Sunday, September 22, 2013

How to Make a Smudge Stick

 The first of many posts about my Salem visit. While there, walking the streets and shops and cemeteries and seeing what has come to be after the generation-spanning effects of the witchcraft hysteria and trials, I saw "smudge sticks" being commerically sold. A smudge stick being, simply, a bundle of dried herbs used for any number of religious and/or spiritual rites through burning. With thoughts of stories where sage is burned to cleanse malicious spirits or release energy, I was intrigued, and thought of the herbs I had growing back at home.

 Some online research shows the worlds the customs of making and burning smudge sticks have become. Attempted definitions refer to customs in the spirit of some unnamed and hard to trace Native American, or otherwise indigenous, spiritual practice. The history of smudge sticks seems to have deriven from specific Native practices, and has-- while still being practiced for those original purposes-- been repurposed, and often commercialized, to become a practice of using a calvacade of herbs for an equally as diverse number of spiritual purposes.
What you will need. 

 And so, with due respect to the practices, religions, customs and beliefs of those who lead to the creation of this practice, I made some smudge sticks, using a number of how-to directions from the Internet. This is what I found, and how I did it. Many other blogs, articles and websites-- such as here at have far better directions than I will on how to do this-. So, if you will: take this as one ghost's experience making herb smudge sticks, for the first time.

 What You Will Need:

 -Freshly cut or dried herbs. (I used sage, lavendar and rosemary, freshly cut.)
 -A pair of scissors.
 -Some string or twine.
 -Patience. (The drying process can take anywhere from a few weeks to a month.)

Step 1: Harvest or cut your herbs. Place them into roughly neat bundles, and make an effort to line up the bottoms of the stems as best you can.

Step 2: Take your string. Cut about 5 feet, 8 inches of string for each stick you will do. I found it worked best to have the string pre-cut, before starting on the bundle for each smudge stick. Drape about an inch of string over the end of the stems, at the bottom. Take the other side of the string, and wrap the string, at the same point/place, several times. About four to five.

 Step 3: Take that string, and at an angle, begin to wind the string up the bundle. Half way to the top, take the string and wind a few times at the same point for support.

 Step 4: Repeat the winding of the string a few times once you have reacher the top. Leave some space at the top as you will, once finished, cut a bit of the top to make the stick even.

 Step 5: Wind the string downward, going back to where you started. Once you have reached the end, you should have roughly the same amount of string left as the inch or so you hung off at the beginning. (However, if this isn't the case, don't fret; you may cut them to make the stick even.)

 Step 6: With the end you have been winding together at the original, other half of the string, tie 2-3 knots for support.

 Step 7: Cut any excess string down as much as possible. Also cut an even line at the top of your stick; do the same at the bottom. Feel free to trim any excess herb sticking out of your bundle you feel necessary.

 Step 8: And so you have your smudge stick. Find a place to hang your stick(s) to allow them to dry and form. Some writings say to place the sticks in a paper bag while you hang them, to protect them from light which causes their color to fade as they dry.

 Step 9: Wait 2-4 weeks for the sticks to dry. Some sources say a full month, others 2-3 weeks. I'm going with 2-4 weeks.

 Step 10: Then, you will have your smudge stick. With herb combinations such as sage and rosemary, used by many traditions for spiritual and energy cleansing purposes, you will be ready to burn, in a fire-resistant container, your smudge stick.

 Once I have reached this point and have experience enough to write about it, I will do another post and link here for an update.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Somewhere wicked there I go...

Friday night. This week, the temperatures have dropped here in upstate New York (after soaring briefly, unpleasantly.) I have taken my fall jackets, plaid shirts, pants out of the closet and am now wearing them. In the pumpkin patch I planted never expecting a harvest, my two pumpkins have grown to be big and orange and bright; and, soon, ready to be harvested. The night is coming.

 Fall is here. I'm starting out by going somewhere I have always wanted to, a place that has come to be linked to the season of the witch. This weekend I will be in Salem, Massachusetts. Where, in 1692 through 1693, women and men were accused and tried for the crime of witchcraft, infamously leading to the executions of 19 women and men for these alleged crimes. 

I have always thought of these events with a great sadness, that these unfortunate souls became victims of religious, political and social hysteria, and this lead to their unjust deaths.

 I have also always been fascinated by the trope of the witch. The mysterious other, the often female or feminine, who can control, use nature to empower herself. Often frightening, often powerful, on occasion misunderstood. With due respect to the religion of Wicca, it is the way figures thought of as witches, the other, have been defined and explored that I have always been in love with, always wanted to explore, more, that draws me to people, places and pasts like Salem.

 Tonight I am traveling across New York, headed for Massachusetts, where the idea of "the witch" created such horror so many years ago. I plan on taking as many photos, and writing as many words, as I can of what I will see. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Frightworld 2013 Preview

  It's here. Septemeber is here, the start to the of the Halloween season. The days will get shorter, the the air cooler, and the pumpkins will soon light up the night. And on September 13, "Frightworld," my local Western New York and always impressive haunted house attraction-- which I've written about in years past-- will open their doors.

 This week, my good friend Laura and I-- who have long made our yearly visit to Frightworld a highlight of our fall-- had the opportunity to speak with Stephen Szortyka, GM and Director of Operations for Eerie Productions and Frightworld, America's Screampark, and talk about how it is to run such a large and successful haunted attraction and production company, and what new horros lie in store for the coming season.

 Thanks so much for this opportunity, Stephen. First question. How do you measure your success as a haunted attraction? Is there an ideal reaction from visitors (to get them screaming, crying or exiting the attraction) that you use in measuring success?

The success of our haunted attraction is based on our customer feedback. We do exit interviews every night to get a better understanding from our customers as to what is working and what is not working.  

 What are the biggest challenges to putting on an attraction like this, and how long does it take you to prepare?

TIME. We are always wishing for one more day. We have been in business for 12 years and every year we surprise ourselves with what we are capable of doing. We are a production company and this is a year round job for some of us. We build and design haunted attractions both nationally and internationally. Every project, we progress on not only our skills and abilities, but also our time management.  Of course, we always finish on time, after no sleep, but we love what we do.

Where do you get your inspiration from? Do movies, books or real life events influence you?

Our crew is a very talented, small knit group of friends that work hand in hand on each project we do. This may sounds repetitive but we build our skills and inspirations with each project. Movies, of course, have somewhat of an impact on our vision.

Does customer feedback matter and do you make adjustments or get ideas for next year’s show based on this feedback? 

ABSOULTELY. If it wasn’t for our customers, we wouldn’t be here today. We do exit interviews every night to get a better understanding of what our customers liked, and what they didn’t like.

Do you have a memorable moment or response you've witnessed from a visitor? 

I think the biggest memorable experience is not a single time, but a season in general.

What's up with those big balloon rooms? I’ve written about them before. They are terrifying. 

Claustraphobia!!!! How cool are they?! This year, they are even bigger and longer!

Have you ever come up with an idea, only to deem it too scary? 

Yes, of course. We have to be cautious on how we approach certain things. To us, it’s all about how scary can we make it and how good will the impact be? What we always need to be aware of, is how bad will the impact be, both physically and mentally for our customers.

What are some of the new things we can anticipate? 

2013 is an exciting year for us. We are at a new location which allows us to present new layouts, new floor plans, new ideas and concepts, new marketing strategies and, of course, a great time designing and detailing.

One thing that has always struck me about Frightworld is how vested you seem in the WNY community (I remember two years ago your ticket booth taking donations for the Jamey Rodemeyer family after the loss of their son.) Is this something that comes naturally to you?  

Completely Naturally!!! WNY is our hometown, just like it is home to many others. We are a local company, all owners and management are from Buffalo. As a small business here in WNY, we are bringing part time jobs as well as great entertainment to our local community. Alongside of that, we donate roughly 300 compliment tickets to local charities and events.

Frightworld 2013 opens Friday, September 13, 2013, in their new location at 2309 Eggert Rd, Tonawanda, NY.