Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Arnica Folklore and Magical Properties

What’s black and blue and red all over?

Me. I am.

I wasn’t aware of it until recently, but one of the side effects of sertraline is bruising. This was never really a major issue, but, with the recent increase in leg days, I’ve been noticing that my lower extremities look like hobbits have been beating me with cricket bats in my sleep. This probably isn’t helped by the fact that I’ve had knee surgery, and any amount of physical activity makes my legs look like I fell down the stairs even under the best of circumstances. I’m planning to talk to my doctor about this, but I’m not in a bunch of pain, and my medication is working out well enough that I don’t want to change it if I don’t absolutely, positively need to. C’est le guerre.

For now, it’s lots of iron- and vitamin K-rich vegetables, and arnica. At the moment, I’m pretty much only using arnica to help my shins look less corpse-y, but that’s not all it can do.

It could also keep corn demons away from my knees.

Arnica Magical Uses and Folklore

Arnica is one of the best-known and most-used herbal remedies in much of Europe. The American variety was no slouch, either — both indigenous people and pioneers used it in abundance. (I don’t really want to go into all of its historical medical uses here, because there are a ton of them and not all of them were great ideas. It’s the kind of plant where it could either lower your fever, or make you bleed internally a bunch.)

The word “arnica” is derived from the Greek “arni,” meaning “lamb.” This could be in reference to any number of the plant’s parts — it’s got fuzzy sepals, leaves, and looks almost dandelion-like when it goes to seed.

Two of its common names are “wolf’s-” and “leopard’s bane.” I haven’t been able to find any reason for this — these are also names for aconite, which is far, far more baneful than arnica. I mean, the two don’t even look alike.

In Norway, arnica was strewn in fields during Midsummer. This was to protect crops from a creature called Bilwis. In Germanic areas, Bilwis is identified as a kind of Feldgeister (field spirit) or Korndämonen (corn demon). In the Prose Edda, this creature was half of a brother-sister pair — Hjúki and Bil — that followed the Moon across the sky. There isn’t much written about Hjúki and Bil outside of the Prose Edda, but they are theorized to represent the craters visible from Earth, which are said to resemble a pair of children carrying a bucket on a pole. Over time, Bil’s image was distorted from a minor Norse deity to a malevolent spirit that cuts down corn. Bilwis has no set form, and its appearance varies across all of the folklore in which it appears.

Sprinkling arnica around your property is said to protect your home and bring fertility to your garden. This probably stems from its use to thwart corn demons, as, over time, its folk use expanded from keeping your crops from being cut down by spirits, to general protection and plant fertility.

Planting arnica around an area is said to keep a spirit penned there. This only works as long as the arnica lives, however — once it dies back, the magical boundary dies with it.

As a bright yellow Midsummer plant, it’s associated with the Sun and the element of Fire.

Some sources claim that arnica was burned as an incense, particularly in weather magic. This seems largely used to drive away violent storms, and may also be tied to its general “protective” aspect.

Using Arnica

Not gonna lie, I’ve gotten pretty fond of dabbing it on myself. But I digress.

Arnica contains a sesquiterpene lactone called Helenalin, which is said to help reduce inflammation and thereby soothe away bruising when it’s applied soon after an injury. Though it’s very healing when used topically, it is toxic when used internally and can cause sensitization over time. If you’re using arnica medically, it’s best to use it topically, over unbroken skin, for short periods of time.

That said, some people do use it internally. It’s even been used as a flavoring in foods and beverages. (I wouldn’t recommend doing so unless you’re under the guidance of an herbalist, though.) If you’re pregnant or on blood thinners, avoid it — it can stimulate contractions and interfere with blood clotting.

Harvest and the flowers when they’re at their best, around Midsummer. Scatter fresh flowers around an area you wish to protect, or brew dried ones into a tea and sprinkle the liquid. You could theoretically include dried flowers in protective sachets, jars, or other container magic, but the herb’s primary historical uses seem to largely depend on strewing, scattering, or planting arnica to create a boundary.

To turn back storms, burn arnica and say, “Arnica bright, arnica alight. Thunderstorm, turn and take flight.”

Arnica has been treated as a one-herb first aid kit, credited with any number of medical marvels. While it’s certainly good at what it does, the herb does have a tendency to cause problems if it’s used in high doses and for long periods of time. If you’ve got corn demons to thwart, thunderstorms to get rid of, or spirits you need to babysit, arnica can’t be beat.

Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Filtering, Storing, and Using Magical Oils

So, we’ve got our herbs infusing, our mixtures are empowered, and everything’s been sitting for however long we need it to — maybe a week, maybe two, maybe an entire moon cycle.

Next, we’ve got to filter them, figure out where and how to keep them, and use them.

Filtering the Oils

Filtering the oils takes the solid plant matter out of them, leaving just the clear oil behind. Naturally, how effective that is depends on what filter media you use. Filters with larger mesh, like cheesecloth, will let your oils filter much more quickly, but will allow some small particles to pass through. Finer filters, like coffee filters, filter very slowly and produce a clearer oil.

Really, the choice of filter medium is up to you. If you’re not worried about having floaty bits in your oil, pick a coarser filter. If you’ve got time to kill and want a clear oil, pick a finer one.

I usually set up the filter in an empty jar, and hold it in place with a rubber band. You’ll want to avoid stretching the filter too tightly across the top — it should dip in the middle, to properly hold the oil and herbs without spilling. Think of it like a coffee filter.

I give the jar of herbs and oil one last good shake to wake it up and keep the herbs from staying in a thick layer on the bottom. After a few minutes to allow it to settle, I begin pouring the oil into the filter. Depending on the size of your filter and jar, you may be able to pour the entire batch of oil out at once. Otherwise, pour a bit, wait for it to filter through, then pour some more.

You can wring the remnants of oil out of the herbs you’re left with, or not. The choice is up to you. The remaining oily herbs can be incorporated into salves, or simply composted.

At this point, I usually add any essential oils I’m working with. They are aromatic compounds, so they lose potency with time, heat, and light. I find that adding them at the end of the process helps them stay stronger, longer — especially if I’m using warmth or sunlight to aid the infusion process.

Storing Magical Oil

You might want to keep your oils in sunlight for vibrational purposes, but, as I mentioned previously, light and heat degrade many of the compounds in oil. Your best bet is to store them the way you’d store any essential or cooking oil — in a cool, dark area. (Especially if you’re using an oil with a shelf life of a few months, versus a few years.)

Colored bottles help preserve oil by blocking ultraviolet light:

  • Amber glass provides the best protection against UV and visible light.
  • Cobalt blue protects against visible light, but not UV.
  • Green glass protects against visible light, but not UV.
  • Clear glass doesn’t protect against UV or visible light.

In short, amber glass is the best option for storing large batches of oil. If you want to use clear glass for aesthetic reasons, only use it for small bottles that will be used up fairly quickly. If you don’t have much choice in what kind of bottle you use, opt for the largest wrap-around label you can. An opaque label will block out UV and visible light.

Preserving Oils

Even if you have a carrier oil with a long shelf life, some degradation can happen. Worry not; there are two ways you can help protect the integrity of your oils, without negatively impacting their magical properties.

Have you ever heard any say that rosemary can be substituted for any herb in a spell? Not everyone agrees with this, but rosemary does have an impressively long and varied list of properties. It’s a good thing, too, because it can help preserve your oil. Rosemary oil is a natural antioxidant, and you only need about .2-.5% to help keep a mixture fresh. (It smells really good, too.)

Fresh herbs.

If rosemary really won’t suit the mixture of herbs you’re working with, you can go with vitamin E oil. Either get the liquid form, or pop open a couple of vitamin E capsules from the drug store. Vitamin E is another antioxidant, and it won’t harm the scent or consistency of your oils.

As with anything else, avoid these if you have an allergy.

Using Your Oils

How you use your oil depends on which ingredients you chose. Virtually any oil can be used to dress a candle, sachet, or poppet, as an offering, or what have you, but not everything is suitable for anointing. Some essential oils, like lemongrass, can be sensitizing. Citrus has a reputation for phototoxicity — definitely don’t use it before going out in the sun!

If you plan to add essential oils to an oil for anointing, be mindful of your dilution. Most guides for oil dilution assume that the end product is a massage oil, lotion, or other body care product, so they tend to be a bit conservative — you definitely want a pretty low level of essential oils if you’re planning on regularly applying something to your entire body! For oils intended for anointing, which is generally done rarely and sparingly, a perfume dilution is fine. Body care formulations typically stay around 2% or less, while perfume may be as high as 5%. Mountain Rose Herbs has a very helpful dilution calculator that can help you make sure your blends aren’t too strong.

That’s it! While buying your magical supplies is definitely helpful in a pinch, nothing really compares to making your own. With some time and quality ingredients, you can create magical oils that are effective, powerful, and personalized for your needs.

Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Making and Empowering Magical Oils

Making oils is a process.

I don’t mean choosing the right ingredients and carriers — that’s just the midpoint.

Oils aren’t a very large part of Druid ritual, but I still find them useful. The action of making them is as meditative as it is fascinating, and I like having a convenient, versatile way to tap into the energies of a blend of herbs. Carrying a vial of oil in my crane bag is much easier than carrying packets of herbs, and a single drop can go a very long way.

Every time I make an oil, powder, incense, or anything, I start with a statement of intent. What do I want this mixture to do? I might start with a specific situation that I want to affect, or something more general. Whatever my intent might be, I need to distill it down to one sentence — one central idea — before I can continue.

Then the real fun begins.

Choosing the Herbs and Essential Oils

Picking the herbs and oils to form the base of your magical oil means choosing them based on one of two things: their history of use, or your personal association with that plant.

Personal associations can be extremely powerful, because they’re based on your working relationship with them. Making magical recipes based solely on your personal associations can be a bit like “reinventing the wheel,” however, since it involves a lot of experimentation if you aren’t relying on information that generations of witches and wise-people have already worked out.

On the other hand, adhering strictly to a plant’s documented magical properties has its own drawbacks: it can be kind of limiting, and things are often lost in translation. (There are posts upon posts of hoodoo practitioners lamenting the loss of traditional recipes after some dubious authors published their own versions.) You might also miss information on how the herb was historically used — one plant might traditionally be a money herb when infused in an oil or added to a powder, but treated as an unhexing herb when burned. There’s a lot of knowledge that can’t really be properly presented in chart or encyclopedia form!

The number of herbs, oils, and other additives can also be significant. Most magical recipes I know involve at least three ingredients, but more isn’t always better.

You should also note any toxic or sensitizing effects the herbs and oils might have, even if you don’t plan to ingest or anoint your skin with them. Some plant compounds can be absorbed through the skin, and many can have deleterious effects if they’re used long-term. The more often you plan to use an oil, the more important safety is. Even if you only use it to dress candles, you’ll be getting it on your hands. Be safe!

However you decide to choose your herbs and oils, select a few that correspond to your statement of intent, and won’t be toxic or sensitizing.

Choosing a Carrier

No matter whether you want to infuse herbs or blend essential oils, you need a carrier. This is going to be the “body” of your oil — the stuff that absorbs the magical virtues of your herbs, and provides a safe vehicle for your essential oils.

The only real limiting factors here are allergies, shelf life, and price. Needless to say, if you’re allergic to a plant, don’t use its oil. Very highly-refined oils generally have any allergenic proteins removed from them, but that’s not something you should bank on if you have severe allergies.

Shelf life can be a consideration if you plan to let your oil infuse for a long time, or if you know it’ll take you awhile to use up. Keeping oils in dark cobalt or amber bottles in a cool, dry area can help prolong their shelf lives, but they will still eventually oxidize and go rancid. I like jojoba oil for its very long shelf life. As a liquid wax, it can stay stable for up to two years.

Some oil-bearing plants have their own magical properties. (Fractionated coconut oil, for example, is great for protection spells.) This is good to bear in mind, though you’re likely to find yourself choosing oils based on other characteristics. If the smell of your carrier oil completely overpowers your other ingredients, you might not care what else it can do!

Picking the Date

When you’ve got your ingredients together, the next hurdle is choosing the date and time to begin. The most simple part of this is choosing the correct moon phase to work within. Is your recipe to help attract something (love drawing or prosperity recipes, for example), or get rid of something (unhexing formulas)? If it’s to attract, I choose to work within a waxing moon. If it’s to banish, the waning moon.

The moon also passes through signs of the zodiac. Though I don’t stress over it if it isn’t possible, I try to match this to the intent of my oil.

Every day also has its own planetary association, and planetary hours within that. If you choose to follow this system, your best best is to use an online planetary hours calculator to help you figure out the right timing in your location.

Sun rising over mountains.

It’s a lot, isn’t it?

As an example, let’s say I was setting up an oil to help turn a court case in my favor. I want to attract the favor of the judge and jury, so I’d choose a waxing moon to begin. Libra is associated with court cases and justice, so I might decide to either start on a waxing moon in Libra, decant the oil on a Libra full moon, or both. (Of course, it might be infusing for awhile if you do that!) Wednesday is ruled by Mercury, which governs communication and the law, while Sunday is ruled by the Sun, and governs success, so either would be sufficient for my needs. Lastly, I’d pick a Mercury- or Sun-ruled hour during the day (preferably between sunrise and noon, as the sun is rising to its high point), and set everything up during that hour.

In the end, I’d get a court case oil created when the moon is waxing, on a Mercury-ruled hour on Wednesday.

Empowering the Mixture

You’re in the right hour, of the right day, in the right moon phase. You’ve got your ingredients, a container, and a carrier oil.

Now what?

It isn’t enough to put ingredients in a jar, add an oil, shake it up, and hope for the best. You can definitely get an oil infusion this way, but it won’t be as powerful or focused as it could be.

When I add ingredients to the container, I tell them what I want them to do. I speak their names, give them instructions, then add them. After each one, I repeat all of the herbs I’ve added so far. It might sound something like this:

“Red rose petals, draw passionate love to me.” Add red rose petals.
“Pink rose petals, draw romantic love to me.” Add pink rose petals.
“Red rose petals, draw passionate love to me. Pink rose petals, draw romantic love to me.” Swirl the ingredients together.
“Jasmine flowers, draw lustful love to me.” Add jasmine flowers.
“Red rose petals, draw passionate love to me. Pink rose petals, draw romantic love to me. Jasmine flowers, draw lustful love to me.” Swirl the ingredients together.

(It starts sounding very “Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” by the end, trust me.)

The carrier oil goes last, then the lid. I give the jar a good shake as I visualize the end result — succeeding at whatever it is I want the oil to do. I hold my hands over the container, filling it with my personal power.

I can generally feel when there’s “enough,” but there are also ways to tell if you aren’t sensitive to energy play. You might use a pendulum, ask your tarot deck for a “yes/no” response, or even just ask the jar itself. Hold your hands an inch or so from the sides, and ask that your hands be pushed apart if it’s sufficiently empowered. There is no wrong way.

Leave it Alone (Sort of)

Now, you just have to put your oil in a place where it’ll be safe and easy to keep an eye on. You’ll want to agitate it regularly by shaking (or stirring, if your vessel doesn’t have a lid). I like to speak to the jars as I handle them, reminding the sleeping herbs of their purpose in the mixture.

I might leave an oil to infuse for a moon cycle or more. (One particular recipe can go for an entire year.) I usually try to leave them for at least a month, though the exact length of time is usually dictated by astrology, seasons, or which High Days are approaching.

Next week, I’ll go into filtering, storing, and using the oils we’ve made!

Three white candles in the middle of dried vines.
life, Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Herbs for Justice, Protection, and Invisibility

If you’re taking part in the June 5th spiritual protest or any other justice-related spellwork, you might be wondering what materials you should reach for. Traditional hoodoo resources are a great source for this — the generations of the Black community’s mistreatment at the hands of law enforcement is made painfully evident when you look at the number of oils, powders, and roots that help with court cases and legal trouble.

If you don’t have access to traditional rootwork resources, though, that’s okay. There are plenty of other plants you can go to, especially if your spiritual and magical path hails from a different part of the world. Since this is somewhat short notice and COVID-19 is still affecting business closures, here are some herbs I thought would be a) effective, and b) easy-to-find, even if you don’t have them already. Some, you might be able to find by the side of the road. Others, you might have in your kitchen already.

Amaranth

Amaranth is used for protection and invisibility — help journalists and protesters avoid violence. It’s an ancient grain, so, if you have a sensitivity to wheat, you may already have some to cook with.

Buckthorn

Buckthorn is useful for protection and legal trouble. Alder-lead buckthorn grows across the U.S., Carolina buckthorn can be found in the east, and California, cascara, and hollyleaf buckthorn grows in the west. Common and glossy buckthorn also occur in the U.S. as invasive species — get your magical ingredients and curb the invasion, all in one shot.

Celandine

Celandine is protective and helps with legal matters. It helps win the good will of a jury, and is used to avoid unjust imprisonment. Lesser celandine is an invasive species in the U.S., especially in the east and northwest, and is sometimes known as “fig buttercup.”

Mugwort

Mugwort is used for protection and healing. It keeps away evil, protecting the target from dark forces. When carried, it helps ensure that loved ones return home safely. Mugwort grows as a weed everywhere but the plains states in the U.S. You can find it on waste ground, roadsides, by train tracks, and in fallow fields.

Oregano

Chances are, you’ve got some of this common spice in your kitchen. Grab a shaker of it, a piece of charcoal, and a fireproof dish, and burn the leaves. As you do this, pray for justice. Your intent will be carried on the smoke.

You can also add oregano to spells for protection — useful for aiding the protesters and oppressed communities.

Rosemary

Rosemary is my favorite protective plant. It’s also an easy-to-find culinary herb — if you don’t have rosemary itself, you might have “poultry seasoning” (which probably has sea salt, garlic, and other protective goodies in it).

Vervain

Vervain is a very powerful sacred herb. It empowers anything it’s added to, and is used for protection, peace, healing, sending negativity back, and more. This is common vervain, not the U.S. native blue vervain, but both are part of Verbena. Blue vervain grows wild in disturbed areas.

Woad

Woad is often used for ancestor work, particularly by those of Celtic extraction. It’s also used for banishing and spiritual protection. As far as I’m aware, the Celtic peoples didn’t really give a flying fornication about ethnicity or bloodline purity or what have you, so, if using it speaks to you, go wild.

Woad isn’t particularly easy to find, but it’s a favorite for battle magic.

Yarrow

Yarrow helps instill courage. You can find it all across the U.S., in gardens, forests, and grasslands alike, growing along roadsides and hiking trails.

This is a very short, basic list based on my own experience and research. (For a more in-depth treatment of war witchcraft, there’s a great article on Zindoki.com.) Most of these herbs are pretty easy to find, you might even be able to harvest some from untended land near your home. Just remember — take no more than 30% of the plant, and always ask permission and leave an offering.

The injustice suffered by some of us, hurt all of us.
Work your magic by the moon. Kick some ass.

Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Dandelion Folklore and Magical Properties

In places that enjoy warm winters, these bright yellow flowers can be spotted year round. If you’re in a temperate area like I am, then you’re probably seeing them all over as we get ready to enter the last month or so of their peak flowering season — especially as business closures and shelter-in-place orders leave a lot of outdoor spaces untended.

Believe it or not, these ubiquitous yellow blooms aren’t actually native to the U.S. In places where they grow naturally, they’re a valuable source of food for honeybees. While they may not be quite as useful to U.S. wildlife, they still have a ton of magical properties that make them a valuable addition to your herb cabinet (and, if you enjoy the flavor, your tea cupboard and salad bowl).

Dandelion Magical Uses and Folklore

The name dandelion comes from the French phrase “dent de lion,” or “tooth of the lion.” Another, more accurate, name is “pissenlit.” “Lit” means “bed.” The rest, I’ll leave up to your imagination.

On a related note, dandelion is a diuretic.

When a dandelion sets seeds, its yellow flower turns into a nimbus of fluff. Pick a dandelion, make a wish, and give it a good, hard puff — the seeds will scatter, carrying your wish with them.

Similarly, if you have a bad habit you want to get rid of, blowing on a dandelion puff will carry it away from you. They can also carry your affections to a distant loved one.

Dandelion puffs are also used in love divination. If you think of your beloved and blow on one, it will show you how loved you are. If the seeds completely disperse, your beloved is infatuated with you. If some seeds remain, they have some reservations.

After you blow on a dandelion puff, watch the direction that the seeds go. It will show you where to seek your fortune.

Hold a dandelion under your chin. If it shines yellow, you’ll be rich some day. A similar belief holds that, the brighter the yellow glow, the kinder you are.

In the Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, Scott Cunningham writes that dandelion root tea can help with divination and prophetic dreams.

Brewing dandelion root tea and leaving a cup of it by your bedside is said to call spirits.

Including dandelions in a wedding bouquet is said to ensure happiness for the married couple.

Dandelion sap was used as a remedy for warts. Squeezing some milky sap from the stem of the plant onto a wart is said to make the wart disappear. (Though this folk remedy has been in use for hundreds — if not thousands — of years, there’s no real clinical data to back it up.)

Some use the dandelion to predict the weather. After they’ve gone to seed and become all fluffy, they are very sensitive to changes in moisture — when the weather’s likely to be wet, they’ll close up. When the rain has passed and things are going to be dry for a bit, they open so their seeds can disperse.

Dandelion is ruled by Jupiter.

The plants are associated with Hecate, Aphrodite, Brigid, Belenos, and solar deities.

Using Dandelion

The easiest way to use dandelions is in a salad. The young leaves are very good, though the adult leaves have a tendency to be bitter. You can also boil the leaves up with onions, carrots, and parsley, strain, and save the broth. It’s delicious and packed with minerals.

Roast the ground root and use it as a caffeine-free coffee substitute. I often drink a beverage made from dandelion root extract called Dandy Blend — it’s good for scratching a coffee itch, especially since I have to avoid stimulants.

All parts of the dandelion can be eaten, or even fermented. Dandelion beer uses leaves, dandelion wine uses flowers, and some root beer recipes use the roots. You can also make a delicious jelly from the flowers.

Most magical uses of dandelion involve brewing it into a tea. You can purchase prepared dandelion teas, or collect your own leaves, dry them, and use a tea strainer. Leaf tea has a pleasantly grassy flavor with some bitterness, while the roots have an interesting nutty taste. Make yourself a cup before performing a divination.

If you choose to go dandelion-foraging, don’t pick any that grow by roadsides, or that may have been sprayed with pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides! These plants are extremely hardy and grow basically anywhere, so you’re best off planting your own so you know what they’ve been in contact with. Many other plants also resemble dandelions, so be absolutely sure you’ve IDed your potential meal correctly.