life, Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Wood Sorrel Folklore and Magical Properties

Take a look at your lawn. Unless you maintain it to putting-green smoothness, you’re likely to see some yellow flowers.

Not the dandelions — look closer.

You might mistake them for buttercups at first, but they’re really quite different. These little yellow five-petaled flowers are yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta). They’re a native wildflower where I live, and vastly superior to the grass that still attempts to poke its way up through their heart-shaped leaves and small yellow flowers.

A plant with heart shaped leaflets and five-petaled yellow flowers.
A tuft of yellow wood sorrel.

As a native herb here, it doesn’t have a long history of use in old European grimoires. There are, however, many other varieties of wood sorrel — some native, some not, and some of questionable origins.

I’m a big proponent of using native alternatives to exotic herbs whenever possible, so I figured I’d give some background on wood sorrel and a few ways to use its magical (and delicious) American cousins.

Wood Sorrel Folklore

The species name Oxalis comes from the Greek word oxus, meaning “acidic” or “sharp.” The leaves of wood sorrel have a very tart flavor which makes them a tasty addition to salads. When dried, wood sorrel can be used to curdle milk for cheesemaking.

These plants are connected to fairies and woodland spirits. In Wales, wood sorrel is called fairy-bells.

A European wood sorrel plant (Oxalis acetosella), with heart-shaped leaflets and white, bell-shaped flowers.
The white flowers of Oxalis acetosella show why this plant’s sometimes known as “fairy bells.”

In herbal medicine, a decoction of the leaves was used for thirst and fever. Applied externally, the crushed leaves have an astringent effect which helps with abscesses, boils, and wounds.

Dried leaves are said to attract luck and, due to the doctrine of signatures, be healing and protective to the heart.

It’s also said that the dried leaf will allow the user to see fairies.

There’s some debate about shamrocks (an Anglicization of the Gaelic seamróg, meaning “little or young clover”). Shamrocks are associated with Saint Patrick, who used a three-leafed plant to explain the idea of the Christian Holy Trinity. Most depictions of the shamrock show it with three heart-shaped leaves. Since clovers have rounded leaves, this indicates that the shamrock may actually be a species of Oxalis and not a clover at all.

The ancient Druids were said to have regarded the shamrock as a sacred plant with the power to drive off evil spirits.

In the Victorian language of flowers, wood sorrel represented joy and motherly affection.

Wood Sorrel Magical Uses

Magically, wood sorrel is used in spells for luck, healing, protection from evil and misfortune, and love.

These plants can also be useful for working with three-part deities, like the Triple Goddess or Brighid. They make good offerings, or even natural representations of the deities themselves in a pinch.

Using Wood Sorrel

Wood sorrel isn’t a substitute for a visit to a doctor, but it can be a helpful herb for minor problems. Be sure you can reliably identify sorrel before attempting to consume it or use it topically.

If you live where wood sorrel naturally grows, you may want to cultivate a native species in your yard or garden space. This is especially true if you have an altar or dedicated space for nature spirits — wood sorrel is strongly connected to these entities. I’m planning to put an offering bowl and some large bull quartz crystals on the edge of the patch of yellow wood sorrel here, for example.

Using wood sorrel as a protective plant is an interesting idea. This protection may stem from the plant’s three-leaved appearance, which is reminiscent of various triple deities. The number three is also regarded as sacred in itself, since it reflects the past, present, and future; youth, adulthood, and old age; birth, life, and death; and the upper, middle, and lower worlds. Wood sorrel may also be considered protective because it’s very sour. Sour things, like lemons and vinegar, are often used to ward off or cleanse away negative energy.

Yellow wood sorrel leaves. The leaves consist of three heart-shaped leaflets, arranged similarly to clover leaves.
This picture shows the heart-shaped leaves and small yellow buds of yellow wood sorrel.

With all of this in mind, I’d brew a tea of wood sorrel and use it to wash doors, windows, and thresholds. Growing wood sorrel could also have a protective and luck-drawing quality.

The dried leaves and flowers would make a very nice addition to jar spells and sachets for love magic. I’d probably combine the flowers with roses, apple blossoms, and other seasonal blooms associated with love-drawing, then use this mixture in a magical bath.

If you’ve never tasted wood sorrel, I highly recommend it. The tart leaves and flowers are a very interesting addition to salads, soups, and sauces. If you’re into kitchen witchery, these edible wildflowers can be a powerful way to work with your local landscape to bring love, protection, and luck into your life.

Just for fun, life

“They call it a ‘divorce boat.'”

At which point I began to doubt that this was necessarily the wisest way for my spouse and I to learn kayaking.

It’s something we’ve always wanted to do but hadn’t really found a way. We checked out kayaking classes and ran up against some teachers who felt that learning to kayak was a major lifestyle decision — nay, a calling — and we would need to approach it with the same solemnity and devotion one might expect from novice monks.
So, we kind of shelved that idea for a while.

Then we had the chance to go on a kayaking dealy with our Druidry group. Score! All we’d have to do is rent a kayak and some life jackets, and we could figure it out, right?

Since we were both going, we could just get a tandem kayak. My spouse has more upper body endurance than I do right now, so he could do the majority of the paddling with me as backup. It’d be easier and safer than taking individual kayaks, where something could happen that’d conceivably result in one of us needing a tow anyway. Easy peasy!

Tandem kayaks are known as “divorce boats” because, as it turns out, paddling a kayak with two people is only slightly more difficult than herding cats or folding origami dragons using nothing but your forehead. If your paddling isn’t in unison, then things get weird. You might hit each other’s paddles, or spin in a circle, or distribute your weight wrong and flip over.

(Speaking of which, did you know that kayaks can be carried on your head?

It’s true! A kayak might seem way too big at first glance, but, once you flip it over and put it on your head, it’s capsized! ᕕ(ᐛ)ᕗ )

Fortunately, our partnership survived the Ordeal of the Tandem Kayak, and nobody even almost drowned. He sat in front, so I just kind of let him set the rhythm, helped with turns, and took over when he needed to rest for a bit. It was way easier and less nerve-wracking than I expected it to be, and we were both honestly impressed that we not only didn’t get dumped in the water, but actually managed to paddle for several miles along the Anacostia River.

A long section of river flows between stands of trees and lotus leaves.

The Anacostia has a bad rap. In the past, this wasn’t entirely undeserved. For a long time, it was used as pretty much DC’s trash dump — to the point where parts of it are still lined with the remnants of “malaria walls.” These were retaining walls designed to help cut down on some of the garbage and assorted filth that ended up in the river, which created stagnant areas that turned into malarial mosquito breeding grounds. While this was once (sadly) helpful, it’s even more helpful to not dump things in the water in the first place. The river itself is much better than it used to be, and there are ongoing efforts to protect and improve it.

A low stone retaining wall sits partially submerged in a river. Tall trees and low-growing shrubs fill the space behind it.

For our part, we all had grabby tools for picking up any bits of floating trash that we passed by, and mesh laundry bags for holding on to it until we could reach a trash can. (As it turns out, they’re pretty much perfect for towing along behind a boat when you don’t want to have to keep muddy water bottles and waterlogged grocery bags in your lap.) Since neither of us was solely responsible for paddling, it made it easier to grab the occasional piece of litter. It’s like the watery equivalent of plogging.

We paused for a bit near clusters upon clusters of lotuses. They aren’t in bloom right now, but the lush greenery, blue sky, songs of the red winged blackbirds, deep twang of frog calls, and the scent of catalpa flowers were still beautiful. We said a short prayer in reverence and gratitude, pausing to take it all in as we bobbed gently on the slow, easy current.

If I had to give one piece of advice here, it’d be to not just put sunscreen on your face, arms, and shins, decide that’s good enough, and let your upper thighs get burned to the color and consistency of glazed ham. I don’t even burn easily, but the sun, lack of shade, and light reflected off of the water was way more brutal than I’d anticipated. Sun hats and cool, long clothing is a must. I went with a broad-brimmed hat, a bright, long-sleeved two-piece bathing suit, a pair of jorts, and some hiking sandals. With the exception of the jorts, this worked out pretty well.

Seriously. It’s only on my upper thighs.
I have Neapolitan legs.
It’s ridiculous, and now every time I wear pants it feels like I’m rolling in ground glass.
The aloe plants in my kitchen aren’t super happy about the situation, either.

Also, wear bright oranges, yellows, and hot pink. The color of your swimsuit/clothing can make a huge difference if you end up in the water and need to be saved. You might be surprised at just how many colors seem to blend in and disappear under water, especially natural bodies of water.

All in all, the experience was 10/10. (I won’t even deduct a point for sunburn, because that was my own dumbass fault.) The only near accident came when I noticed a small stowaway on my hat, and we tried to navigate near an overhanging branch to let them go safely. A boat passed by, and the wake made things get weird for a moment.

(This stowaway was a spider. If you have arachnophobia, you should maybe stop scrolling now.)

(It’s kind of a small spider, though. The picture makes it look a lot bigger than it really was.)

(Also this is not a back widow or brown recluse, so it probably isn’t bitey. Even if it is, it is probably super not a big deal.)

A small orangish spider on the brim of a black wool sun hat.

I’m excited to go again. I had a ton of fun, and I know how to do even better next time. Our group also had long stretches of the river pretty much to ourselves, too, so it was honestly a pretty beautiful and profound experience.

life, Neodruidry

“You can go your own way.”

The other day, I got a bunch of emails. Each one regretfully informed me that my email address had been taken off of one of ADF’s mailing lists — artisans, Gael, and a handful of others.

My emotions mixed. First, there was a tinge of embarrassment. I was removed because my email was no longer on their member rolls, which is because I didn’t pay this year’s dues. Next was sadness, then relief.

I wanted to study the Initiate’s Path according to ADF‘s curriculum, but, every time I tried, I always found it difficult to start. It didn’t seem quite as structured as the Dedicant’s Path, and their site migration seemed to cut me off from finding out what I was supposed to be doing.

On the other hand, I got exactly what I needed from ADF. Years ago, I was dealing with a sense of discontentment and a lack of focus. Being an eclectic practitioner resonates with me, and I never really felt quite “at home” in other traditions I had contact with along the way. Still, I felt like I needed something.

That something, as it turns out, was more structure. Following the Dedicant’s Path gave me that: High Days, rigorous study, and the Core Order of Ritual. Once I had that, I didn’t really interact with ADF as much as I would’ve liked. Even the Neodruidry groups I’m in now are primarily made up of members of OBOD and the AODA, so it doesn’t really matter where one studies or what brought them to Druidry.

I chose to take forgetting to renew my membership as a sign. Rather than have my lack of progress on the Initiate’s Path hanging over my head, I’m going to take this time to formulate my own study plan.

I might rejoin ADF in the future, join a different group, or use the foundation provided by ADF to build on myself. I still consider myself an eclectic practitioner and always have, so it could be that I’ve already taken what I needed from this experience.

Either way, I can’t wait to see what the future brings. 💚

life, Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs

Apple Folklore and Magical Properties

So, apples.

They’re versatile, inexpensive, and delicious. You can use them to carve stamps, prepare stuffing, or make a pie. Got an apple core? Feed it to worms or toss it in compost. They’re a delightful package of deliciousness, nutrition, and fiber.

They’re also pretty prominent in the religions of the areas from which they come. Eris tossed a golden apple and started the Trojan war. Iðunn’s golden apples give the gods youth, immortality, and vigor. Manannán mac Lir tempted Cormac mac Airt with a branch covered in nine apples of red gold. Emain, the otherworldly Plain of White Silver, had silver boughs with white apple blossoms.

We don’t have magic apples here, though I feel like Chehalis apples come close. I was drawn to their colors, ranging from emerald green, to golden yellow, to a pale, almost ethereal shade somewhere between the two. (I’ll just be happy if I get to eat one of these apples without the birds and wasps getting to them first!)

An apple ripening on a tree.
One of the little Chehalis apples on the tree in the back yard.

But apples are more than just magical symbols of the Otherworld, anyway. They’re also an indispensable ingredient in kitchen witchery, and even herbal healing.

Apple Folklore

Teasing out the folkloric significance of apples is more challenging than it might seem. Up until the 1800s, the word “apple” was used not just for apples, but also for as a generic term for fruits other than berries. This is why we have “oak apples” (a plant deformity caused by gall wasps), “earth apples” (cucumbers or potatoes, depending on who you ask), “love apples” (tomatoes), or “May apples” (a low-growing relative of barberry).

Ethnobotanists have made some compelling arguments for apples being used as a symbolic substitution for fly agaric mushrooms (Amanita muscaria), an entheogenic fungus. This is an interesting bit of information to keep in mind as you read through the rest of the folkloric and symbolic significance of apples.

The fruit eaten by Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden in Christian mythology is often said to be an apple. This is particularly interesting when you consider the effect of that apple and Terence McKenna’s “Stoned Ape” theory of humanity’s development. This widely-criticized theory holds that entheogens (specifically Psilocybe cubensis) are responsible for much of the progress of humankind. If Adam and Eve’s apple could be viewed as an entheogenic fungi, then the Christian story of the fall of man would be an allegory for entheogens leading to the development of clothing, agriculture, and more.

The larynx, which is usually (though certainly not always) more prominent in male humans, is called an “Adam’s apple” because of a bit of folklore that claimed that the prominence was created by the fruit sticking in Adam’s throat.

In later Christian mythology, Jesus Christ is portrayed as holding an apple. Here, the apple transforms from a sign of the fall of humanity, into a sign of redemption. Considering that this redemption leads to eternal life, this apple is somewhat akin to the apples of Iðunn.

In the Norse Prose Edda, the goddess Iðunn is said to carry an ash wood box in which she keeps golden apples. When the Norse gods begin to grow old, they eat her apples and become young again. The gods, then, depend very heavily on Iðunn’s presence and good will in order to maintain their youth and strength.

Apples weren’t always associated with youth and life, however. In the Heiðarvíga saga, the poet speaks of the “apples of Hel.” These appear to be the antithesis of Iðunn’s apples — the food of the dead.

In Greek mythology, Eris felt insulted when she wasn’t invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis like the other gods were. As revenge, she tossed a golden apple inscribed with the words “to the fairest” in between Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. They immediately began arguing over who deserved it, and asked Paris to mediate. Aphrodite promised him the hand of the most beautiful woman in the world if he chose her, so he did. Unfortunately for everyone, that woman was Helen of Troy, and Paris’ decision kicked off the Trojan War.

The island of Avalon, the mythical, mystical place of Arthurian legend, is the Island of Apples. The name “Avalon” is thought to stem from the Welsh word “afal.”

In Cornwall, Kalan Gwav (Allentide) is a time for giving shiny, bright red apples to friends and family as tokens of luck.

In the Irish Echtra The Voyage of Bran, Bran mac Febail sets out on his adventure when he receives a silver apple bough brought from Emain, the Plain of White Silver.

The Irish sea god Manannán mac Lir’s golden apples emitted a kind of magic lullaby. This could soothe people afflicted with injuries or illnesses to a healing sleep. The name of his paradisical home, Emain Abhlach, comes from the Old Irish “Ablach” (“of the fruits” or “of the apples”).

Apples, fresh flowers, and sheet music on a wooden table. One of the apples has been cut in half to expose the seeds. An ornate knife sits nearby.

In the mythology of the people from the North Caucasus, there is a tree that groows magic apples capable of guaranteeing a child to whoever eats them.

During the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, people dip apples in honey and eat them to bring in a sweet year ahead.

Wiccan lore views apples as a sacred symbol. This is because, when cut in half horizontally, their seeds and core form a pentagram.

An old bit of boat builder’s lore holds that it’s bad luck to make a boat from apple wood, since apple wood was used to make coffins. Doing so was believed to doom the sailors to an early grave.

A common bit of marriage folklore says that, if an unmarried woman peels an apple in one long, continuous piece, then throws it over her shoulder, the peel will fall in the shape of the first letter of her future spouse’s name.

Wassailing is an old English folk practice performed to bless the trees and bring in a big crop in the next harvest season. (I went to a wassail ceremony earlier this year, and it was a ton of fun!)

The Magical Uses of Apples

Apples are a common autumn food and addition to altars for autumn and winter holidays. This is because they’re in season during autumn, and tend to keep very well if they’re stored properly. Apple sauce, apple cider, dried apples, and carefully-stored fresh apples were vital additions to the western European diet during the cold months.

An apple bough with buds, flowers, ripe fruit, and unripe fruit is said to mark a door to the Otherworld.

In general, apples are magically associated with love, fertility, protection, and prosperity. The flowers are excellent additions to charm bags, the fruit is great for kitchen witchery, and the leaves can bring fertility and prosperity to one’s home or garden.

Using Apples in Magic

Apples are possibly one of the easiest and most convenient magical ingredients. Since apples are pretty sturdy and edible when raw, they’re often used as a kind of edible “package” for magical intentions. Hold an apple in your hands, visualize it filling with your intention, whisper your intention to it, and eat.

If you have access to apple leaves (either pruned or fallen — please don’t pick fresh leaves from the tree), bury thirteen of them in your garden. This is said to increase its productivity for the next year. I’d argue that you could also add these leaves to compost, or bury pruned or fallen apple wood in your hügelkultur mounds.

Apple blossoms are great ingredient for love magic. Their action is said to be gently seductive. They are also used for peace, contentment, and success. This suggests that they’d be a useful addition to any spell for attracting happiness into one’s life.

Apples are also said to be protective. Apple cider vinegar can be a useful (and pungent) addition to jars and bottle spells for protection against both one’s enemies and malevolent energy.

Another small Chehalis apple ripening on a tree.
Another little Chehalis apple.

I can’t tell you how excited I am for apples this year. The springtime apple blossoms were incredible, and I check on the ripening fruits with excitement every day. Here’s hoping you can find ways to incorporate these magical fruits into your meals, rituals, and daily practices.

Environment, life

Crow Salad

“Man, that salad outside looks good. I’m almost jealous.”

It’s not really a salad, though. It’s sunflower seeds. Cracked corn. Peanuts. A handful of blueberries and strawberry tops, garnished with an equal handful of cat kibble.

On of the things I love about where I live is that it’s the territory of a family of crows. I don’t know them very well yet, but there are two who stand out: one I call Magni, because he’s the largest, most intimidating, and usually spends his time acting as a sentry for the others. Another, I call Muse. This one’s smaller and doesn’t fly far when I go out to fill the bird feeders — only to the other edge of the deck, where they sit and wait for me to finish. (I call them “Muse” because this behavior means that they’re the easiest member of the family to snap pictures of, so I have tons that I can use for painting references.)

I’ve planted plenty of things that crows like, though that’s mostly just different kinds of berries for now: three elderberries by the big maple tree, dozens of strawberries, four blueberry bushes. The little mock strawberries, embedded in the grass and clover like jewels, I leave alone. They’re not strictly desired, but their bright red berries are still edible and sought after by birds.

As the weather warms up, I see more and more small friends coming to share crow salad. There’re the ubiquitous house sparrows, song sparrows, cardinals, starlings, juncos, and one cocky blue jay. I sit in my kitchen, peering over the edge of the windowsill, to see where they go once they’ve eaten their fill. Kiko and JJ sit on the mat, chattering in their strange little cat language to birds that will never reply.

I’d like to befriend the crows that visit here, but the advice I’ve seen hasn’t been much help. I’ve tried crow calls, but they respond better to my ridiculous sing-song, “Hello, babies!” People say to give them peanuts, but these guys are more excited for cat kibble and odds and ends of fruit. Sometimes, though not often, they’ll sneak an orange tomato from my bush and fly off with it like raven stealing the sun.

This summer, there might be wild pigeon grapes too. Next, there’ll be beautyberry. Hopefully they like those.