once ingested.  Disinfectants may include alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) which act as surfactants, meaning they lower the surface tension of liquids and help cleaning solutions spread more easily over the surface to be cleaned and penetrate solids.  Found also in detergents, all-purpose cleaners and laundry cleansers, as well as many personal care items such as spermicides, sanitary towels and disposable diapers, APEs are endocrine disruptors. 

Formaldehyde is commonly known as a preservative and is found in household cleaners and disinfectants, as well as nail polish and other personal care products; it is also a carcinogen.

Organochlorines result from the combination of hydrogen and carbon.  Some types are highly deadly, such as DDT, whilst others are present in pesticides, detergents, de-greasers, and dry-cleaning fluids.  OCs are bio-accumulative and highly persistent in the environment; they are also carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.

Phthalates are most commonly used in the manufacture of plastics but are also used as carriers for perfumes and air fresheners as well as skin penetration enhancers for products such as moisturisers.  They are classified as inert, i.e. chemically inactive, and as such no product-labelling requirements exist for them; however phthalates are endocrine disruptors and suspected carcinogens, known to cause hormonal abnormalities, thyroid disorders, birth defects and reproductive problems.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases, suspending themselves in the air, and include an array of chemicals present in perfumes, air fresheners, disinfectants and deodorisers.  VOCs commonly include propane, butane, ethanol, phthalates and formaldehyde, each of which poses a variety of human health hazards; collectively these are thought to be reproductive toxins, neurotoxins, liver toxins and carcinogens.

Besides our own health, there is the health of the environment to consider.  That which poisons human beings poisons the earth and all of the other species living on it.  What happens to the products once used?  Inevitably they end up on cloths and sponges in the garbage which get tossed into landfill, and we all know that landfills are no good for the environment.  Furthermore, what happens to all of the containers these products come in?  They can’t always be recycled because of the residue that remains inside and while it's generally recommended they go to hazardous waste facilities, unless the garbage facilities take responsibility for this millions of containers end up in landfill each year.

With adequate personal capacity, resources and time, the best thing we can do is use natural and non-toxic homemade alternatives. No chemicals. No fumes. No harm. And whilst taking a greener approach may or may not help you feel noticeably any different, you will be creating a safer environment for yourself, family and friends, companion animals and the future.

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Next blog post in series: the most economical and multi-use ingredients to have available for D.I.Y. alternatives.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

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DIY Punk Witchery #1: Creating an Air Talisman

August 29, 2017

DIY Punk Witchery #1: Creating an Air Talisman

When I talk about being a D.I.Y punk witch I have to laugh.  To me the very nature of witchcraft is D.I.Y, so it doesn't necessarily make sense to stress this aspect; but I do know there are some for whom it is far more rigid in structure or who belong to a hegemonic religious faction that is led by someone other than themselves.  As for the punk aspect, I could use the words eclectic and secular, however my general penchant for all things punk means that my lifestyle is clearly reflected in my craft.

In fact what I mean by D.I.Y punk witch can just as well be described as something a little more radical, political, and far less luxurious than what others would make you think it needs to be.  Sure, it's pleasing to have an abundance of candles, crystals and other correspondences at hand for whatever it is you need to do, but the fact remains the same: your intention is everything.

While re-branding what was formerly known as Curly Sue the question I invariably came back to time and time again was: is this the truest representation of myself?  I probably asked it 100 times over as I stripped everything back to the bare bone and started all over again, and I continue to ask myself it even now.  Other than the aforementioned aspects to my personality, my foremost thought was always that I don't like complications.  I like simplicity.  I like practicality.  I like purpose.  I like intent.  So when it came to putting together the first few items for the relaunch I decided to do just that: keep it simple, practical, purposeful and intentional.

Unsurprisingly this is why the first Pretty In Punk collection includes a variety of tools to assist the DIY punk witch.  In fact, the set of alchemical element pins meets this self-imposed criteria perfectly.  They are perfect for those who want to perform spells on the move, are seeking amplification of or balance from certain elements, or simply want to adorn accessories and clothing with the beautiful symbols.  The set contains all four pins and comes in a small black cotton drawstring bag which can be used to store the pins, crystals, or any other witchy wares; but there is also the option to purchase them individually.

As for how they can be used there are three main areas - that pertaining to 1. physical well-being, 2. emotional and mental well-being, as well as 3. external circumstances.  If you know your elemental body type this does help but is not essential; further if you know your moon, sun or rising sign(s) this does help, but again is not essential.  The only essential aspect to work with the elements effectively is your intent.  By knowing what you want to amplify or call upon, you'll be able to deduce which element (or combination thereof) is best to work with; whilst determination, motivation and optimism will help to get you there.

The four elements are usually invoked during a ritual in order to balance energy within the physical space or practitioner, but air can also be invoked independently to lend energy to intentions within its sphere of influence.  Harnessing the power of air can help in the following ways (note that this list is not exhaustive):

1. Physical: improve external and internal communication systems (external being hearing, smell or speech, and internal being those related to your central nervous system and other electrical channels), as well as restore and stabilise energy levels.  One example in which air could be utilised is to assist in verbal communication, perhaps at work to encourage cooperation or amongst strangers to facilitate friendliness. 

Air is also associated with the respiratory system and (at least in part) with the circulatory system - to work with this system most effectively one would also need to harness the power of fire.  If experiencing difficulty breathing, poor circulation. chronic fatigue, or recurring problems with hearing and smell please see a medical professional - the below ritual is no substitute for this. 

2. Emotional and mental: alleviate the weight of emotional concerns, as well as improve overall mental ability (e.g. logical, rational and intellectual capabilities, in particular those needed for abstract and conceptual thinking).  Further, it is also associated with ethereal communication and higher consciousness, thus lending itself to divination, intuition and psychic work. 

3. External: facilitate action and change, in particular in assisting with the early phases of a project and helping to establish and grow it.  This could cover anything from information gathering to dealing with legal agreements and contracts. 

Note that there is a fourth possible area which is far too extensive to summarise in one blog post, and this pertains to enhancing the strengths you already possess (if your sun, moon or rising sign is Gemini, Libra or Aquarius).  Of course, if not an air sign, you can also empower yourself with these strengths or those associated with the planets Venus, Mercury and Jupiter.  In time I will cover the ins and outs of this in a zine, but in the meantime there is significant overlap with this blog post.

Air is associated with both the waxing crescent and first quarter phases but it's power is heightened tremendously during the first quarter - this starts tonight - so if you want to do a ritual this is the best time period.  If you want to be even more specific, Wednesday at dawn is perfect.

Ritual Tools

If possible gather the following:

- palo santo or sage *

- sandalwood incense (another incense can be substituted) *

- pale blue, violet or yellow candles (grey, silver or white can be substituted) *

- feather *

- air element pin *

- supporting tarot cards: The Fool and perhaps the King of Swords

- supporting herbs, e.g. anise, lavender, lemon verbena, marjoram and mint

- supporting stones, e.g. amythest, azurite, citrine, hematite or turquoise (clear quartz can be substituted)

- any other items that correspond to air for you, e.g. annointing oils, altar decor etc. 

 * These items are necessary as an absolute minimum.

Begin by gathering everything you will need for the ritual, laying it out in front of you.  Cleanse yourself and the space within which you will cast the spell, preferably with palo santo or sage, and crack a window open to allow the stagnant air to be released.  Cleanse all of the ritual tools one by one as you set up your altar to focus your dedication to the air element.  Pay particular attention to the pin - it must be charged to fill it with energy and power, and to be most effective in charging it with your particular intention it must be "clean" without any residual energies.  Ground yourself with a few deep breaths to release any physical tension, shaking out any remaining frustration or stress.  Visualise any distracting or negative energies dispersing.

Cast your circle to protect you from negative energies or psychic attacks.

Engrave your candle(s) with the air symbol.

Light your sandalwood incense and candle(s).  Look into the flame and start to channel that energy, breathing the incense in deeply.  Using the feather, fan the incense onto the pin, stating "this pin I hold and will soon wear, I consecrate with the element air".

Hold the pin in your hand(s) and meditate on your intention.  Visualise whatever you want to achieve, and be as specific as possible - this is what you want so don't be shy!  If doubt or uncertainty starts to creep in, ground yourself further by describing your intention out loud or in your mind in as much detail as possible.  Colours.  Sights.  Sounds.  Tastes.  Touch.  Emotions that may arise upon achievement.  Ultimately, the meditation can consist of more than the words you state out loud or images in your mind, it can be a multi-sensory experience.  It can also be very simple, as long as it remains positive and you really feel it.  Once you’ve formulated your intention, say it out loud or write it on a piece of paper.  As the pin warms with the heat of your hand(s), visualise the steps you need to go through to achieve what you want, as well as it coming to fruition.  Feel the energy that has been generated flow into your hand(s) and the pin.  Once the energy has peaked, burn the piece of paper or cast off with another gesture - even a simple "I charge this pin with air's energy, to achieve my goal so mote it be". 

Ground yourself by visualising any excess energy flowing into the earth.  Clean up. Dismantle the altar if you wish.  Undraw your circle and then do something mundane, like drinking a hot chocolate.

Wear the talisman and be mindful to create, and keep open, channels that enable energy to flow freely between you and your intention.  When you need to tap into that energy, touch the talisman.  Repeat your incantation if you wish (out loud or in your mind) to reassert your intention.  Do this as often as you see fit - the intention is yours, and yours only, so make sure you follow your instinct.

Note that air's energy can be short lived and transient, so the talisman will need to be charged on a regular basis.  I would recommend repeating this ritual once a month for as long as you need the talisman in action.  

Photo by: Brodie Vissers

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