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.

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Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Crocus Folklore & Magical Uses

It’s spring (kind of)!

At least, it’s getting spring-y here. Granted, I think we maybe had about four days of actual “winter,” but it’s been t-shirt weather for the past few days, and looks like it’s going to stay that way for at least another week.

Since things were warming up, I stepped out back to take a look at the yard. The elderberry bushed that I planted last year have some new leaves coming in, the bulbs I planted are starting to poke up through the mulch, and the apples are both looking good.

There’s also a large patch of surprise crocuses that seem to have popped up overnight next to my shed.

These are either Crocus vernus, the spring crocus, or Crocus tommasinianus, the woodland crocus. They’re beautiful, but decidedly not native to this area. (Crocus vernus and C. tommasinianus are related to C. sativus, the saffron crocus. However, these crocuses are definitely not a way to make rice more delicious.) Still, I am determined to enjoy them before it’s time to remove the bulbs and put in some native coralberry bushes. I’ll probably keep the bulbs and move them to somewhere where they’re less likely to spread.

If you’re also experiencing a flush of these tiny colorful flowers, here’s some old folklore and a few ways to make them magically useful.

Crocus Folklore

In ancient Greek legend, Crocus was a human man. The nymph Smilax was in love with him, but, ever the fuckboy, Crocus was dissatisfied with the affair. The gods turned him into a saffron crocus.

Another version of this story claims that Crocus was a companion of Hermes. Unfortunately, he stood up at an inopportune time during a discus throwing match, and Hermes accidentally killed him. As Crocus’ blood fell on the soil, saffron crocuses sprang up.

Spring crocuses are associated with Persephone, Aphrodite, and Venus. Mythology would also appear to tie this flower to Hermes.

A London source claimed that picking crocuses tended to “draw away the strength.” Therefore, only strong men or healthy young women should attempt to.

A field of purple and white crocuses at the base of a mountain.

According to Pliny, wearing crocus around the neck would prevent drunkenness. Interestingly, Swiss parents would place saffron around their children’s necks as a protective charm (presumably not against drunkenness, or else they’ve got some explaining to do).

In the Victorian language of flowers, crocuses represented cheer and youthful gladness.

This flower is associated with the planets Venus and Mercury, and the element of Water.

Crocus Magical Properties

Historic mentions of crocus as a protective charm typically refer to saffron crocus, not the spring crocuses. It can be hard to tease out folklore and uses attributed to spring crocuses, since the autumn-blooming saffron crocuses were generally considered more useful. For our purposes, I’m going to focus on spring crocuses here.

Spring blooming crocuses are used in charms for love, including platonic love or love of the self.

As an early spring-blooming flower, spring crocuses are also useful for spells for new beginnings.

These flowers are common altar decorations for Imbolc and Ostara. However, use caution if you bring spring crocuses indoors — all varieties of crocus other than C. sativus are toxic. Spring-blooming crocuses can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and digestive upset, while autumn-blooming crocuses can cause liver and kidney damage.

Simple Crocus Spells

You can include crocuses in charm bags for love. Add the dried flowers to a pink or red pouch along with rose petals, lavender flowers, and a bit of cinnamon bark. If you like, add a piece of rose quartz. Dress it with your favorite love-drawing oil (in a pinch, infuse some cinnamon, basil, and rose in grapeseed or sunflower seed oil, and use that) and keep it on you.

You can also use crocuses as a form of sympathetic magic. Plant a bulb along with a slip of paper with your name, and the name of your partner. Declare that as the plant grows, your love will flourish with it. When the flower is at its peak, pick it and save it for a love charm.

Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

It’s Imbolc season. Get the bucket.

I think a big part of what kept me from really connecting with a lot of Wiccan-based Paganism when I was younger was that, at the time, the available source material was pretty prescriptive. Sabbats were on specific days, with specific traditions attached, and there was an onus the follower to do things “right.”

Having lived in a pretty big range of climates, I can say that that’s had an impact, too. It’s hard to feel in the harvest or growing seasons when they just don’t line up with the harvest and growing seasons where these traditions were based. If the wheel of the year is supposed to reconnect humanity to nature and its cycles, a strict interpretation is the opposite of helpful. When I lived in California, for example, it felt like observing the traditional sacred days was sometimes counterproductive — spring didn’t look like it did in Europe, or even in the Eastern US. Neither did winter. It made things feel rote, which robbed them of meaning.

That’s why I’m a big proponent of celebrating the High Days when and how it makes sense to do so. If your growing zone means that you’re not going to see the first signs of spring until March, or won’t ever experience cold and snowfall, then so be it.

All of this is to say that the vast majority of my High Day traditions are pragmatic (perhaps to a fault).

Imbolc passed recently, amid surgeries (one for me, one for the Certified Lap Loaf. We’re both doing well!), falling down the stairs (just me. That part of me is not doing well.), and probably other stuff that I’m forgetting because of the first two things. A lot of ADF members celebrate the High Days on the nearest weekend, which is nice. Less pressure that way when your most-of-you isn’t working correctly.

A picture of the face of a small gray tabby cat. She looks very angry, probably about the blue nylon cone surrounding her head like some kind of fucked-up satellite dish.
Don’t let the barely concealed rage fool you. She’s purring here.

To me, Imbolc is refreshment. It’s deep cleaning, washing my front door, doing repairs, and making food. (This year, it’s also starting plans for home improvements that we won’t be able to do until later spring and early summer, like replacing the roof.) It’s also almost never actually on the first of February.

I don’t set up an Imbolc altar. I follow the same basic ritual structure that I do for any other day. For me, the main difference is the feeling of lightness and renewal that I carry through doing things like scrubbing grout, cleaning out garden beds, de-scaling the dishwasher, and chucking Affresh tablets down the garbage disposal.

When you’re re-learning lost, buried, or reinvented cultural traditions, it’s easy to get caught up in the need for accuracy and correctness. It’s also easy to forget why the High Days existed in the first place — to mark significant occasions throughout the year, largely based on what people who grew crops and raised animals considered significant.
When you get too invested in following the letter of a tradition, you can lose the spirit of it.

From my house to yours, here’s a small thing that I like to do each spring. It works equally well whenever you need to feel that sense of newness and freshness that only spring can bring.

Imbolc Home Cleansing

You’ll want to have:

  • A white candle. (The golden beige of natural beeswax is fine, too.)
  • Dried vervain.
  • Water.
  • A bowl.

First, steep the vervain in some hot water, as if you were going to make a tea. (I like to put vervain and water in a clear jar, then stick it in the sun for a while to infuse. If it’s cloudy where you are, a kettle of boiling water is fine.)

Vervain flowers.

Once the infusion cools, strain out the leaves and pour the resulting liquid into the bowl.

Next, light the candle. Declare, either out loud or to yourself, that this flame represents the return of the sun — whether that’s the literal return of longer daylight hours, or a metaphorical return of warmth and light is up to you.

Carry the bowl and candle to each room of your home, moving in a clockwise direction. Set the candle down in a safe spot and use your fingers to flick the vervain infusion around the perimeter of the room (be sure to get the corners). If you have prayers or chants that feel appropriate here, use them. I usually fall into a kind of stream-of-consciousness monologue about the objective of the working. It’s less important that your words sound nice than it is that they mean something to you and help you focus on what you’re doing.

When you’re through cleansing your entire home, offer the rest of the vervain infusion to your yard, garden, or nearest patch of green stuff. If your candle is small, you can let it burn completely and dispose of the remnants. If it’s a big one, snuff it and re-use it for a cleansing or purification ritual another day.

Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Nutmeg Folklore & Magical Uses

It’s the time of year when Trader Joes brings out their Wassail Punch. I don’t really drink fruit juices straight, but I like ’em for flavoring water kefir. This one’s blend of fruit and spices makes the end result taste like cola, which is pretty neat.

(Cola is one of those flavors that isn’t really meant to taste like anything in particular. It’s spices. It’s citrus. It’s all kinds of things that add up to one immediately recognizable taste.)

Anyhow, one of the key flavors in Wassail Punch (and probably cola, to be honest), is nutmeg. It’s one of those things that I can immediately recognize when I taste it but am completely unable to remember on its own. It’s like… a clove- and cinnamon-less pumpkin pie? I guess?

It was also one of those most precious substances in the world for a while, and a nearly invaluable magical ingredient.

Nutmeg Magical Properties and Folklore

Nutmeg is a spice that comes from an evergreen tree, Myristica fragrans, native to Indonesia. It’s a weird seed, too — it grows inside of a fruit similar to an apricot, surrounded by an aril that looks kind of like a flat, fleshy spider or extremely underachieving facehugger. The dried aril is the source of the spice mace. The seed itself is the nutmeg.

An image of a ripe nutmeg fruit. The outside resembles an apricot, which has split to reveal the mace-covered nutmeg inside.

It takes a long time for nutmeg trees to bear fruit, though they can do so for several decades after that. Since the spice is native to such a small geographic area, an absolutely horrific amount of bloodshed happened in the name of obtaining it, farming it, and keeping anyone else from getting a hold of it. The Dutch tortured and killed the native people of Indonesia in order to control the nutmeg trade. They also tried their damnedest to keep the English and French from sneaking any viable seeds out of the country, by dipping the nutmegs in lime to keep them from sprouting.

People used to joke (inaccurately) about Manhattan being traded for glass beads. The Dutch really did trade Manhattan to the English for some sugar and nutmeg. For real, nutmegs were so valuable that traders would mix a handful of wooden replica nutmegs in with the real ones in order to dupe their customers.

A whole nutmeg, hollowed and filled with mercury, sealed with wax, and wrapped in a green cloth, is considered a powerful charm for luck in games of chance. (You can skip the mercury poisoning by just carrying a whole nutmeg. It’s fine. Really.)

Wrap a whole nutmeg in purple cloth, and it’s said to help you win court cases.

All forms of nutmeg are considered useful for money magic. Nutmeg oil is a common ingredient in money oils, while the powdered stuff is helpful in sachet and sprinkling powders.

Money and luck aren’t nutmeg’s only properties, however. An old spell from Louisiana involves sprinkling nutmeg in a woman’s shoe to get her to fall for you. Food and drinks flavored with nutmeg were also used as love potions.

Whole nutmegs covered in mace.

Ground nutmeg was used as incense in ancient Rome.

One old remedy for rheumatism involved boiling nutmegs and cooling the resulting liquid. The nutmegs’ natural fats rise to the surface and cool, forming a solid layer. This is skimmed off and used as a topical balm. Nutmeg is a warming spice, so this would help encourage circulation and relieve some of the pain caused by cold weather aches.

Nutmeg can make you trip balls. This is not code language.
This spice is a hallucinogen, courtesy of a compound known as myristicin. Unfortunately, you have to consume a lot to feel the effects, at which point you’re putting yourself at risk of nutmeg poisoning. “A lot” is relative here — about 10 grams (two or so teaspoons) of ground nutmeg is about to trigger symptoms of toxicity. It’s not that much, but still way more than you’d typically use in cooking. Nutmeg poisoning is pretty awful, too. While I wasn’t able to find any stories of nutmeg-based fatalities, the cases I did find mentioned nausea, dizziness, heart palpitations, fatigue, confusion, and seizures. Yikes.

Nutmeg is associated with the element of Air, the suit of Swords in tarot, and the planets Jupiter and Mercury.

Using Nutmeg

The easiest way to use nutmeg is to make your favorite autumn or winter recipe that uses this spice for flavoring. Use a wooden or metal spoon to prepare it and stir it with your dominant hand. As you do this, picture energy coming up from the Earth, down from the sky, and running through your arm, down your hand, into the spoon, and finally into the food or beverage itself. Ask the nutmeg for help with whatever you want it to do, whether that’s getting laid or making some money. Pretty easy, bog-standard kitchen witchery, really.

Whole nutmeg seeds, a nutmeg grater, and a little pile of ground nutmeg.

You can also use nutmeg by just… carrying it. As mentioned previously, whole nutmegs are a charm for luck and money. Wrap them in an appropriately colored cloth, anoint them with a suitable magical oil, ask them for their assistance, then keep them on you. When they get old and lose their potency, retire them by burying them in the soil and make a new charm with a fresh nutmeg.

You can also use nutmeg for meditation. I wouldn’t rely on it to induce a trance state, but drinking some warm milk flavored with honey and nutmeg can be a pleasant way to begin some meditative or journeying work. Just don’t use too much — the vast majority of nutmeg poisonings are from kids who eat it to get high and end up spending the night dizzy and throwing up instead.

Nutmegs are also good additions to charm bags or jar spells for money or luck. They’re very nice, potent, self-contained magical ingredients. If you have an assemblage of herbs, curios, and other tools, why not throw in a nutmeg? If you can’t afford a whole one, sprinkle in some of the ground stuff instead.

Nutmeg is a spice with a dark history (I mean, most of them have dark histories. Thanks, colonialism!). It’s preciousness as an incense and culinary ingredient has tied it to the concepts of luck and money, so you’ll most commonly see it in spells for financial abundance and good fortune. If you’re not a kitchen witch, a sprinkle of nutmeg can be a good place to start. If you need to practice magic discreetly, you really can’t go wrong with tucking a whole nutmeg in your bag or pocket.

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.

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.

crystals, Witchcraft

Moldavite: Is it bad luck?

So, moldavite.

These small greenish stones are considered one of the highest-energy crystals you could own or work with. They’re uncommon, occurring in only one area of the world, and carry a high price tag — if they’re real. Because of their reputation, the market has been flooded with fake moldavite. That may change, however, as increasing numbers of people are coming out with their bad experiences using these crystals.

What is moldavite, anyway?

Moldavite (sometimes called vltavin or Bouteille stone) is a type of natural glass. Unlike volcanic obsidian or lightning-made lechatelierite, it formed fifteen million years ago as a result of a meteoric impact. When the meteorite struck the Earth, it instantly liquified the surrounding silica. This splashed up into the air, cooling on the way down. Since it cooled in mid-air, moldavite developed all kinds of cool swirly textured patterns on the surface.

It’s typically a sort of olive or mossy green color, and has a hardness of 5.5-7 according to the Mohs scale. Since these stones are essentially droplets, they’re generally not very large. Faceted or tumbled moldavite is also pretty much unheard-of in the metaphysical market, since this would negate its uniquely beautiful pitted or fernlike patterns.

Photo by Moldavite Association, CC BY-SA 4.0. No changes were made.

What is moldavite used for?

Crystal workers and healers ascribe a lot of metaphysical and healing properties to this stone. It’s used as a focus during meditations to connect to the Higher Self, to aid past life regressions, and to break maladaptive behavioral patterns. It’s a stone for ascension, and some say that the meteorite responsible for its formation was sent here specifically to create moldavite and help the entire planet ascend.

Emotionally, some people use it to cut through world-weariness and cynicism. It’s said to open the mind to new possibilities, and ease worries by helping the user arrive at new, creative solutions to their problems. People who enjoy dreamwork sometimes use moldavite for this purpose, in order to better connect to their Higher Intelligence through dreams and visions.

For people who have a Hindu Tantra-adjacent practice, moldavite is sometimes used for the heart chakra (Anahata) or the crown chakra (Sahasrara). As an ascension stone, it’s considered helpful for connecting the soul to cosmic intelligence. As a green stone, it’s also said to resonate with the heart area.

Sounds pretty good. Why’s it considered bad luck?

It really depends on what you mean by “bad luck.”

As the section above suggests, moldavite’s considered a very high-energy stone. It also breaks through maladaptive patterns and pushes you toward your highest good.

However, your highest good might not be the life you’re currently living. You could have a stable job, a decent relationship, and all kinds of things that you’re comfortable with. “Comfort” doesn’t necessarily mean that they are aligned with your highest good, however. If that job has you earning a comfortable salary, but mentally and spiritually stagnating, or your lifestyle doesn’t exactly set your soul on fire, expect moldavite to shake things up.

And shaking things up doesn’t always feel good. Who likes losing their job or getting dumped?

This is why moldavite is sometimes considered bad luck. When it seems like things aren’t going well, it’s tempting to ascribe this to a hex, curse, or plain old misfortune. Sometimes, it’s what has to happen for you to reach your full potential.

If moldavite were a tarot card, I’d call it The Tower. It stirs things up with a big stick. It’s also important to remember that stones don’t have human ideas about what comfort and success look like — you wanted an ally to help you reach your highest good, and boy howdy are you going to get one. The Tower is the foundation-deep destructive force that allows new growth to take place. The card that immediately follows it is The Star, the card of hope and renewal. Could that hope and renewal take place without The Tower?

In short, moldavite isn’t bad luck or cursed. It’s just a catalyst for changes we may not be fully ready for. I’m not going to be all, “Everything happens for a reason,” but sometimes parts of your life need to burn down for new growth to take place. I’ve been there and experienced it myself, and, while I definitely didn’t enjoy it at the time, I couldn’t be more grateful that it happened.

crystals, life, Witchcraft

Top 7 Crystals to Hide in Your Relatives’ Homes So They Stop Falling for Weird Toxic Bull@#$%

Good morning!

If you’re like most people, you have at least one person close to you who will occasionally come out with some completely bonkers, destructive nonsense. Unproven conspiracy ideas like, “vaccines are a conspiracy to implant tracking chips in everyone (posted from iPhone)” or “Jewish people caused the oil crisis by always getting their groceries double-bagged at King Kullen.”

(I have heard both of these unironically from actual human people.)

You might think this person is mostly cool, save for one or two beliefs that you’d swear were the byproduct of some kind of brain worm. You might also just be obligated to spend time around them, because you’re a dependent and they’re related to you. Maybe you just hold out hope that they’ll someday become the people they were before they got wrapped up in the fringe. If trying to talk to them or send them actual empirical data doesn’t work, here are the best crystals you can strategically plant wherever you’re forced to interact with them:

Lapis lazuli

Lapis has a hell of a reputation. For one, it’s been used in everything from cosmetics to artistic masterpieces, so it has some strong associations with creativity and expression. It’s also blue, which people who work with chakras will recognize as the color of Vishuddha, the throat chakra. (It rules expression and communication.) This means that it’s a pretty rad stone to have on you when you’re forced to defend yourself against accusations of being a NWO shill or secret lizard person from space.

Lapis has another talent, though. It’s often called the “Stone of Truth.” Its energy is said to help the user uncover hidden truths, both about themselves and the people and things around them. Most of us wouldn’t necessarily consider the idea that multi-level marketing schemes are a scam designed to profit off of people’s desperation to be a “hidden” truth, but you’ve got to meet people where they are.

Emerald

Now, I’m not suggesting that you drop a bunch of dosh on a fancy table-cut emerald to cram under your uncle’s recliner this Thanksgiving. You can get tumbled emeralds that aren’t gem quality, but are still emeralds and will still work for our well-intentioned-yet-nefarious purposes.

The idea here is that emeralds are tied to the heart. People who work with chakras consider them a stone for Anahata, the heart chakra. Even if Hindu tantrism isn’t your jam, emerald has a reputation as a stone for love and compassion. (Like instilling more compassion in the hearts of those around you who have notions about a super secret “gay agenda,” for example.)

According to color magic, green is also associated with growth. This is typically taken to mean increase, as in an increase in prosperity, fertility, and so forth. But green is associated with growth because of its connection to plants and nature — a lush, green plant is a successful, healthy, thriving one. You can empower a tumbled emerald to help your family grow and develop as people before you hide it behind the TV.

Amethyst

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a list of calming, meditative crystals that didn’t include amethyst somewhere. There’s a reason for that. This stone is associated with things like divination and meditation, sure, but it’s also very relaxing and enhances a person’s connection to their intuition. (That means that it might be able to amplify the tiny voice inside your grandpa that says that maybe Democratic Socialists aren’t coming to take his toothbrush.)

Amethyst is also credited with increasing the user’s spiritual awareness and guarding against psychic attacks.

Smoky Quartz

Smoky quartz is pretty much clear quartz that, like Bruce Banner, was exposed to radiation and came away with some extra powers. It’s said to be helpful for grounding, as well as filtering energy and transmuting the negative into the positive. This means that it can help keep things on a smooth, even keel when Aunt Karen gets a couple of glasses of eggnog in her and starts ranting about immigration.

Rose Quartz

Ah, rose quartz. Any love-drawing crystal spell or list of stones for heart-related matters is basically guaranteed to include this pink stone. The thing is, it’s good for a lot more than just flowery, hearts-and-chunky-angel-babies romantic love. It’s also very rad for compassion, friendship, and familial love.

Like emerald, it can be helpful for getting people to meet you where you are. It can encourage the opening of hearts and minds. While lapis is a better choice for getting people to see the truth, rose quartz is better for getting them to see people as people, with the same pain, fear, hope, and aspirations as they have.

Black tourmaline

Like smoky quartz, black tourmaline is a weapon against negativity. It’s a very powerful energy filter, and can help neutralize bad vibes. Large specimens (especially ones intermingled with spangles of golden mica) look extremely cool, which means they’re great for keeping in your own living spaces to ensure that nobody’s bullshit sticks around to bother you. Smaller stones are good for keeping on you as a protective amulet, or, as the title suggests, stashing around anywhere you’re forced to be.

As an FYI, crystals that act as energy filters need regular, thorough cleansing. Think of them like vacuums — they can suck negativity up, or even transmute it into positive energy, but that canister’s gotta get emptied sometime. The more crap they come in contact with, the sooner they’ll need to be recalibrated with a cleansing.

Spirit Quartz

Spirit quartz also goes by the names cactus quartz and fairy quartz. These are quartz points (usually amethyst or citrine) that are entirely covered in tiny, druzy points. This makes them all spiky, like cacti.

Spirit quartz help in a number of ways. Amethyst is a stone for introspection and harmony, as was mentioned above. All of those tiny points effectively amplify this energy and send it out everywhere. The druse also symbolizes many tiny units working together in a cohesive whole, so it’s great for fostering feelings of community and cooperation.

Amethyst spirit quartz is also said to be particularly helpful for getting rid of negative attachments or entities. It can’t get rid of the weird radicalizing podcasts your cousin insists you check out, but it can help pull their hooks out of him.

As with anything involving crystals, make sure yours come from an ethical source. Sadly, much of the mining trade (not even just the crystal trade — a lot of crystals are byproducts of mining for gold, platinum, lithium, and other materials used by the electronics industry) relies on exploited labor and environmentally damaging methods. Always know where your stones came from, and how they got to you.

Many, if not most, sources say that it’s unethical to perform magic or energy work on someone without their consent. While it’s nice to abide by the rules, sometimes you have to do the wrong thing to get the right thing done. The energetic toll of trying to get someone to be less hateful, or less absorbed in destructive conspiracy theories and hoaxes, is going to be way less than, say, casting a love spell on an unwilling target. Use your own judgment. If you belong to a marginalized group and need to do something to keep yourself safe and sane, do it.