Environment, life, Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs

Persimmon Foraging Quest

Hello! If you’ve been reading here for a while now, you may have come across the Persimmon Quest.

This is an annual quest my partner and I go on every autumn. We call around or visit grocery stores in order to find out who actually has persimmons (preferably the astringent kind, but non-astringent will also do). Then, we purchase and eat massive quantities of persimmons.

The first time I had one was when I still lived in California. It was a Fuyu persimmon (Diospyros kaki), crunchy and sweet, and I was sold. When I had my first perfectly ripe Hachiya, like a water balloon filled with sweet, flavorful jelly, I was smitten. When I realized that one of the trees planted here by one of the former occupants was probably a persimmon, I was ecstatic.

A Druidry group I belong to recently offered a small foraging expedition. One of our members is a biologist, and he’s kind and generous enough with his time to lead seasonal foraging walks. Last spring, we hunted for ramps. Now that it’s persimmon season, we went to track down some trees.

And oh, did we ever.

Three bags of soft, bright orange American persimmons, along with a sprig of coralberry and some dried mountain mint.

Several of them were already bare, picked over by wildlife and wind. Some were still laden with fruit that fell at the slightest touch. We picked only the ripest, squishiest ones, leaving the rest to soften in the sun and feed other things.

My partner and I came away with several pounds, which I cleaned and froze for future use. They’re very different from Japanese persimmons — we snacked on a few as we foraged, and it was striking just how much the flavor seemed to vary from tree to tree. American persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) are most similar to Hachiya-type Japanese persimmons, in that they’re very astringent before they’re ripe. When they look like they’re nearly rotten, they’re at their best.

Most of the ones I tasted were almost floral when compared to a Hachiya. Still very sweet and soft (with a slight astringent bite in a few places), but floral like lavender lemonade is floral. The comparatively large seeds got in the way a bit, but I’ve read some interesting recipes for roasting and grinding them to make a coffee substitute. As someone who doesn’t drink coffee, I’m intrigued! If I can get a foraged equivalent for Dandy Blend that isn’t dandelion root, I’ll be excited.

I haven’t yet decided what to do with the persimmons themselves. I might separate the seeds and pulp, then freeze the pulp again in an ice cube tray. I figure, if I want to add them to smoothies, sauces, or desserts, I can just thaw out some cubes of prepared persimmon mush fairly quickly and easily. I could even pop a cube or two in a jar for making persimmon kefir. (One member of the group was considering doing fruit leather but based on my experiences trying to make strawberry leather in the oven, I don’t think I want to tackle that without a dehydrator.)

There was a lot more to see than just persimmons, too. Dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) with its stringy bark (good for stripping and braiding into twine). Horsenettle (Solanum carolinense) with its bright yellow, tomato-like, deceptively delicious-looking poisonous fruits. Fragrant tufts of mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum), gray and brittle with age. The most striking were the coralberries (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus), their tiny, bright magenta fruits standing in vibrant contrast to their bright green leaves.

I found these berries particularly intriguing. As it turns out, they’re a valuable native food plant for birds, grow in shade, can stabilize banks, don’t have any major pest or disease vulnerabilities, and thrive on neglect. I’m still looking for native/non-invasive plants to help feed the yard’s hard clay soil and reverse some of the damage from supporting a lawn, and coralberry fills a very important niche here. From what I have read, coralberries aren’t of much value as food for humans. That’s okay, though. Not everything in the yard has to — or should — be for me to eat.

Plus they are so pretty.

I’m considering growing some mountain mint, too. Like other mints, they can take over a yard. Since they’re a native plant, I think it’ll be easier to keep them at a reasonable level than, say, the old peppermint that’s slowly eating part of the back yard. Interestingly, it’s closer to bee balm (monarda) than it is to peppermint, and there’s a faint bee balm-ness to its scent that gives that away. Mountain mint also attracts an incredible variety of native pollinators and predatory wasps, and is both edible and medicinal. Medicinally, it’s treated almost as a panacea — it’s considered a digestive, carminative, emmenagogue, expectorant, and more, though I haven’t thoroughly researched the active constituents myself yet. If it can serve as a home-grown, native substitute for peppermint tea, I’ll be all for it. The flavor does lead me to think that it’d be great for seasoning poultry or wild game, and I’m eager to try.

That’s what I love about foraging trips. Not only do I come away with tasty food, but I also get a better idea of ways to try to heal the land I’m now responsible for. Seeing a wide variety of native plants shows me what this patch of grass could be and tells me how I can help it get there. I’m excited!

life, Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs

So I says to the maple tree, I says…

A big part of permaculture is observation.

You don’t just test your soil, see where the sun hits, then plant a bunch of things. It’s a slow progression during which you watch the land to see what grows where, how it thrives, and who visits it. You let the dirt tell you what it wants and meet it in the middle, so everyone gets to eat and thrive.

I figured one way to help this process would be to just… well, ask. I took myself, an offering, and some incense, and climbed up the hill to the big red maple in the back yard. There’s a perfectly butt-shaped arrangement of some of its roots near its base, so I settled myself in, rested my back against the trunk, and let myself kind of fall into it.

It’s a process that’s hard to describe — if pressed, I’d say I “breathe” along with the tree. This is probably a bit hard to conceptualize since trees don’t breathe the way we do, but gentle breathing and just feeling things out for a while seems to put me into a very comfortable looping sensation. I feel the water moving up the xylem, sap flowing through the phloem, waste moving back down to excrete into the soil through the roots. I feel a sympathetic flow from my feet to my head, then back down and into the soil. Sometimes, this is just a way to relax and get out of my own head (and into a consciousness that’s very alien to my own). Sometimes, it’s a helpful way to get information.

In this case, I got a lot of messages about water.

I wasn’t really surprised — red maples have shallow, spreading root systems and produce “dry shade” under their canopies. The soil here is heavy clay, and there’s a fairly steep hill. There’s also a ton of non-native grass and not much biodiversity. The angle, hard, slick soil, a tree that blocks rainfall to the ground, and thirsty, high-maintenance grass made the water messages make sense. It doesn’t look like a desert, but it’s a place that just feels subtly thirsty.

I left the experience resolved to put in more ways to catch rainwater — barrels, a stock tank, something. I wasn’t sure what else to do. What else could this water-hunger mean?

Flash forward to Pagan Pride Day. At one point, I sat for a tarot reading. It was full of “wild hares” — cards that seem to leap from the deck unbidden, as if demanding to be part of the reading, without anyone having to draw them. The resulting message was one of herbs, plants, and a figure that would help me realize my vision.

“Neato,” I figured, and didn’t think much of it.

Flash forward a bit further. My partner and I are at a hardware store to return a defective trowel and buy more mulch with which to murder the front yard. While he gets it, I browse the shrubs outside. There’s a triangular gap between the house, porch, potted rose bush, and rue plant that I’d like to fill with something tall and fairly thin. A voice asks me how I’m doing, and if I need help with anything. I look up to see an older man in a purple shirt. He’s the plant supplier for the stores in this area, he says. We end up having a long conversation about plants, soil, pH, sunlight, tattoos, and taxes. He tells me that the heavy clay is trouble. Without organic matter, it’s too compact for roots to penetrate and doesn’t absorb water well.

What I need, he says, is leaf compost.

And there it was again. The way to get more water isn’t just to trap it, it’s to undo years of raked leaves and monoculture. Layers of compost (good thing I have a big tumbler), paper, yard waste, and shredded wood. Part of the reason the red maple’s roots jut up through the grass is because the clay makes it difficult to exist otherwise. There’s no softness, no air space, no absorbency, no acid.

We’re layering rotted leaves and shredded wood over the clay now. Sprinkling it with mushroom spores and seeds that will sleep in the cold until spring. Eventually, we’ll get there.

life, Neodruidry

Letting my mind and spirit free.

I’m writing the after a soak in loads of epsom salt. My muscles are sore and tired, but the kind of “vacation” sore and tired you get from a day of activities you’ve long looked forward to.

Can I tell you how much I love Pagan Pride Day? In the past, it was just nice to go to a place where I felt less isolated. This year, my partner and I were able to go, hang out, and just enjoy the company of good people from the Druid group I’m involved in.

We sat under the spread of an oak tree that occasionally dropped a gentle rain of acorns on us when the wind blew right, eating fruit, shaved ice, and very good Filipino food (provided by Rollz On Wheelz). There was music and dancing, and friends and acquaintances who passed by, stopped for a chat or an introduction, then drifted back into the crowd. My partner and I walked by all of the vendors, secretly pointing out what we’d bring home that afternoon and what we’d hope to see next year.

I picked up handmade soap, Florida water, supplies for offerings, a beautiful devotional bracelet to my patron deity, and a horseshoe for the front door. I also obtained a large, crocheted axolotl, and the seller and I laughed about his adorably wonky eye — as it turns out, we’re both people who gravitate toward things that are slightly off. Not always things in need of repair, but things that are a little out of the norm and likely to get overlooked. He was the last one of his kind, and I knew that leaving him behind was going to eat at me. He’s also made of very, very soft chenille, is delightful to hug, and I apologize to no one for my strange sympathies for inanimate objects.

Admittedly, the event had a strange kind of melancholy for me, too. I was talking to two people about the generational differences between witches and Pagans, open and closed practices, gatekeeping, “Witchtok,” and the seemingly shrinking role of elders in the ever-expanding online community. The internet has provided more interaction and connectivity than ever seen in history, but at a cost — the wisdom of experienced people is easily drowned out by teachings that can be inaccurate at best, and dangerous at worst.

I say it was melancholy for two reasons: For one, I feel a pain in my heart for people looking for a place for themselves. I was one for a long time. I was happy with an eclectic practice, but opportunities to learn from experienced practitioners were few and far between. I kludged together what scraps of information I could get but becoming part of a more organized tradition gave me something that eclecticism and patchwork internet teachings didn’t. This won’t be the case for everybody, but damn do I wish that people had access and opportunities that would let them discover and decide for themselves rather than feeling like their only options are books and social media. I know I would’ve loved to have had that opportunity years ago, even if I might’ve turned it down at the time. At the very least, I wish I had been free to make that choice for myself when I was young.

For two, I feel melancholy because it was a bit of a memento mori. Every day brings me closer to being an elder, or a spiritual ancestor. The idea of mortality isn’t really what bothers me — I more than made peace with that a long time ago — but the feeling of ever-plodding obsolescence is. It’s like a sense of loss for something that isn’t gone yet. I don’t really know how to describe it.

So I guess all of this is to say that I love feeling like I’m in a place I belong. It reminds me of the warm, vibrant, thrumming dance of life, with all of its sweetness and bitterness and joy and sorrow and love and loss. I love the drums and the hum of insects. I love the smells of incense and late summer wind through oak leaves. I love the candy sweetness of syrupy ices and the coolness of Florida water on my temples. I love the warmth of tree-dappled sunlight and the smooth coolness of polished bone.

Arright, I’m gonna go before I get more emotional. I need to get the cabbage butterflies off my broccoli anyhow.

Here ’til the lettuce peeks to see the salad dressing,

j.

Neodruidry, Witchcraft

Rainwater Folklore and Magical Uses

As we get closer to summer, my area experiences more and more thunderstorms. Honestly, even though rain gives me terrible headaches, I kind of love it. I’ve always been very into the energy of loud crashes of thunder and bright flashes of lightning. Now, I always set out containers to catch some to save and use later.

Rainwater is said to have special properties depending on the season and conditions. (I’m also including dew under this category for practical reasons, even though it doesn’t come from the sky.)

Rainwater Magical Properties and Folklore

Dew, specifically the dew gathered on the first of May, is said to preserve youth and enhance beauty.

According to Lexa Roséan’s The Encyclopedia of Magickal Ingredients: A Wiccan Guide to Spellcasting, storm water is useful for increasing one’s personal charisma. Each season’s rain helps with a specific aspect here:

  • Spring storm water is for sensuality and attractiveness to romantic partners.
  • Summer storm water is for is for magnetism and raw sex appeal.
  • Autumn storm water is to make oneself develop an irresistible, Rapsutin-like appeal.
  • Winter storm water is for endurance, and is said to make one a formidable foe against business or political competitors.

Of all of these, winter storm water is the hardest to come by, while autumn storm water is said to be the darkest and most dangerous.

Rain falling on pavement.

I usually use storm water to cleanse and charge things, including myself. I’ll usually gather the water one day, then, on the next clear day, placed a closed container of it with crystals, flower essences, etc. in a sunny or moonlit spot. After that, I use it to asperge or mist myself. I even charged some under the Tau Herculids meteor shower!

Dip a sprig of rosemary or fresh vervain in storm water, and use it to asperge altars, tools, or sacred spaces before working. This will cleanse and energize them.

After about *mumblemumble* years, I haven’t noticed any difference in the water’s properties based on the intensity of the storm. Weaker storms just produce weaker water. While this may be helpful if you’re looking for gentler energy, like for sleep magic, you may be better off just using moonlight-charged water to begin with rather than fussing with storm water.

Some practitioners assign elemental properties to rainwater based on the conditions during which it was collected. Lightning storms produce rainwater aligned with the element of Fire. Windstorms (like hurricanes or tornados) produce rainwater aligned with Air. Rain collected as drips from trees or other tall plants is aligned with Earth. Personally, I would caution against collecting storm water during a windstorm — wind borne debris cause the majority of damage during these storms, and any container you put out can easily become a dangerous projectile.

Some also assign astrological properties to stormwater based on the time of its collection. A waxing moon brings increase, and a waning moon brings decrease. Every day of the week, even every hour, is ruled by a planet. The moon also passes through the various signs of the zodiac. Storm water collected on a Friday, during a Venus hour, when the full moon is in Taurus would, therefore, be a powerful tool for attracting love. (You’d also be catching stormwater in November in that case, which Roséan says will enhance your Rasputin-like qualities, so maybe bear that in mind too!)

From my own experience, and most sources I’ve read, stormwater shouldn’t be kept indefinitely. It’s best used within the first month or so after you’ve collected it. Keeping it in the refrigerator can help slow down the proliferation of algae and other organisms.

In my tradition, sacred water is water gathered from three natural sources, and is used in every formal ritual. I often catch rainwater to serve as one of these, and combine it with sea and stream water.

Using Rainwater

Please check the laws about gathering rainwater in your area. In some places, it’s illegal to do so. This is to protect the environment — a lot of times, it isn’t the mere fact that you’re collecting the water, but the amount. You might be able to get away with a small container, or a single rain barrel’s worth, but laws against collecting rain exist to stop people who end up diverting that water from places that need it.

To use water from rain or storms, put out a container. You’ll probably want a wide bowl, or some other vessel that’s much wider than it is deep. It’ll be easier to catch water that way.

When the storm ends, the container’s full, or you feel like you have enough water, bring it inside.

Run it through a coffee filter or several layers of cheesecloth to clear out any bits of grass, twigs, leaves, mulch, dirt, bugs, or dust that might’ve been blown into it.

Pour the filtered water into a container, preferably one with a lid.

I don’t recommend consuming rainwater of any type without thorough boiling or some other form of treatment. While it’s (usually) clean when it comes out of the clouds, it can collect all kinds of pesticides and others -cides as it drips off of leaves. It can also pick up bacteria, viruses, and parasites from the soil (or worse — dog, cat, bird, rodent, or insect feces) if it splashes off of the ground or outdoor furniture. I’m not even going to get into what gets into it if you have to collect it near a road. While I won’t deny that there’s a certain faerielike, cottage core appeal to sipping fresh rainwater, there are also many reasons why people regularly dropped dead before water treatment became a thing.

If you do need to drink storm water for your purposes, consider setting out a covered bottle or jar of clean water during the storm rather than collecting the rainwater itself. Much like you can charge water with sunlight or moonlight, you can also charge it with some of the power of thunder and lightning. (And you won’t turn into a summer camp for amoebas.)

A little storm water, placed in a dark, solid-colored bowl, is wonderful for scrying.

You can also use storm water as a base for door washes, floor washes, or ritual baths. Steep some herbs in it or infuse it with crystals (I like to use sunlight and a special glass jar for this), then pour it into your bath or wash water.

Here ’til Niagara falls,
j.

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.

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.

Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Strawberry Folklore and Magical Properties

Ever since my strawberry buying and planting misadventure, I figured it’d be worthwhile to write a bit about the historical and potential magical uses for them. (Especially since, having done the math, I may need to find uses for up to 140 pounds of ’em.)

Strawberries come from various species of the genus Fragaria. Like so many other popular fruiting plants, they’re actually related to roses. The typical strawberries that you grow in the garden or buy in the store are varieties of a hybrid cultivar called Fragaria × ananassa, but there are over 20 species that appear all over the world. Another popular species is Fragaria vesca, the Alpine strawberry. These plants produce small fruits with a flavor reminiscent of pineapple.

A cream-filled strawberry cake roll, decorated with fresh berries.

I remember playing in a patch of wild strawberries when I was very small. We had a ton of volunteer Fragaria virginiana in our back yard, which returned every year with pretty much no effort on anyone’s part. The birds usually got to the fruits long before we could, so finding the tiny, jewel-like berries hidden under the leaves was like finding treasure.

Strawberry Magical Uses and Folklore

The term “strawberry” comes from the Old English streawberige. This may refer to the tiny seeds on the outside of strawberries (the actual fruits — what we generally think of as the “berry” part, isn’t!) which resemble wheat chaff. A cognate name was eorðberge, for “earth-berry.” This can still be seen in the modern German word for the fruit, Erdbeere.  

The deep red color and heart shape of strawberries makes them sacred to Venus and Aphrodite. One may extend this to other goddesses of love and beauty, as well.

This connection to love goddesses may be the source of one legend about the berries. It’s said that double strawberries are potent love charms. If you find one, break it in half and give one half to your intended partner. If you both eat the halves of the double strawberry, you’ll fall in love with each other.

In some parts of Bavaria, strawberries are used to ensure healthy cattle and abundant milk. Farmers hang small baskets of wild strawberries on the horns of their cows, as an offering to local faeries. These faeries are said to love strawberries, and will protect the cattle in return.

A small wild strawberry.

Strawberry plants are potent emblems of fertility. They reproduce via seed, largely by attracting birds to their bright red fruit. The birds eat the flesh, and the seeds (actually achenes, or ovaries containing a single seed) pass through their digestive systems. Strawberry seeds only require light and moisture to germinate, so they grow easily pretty much wherever they’re dropped. The plants also reproduce via runners, or specialized shoots that grow out from the mother plant and produce full plants of their own. In other words, it’s almost harder not to grow strawberries!

Using Strawberries

I mean… You can just eat them. Strawberries are kind of neat that way. Convenient. This advice is probably not what you’re here for, however.

It should be noted that, while it’s highly likely you have wild strawberries in your area, you may also stumble across the mock strawberry. This is Potentilla indica, and not a variety of true strawberries (though, like true strawberries, they’re also a member of the Rosaceae family). They very closely resemble wild strawberries, but have yellow flowers and less flavor. Fortunately, they aren’t toxic.

Medicinally, the leaves and roots can be brewed into a tea. This tea is believed to help get rid of “toxins,” which means that it acts as a diuretic. That helps flush compounds like uric acid, so strawberry may be prescribed as a treatment for gout. The astringent properties of this tea is also said to help with gastritis, intestinal bleeding, heartburn, and other digestive complaints.

When used topically, an infusion of the leaves and roots may help clear up acne by acting as an astringent. The fruits, too, are also rumored to be beneficial here — eat a strawberry, then rub the leftover bit of flesh at the top on your face. The natural acids present in the fruit can help with cell turnover and unclog pores.

Magically, you can offer strawberry fruit and flowers to deities of love and beauty. You may also want to use the fruit in kitchen witchery for beauty or attraction spells. If love spells are your bag, you may even wish to include these fruits in brews or desserts to share with your desired partner.

A brew of mint and lime, with fresh strawberries.

Strawberries are a beautiful part of the transition into spring. Their medicinal properties are helpful for shaking off the effects of winter, and their vibrant taste and color are a treat after months of gray weather.

Blog, life, Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Back into the woods.

it’s a rly good deal tho, I texted.

My phone buzzed a second later.
I’m literally about to get on a plane right now, he’d sent back.

This back and forth happened a few more times, before he finally agreed that a couple hundred dollars off a four-day vacation was, in fact, a very good deal.

This all started when my partner realized how much vacation time he had left over at the end of last year. It doesn’t roll over and he can’t cash it in, so it was pretty much just kind of wasted. Ever the supportive devil on his shoulder, I urged him to make sure he takes all of the paid time off he could this year, especially if it was just going to evaporate if he didn’t.

“Your job’s able to offer you this because of the value created by your labor. It’s not a free perk or a fun bonus, it’s literally something you’ve earned. If you can’t get the equivalent value in your paycheck, you should take whatever you’re offered. You’re basically giving up part of your salary otherwise.”

(I also have the same attitude toward expensed meals, fitness equipment, and other benefits. Just because it isn’t money doesn’t mean it isn’t compensation, friends!)

And this is how, on a shuttle immediately before boarding a plane, my partner prayed that his phone’s battery and internet would hold out long enough for him to book a four day stay in a Getaway cabin. It was a scramble to schedule everything before the sale ended or his phone gave out, and he succeeded with almost no time to spare.

A sign on a cabin that says "Getaway Shirley."

We’ve stayed in a Getaway tiny cabin before, so I knew this’d be a good deal for us. Last time was during winter, so I was pretty excited to experience the area when it was a bit warmer and greener. That part of Virginia isn’t exactly in full bloom just yet, but was still beautiful — especially if you’re a weirdo like me who experiences aesthetic arrest from the sight of, like, an extremely good mossy log.

Interior of an apothecary shop, with shelves full of incense, candles, herbs, and remedies.
Image from Visit Waynesboro.

When we weren’t walking in the woods, taking pictures, trying to identify plants, or “catch and release” mushroom hunting, we were reading or writing. One day was a bit too chilly and rainy to do much outside, so we went for a drive down Skyline to Waynesboro, VA. There’s a fantastic apothecary there called PYRAMID, with some really wonderful locally made candles, incense, artwork, jewelry, herbs, teas, remedies, and curios.

A close-up of violet flowers.

The environment of the cabin was just as relaxing as last time. There was a very beautiful patch of violets right near our fire pit (I picked a few for pressing), and we were tucked far enough away in the trees to have privacy but just close enough to other cabins to not feel completely isolated. Along the stream in the woods, Christmas ferns were sending up tons of spiraling fiddleheads. The moss was verdant and bright green, and the lack of leaves on the trees was more than made up for by the abundance of lichen and mushrooms on the ground. The weather was cool, alternating between sun and a light, silky drizzle that made everything seem fresher and brighter. Though the trail we took was relatively short, it took us a while as we kept stopping to get down, snap pictures, sketch, or identify something.

We packed well this time around, though we brought way too much food for the two of us. Pasta, salmon, shrimp, steak, cinnamon rolls, ingredients for s’mores… He cooked the meat and fish over the fire, and made some of the most amazing, crispy salmon I’d ever had. It was simple — just fish cooked in the cabin-provided olive oil, salt, and pepper — but the texture and subtly smoky flavor were perfect. We had it with lentil pasta all’arrabiata, and I’ve been craving campfire cooked salmon and pasta ever since.

A close-up view of the inside of a violet flower.

(We did run out of salad greens at one point, which got me wondering how I’d scrape together some from the surrounding landscape if I had to — there were violets, dandelion greens, and the pink flowers of redbud trees… Christmas ferns can be eaten the same as ostrich ferns, so fiddleheads too. Fortunately, I did not become responsible for foraging for our vegetables, because I did not want to play “Fuck Around and Find Out: Salad Edition.”)

Coming back took a bit, mostly because we’d scheduled things so we still had a day or so between going home and going back to work. It meant that we were able to visit all of the pottery shops, antique stores, and farm stands that we passed along the way. We ended up coming home with coffee beans, copper sculptures, and a cypress knee(!!!) that we hadn’t originally intended to, so I’d say our sidequesting was a success.

Here ’til the crow flies and the flies crow,

J.

Environment, life, Neodruidry

Silvering the Well

One practice that’s part of my tradition involves “silvering the well.” This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like — making an offering of silver to the well.

The well, in this case, is a vessel of water (taken from three different natural sources). Outside of a ritual, it’s just a bowl. During a ritual, it becomes something more. It’s a representation of the primordial waters. It’s the healing cauldron, the sacred spring, and the sea of Manannán mac Lir. It’s representative of Water as an element, and the past from which we all spring.

The thing is, silvering the well is more complex than it seems. To people who’re used to ceremonial magic, it probably looks pretty simple. You have a vessel to serve as your well, and you make an offering to it. Silver goes in, boom.

There are also multiple different approaches to making this offering. One involves purchasing (or upcycling) small silver or silver-plated beads, which are then offered to the Earth once the ritual is concluded. Another uses a dedicated silver object which is designated as the offering anew each time, then taken out, dried off, and saved for the next ritual.

I spent a lot of time teasing out what this part of the process means for me. I’ve always understood the word “offering” to be a kind of euphemism for “sacrifice.” When you offer something, you no longer have it. Even if you don’t necessarily get rid of it (like dedicating an altar sculpture to a deity), it isn’t for you to use anymore. In this context, it makes sense to use small offerings of pieces of silver, requiring you to sacrifice the time, money, and energy it takes for you to get more when you run out.

On the other hand, international supply chains make the ethics of buying literally anything incredibly dubious. (I mean, a hobby store got caught trafficking antiquities, for crying out loud.) Even if it wasn’t, making an offering of small pieces of new silver involves mining silver (and possibly other base metals, for silver-plated objects) and then offering them to a place they didn’t come from. In less confusing words, you’re taking valuable material from one part of the Earth, and putting it somewhere else. Sure, silver isn’t exactly blood diamonds, but it’s still something that stuck in my mind like a fishhook. How do I know that the material for these “disposable” pieces of silver didn’t come from child labor, or a mine that dumps poison into the waters of the very people who have to work there? Could I justify offering something to the primordial waters, knowing that it might be poisoning the water?

(The environmental chemistry nerd in me isn’t even going to get into rainwater, leachates, and their effect on the soil, or I will be here all night.)

Eventually, I managed a compromise. I found a coin collector who had a stash of silver Mercury dimes. They weren’t suitable for collecting, since they’d been heavily circulated and were worn nearly smooth by time. I bought one, and this is my offering. I give it to the well, and the letter of the ritual has been fulfilled. The well is silvered.

Fulfilling the spirit of offering comes afterward. The coin itself is almost collateral — it’s a token of a promise, the symbol of an offering rather than the offering itself. Once the coin has been removed from the well and dried off, I make the sacrifice. Each ritual costs a monetary donation to a water charity — from the Water Protector Legal Collective, to Ocean Conservancy, to Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, to one of the many other organizations working to protect people’s access to clean drinking water, remediate water pollution, or preserve vital wetlands. Failing that, it costs an afternoon of cleaning a beach or the banks of one of the smaller local waterways.

What does this mean for other people? Probably nothing. It’s just something that sat in my mind for a while, and a practice that I put in place years ago. Maybe it’ll have value for others, maybe not. Either way, I thought it might be worth writing down.

life, Neodruidry

Imbolc, and einkorn banana bread

Baking is part of my Imbolc ritual. I don’t consume much butter or milk, so baked goods and flowers are my offerings. This is around the time when I first start noticing new growth and buds on many of my houseplants, so I do some spring cleaning, give everyone a healthy dunk and dose of fertilizer, and bake before my more formalized ritual later in the day.

Yesterday, I offered part of a loaf of banana bread. If you’re egg-free, dairy-free, or just looking for some extremely good banana bread, I’ve got you. It might not be a traditional springtime recipe, but it’s comforting, tasty, and I’ve never had any complaints from anyone — mortal or otherwise.

A slice of banana bread with chocolate chunks.

Egg-free, Dairy-free Banana Bread

  • 2 C einkorn flour
  • 1 t ground cinnamon
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t sea salt
  • 3/4 C dairy-free dark chocolate chips or chunks
  • 2 very ripe bananas, peeled (about 1 C of mashed banana)
  • 1/2 C maple syrup
  • 1/2 C avocado oil
  1. Preheat your oven to 350° F.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, sea salt, and chocolate chips. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together bananas, maple syrup, and avocado oil.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Mix together until there are no lumps, but don’t over-mix.
  5. Butter a 9″x5″ loaf plan.
  6. Pour batter into pan, and gently tap the bottom against the counter to free any air bubbles.
  7. Bake banana bread for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Notes:

  • As with any ingredients that aren’t produced domestically, go for chocolate and bananas that are ethically sourced and fair trade.
  • No einkorn? No problem! You can substitute regular flour if you want, just remember that einkorn doesn’t absorb water the same way regular wheat flour does. If you substitute regular wheat flour, you’ll probably need to add another banana or so to the batter for extra moisture.
  • For best results, freeze the bananas first. This will crystallize the water in their cells, rupturing them and giving them a softer, wetter consistency.
  • You can substitute canola, grapeseed, or another neutral-tasting oil for avocado oil, if necessary.

Enjoy, and blessed Imbolc!