Books, Witchcraft

The Black Toad: West Country Witchcraft and Magic

It’s been a bit since I’ve sat down to read an entire book from start to finish. To be honest, I just haven’t had the time or attention to spare. I do want to get back into providing reviews and recommendations for books, since I see so many posts on social media asking for resources.

This week, I’ll be looking at Gemma Gary’s The Black Toad. At only 133 pages (not counting the bibliography and index), it’s a slim volume. Though diminutive, it’s definitely not hurting for content!

I’ll be honest, a lot of modern books and websites about witchcraft kind of make my eyes glaze over. Now, in a time where everything just gets boiled down to vibrations, intention, and personal gnosis, all of the advice and explanations sound very samey after a while. (They’re also not terribly helpful, and then people wonder why their craft doesn’t work!)

I really enjoy books on witchcraft that have a more historic bent. When I write about herbs or minerals, I end up looking into folklore, not modern lists of associations or uses. It gets closer to the heart of the matter and keeps me from having to reinvent the wheel through personal gnosis, as it were.

All of this is to say that I really, really like The Black Toad. It covers protection, luck, plant charms, weather witchery, and cursing, broken up into the domains of Old Mother Red-Cap, Green-Cap, and Black-Cap. All of this is presented without apology — for the one with the power to heal and protect must necessarily also have the power to destroy.

A rowan branch laden with red berries.

The spells and charms aren’t written like lists of instructions. Instead, they’re detailed descriptions of historical ways that witches and wise people had for protecting themselves and their animals, improving their luck, healing, and handling their enemies. It’s more than possible to use it as a spell book, but it’s primary value, to me, is as a depiction and explanation of traditional practices.

The only downside is that scientific names aren’t (or possibly can’t be) provided for some of the plants mentioned. Take sage, for example. The mention of sage states that it was drunk for health and longevity. However, there’s a sage native to the area that isn’t a sage at all — wood sage (Teucrium scorodonia). The actual sages, the Salvia species, are native to the Mediterranean. So is this sage an imported garden sage, or native woodland germander? Unfortunately, historic resources often don’t leave us much to go on.

A stack of books, magical seals, and dried herbs. Smoke rises from a bowl of burning herbs.

Some other reviewers pointed to the use of Biblical passages in some of the formulas as a problem. However, this is ahistoric and there are plenty of traditional resources that use passages from the Bible. There’s no reason to believe that witches and wise people, historically, would have reason to look down on doing so. The attitudes of modern people toward organized religion have no bearing on what people were likely to use in the past.

I’d recommend The Black Toad to anyone with an interest in traditional western European witchcraft. It gives a useful picture of the role and domain of wise people, as well as several spells that are still useful today.

life, Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs

Increasing Landscape Resilience with Native-ish Plants

Hello! It’s April, it’s going to be almost 90ยฐ F this weekend, and winter skipped us.

Well, we had like one cold week, but that was it.

Honestly, it’s had me worried. A number of plant species that are native to this area require cold stratification — in other words, they need a period of cold and some pretty big temperature swings in order to trigger them to germinate at the correct time. This includes a tree that’s very important to me, the bald cypress. They’ve evolved to need cold stratification because without it, their seeds could germinate far too early and die off in the middle of winter.

I have packets of seeds that I want to plant, too, that need to be sown within a narrow window of time. I’m talking when temperatures are cool (but not too cool), usually right around the last frost date. The trouble is… like I said, it’s going to be in the high 80s this weekend. Our official last frost date was a few days ago.

Now that I’ve gotten my complaining out of the way, there’s an idea I’ve been exploring.

I first ran into it when I was researching native hydrangeas. I love hydrangeas in general (my grandfather had a big hydrangea next to the house I grew up in, alongside a strangely persistent and hardy opuntia cactus), but they’re not really known for their heat tolerance. They are, by far, not the only plants that are going to suffer as temperatures increase either.

A hand touches a cluster of purple Hydrangea macrophylla flowers.

Smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) is native to this area. They also prefer daytime temperatures in the 70s and require supplemental irrigation when it gets too hot and dry.

Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) are native to the Southeastern United States. In other words, they’re from the US, just a bit lower than where I live. Changes in average temperatures are expanding the range of some southern plants and animals, while driving others further north.

Unfortunately, there’s not much that a single person can do to keep their cool temperature-loving plants from suffering from this effect. It’s also debatable whether we should — landscapes are ever-changing and evolving, and state borders are artificial constructs that plants and animals don’t recognize. It may increase the resilience of the landscape to work with this shift, rather than against it.

For this reason, I’m experimenting with oakleaf and smooth hydrangeas. Experts point out that this area’s climate is slowly aligning with species that used to be relegated to more southern states. Blending some Southern species with Midatlantic species could help create a plant, animal, and fungal community that’s more resilient to climate change, and decrease the need for supplemental irrigation or treatment for diseases related to heat stress.

Saving seeds from the individual native plants that seem to struggle less with the heat can help their species adapt over time, which will feed and protect the native animal species that depend on them. Adding in native-ish species from a bit further south can help the land adapt. It also ensures sources of food and nesting sites for the animals that are also being driven north as temperatures rise.


Andara Crystals — What are they, and what’s their deal?

There are a number of stones in the gemstone trade that are referred to as crystals, when they really aren’t. Some, like art glass, don’t have a crystalline structure. Others might be mineraloids, which also lack a crystalline structure. All of this is to say that a fair amount of “crystals” aren’t really crystals at all.

With that out of the way, let’s look at Andara crystals. These are often brightly colored, very fancy-looking clear stones that are purported to have a ton of healing and metaphysical properties (and fetch correspondingly high prices). But what are they, and why are they controversial?

What are Andara crystals?

Andara crystals are said to be natural glass which comes from a handful of specific sites in northern California and Nevada, which are the foci of particularly high-energy vortices. These crystals come in every shade of the rainbow, and fans say that they can heal, balance the chakras, raise vibrations, and more. Some even claim that they’re the philosopher’s stone of legend, or an ancient healing tool used in Atlantis.

These stones are said to contain etherium, which is a blend of 70 different minerals. Some are listed as monatomic, which refers to substances made up of elements that naturally exist as a single atom.

A chunk of blue glass on a black background.

Okay, so why are they controversial?

Andara crystals are controversial for a few reasons. For one, they’re not crystals. They’re a type of glass.

For two, they’re not natural (as in, formed by nature). Andara crystal deposits correspond to land dumps of slag glass from manufacturing. They look like slag, and their chemical composition correlates to soda lime glass, of the type used to make bottles. It doesn’t resemble other forms of natural glass, like obsidian or moldavite. The chart in this post gives a pretty thorough breakdown.

The funny thing is that some sellers extol the virtues of Andara crystal and claim that part of its specialness lies in its dissimilarity to other natural glasses. Yes, of course it’s not similar to them — because it’s soda lime glass.

Selling Andara crystals as a natural product is a bit like selling beach glass and claiming it was formed by nature. It may have been shaped and influenced by it, but it’s a man-made material at its heart.

The controversy doesn’t like in Andara crystal’s man-made origins, however — it’s because it’s literally a manufacturing byproduct. Chunks of slag glass get dug up, cleaned off, labeled with a lot of healing and metaphysical properties, then sold for sometimes hundreds to thousands of dollars.

This has caused trouble with not only buyers, but also dealers. When you’re selling something indistinguishable from a chunk of broken bottle, it becomes a race against “counterfeiters.” (I use “counterfeiters” here because the counterfeits are, again, indistinguishable from the alleged genuine articles.) This has led to dealers claiming that their glass is the only true Andara crystal, and dealers selling specimens back and forth to each other — accompanied by certificates of authenticity.

The Emperor’s New Crystal

Is it bad to use a man-made material for metaphysical, spiritual, or even energetic healing purposes? Not necessarily. I honestly love the idea of using slag glass this way, because it removes manufacturing waste from the environment and gives it a second life.

(A crystal — any crystal — isn’t going to take the place of the services of a competent medical professional. If you need insulin or to have a tumor removed, there is no stone that will make that not be the case anymore. I’ve used crystals to get relief alongside conventional treatment and complementary therapies, but I’m not out here trying to cure pseudotumor cerebri by rubbing rocks on my head.)

But here’s where we get into what I think of as the Barmicide Feast of crystals — or, if you prefer, the Emperor’s New Crystal.

It’s true that developing your own personal associations is important for any magical or spiritual tool. I have stones I work with that I love, but other people don’t get anything from. Other people have crystals or herbs that they love, but I get nothing from. These relationships shift and evolve over time, and that’s good and fine.

Unfortunately, some proponents of Andara crystal have used this as a selling point in a way that’s, frankly, kind of gross. They attach long lists of metaphysical attributes to this glass, then claim that only the special and spiritually evolved can feel or access them. If you see the slag for what it is — slag — then you need to get on their level.
See? Nasty.

The biggest problem here is that they’re exploiting a grain of truth to build up the cachet of a manufacturing byproduct in order to charge exorbitant amounts of money for it. They’re not wrong when they say that not everyone can experience the energy of a stone — even glass. The shitty part comes from using this exclusionary tactic to get money from people who want to be part of the in-group. Vulnerable people who want to feel that special energy, to feel elevated and included, and are willing to pay for it.

The underlying message is that when you compliment the Emperor’s gorgeous robes and rave about Barmicide’s pistachio-fed lamb cutlets, you, too, can be spiritually evolved.

Again, the shady part isn’t using (or even selling) soda lime glass as a magical or spiritual tool. The shady part is overcharging for a common, inexpensive material.

If you have and use Andara glass, that’s wonderful. My only advice here is, if you feel drawn to it, use this as a starting point to unpack your relationship with crystals. What’s different about that soda glass versus other materials that are around you? If it’s its place of origin, consider visiting this energy vortex and experiencing it for yourself — you might find a piece of regular quartz or some other mineral that gives you just as much, but you won’t have to overpay for it. If it’s the metaphysical claims and the experience of buying the stone from a dealer, then that may be something worth exploring further.