life, Plants and Herbs

Pennyroyal Folklore and Magical Properties

There’s been a lot of buzz about pennyroyal on the interbutts. Even if you don’t fall in the demographic of people likely to ever have to worry about pregnancy, you might know what large doses of pennyroyal can do just through cultural osmosis.

Photo from Gardenology.com.

Unfortunately, this lovely herb’s use is controversial for good reason.

Pennyroyal Magical Uses and Folklore

Pennyroyal is either feminine and ruled by the planet Venus, or else it’s masculine and ruled by Mars. While this is confusing, I feel like it illustrates the dualistic nature of this herb very well — it’s an objectively beautiful plant, with its lush, creeping growth and clusters of purple flowers invariably covered in bees and butterflies, but it’s also a deadly poison.

As an herb for travelers, a few leaves placed in each shoe was believed to offer protection and guard against tired feet.

Because of the herb’s use as an emmenagogue, it’s sometimes used as an ingredient in sachets and jars for blood magic and protection (especially for sex workers).

Interestingly, this herb is also used for peace. When carried or hung in a space, it helps keep tempers from flaring. (Be very cautious to avoid hanging it where pets or children might ingest it!) This might be an extension of its use as protection against the evil eye. If you think about it, it makes sense — it’s a soft, fuzzy, flowery herb with an unassuming appearance, but it hides a potent poison. Pennyroyal is pretty much the embodiment of an iron fist in a velvet glove.

Pennyroyal is also used to break hexes and curses.

The botanical name, Mentha pulegium, stems from its ability to repel fleas. This might also be the source of its protective powers — it chases fleas and negative or malevolent energies away.

Image by Alex Lockton, used under CC BY-SA 4.0.

In ancient Greece and Rome, wearing a crown of pennyroyal was believed to relieve headaches. The herb was also used to flavor savory foods.

Pennyroyal is still used in North African cuisine to this day. The US Food and Drug administration allows naturally-derived pulegone, a compound found in pennyroyal, as a flavoring agent.

Pennyroyal as Medicine

Pennyroyal is a mint. Members of the mint family contain a naturally-occurring compound called pulegone, which appears to be the primary source of this herb’s toxicity. Even when it isn’t acutely toxic, pulegone has been found to cause pre-cancerous changes in the organs of rodents. The thing is, while herbs like catnip and peppermint have much less pulegone, pennyroyal has a lot.

With that in mind, let’s talk about something called the “therapeutic window.” Put briefly, this is the range where you get the benefits of a medicine, without significant adverse effects. Some medications have a pretty broad therapeutic window. Some do not. Some therapeutic windows are so narrow, they’re not worth considering as treatment.

Pennyroyal falls squarely into that last category.

The thing is, pennyroyal does have some medicinal benefits. Traditionally, it was used as an ingredient in teas. It’s said to be good for flatulence and stomach cramps, like many other members of the mint family.

This is all in very low doses, however, and the beneficial effects of pennyroyal can be found in other, much safer herbs. Flatulence? Try a carminative like caraway seed. Indigestion? Regular peppermint will probably do you just fine.

Pennyroyal also has a reputation as an abortifacient and emmenagogue, meaning that it can trigger an abortion or bring on a period that’s been delayed. The dosage required to do this is pretty much at the far end of the therapeutic window, and the variability in strength of herbal medicine makes it impossible to figure out the difference between “safe and effective” and “deadly.”

Think of it this way — plants aren’t inert. They respond to their environment. If there’s heat stress and a lot of pests, they produce more of the volatile compounds that help them survive. If they’re in a relatively low-stress area, or pampered in a greenhouse, they’ll likely be less intense. This means that, if you’re trying to figure out your own dosage of pennyroyal, you’re pretty much flying blind. You have no way of knowing how much pulegone a given dosage of pennyroyal might contain.

That means that not only might you not actually trigger an abortion, you could end up destroying your liver, kidneys, and lungs instead. Worst case scenario, you will die and it will hurt the entire time. Just like everything else, there are much safer herbs that can help bring about a late period.

I have only one piece of advice when it comes to using pennyroyal medicinally: Don’t, unless you’re doing so under the guidance of a doctor. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have an antidote for pennyroyal poisoning.

Using Pennyroyal

While it’s still used in dishes like batata bel fliou, if you don’t have experience cooking with pennyroyal, it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid putting it in brews, potions, or foods.

Oil of pennyroyal is the most toxic form of the plant, so you may wish to find an oil with comparable magical uses instead — especially for anointing.

Other than that, pennyroyal is fine to use in jars, sachets, and spells that don’t involve taking the herb internally. Since it’s been shown that it can cause pre-cancerous changes in the lung cells of rats, I’d probably avoid putting it in incense. (Members of the mint family tend to smell awful when burned, anyhow.)

If you’re a sex worker (or just someone who enjoys sex and wants to protect themselves), you might want to include it in a jar for attraction and sensuality as a sex-specific protection herb. Combine it with ingredients like rose petals, jasmine, and sugar, seal with the wax of a red candle, and keep it under your bed.

For protection, fill a jar with pennyroyal, cactus spines, garlic, and hawthorn. Keep it under your porch, or bury it near/under your front steps.

For peace, mix pennyroyal with lavender and thyme and put it in a jar. Seal it with the wax of a white candle, and keep it in a safe place near the heart of your home.

Pennyroyal isn’t immediately and intensely poisonous like some herbs can be, but the people most likely to look for it for medicinal purposes are at the most risk. If you’re experiencing menstrual irregularities or a late period, there are other treatments out there that are much safer for you.

life, Neodruidry

Could 15th century poetry have an antidote for toxic positivity?

So, toxic positivity. If you haven’t personally encountered it, you might be thinking, “J, you absolute drill bit, how could positivity be toxic?” Just roll with me on this.

What’s toxic positivity?

Eat a healthful diet and exercise regularly, and that’s healthy. Obsessively count calories and jog for hours to burn off every meal, and that’s an eating disorder. Play video games to relax, and that’s good and fun. Play video games for hours on end, to the point where you’re eating at your desk and your room looks like a Superfund site, and that’s unhealthy escapism. Looking on the bright side of things is healthy. Police your thoughts to avoid having an iota of negativity sneak in, and that’s toxic positivity.

Toxic positivity shows up in a wide variety of ways. In this context, I want to talk about the stay-positive-at-all-times-to-attract-a-better-life-for-yourself that still seems to pervade the internet and new age thought in general.

In some sects of fundamentalist Christianity, women are told to “keep sweet.” Despite what they may feel, they must be “joyfully available” to their husbands. No matter what, that positive facade must be upheld.

This happens in new age circles, too. Concepts like the Law of Attraction tell people that negativity begets negativity. That means that you should fill your life and thoughts with positivity, so your life gets better. If things are bad, you’ve clearly brought it on yourself by being negative.

Positivity becomes toxic when it’s rigidly enforced in the face of all sense and reason. When you’re told that your negative thoughts and feelings attract bad things to you, thereby holding you responsible for all of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, that’s not healthy. It’s natural to feel bad — and even act on that feeling — when bad things happen. People who are born into poverty, become disabled or very ill, or experience other misfortunes don’t manifest these things for themselves.

Toxic positivity happens in a climate that enforces a status quo. When you’re made to feel responsible for misfortune in your life, and, above all, not to ever let on that you’re unhappy, you’re less likely to agitate for necessary changes in your life and the world around you.

It wasn’t always like this.

It’s also not uncommon to see new age gurus misappropriating very spiritual concepts in order to push this modified version of the prosperity gospel. You can see this in the idea that ever having or expressing a “negative” emotion could block one’s chakras, disrupting one’s internal energy flow (at least, until you pay a guru for a class, video, tool, or treatment to fix it).

The thing is, while this idea isn’t exactly new, it’s relatively recent. It’s also something that crops up as a means of control — tell people that their negative emotions will harm them, and it saves you from the inconvenient work of having to care about other people. Get enough people to believe that their misery is their own fault, and the rich and powerful get to stay rich, powerful, and beyond criticism.

The Three Cauldrons as a Remedy for Toxic Positivity

Amergin was a Druid and bard in the Irish mythological cycle. The idea of the Three Cauldrons is attributed to him, taken from a collection of poetry and prose that dates back to the fifteenth century CE. While these writings come from that period, the ideas within them may hearken back as far as the eighth century.

In these writings, humans are regarded as having three cauldrons within them: Coire Goiriath, the Cauldron of Warmth; Coire Ernmae, the Cauldron of Motion (or Vocation); and Coire Sois, the Cauldron of Wisdom. These should not be conflated with the energy centers found in other spiritual writings and systems — the Three Cauldrons aren’t simply a European equivalent to chakras. The writings don’t actually specify where, exactly, the cauldrons are. Are they in the body, the soul, both, or neither? Despite this, it’s generally accepted that Coire Goiriath resides in the lower belly, Coire Ermae in the chest, and Coire Sois in the head.

With this in mind, people are generally considered to be born with their Cauldron of Warmth upright, filled with vitality and the capacity for physical growth. Their Cauldron of Motion/Vocation is on its side, and turns upright only after growing, learning, and experiencing things. The Cauldron of Wisdom is upside-down. It should be noted that not everyone’s cauldrons are oriented the same way — some people have differing talents, levels of physical vitality, and so forth. There is no ideal way for your cauldrons to be, they simply are. It’s your job to do the work to maximize the potential of what you’ve been given.

My own existence springs forth from the Cauldron of Poesy,
Which was created by the gods from the dúile;
Enlightened is each inspiration
That streams forth in my speech and from my center of being.
I am Amergin White Knee,
Ancient in years and gray of hair.
My inspirations are found within
The many forms of poetry
That are born within my Cauldron of Warming.
The Gods do not orient each person’s Cauldrons equally
Or fill them with the same talents and abilities:
Some are formed upside down, some tilted or upright.
Some are empty, while others are half full,
Some are filled with knowledge like Eber and Donn,
Capable of creating chants of life and death,
Through a skillful combination of words
In the power of three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter,
And possessing the strength of three measures: double letters,
Long vowels and short vowels.
My Cauldron of Vocation is trained
Through a study of the arts of poetry
And sustains me through proper composition.
I sing also of the Cauldron of Knowledge
That allocates the gifts of wisdom
According to the laws of each art
And the work of each artist in general.

Amergin, The Cauldron of Poesy

The Cauldron of Motion

While people can be born with their cauldrons oriented in different ways, they don’t need to stay like that. For people who wear blinders throughout their lives, their Cauldron of Motion may be upside down. Those who practice the arts may have their cauldron on its side. Those who go through the depths of sorrow and heights of ecstasy may turn their cauldron upright.

I want to highlight that last part: the depths of sorrow and heights of ecstasy. Eighth century poetry acknowledged that, in order to write, sing, and create art, you needed to experience things. Not just one kind of thing. Sorrow is as integral to the process as joy is.

The writings get more specific here, too. Longing, grief, envy, and the search for the divine are all acknowledged forms of sorrow. Good health, marriage, and accomplishment are some of the acknowledged forms of joy. The concept of balance — not just between joy and sorrow — is further emphasized:

The Cauldron of Vocation
Fills and is filled,
Grants gifts and is enriched,
Nourishes and is enlivened,
Sings praises and is praised,
Chants invocations and is enchanted,
Creates harmonies and is harmoniously created,
Defends and is strongly defended,
Orients and is aligned,
Upholds and is upheld.

Good is the wellspring of measured speech.
Good is the home of the well of speech.
Good is the joining of their powers:
Strength is made durable.

It endures longer than any fortress.
It is better than any tradition.
It is our guide to wisdom,
As we free ourselves from ignorance.

Amergin, excerpt from The Cauldron of Vocation

This power comes not from upholding positivity in the hopes of attracting a better life. It comes from the work of experiencing both joy and sorrow, devoting yourself to a greater pursuit, and acting and speaking with honesty and integrity. This is the origin of strength, endurance, and freedom. This is what lets us change things not only for ourselves, but for the world.

life

I will become… Five Punch Man.

Studying Neodruidry has given me a lot of exercise for mental discipline, but didn’t really come with a physical side. Plogging is something that follows that mindset, but is also something I’ve been doing for ages and don’t really consider an additional physical activity. I wanted another way to make myself stronger, enforce physical discipline, and burn off some of the extra ADHD energy.

Even if you aren’t a degenerate weeb (just kidding — ily degenerate weebs) you’ve probably seen/read/heard of One Punch Man. Even if you haven’t done any of that, you’ve probably seen a meme or two based on it.

Anyway, at one point, someone asks Saitama how he became One Punch Man. His answer?

100 Push-ups, 100 sit-ups, 100 squats, and 10km running EVERY SINGLE DAY!!!

It’s not bullshit, either. There are tons of breakdowns of (and testimonials about) the One Punch Man Workout all over the internet at this point.

My only problem is that, while I covet the muscular limbs of a Percheron, my own are noodly and disappointing. Shovelglove has absolutely helped my upper body and my endurance, but I need something for my most-of-me.

So, for now, I’m adding in what I call the Five Punch Man workout. It is basically the same as Saitama’s, just… one fifth of it for now. Twenty push-ups, twenty sit-ups, twenty squats, and about a mile and a half’s worth. I’ll work my way up to a hundred, assuming my knees don’t come apart in the process.

Wish me luck!

art, life

I’m in a show!

I have spent my entire artistic career making things for private collections and not entering shows. Part of this is due to anxiety, but most of it has to do with my very strange relationship with attention.

Anyway, I decided it was time to suck it up and apply to one. I did, I got in, and now you can see some of my work at The Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, VA. This particular show is running until June 5th.

Honestly, I feel good. Validated. Like I accomplished something. It was easier than I expected, too.

Hooray!

life

Good music transcends time and language.

I’ll let one of the The Hu’s frontmen say it.

Music transcends any language. Even when we were growing up and listening to Western rock bands, to this day I still don’t understand some of my favorite songs. But [through] the music, the rhythm and the tune and the way it’s delivered… It’s something special. You’re able to ‘understand’ everything because you feel it. 

Gala (Galbadrakh Tsendbaatar), in an interview with Louder

I don’t remember how I first learned about The Hu. When I write or paint, I often end up putting a song on, then letting whatever algorithm is currently spying on me keep recommending things. I remember being captivated by Wolf Totem, and put their songs on heavy rotation afterward.

This past Monday, my partner and I finally got to see them in concert. It was at Warren Theater, which isn’t quite what you’d picture when you think of a metal show (think lots of seats, chandeliers, ceiling medallions, you get the picture). I thought the seats might get in the way of moving around. I did not allow them to.

The band was fantastic. The energy was contagious. The crowd was enthusiastic and friendly. (The guy sitting behind us photobombed us in a hilarious way, and I almost regret laughing so hard because the shot ended up blurry.) And the music. It’s hard to describe the fusion of traditional Mongolian instruments and throat singing with metal in a way that does it justice. I could write about it for what feels like forever, but, as the old quote goes, “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”

This is what modern bardic tradition should feel like. It feels like the kind of power old stories talk about when they speak of bards that could strike a person down with a verse.

I barely know a few words in Mongolian. If a song interests me, I need to look up a translation, and a romanization so I can at least try to approximate the pronunciation. It doesn’t matter, I still try. My lack of linguistic skills meant that I couldn’t know any of Jaya’s between-song banter. It didn’t matter, I cheered with my fists in the air anyway.

This was easily one of the most fun shows I’ve been to in ages. If you have the opportunity to see The Hu, take it.

life

Warren and his Harding.

After years of listening and watching live streams, my partner and I finally got the chance to see one of The Dollop‘s live shows. (If you’re not familiar, The Dollop is an American history podcast by Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds.) Not only does it go into all of the stuff history class just kind of ignores or glosses over, it’s funny as hell.

“But,” you might be asking, “What does this have to do with witchcraft or Druidry?” Historically, Druids were top-level advisors, doctors, and military strategists to leaders, and most leaders are, as it turns out, so staggeringly, bafflingly weird and incompetent that the fact that they manage to leave the house each day without accidentally choking on their own pants beggars belief. It also helps to see the origins of the absolutely bonkers way that the US deals with minorities, religion, minority religions, human rights, and conservation.

Last Saturday, we got to learn some… things about former President Warren G. Harding.
Especially about his best friend, “Jerry.”

His dick.
Harding named his dick.
He named it Jerry.
I’m not even going to get into who/what “Mrs. Pouterson” was.

Apparently, Wa-wa-warren Harding, Ohio’s Greatest Fuck Machine, wasn’t just a sex addict. He was also addicted to writing letters about sex. Often on official letterheads. Prolifically.
It should be unsurprising how many scandals this nearly led to. Harding ended up having to pay secret child support not only to a woman less than half his age (who he started grooming when she was a teenager), but also hush money to the friend of his wife (and wife of his friend) who threatened to expose all of the James Joyce-level pervert letters Harding had sent her over the years. All 1,000 pages of them.

By the way, Harding was married the whole time. His wife, Florence, suffered greatly from kidney trouble, has historically been described as “severe” and “dour” (read: firm and competent), and was arguably the only influence in Harding’s life that let him be a halfway functioning human being.

She also regularly found out about her husband’s indiscretions. Like when he was getting his bone on in an anteroom/cloakroom of the oval office, and had a member of the secret service stand at one entrance. This was so he could knock if Harding’s wife showed up. Harding could then tuck Jerry away in his pants and dash out of the other door, and pretend he’d actually been Presidenting the whole time. No word on what Harding’s sex partner was supposed to do, other than hide among the coats.

I could go on, but I honestly would like to stop thinking about Warren Harding’s junk and never have to remember it again. You should probably just listen to The Dollop. It’s educational, it’s funny, and it shows that even if history doesn’t always repeat itself, it absolutely rhymes.

Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Fennel Folklore and Magical Properties

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a Mediterranean herb related to carrots. The type you see in supermarkets is bred for its large bulb, which is eaten as a vegetable. You can also find the dried leaves in teas and herb blends. It has a flavor very reminiscent of anise or licorice that becomes mild and sweet during cooking. It’s also related to silphium, a plant that was both considered a delicacy and included in formulas to cause miscarriage.

Flowering fennel tops.

One of the most interesting things about fennel is its action on the endocrine and reproductive systems. While it isn’t true that the ancient Romans harvested a relative of fennel to extinction for to use for herbal abortions, alcohol extracts of a relative of giant fennel (the source of the spice asafoetida) have been found to prevent egg fertilization and induce miscarriages in rats.

Fennel Magical Uses and Folklore

While fennel isn’t exactly the same plant as asafoetida, fennel seeds do act as a uterine stimulant. Part of this is due to an estrogenic effect, possibly courtesy of the compounds anethole, dianethole and photoanethole. Fennel also contains an enzyme that effects the body’s ability to process certain drugs. In the 3rd century, a doctor named Metrodora included a species of fennel in a compound of herbs to cause miscarriage.

Fennel is one of the plants in the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm. To wit:

[C]hervil and fennel

very mighty these two plants created the wise leader holy in heaven

when he hung set and sent into the 7 worlds

for wretched and rich all to remedy

stands she against pain

stands she against poison.

Who is mighty against 3 and against 30

against fiends hand

against spells

against enchantment by wicked wights.

An excerpt from the Nine Herbs Charm, from the Lacnunga

Interestingly, Pliny the Elder claimed that silphium (the much-desired fennel of ancient Greece and Rome) had a powerful purgative effect when initially consumed. It was said that the plant purged the body of undesirable “humors,” effectively causing a kind of physical purification. However, Pliny also thought that snakes ate fennel to improve their eyesight, so maybe don’t take everything he says at face value.

A trio of fennel bulbs.

When planted around the home, fennel acts as a magical ward. This may be based in part on its use as an insect repellant — the idea being that it repels evil just as well as it does bugs. As an extension of this idea, medieval households would hang fennel above the door and fill their locks with fennel seeds to keep wandering, unsettled ghosts away.

Fennel seeds are burned to purify spaces. You can also dress a candle with fennel seeds to break streaks of bad luck and crossed conditions in your life.

Fennel’s estrogenic effects were sometimes relied on to improve libido. By extension, the flowers and seeds are often used in sachets and charms to enhance one’s love life.

Planting fennel and dill together can result in hybrid plants that look like a cross between the two and taste like neither.

Followers of Dionysus carried wands made of fennel stalks.

Fennel is used for courage. Chew the seeds or drink fennel tea before you have to do something scary or difficult.

Using Fennel

Consume the seeds or drink the tea to help trigger a late menstrual period. The maximum dosage of fennel seeds for an adult human is about 6 grams. More than that may cause unwanted effects.

You can use pretty much any part of the fennel plant — chew the seeds, put them in tea, eat the bulb and stalk as a vegetable, you name it. This means that you’re pretty much free to choose whichever part of the plant resonates best with you, and use it however it suits your purposes. If you plan to consume it, be sure to do your research to make sure it won’t interact with any other herbs or medications you’re currently using. It’s generally safe in food amounts, but the risk of adverse side effects increases with the dose.

Fennel seeds are great additions to sachets, powders, and potions.

Growing fennel is fairly easy. It can grow in zones 5-10, and is a perennial in zones 6 and up. Nonetheless, it’s usually treated as an annual — it self-sows prolifically, and you’re likely to harvest and use the whole plant once its mature anyhow.

Sow fennel in early spring, about 16-18″ apart in an area that receives full sun and has enough headroom for the plant to reach its full 5′ adult height. (It’s best to direct sow, because fennel isn’t very receptive to transplanting.) Avoid planting it near other plants, since it secretes a compound that prevents competition. Coupled with its sun-blocking height, and you may find that its neighbors really struggle. Fennel also hybridizes readily with some other plants, so you may find that the seeds you get from it aren’t true to the parent plant at all.

A swallowtail caterpillar crawling on a fennel flower.

Water fennel regularly until its well established. The plant generally doesn’t experience many problems, though you might find swallowtail butterfly caterpillars chewing on the leaves!

Harvest fennel after about two months, once its mature. Cut off the flowers as they appear, unless you want to gather the seeds (or would like the plant to self-sow).

Burn the seeds or stalks for purification or protection. Blend with rose petals, cinnamon, and other love and lust herbs for use in aphrodisiac formulas.