La Befana: Ancient Goddess, Santa’s Precursor, or Christmas Witch?

I was hooked the first time I heard about her: La Befana, the “Christmas Witch.” The first figure I saw of her while traveling in Italy was an elderly “nonna” (grandmother) who was dressed in peasant clothing with a kerchief around her head. She was riding a broom and had a bag of goodies. What’s not to like about THAT? A friend of mine recently brought me one from Italy that looked like a leftover Halloween witch. She even wore an orange skirt and a pointy hat.

Needless to say, there are many layers of tradition and stories that go into the creation of La Befana. The earliest layer is that some believe she is descended from the Sabine/Roman Goddess Strenia (Strenua), the goddess of the new year year, purification and well-being. She name appears to be the origin of strenae, the gifts Romans exchanged at the beginning of the year as good omens for the coming year. These gifts often included figs, dates and honey. Not surprisingly, several sources say that La Befana brought these same gifts to Italian children in her earliest incarnation. Thus, the tie between the two is rather convincing.

The next layer of La Befana occurs around the 8th century when she began to appear in Italian folklore in connection with the celebration of Epiphany. In fact, her name, most likely comes from the Italian word for Epiphany, “epifania.” If you’ve read my blog you know that the goddess often got adapted and incorporated into Christian theology and practice. (Brigid is the best example.) So it’s not surprising that this most likely occurred here as well.

The story that is told about her is a really weird but delightful one. Here’s one version of the legend:

La Befana lived alone in a house in the hills of Italy. She spent her days cooking and cleaning like all good nonnas do! One night she noticed a bright light in the sky. After some thought, La Befana decided to ignore the light and go back to sleep.
A few days later, a caravan led by Three Wise Men stopped at La Befana’s house to ask for directions to Bethlehem. La Befana offered them hospitality. In return, the Wise Men invited her to come with them to visit Baby Jesus. She declined, saying she had too much work to do. But later she changed her mind.
She then packed a basket with baked goods and gifts for the newborn child. She grabbed her broom (because the new mother would certainly need help cleaning), and tried to catch up with the Wise Men.
After she had walked a long distance angels appeared to her and gave her the gift of flight. So she hopped on her broom and continued to search for the Christ Child. She is still searching to this very day, and every Epiphany, she visits homes throughout Italy, giving gifts to every child she finds along the way. Over time, she has come to realize that the Christ Child can be found in all children, so her search is not in vain.

Her final layer is the more modern folklore tradition that may be somewhat freed of its Christian adaptation. La Befana visits all the children of Italy on Epiphany Eve (January 5) by magically sliding down the chimney on her broom. She leaves candy, treats and presents if you’re good, and a lump of coal or black candy if you’re bad. Yeah, I know, that sounds a lot like Santa Claus so she may also be the precursor to the legends surrounding the jolly old man himself! Another tradition is that La Befana also sweeps the floor before she leaves since she is such a good housekeeper.

My “Befana” figure purchased in Italy

The final piece of the puzzle is her reputation as the Christmas “witch.” I see no evidence of her being a “Strega” (Italian witch) but am open to any information you have to share. It seems to me that since she rode a broom in early folkloric traditions and has the magical power to slide down a chimney, it’s not surprising that her kerchief became replaced with a pointy witches hat and her face grew more haggardly over time with a big pointy nose. It was born to happen, but I think this does her a great injustice. It may make sense for retailers to pawn off their Halloween witches as La Befana, but this cheapens her legend and legacy.

I still need to do more research on this topic but you must admit that La Befana is an intriguing woman whose legend is surround by magic and mystery. I don’t think she would have it any other way! Copyright ©2023 by David Taliesin,

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The Magi’s Blessing: Chalking the Door


I came across a wonderful tradition which I will have to research further to learn a little more about it’s origins. According to Pagan Christmas, “Even today, priests go from house to house in the Black Forest on January 6, smudging them for protection from evil influences. With chalk sanctified with blessed salt, they write the letters C, M, and B, plus the year, over house and stable doors.”

This ritual is called “chalking the door” and the markings for this year look like this:

20 + C + M + B + 23

The C, M and B are the initials for the traditional names of the Magi (Caspar, Melchior, ad Balthazar), but they are also an abbreviation for the Latin phrase Christus mansionem benedicat, which means “May Christ bless this house.” You can find various liturgies on line for this ritual.

On January 6th my plan is to go outside, read the story of the Magi from the gospel of Mathew, smudge the entrance to my house and mark the lintel with chalk. One article I read suggested that this ritual could be used any time during the Christmas and Epiphany season with other suggested uses such as blessing a room in a nursing home or hospital (get permission first!) or to set aside a Bible study meeting place, choir practice room, nursery, or youth area at church. This would be a fun activity that even the youngest members of your household could participate in and enjoy. Happy Epiphany!

Copyright ©2023 by David Taliesin,

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Empowerment Spell for the New Year

Altar from last Welcoming Circle at Asheville Raven & Crone

This is the ritual we did to close last week’s Welcoming Circle

PROTECTION OIL (David Taliesin)
7-9 drops of Hyssop Essential Oil
1/4 cup olive oi

As the days grow shorter, may the light within shine brighter and brighter.—David Taliesin


Guardians and Ancestors of the East, Elemental Powers of Air, of deep-hidden mysteries, intuition and spirituality, be with us in the circle tonight. We are honored by your presence. Hail and welcome!

Guardians and Ancestors of the South, Elemental Powers of Fire. of passion, decisive action and courage, be with us in the circle tonight. We are honored by your presence. Hail and welcome!

Guardians and Ancestors of the West, Elemental Powers of Water, of compassion, peace and love, be with us in the circle tonight. We are honored by your presence. Hail and welcome!

Guardians and Ancestors of the North, Elemental Powers of Earth, of hearth and home, prosperity and health, be with us in the circle tonight. We are honored by your presence. Hail and welcome!

Great Mystery, who is known to us by many names, who gives us life and breath, be with us in the circle tonight. We are honored by your presence. Hail and welcome!

Strips of paper, pen
Cauldron, red or white candle
Dragon’s Blood or Rue Oil

Light the candle and anoint it with the Dragon’s Blood or Rue Oil. Place it in the cauldron. Write on strips of paper the things you worry about the most this holiday season. Place a pinch of yarrow in the flame of the candle. Then, one by one, place each strip in the flame and let it burn as you verbally state the opposite of what’s on the paper., i.e. what you would like to see come into your life. Let it burn out in the cauldron. Ex. If you wrote “feeling overwhelmed” on the paper, state something like “I will be strong and peaceful.”


Guardians and Ancestors of the North, Elemental Powers of Earth, as the days grow shorter keep us grounded and surround us with people who make us feel nurtured and loved. Stay if you will, go if you must. We bid you farewell.

Guardians and Ancestors of the West, Elemental Powers of Water, as the days grow shorter keep us feeling positive and peaceful. Stay if you will, go if you must. We bid you farewell.

Guardians and Ancestors of the South, Elemental Powers of Fire, as the days grow shorter keep our minds focused on the sacred work you call us to do during this season. Stay if you will, go if you must. We bid you farewell.

Guardians and Ancestors of the East, Elemental Powers of Air, as the days grow shorter, clear all the clutter and distraction of this season so that we may focus on what’s necessary and important. Stay if you will, go if you must. We bid you farewell.

Great Spirit, who is known to us by many names, as the days grow shorter, help us to learn the benefits and blessings of the darkness. Use this time in our lives to make our world a better place. We bid you farewell.

Our Circle is now open but never unbroken
Because it is a circle woven in love.
Whatever energy is left in this space
We return to the earth with a spirit of gratitude.
Merry meet and merry part, and merry meet again.

Copyright ©2022 by David Taliesin,

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In Praise of the Invincible Light


“The light shines in the darkness,
And the darkness did not overcome it.”
(John 1:5, NRSV)

While writing a sermon on the first chapter of John, I came across this interesting observation from Karoline Lewis in her Fortress Preaching Commentary on John: “A quick review of the science of light in terms of our ability to see underscores the theological claim that is being made. It only takes the slightest bit of light for our optical system to adjust and see in the dark. When there is no light present at all, our eyes will never become accustomed to the darkness.”

In a season where every spiritual path celebrates some festival of light, I find Lewis’ observation tremendously encouraging. It’s easy for us to focus on the darkness that exists in our world, especially while we’re in a pandemic that has no end in sight. Facebook and the 24-hour news cycle do an excellent job of promoting every tragedy and sadness that is happening all around us. But if we’re paying attention, nature is telling us there is an alternative: we can shine whatever light we possess, armed with the hopeful knowledge that even the tiniest bit of light makes a huge difference to those we shine it on. It can go a long way in helping them navigate the darkness in their lives.

So, keep those Hanukkah lights burning. Rejoice in the return of the sun on the Winter Solstice. Sing Silent Night with candles blazing on Christmas Eve. Follow the seven luminous principles of Kwanzaa. Find some reason, any reason, to light a candle! May the candles we light remind us of our connectedness to each other, and our sacred duty to be light for one another. We spend far too much time talking about what makes us different. Maybe this December we can focus on what binds us together as one! Shine on, friends! Shine on!

Copyright ©2022 by  David Taliesin,

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Coping During the Holidays


“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”—Chinese Proverb

As we approach the Winter Solstice, the days continue to get darker and darker. Likewise, the world around us feels like a darker place as well. The headline news brings a fresh new horror every day: another Covid variant, mass shootings, global warming, political hubris and the like. I find that many people around me are anxious and afraid of what the future will bring. When we put the insanity that is the secular American Christmas on top of this, it makes many of us feel like hiding behind locked doors and not coming out until at least January 1st.

Since this is not an option for most of us, how do we cope? What tools do we need in our spiritual toolbox to navigate this dark season in all of its layers of meaning? Here’s my list of things we can do to light a candle in the midst of the darkness. No matter how bad things may seem, we all have the power to make a positive change in our lives and in our world. Feel free to add your own coping strategies in the comment section of this post:

Limit the time you spend on social media. Psychological studies suggest that social media sites don’t contribute to us feeling closer to others. In fact, they can make us feel isolated and depressed. Furthermore, inflammatory and reactionary posts and comments can make our blood boil. Don’t get sucked into the drama!

Take a walk out in nature. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a walk down a city street or a stroll through the countryside, turn off your computer and/or cell phone and connect with nature. Breathe deeply and look at the flora and fauna that are around you. It’s good for the soul (and also a great way to get away from that obnoxious relative who pushes all your emotional buttons)!

Avoid the 24-hour news cycle spin. Yes, bad things are happening in our world but you don’t have to wallow in them. Get the highlights, hold the situation in your thoughts and prayers, send healing energy if that’s a part of your spiritual path, and move on with your day!

Practice random acts of kindness. Do something loving for your spouse, your family, a neighbor, a coworker, or a total stranger. Volunteer for an organization that is making a difference in your community such as a food pantry, homeless shelter, abused women’s shelter and the like.

Breathe, breathe, breathe. Find a meditative practice that works for you. Channel your inner Elsa and learn to “let it go”! Let go of worry, obsessive thoughts, etc. I do this on a daily basis and it makes a big difference in my life. Click on the “meditation” link on my site for suggestions.

Lower your expectations for the season. It doesn’t matter whether you celebrate Solstice, Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza or Yule. We often have a mental “to-do” list running through our heads that is probably too ambitious. Yes, it’s great to create memorable moments for those we love, but they’ll enjoy them a lot more if we’re not cranky and stressed when they arrive.

Copyright ©2022 by David Taliesin

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Gratitude Ritual

Here is a simple ritual that can be used by a small group or solo practitioner for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Even in the midst of a pandemic, we all have things to be thankful for. Blessed be!


ANOINTING (David Taliesin)

Gratitude Oil
1/4 cup olive oil
3 drops frankincense essential oil
3 drops of lavender essential oil

May your heart overflow with gratitude
For every blessing you’ve received this autumn.


Guardians and Ancestors of the East, Powers of Air, we are grateful for the intuition and creativity you breathe into our weary souls, reviving us once again. We are honored by your presence. Hail and welcome!

Guardians and Ancestors of the South, Powers of Fire,
we are grateful for the passion and determination
you ignite in our minds,
setting us ablaze with decisive action.
We are honored by your presence. Hail and welcome!

Guardians and Ancestors of the West, Powers of Water,
we are grateful for the love and peace
that flows into our stressed out lives,
giving us a feeling of shalom and well-being.
We are honored by your presence. Hail and welcome!

Guardians and Ancestors of the North, Powers of Earth
we are grateful for the stability and security
you provide in our lives,
giving us a firm foundation to stand on.
We re honored by your presence. Hail and welcome!

Great Spirit, Nurturing Gaia,
who is known to us by many names,
we are grateful for the many blessings
you manifest in our lives.

We are not aware of all of them
but, tonight, help us to remember
and appreciate all that you do for us.
May we let go of negativity and embrace
a perspective of blessing and abundance.
We are honored by your presence. Hail and welcome!

Gratitude Ritual [Gratitude-Wheel, Gratitude Handout]

Light a green or gold candle before you begin this exercise. I used colored markers for bolder expression on the page.

Tonight, each of us is going to construct a gratitude wheel or mandala. In the center of the page are the words “I am grateful for…” What I would like you to do is creatively list whatever gives you joy and makes you feel empowered and blessed. The words you choose can radiate out form the center of the page like spokes on a wheel or whatever arrangement is pleasing to you. Don’t do this exercise quickly. Spend some times in silence and really think about it. We’ll have some open space for conversation for those who would like to share their experience of this activity. Blessed be!

CLOSING (David Taliesin)

Guardians and Ancestors of the North, Powers of Earth,
we thank you for your abundant and steadfast presence
in our circle and in our lives.
Stay if you will, go if you must. We bid you farewell!

Guardians and Ancestors of the West, Powers of Water,
we thank you for your peaceful and calming presence
in our circle and in our lives.
Stay if you will, go if you must. We bid you farewell!

Guardians and Ancestors of the South, Powers of Fire,
we thank you for your passionate and wise presence
in our circle and in our lives.
Stay if you will, go if you must. We bid you farewell!

Guardians and Ancestors of the East, Spirits of Air,
we thank you for your creative and intuitive presence
in our circle and in our lives.
Stay if you will, go if you must. We bid you farewell!

Great Spirit, Nurturing Gaia,
Who guides us on the journey of life
And bless us abundantly in ways seen and unseen,
We thank you for your presence
in our circle and in our lives.
Stay if you will. Go if you must, We bid you farewell!

And now the circle is open but never unbroken
Because it is a circle woven in love.
Whatever energy is left in this space
We return to the earth with a spirit of gratitude.
Merry meet and merry part, and merry meet again.

Written by David Taliesin, ©2022,

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A Witch By Any Other Name


Wiccan? Christian? Alchemist? Mystic? Druid? Spell Caster? Root Worker? Goddess Worshipper? Healer? Pagan? Energy Worker? Conjurer? Magician? Polytheist? Follower of Jesus? Eclectic? Witch? All of the Above? Some of the Above? None of the Above?

From time to time I come across someone in an internet discussion group who struggles with what to call themselves. The hope is if they can find the right label for themselves, everything else will fall into place. Yet if the basic philosophy of Wicca has taught me anything, it’s that there is no one right way to practice the Craft. We take what works for us and leave the rest behind. Therefore, nearly all of us are “spiritual mutts” who are a mix of many different traditions, practices and beliefs. Personally, I think this is wonderful because it makes for a more lively and interesting tribe to hang with! Our collective knowledge is broad and deep and we can benefit from each other’s experience and perspective.

It has also been my experience that labels tend to close doors rather than open them. I am careful not lay all my spiritual cards on the table because not everyone understands what I do regarding my practice of the Craft. If I am going to be of help to a variety of people I need to talk about myself with terminology they understand. So, to some, I am a healer who works closely with the energies of nature and the Divine to promote healing and wholeness in our world. To others, I am a Christian mystic with a deep meditation practice that enables me to help others who are in crisis. Some would call me a kitchen witch who likes to work with what’s around me instead of using fancy ingredients and formal spell casting. Others would call me a follower of Jesus who is also in tune with the Goddess.

Do you see what I mean? It can be downright exhausting! So to those of you who are struggling to find the right label for themselves, my advice is to simply be…you. You are a unique and magnificent being who is created in the Divine image. Let your light shine no matter what sort of light it may be. Don’t limit yourself to one particular spiritual category. Stay true to yourself, trust your instincts, and use what your learn along the way to make this world a better place. Blessed be!

Copyright ©2022 by David Taliesin,

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November Full Moon: Frost Moon and Full Lunar Eclipse

November’s full moon, which will occur early Tuesday morning, November 08, 6:02am, goes by several different names. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, it was called the Beaver Moon by the Algonquin tribes and colonial Americans. The reason for this is that hunters used to “set beaver traps before the swamps froze, to ensure a supply of warm winter furs.” Other Native American tribes called it the Full Frost Moon which appeals to me more on a spiritual level rather than celebrating the killing of beavers!

If we see the November full moon as the Frost Moon, it is calling us to gather what we need for the coming winter season, be it physically, emotionally or spiritually. Physically, all the energy we put into our yards and outdoor activities has either slowed dramatically or ceased altogether. The shortening of our days as we move toward the Winter Equinox forces us to spend more time indoors. Perhaps we can use the energy of this full moon to ponder the things we need to do to our living space in order to make it feel warm and nurturing. We’ve all spent A LOT of time in our homes since the beginning of this pandemic. I find that clean rooms, nicely decorated and free of clutter help to nurture my creative and magical spirit.

On an emotional and spiritual level, there are a number of us who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or a milder form of it known as the Winter Blues. Light is important to those of us who have a hard time adjusting to the increasing darkness. Lots of candles, warm scents, and fireplaces are welcome allies during the winter months. Perhaps this full moon is calling us to change our living space around a bit so that there is more natural light coming in our windows during the day and extra lights [be they strings of electric ones or natural sources] during the dark hours.

The final thing we need to consider this full moon is that the darkness serves a purpose both in nature and in our lives. We all need opportunities to rest, to relax, to recharge. Some of us do our own from of hibernation this time of year and that’s completely natural. The darkness also calls us to journey inward and work on whatever spiritual and emotional issues are important in our lives. We don’t have as many outside distractions so, it’s time to deal with us which is not always an easy thing to do!

The other amazing thing about this particular full moon is that this year it’s also a full lunar eclipse which is called a “Blood Moon” and will begin at 3:02 EST but reach it’s peak at 5:16am. There’s tons of info on the internet about this so look it up. I’m definitely going to set my alarm and go out and view what should be a gorgeous moon providing there is no cloud cover!

I wish you all a blessed holiday season, no matter what holidays you celebrate. May the power of the Full Frost Moon inspire you to tend to some of the things I’ve mentioned above. Blessed be!

Copyright ©2022 by David Taliesin

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Samhain/All Hallow’s Eve Soul Cakes


The Soul Cake is part of traditional Samhain/All Hallows Eve festivities in the British Isles. The cakes are flat and round, scented with saffron, mixed spices and currants.During the 19th and early 20th centuries children would go ‘souling’ on Samhain (All Hallow’s Eve), All Saints’ Day (Nov 1) and All Souls’ Day (Nov 2) where they would request alms or soul cakes with the following song:

“A soul, a soul, a soul cake.
Please god missus a soul cake.
An apple, a pear, a plum or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us merry.
Up with your kettles and down with your pans
Give us an answer and we’ll be gone
Little Jack, Jack sat on his gate
Crying for butter to butter his cake
One for St Peter, two for St Paul,
Three for the man who made us all.”

In earlier times the poor would go to prosperous houses, offering to say prayers for departed loved ones. In return, they were given these round cakes and sometimes food and money as well. Soul Cakes are a wonderful example of a Pagan tradition that made it’s way into Christianity virtually unscathed. If you’ve never made them before, they are absolutely delicious. Here is my favorite recipe for Soul Cakes. They freeze well so you can make them ahead!

Soul Cakes
For the dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, ground fresh if possible
1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground fresh if possible
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp of saffron (optional)
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup raisins (or currants if you are able to get them)

For the Glaze:
1 egg yolk, beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the flour, the nutmeg, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl. Mix well with a fork.

Crumble the saffron threads into a small saucepan and heat over low heat just until they become aromatic, taking care not to burn them. Add the milk and heat just until hot to the touch. The milk will have turned a bright yellow. Remove from heat.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a medium bowl with a wooden spoon (or use an electric mixer with the paddle attachment). Add the egg yolks and blend in thoroughly with the back of the spoon. Add the spiced flour and combine as thoroughly as possible; the mixture will be dry and crumbly.

One tablespoon at a time, begin adding in the warm saffron milk, blending vigorously with the spoon. When you have a soft dough, stop adding milk; you probably won’t need the entire half-cup.

Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead gently, with floured hands, until the dough is uniform. Roll out gently to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Using a floured 2-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out as many rounds as you can and set on an ungreased baking sheet. You can gather and re-roll the scraps, gently.

Brush the souls cakes liberally with the beaten egg yolk.  Add currants in the shape of a cross and press them firmly into the dough.  Bake for 15 minutes, until just golden and shiny.

Makes 12 to 15 cakes. Copyright ©2022 by David Taliesin,

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Pan de Muerto…YUM!


O.K. Let’s talk about one of my favorite things to eat this time of year….Pan de Muerto. It is always a part of my Dia de los Muertos celebration, both on my ancestor altar and in the stomachs of those who celebrate the holiday with me. There are a number of recipes for this sweet, fragrant bread but this is my version which turns out beautifully every time I make it. Some place dough “bones” on the top of this bread but I keep mine simple. You can make it ahead and freeze it but put the orange sugar glaze on it AFTER it thaws. It also makes mind-blowing French toast the next day! Enjoy!

Pan de Muerto, “Bread of the Dead”
From  Adapted by David Eck

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
5 1/2 cups flour
2 packages dry yeast
1 tsp. salt
1 T. whole anise seed
2 T grated orange zest
1/2 cup sugar
4 eggs

1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup orange juice

In a saucepan over medium flame, heat the butter, milk and water until very warm but not boiling.  [100-110 F degrees]

Meanwhile, measure out 1 1/2 cups flour and set the rest aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine the 1 1/2 cups of flour, yeast, salt, anise seed, orange zest and sugar. Beat the warm liquid until well combined. Add the eggs and beat in another 1 cup of flour. Continue adding more flour until dough is soft but not sticky. Knead on lightly floured board for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic.

Lightly grease a bowl and place dough in it, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours. Punch dough down and shape into 4 loaves resembling skulls, skeletons or round loaves with “bones” placed ornamentally around the top if desired. Let these loaves rise for 1 hour.

Bake in a preheated 350 F degree oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven, let cool and paint on glaze.

Bring to a boil for 2 minutes, then apply to bread with a pastry brush. If desired, sprinkle on colored or regular sugar while glaze is still damp.

You can buy anise seed in the spice section of Whole Foods. It’s very reasonably priced there. You can use rapid rise yeast in this recipe which may cut down on the rising time. Keep an eye on it. You can also make this recipe in a mixer with a dough hook.

Copyright ©2022 by David Taliesin,

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