March Totems: Birch

In our tradition we divide the year not only by eight solar and agricultural holidays, but also by the Kalends. We celebrate twelve months of the year by the common calendar, plus a special thirteenth month for Samhain.  These month cycles are associated with different totemic spirits. Each month is assigned an animal, a bird (or other flying creature), and a tree. March’s totems are Hare, Birch, and Goose.

The totemic associations are as follows:

Hare (Gearr) – lunar magic, fertility, sensitivity, swiftness, intuition
Birch (Beithe) – new beginnings, healing, cleansing
Goose (Geadh) – feminine power, springtime, questing, vigilance

Birch

The Birch Tree is the first tree of the New Year according to Robert Grave’s Celtic tree calendar. It has a straight white colored trunk and branches, and its leaves are bright green. Birch Trees represent the Otherworld. This tree is the first to bud and is considered a sign that spring is just around the corner. The Birch is considered a protective wood for women, as it is associated with safe childbirth and protection from the Underworld.

    The Birch is the symbol of new beginnings, the start of new plans and taking significant steps in a forward direction. It is the wood most commonly used to kindle the magical fire. The Maypole is frequently made of Birch, with pagans in Wales preferring to use living, standing Birch Trees for their Maypoles. Birch is the wood burned for the Beltaine fire. It is also the wood used for correction or punishment. Until recently, canes and rods made of Birch were the instrument of choice for schoolmasters and law enforcement officials in the British Isles.

    Birch indicates fortune, change and good luck. The element associated with the Birch is water. Its gender association is female.

March Totems: Goose

In our tradition we divide the year not only by eight solar and agricultural holidays, but also by the Kalends. We celebrate twelve months of the year by the common calendar, plus a special thirteenth month for Samhain.  These month cycles are associated with different totemic spirits. Each month is assigned an animal, a bird (or other flying creature), and a tree. March’s totems are Hare, Birch, and Goose.

The totemic associations are as follows:

Hare (Gearr) – lunar magic, fertility, sensitivity, swiftness, intuition
Birch (Beithe) – new beginnings, healing, cleansing
Goose (Geadh) – feminine power, springtime, questing, vigilance

Goose

Frau Holt by Nigel Jackson

The goose is the companion of that ancient and powerful goddess, Hulda, as Mother Goose. The goose is a fierce defender of its family and territory, and many ancient gates and warrior’s graves have been adorned with the motif of the goose. We often speak of “a wild goose chase” as geese are notoriously difficult to capture or kill.

Several goddesses and witches of folklore have been identified by their having a goose foot (La Reine Pedauque), and thus the goose is a symbol of defensive feminine power.

The call of the goose in flight is said to be the same as the baying of the Gabriel hounds of the Wild Hunt. Hulda, whose bed is made of goose feathers, is said to lead this ride.  When she shakes out her bed the snow falls from goose feathers.

The goose is a symbol of early springtime, as it denotes both snow and returning light.  The goose who lays the golden egg is laying the growing sun of spring.

Geese mate for life and are associated with marital fidelity. Geese are also known for their furious mating habits, and a “goose” is sometimes used as slang for a prostitute. Their feathers are often used in bedding to bestow blessings of fertility and fidelity on the couple who sleeps there.

Geese are the symbol of migration, and therefore represent both the changing of the seasons, and the call to quest.  It is unknown how geese navigate over long distances, returning year after year, but return they do. This is symbolic of the dedication of the initate to remain true to the path.

When flying geese travel in a V formation. This way of flying makes it easier to travel long distances without fatigue, as it puts the greatest strain on the leader who “cuts”  a path through the air for the followers to more easily travel behind. Thus, the goose can be a symbol of leadership.

April Totems: Ash

In our tradition we divide the year not only by eight solar and agricultural holidays, but also by the Kalends. We celebrate twelve months of the year by the common calendar, plus a special thirteenth month for Samhain.  These month cycles are associated with different totemic spirits. Each month is assigned an animal, a bird (or other flying creature), and a tree. April’s totems are Serpent, Ash, and Moth.

The totemic associations are as follows:

Serpent (Nathair) – resurrection, rebirth, initiation, wisdom, transformation
Ash (Nuin) – connections of past to present, spirit to earth, high and low
Moth (Lèomann) – transformation, seeking illumination, initiation

Ash

The Ash tree is the traditional Celtic and Norse World Tree. In Norse mythology, Odin hung from the great Ash tree Yggdrasil and endured an initiatory experience in which he discovered system of meaning in the roots of the great tree.  These were the Elder Futhark, or the runes. Ygddrasil’s branches were in the heavens, roots were in Hell, and Earth was around its center.

The Ash symbolizes connections – past & present, spiritual & earthly, lowest & highest, self & cosmos. It links you to all your pathways. It also represents divination, healing, inner conflicts, and general magic.

Ash wood is often used for healing and protection. Besom staffs, stang shafts and certain wands are examples of the protective qualities of the tree. In Greece, Nemesis, who represents the Fates, carried an Ash wand (a scourge) and dispensed justice with it when needed.

Ash’s roots, which are human in shape, are excellent for healing.

The Ash attracts lightning and brings balance. It also brings light into the hearth at the winter solstice when used as a Yule log. The wassailing bowl used to toast trees at Yule is also made of Ash.

This tree can help us to understand itself and the other tress. It also helps us assimilate the knowledge gained into the Grove back into practicality.

April Totems: Snake


In our tradition we divide the year not only by eight solar and agricultural holidays, but also by the Kalends. We celebrate twelve months of the year by the common calendar, plus a special thirteenth month for Samhain.  These month cycles are associated with different totemic spirits. Each month is assigned an animal, a bird (or other flying creature), and a tree. April’s totems are Serpent, Ash, and Moth.

The totemic associations are as follows:

Serpent (Nathair) – resurrection, rebirth, initiation, wisdom, transformation
Ash (Nuin) – connections of past to present, spirit to earth, high and low
Moth (Lèomann) – transformation, seeking illumination, initiation

Serpent

The Snake has a very paradoxical and mythical reputation. It is essentially associated with transformation, healing, and life energy.

Druids were sometimes called snakes or Adders. The story of St. Patrick ridding Ireland of snakes is viewed by most contemporary Pagans as a euphemism for killing the Druids. The serpent’s egg, or glain, was the most treasured possession of a Druid.

The Snake can glide through crevices into the Underworld. It represents our ability to die and be reborn, thereby symbolizing rebirth, resurrection, initiation and wisdom. The Snake can journey through life gracefully and magically, shedding old life easily when time comes. This shedding represents the higher wisdom that comes with the passing of time, symbolized by the ouroborus (a snake swallowing its own tail), which signifies eternity.

The snake is also associated with sexual energy, allowing us to be born. The image of the snake with egg in mouth – a Druidic symbol found on altars in Cumbria and Gloucestershire – is a symbol of the ovum and sperm united. There is an image of a snake with a double penis, which clearly represents fertility and is associated with Cernunnos. The Snake is not just seen as a depiction of male fertility, but of female fertility, too, as the mother snake gives birth to many young. In a magical sense, the Snake represents both physical and metaphysical procreation.

The Druids associated the Snake with Nwyvre , which is similar to the eastern concept of Kundalini. Kundalini, serpent fire, lies coiled at the base of the spine activating centers of awareness, health and creativity as we grow and develop. In this way, the Snake is responsible for the awakening of creative forces.

Since the Snake’s eyes cloud over before shedding, many have said that it has a trancelike appearance. This association with trance and hypnosis allow the Snake to move between the realms of living and dead. The eyes clear as skin sheds, which can be viewed as a symbol of seeing anew.

This totem is potentially poisonous , which renders it as a guardian of Mysteries. The Snake attacks quickly and is true to its mark. Along with its kin (dragons, wyrms, wyverns, etc.) the Snake is a guardian of treasures, springs of life, and sacred places.

Amber, Jet, and Bone

Black, White and Red are reoccurring themes throughout our Tradition.  They are reflected in the Gods, the cords, the knives, the Triple Soul, and our Witch regalia.  This regalia includes a traditional Amber and Jet necklace, with the addition of bone.

Amber, jet and ivory jewelry has been found in Beaker-people tombs in Spain, and amber and jet jewelry was a common feature in Scottish barrow mound tombs of the Neolithic period (approximately contemporary with the mastabas of the archaic period of Egypt, the brick temples of Sumeria, and the first cities of the Harappa culture in India).

Amber and Jet are traditional ornaments of rank in British Traditional Witchcraft. In Gardnerian Craft, the High Priestess is permitted to wear amber and jet jewels upon obtaining Third Degree.

Amber and Jet are unique to the world of gemstones in that they each are capable of holding a negative charge, allowing them to attract small particles of positively-charged objects.  This “inner electricity” has been valued by magical practitioners and shamans for countless ages.

Amber

Amber is fossilized tree resin (not sap), which has been appreciated for its color and natural beauty since Neolithic times.  Amber has been used since antiquity in the manufacture of jewelry and ornaments, and also in folk medicine. Amber also forms the flavoring for akvavit liquor. Amber has been used as an ingredient in perfumes.

Amber occurs in a range of different colors. As well as the usual yellow-orange-brown that is associated with the color “amber”, amber itself can range from a whitish color through a pale lemon yellow, to brown and almost black. Other uncommon colors include red amber (sometimes known as “cherry amber”), green amber, and even blue amber, which is rare and highly sought after.

The two main sources of amber on the market today are the Baltic states and the Dominican Republic. Amber from the Baltic states is older, and therefore preferred on the market, but amber from the Dominican Republic is more likely to have insect inclusions.

The modern name for amber is thought to come from the Arabic word, ambar, meaning ambergris. Ambergris is the waxy aromatic substance created in the intestines of sperm whales and was used in making perfumes both in ancient times as well as modern. The scent of amber was originally derived from emulating the scent of ambergris and/or labdanum but due to the endangered status of the sperm whale the scent of amber is now largely derived from labdanum.

The Greek name for amber was ἤλεκτρον (elektron), “formed by the sun”, and it was connected to the sun god Helios, one of whose titles was Elector or the Awakener. According to the myth, when Helios’ son Phaëton was killed, his mourning sisters became poplars, and their tears became the origin of elektron, amber.

The modern terms “electricity” and “electron” derive from the Greek word for amber, and come from William Gilbert’s research showing that amber could attract other substances.

Authenticating amber

Some very convincing artificial amber is currently on the market. Real amber releases a piney, resiny scent (rather than a chemical, burnt-plastic smell) when touched with a hot pin. Amber warms to slowly to the touch and is very lightweight.  Try to purchase your amber from a reputable source.

Magical Properties of Amber

Because amber, unlike other gemstones, is warm to the touch and often contains insect fragments, it was thought to possess life. It was once believed to contain the very essence of life itself – the animating principle.

Due to the fact that amber is a fossil, is has associations with time, cycles and longevity. As it once was a living substance, it is related to spirit.  All of these mysterious properties and associations make amber on of the most widely used and prized magical substances of all times and places on Earth.

Yellow/Gold/Orange amber is said to enhance the beauty of the wearer. It is used to tap into the power of the Sun, and is good for success, abundance, healing, vitality and joy. It brings the energies of patience, protection, psychic shielding, romantic love, sensuality, purification, balance, healing and calmness to those who wear or carry it. It is considered a good luck charm for marriage.

A powerful stone for manifestation, amber is also used for healing of the physical body as well. For over 7,000 years it has been used to stimulate the metabolism and treat skin ailments caused by a metabolic imbalance. Because of it’s warmth it is used also in the treatment of asthma and allergic respiratory problems. Generally wearing amber in a necklace is the most effective for this ailment.

Amber carries a negative electrical energy charge and therefore is good to draw power and energy into its bearer. Amber gives a soothing, light energy that is both calming and energizing at the same time. It can help manifest desires and heighten intellectual abilities, clarity of thought, and wisdom. It cleanses its environment by drawing out negativity, and relieves physical pain the same way.

Cleanse amber under lukewarm water, when you notice that it warms ever so slowly when you wear it or hold it. Negative energy can make amber cloudy. Never leave amber in the sun as it may become brittle.

Jet

Jet is a product of high pressure decomposition of wood from millions of years ago.  The oldest jet jewelery was found in Asturias, Spain, dating from 17,000 BC. Whitby jet was a favorite material in the Roman period. It was seen as a ‘magical’ material, frequently used in amulets and pendants because of its supposed protective qualities and ability to deflect the gaze of the evil eye.

Jet has also been known as black amber, as it may induce an electric charge like that of amber when rubbed.

Authenticating jet

Unlike black glass, which is cool to the touch, jet is not cool, due to its lesser thermal conductivity. When rubbed against unglazed porcelain, true jet will leave a chocolate brown streak.  Real jet, when rubbed against your front tooth, feels like it’s “writing,” and if you breathe on it, it shows the condensation from your breath longer than onyx or most plastics. The touch of a red-hot needle should cause jet to emit an odor similar to coal.

Magical Properties of Jet

Jet has historically been used as a protection stone and is said to have very powerful protection energies to ward off evil, negativity, as well as psychic attacks, it is considered one of the most powerful absorbers of “negative energy, i.e., depression. Because it absorbs so much negative energy, and therefore very beneficial if you are prone to depression or it’s ailments.

Jet helps the wearer to be alert to all things and quickly come up with constructive solutions to any problems. Jet is said to control all demons and thus prevent demonic possession. It draws out negative energy from the aura, and can initiate psychic experiences. It uncovers past negative energies a person still carried in their subconscious mind, and will help in understanding and working with life and cycles.

Mystically, jet is considered a stone of sympathy, as it will provide great support and help alleviate the pain and suffering associated by separation of the death of a loved one.

It also helps to ease headache pain directly behind the eyes.

Jet is said to absorb and neutralize negative energy. Jet is believed to protect against nightmares and astral entities. Jet is also attributed with the property of increasing psychic abilities. The black nature of jet also associates it with the Underworld, and with spirits & deities of a Chthonic nature.

Jet should be frequently cleansed of the acquired negative energy and recharged by placing it in sea salt one night and among rock crystals the next. Neither water nor sun should be used in it’s cleansing and charging.

Bone

Bones are symbolic of the Red Soul, or Bone Soul, which is the eternal “self” that lives from each life into the next, and carries the mark of the Witch.

We use snake vertebrae in our own witch necklaces. The serpent is the symbol of kundalini energy, which Robert Cochrane writes about in his letter to Joe Wilson.  The spine itself houses the kundalini energy serpent, and the energy is raised by witches through mill-treading, seething, visualization, and other means.

We also use bone as our coven rings.  Bone roses are secured on sterling silver wire to create a ring that honors the compass, the Goddesses, and the vows of working Sub Rosa.

* Note: This article was adapted from a piece written by Laurelei for the Blade & Broom blog.

May Totems: Hawthorn

In our tradition we divide the year not only by eight solar and agricultural holidays, but also by the Kalends. We celebrate twelve months of the year by the common calendar, plus a special thirteenth month for Samhain.  These month cycles are associated with different totemic spirits. Each month is assigned an animal, a bird (or other flying creature), and a tree. May’s totems are Cow, Hawthorn, and Bee.

The totemic associations are as follows:

Cow (Tarbh/Bò) – fertility, prosperity, protection, nourishment
Hawthorn (Huathe) – fertility, cleansing, protection, joy
Bee (Beach) – fertility, community, sweetness, celebration, organization

Hawthorn

Hawthorns are often used in hedges (some linguistic studies shows that its name may actually mean “hedge thorn”). It is ideal for such a use due to its twisted trunk and dense branches, which make it difficult to penetrate. It doesn’t generally grow very tall, and it is frequently a companion to blackthorn. When it is found naturally with Oak and Ash, fairies are likely to be nearby.

“Oh, do not tell the Priest of our Art,
Or he would call it sin;
But we shall be out in the woods all night,
A-conjuring summer in!
         
And we bring you news by word of mouth
For women, cattle and corn
Now is the sun come up from the South          
With Oak, and Ash and Thorn!”

-Rudyard Kipling’s “Puck of Pook’s Hill”

The Hawthorn has very sharp thorns that are sometimes used for ritual tattoos. Its white flowers are often woven into garlands for doors and Maypoles at Beltane. Indeed, long ago Beltane was reckoned by the first flowering of the Hawthorn tree. Its wood is the traditional material for the Maypole itself. The Hawthorn is so closely associated with Beltane that to gather its blossoming branches was said to be “going a-maying”, and the tree itself is sometimes called simply “The May”.  Due to these associations, Hawthorn has long been linked to weddings and fertility rites.

It is also associated with inward growth, cleansing and protection. It is said to be a “village tree” because it seems to prefer growing near people.

Fair Lady of the Bounds,
Raise high the Holy Hedge of Light
Bind fast the Dominion Within.
Pentanthus of the glory-hand,
Reach forth as a Guide amid thy branches,
Draw fast the bone-white thread
As a blessed Needle of Weaving.

~Viridarium Umbris: The Pleasure Garden of Shadow by Daniel A. Schulke

May Totems: Cattle

In our tradition we divide the year not only by eight solar and agricultural holidays, but also by the Kalends. We celebrate twelve months of the year by the common calendar, plus a special thirteenth month for Samhain.  These month cycles are associated with different totemic spirits. Each month is assigned an animal, a bird (or other flying creature), and a tree. May’s totems are Cow, Hawthorn, and Bee.

The totemic associations are as follows:

Cow (Tarbh/Bò) – fertility, prosperity, protection, nourishment
Hawthorn (Huathe) – fertility, cleansing, protection, joy
Bee (Beach) – fertility, community, sweetness, celebration, organization

Bull (Tarbh)

The bull is associated with health, potency, beneficence, fertility, abundance, prosperity,  and power. The number of cattle owned were an indicator of wealth, a fact that is carried over in the term “Bull market” = rising stock market. The bull also appeared frequently on Celtic coins. Oxen (castrated bulls) were early power supply.

 Bronze horns and bronze rattle (in the shape of bull’s testes) spoke to the sacredness of the bull. Its horns are used as ceremonial drinking cups even today. An early Irish ritual (“bull sleep”) told of the new king when the old one died. “Gateway ceremonies” involved ritual sacrifice of bulls.

Cow (Bò)

The cow represents nourishment, motherhood and the Goddess. Certain herbs are associated with cows, such as cranberry (cowberry), cowslip, and milk-wort.

In Celtic lands, cows have long been considered sacred. In Britain there were sacred herds of white cattle. Ireland was gifted with cattle when three cows emerged from the sea – one red, one white, and one black. Brighid was reared on the milk of an Otherworld cow and is considered the patroness of cattle. Three of the four sacred festivals were related to cows (Samhain, Beltaine and Imbolc) Many Eastern traditions also hold the cow as sacred.

The cow is also a source of nourishment on many levels – milk, leather, meat, horn. The fact that is contributes to much to daily life is part of what makes it so sacred and special.

In folklore, the Milky Way is also called the Cow Path, and there are Fairy Cows called the  “Crodh Shith.”  Many offerings are made of milk, and the breath and milk of the cow are considered healing.

May Totems: Bee

In our tradition we divide the year not only by eight solar and agricultural holidays, but also by the Kalends. We celebrate twelve months of the year by the common calendar, plus a special thirteenth month for Samhain.  These month cycles are associated with different totemic spirits. Each month is assigned an animal, a bird (or other flying creature), and a tree. May’s totems are Cow, Hawthorn, and Bee.

The totemic associations are as follows:

Cow (Tarbh/Bò) – fertility, prosperity, protection, nourishment
Hawthorn (Huathe) – fertility, cleansing, protection, joy
Bee (Beach) – fertility, community, sweetness, celebration, organization

Bee

No animal is a better example of the power of community than the bee. Each bee in a hive has a specific function which she will perform even if it means giving her life for the hive.  There are three types of bees: workers, drones, and queens.  The worker bees are the common bees we are most familiar with.  They secrete wax to form combs, and produce honey to feed the hive.

Bees pollinate all kinds of plants, and many of our food crops would be useless without them.  Because they are the element that carries the reproductive pollen from one plant to fertilize another, bees are strongly associated with fertility and abundance.

Honey was anciently the only source for a sweetener. Thus, the bee has come to symbolize the sweetness of life.

Bees communicate by dancing, and those who work with bees will find themselves drawn to dance and rhythm. The bee’s dance is indirect relation to the sun in the sky.  Bees are symbolic of solar celebration.

Honeybees will only sting if they feel that the hive is in danger.  A honeybee gives its life when it uses its stinger.

The queen of a hive is chosen from newly hatched bee larva when the hive requires a new queen.  In summer bees will swarm in search of a new hive.  The chosen queen will be fed royal jelly which will allow her to become the sole reproducer in the hive.  She will be attended by male drones who give their life for mate with her. 

When a new coven of witches is formed from members of an older group it is said that the new coven has “hived off”, just as swarming bees would gather under a new queen.

Druids thought that the bee came from the world of sun and spirit.  They drank mead, a drink made from fermented honey, to celebrate this connection.

Honey and propolis, a resin which bees smear on their hives, are both antiseptic and are wonderful would healers and preservatives.  Thus, bees have powerful healing magic.

All bees everywhere build the combs in their hives at specific intervals of measurement. This is known as “bee space”. If bees are prevalent in your life you may need to examine if you are claiming the right amount of personal space for yourself.

Finally, the bee’s droning buzzing can be compared to the sounds of otherworldly trance. Its hum is commemorated in many folk names for the creature, including drumbee, drummer, doombledore, hummabee, and humble-dad. In Welsh the word for harp, tellinn, is a truncated version of the word for bee, an-tseillean.

Bellarmine Jars

A Bellarmine jar is, by strictest definition, a brown ceramic bottle or jug with a face depicted on its side, used by Witches for housing spirits, hexing targets and removing curses or hexes. These jars were very durable, and they were very, very popular among the west county Witches of England because they would last, literally, for centuries — protecting both their contents and the magic contained therein.

They weren’t always known as Bellarmine jars, though. “Bellarmine” is a reference to an unpopular 16th Century Cardinal whose face appeared on the jars. Originally, though, these jars were manufactured in Frechen, near Cologne, in Germany. Here, they were called Bartmann jars — “bearded man” jars, in reference to the bearded face who always appeared on the side.

Today, they are commonly called Witch Bottles, and the availability of a variety of materials used for bottling, canning and preservation means that contemporary Witches needn’t use only brown crockery. Of course, the more durable and longer-lasting, the better. Glass might be the most popular of today’s choices, but standard glass may not be your sturdiest alternative.

When creating a Bellarmine jar as a spirit house, the old, customary face can be a useful depiction of the spirit to whom you’ve provided a vessel. You can find potters and artisans who make contemporary versions of the old jars, or you can paint/carve/engrave your own.

Common contents of Bellarmine jars, for both spirit houses and curse/protection bottles, are hair, nail clippings, and charms/figurines. A spirit jar might also contain a few drops of blood and offerings related to the spirit housed within. A jar with the aim of both cursing and protecting might contain pins, broken glass, and urine.  Sometimes the jar is buried in the yard with a warding chant such as follows:

Into the ground go without fear
To guard me now both far and near
Throw back all evil from whence it came
By the Witchfather’s holy name

Incense Crafting

Incense (from Latin incendere “to burn”) is composed of aromatic natural materials, which release fragrant smoke when burned.  Incense can generally be separated into two main types: “non-combustible incense” and “combustible incense”. Non-combustible incense is not capable of burning on its own, and requires a separate heat source, such as a charcoal. Combustible incense is lit directly by a flame and then fanned or blown out, leaving a glowing ember that smolders and releases fragrance. Direct-burning incense comes in several forms, including incense sticks (or “joss sticks”), cones, and pyramids.

Creating your own non-combustible incense

To create a long-burning complex incense which produces plenty of smoke and provides a good magical charge you will need to work from a formula of at least five different types of ingredients.  You may add as many of each of the five ingredients as you choose, but there should be a minimum of one of each type in each incense you blend.

The five types of ingredients are:

Herbs or Leaves (any dried fragrant botanical leaf or grass)
Resins
(such as frankincense, myrrh, dragonsblood, etc.)
Oils
(essential oils and high-quality fragrance oils are most desirable)
Wood or Roots
(such as sandalwood, cedar chips, angelica, etc.)
Blossoms or Berries
(these can be dried flowers, petals, or fruits)

In addition to the above list you may choose to add extra magical ingredients, such as ground gemstones, salt, nuts, honey, wine or juice, aromatic seeds, and magical powders or dirts.

You will want to consult a formulary or book of correspondences when you begin blending your own incenses for inspiration, magical associations, and health warnings.  There are some traditional incense recipes that are made with dangerous or poisonous ingredients.

Keep record of the incenses you make in a personal formulary, so that you will remember the proportions and ingredients for your favorite blends.  Store your incense in an airtight container and it will keep for at least a year.  Incenses usually improve upon some aging (about two weeks) so that the different scents blend together.  Burn your incense on a hot charcoal to release its fragrance and its magical properties.

NOTE – This article was originally published by Laurelei on the Blade and Broom blog.

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