It was cold and rainy here over the weekend, though that was fine by me — we weren’t exactly spoiled for choice when it came to bonfires and dumb suppers this year. Besides, though rainy weather does my brainmeat up all wretched, it does make me want to clean and air everything out.
So cleaning, cleansing, and refreshing all of my wards is exactly what I did. I would have refreshed my altar too, but I did that on the last new moon — dusting it, wiping it down with a special blend of oils, herbs, and flower water, burning more herbs in my hearth-cauldron, lighting candles, the whole bit.
I often like to take all of the herbs that are getting to be past their peak, ones that I’ve had lingering in my herb jars, drawers, and cabinets for a bit too long, and burn them on Samhain. It just feels right to burn the old herbs, thank them for their usefulness, and either save the ashes (depending on the herbs) for black salt or return them to the soil. I didn’t get to do that this year, but that’s okay — I don’t really have a big stash of old herbs anyhow.
I also filtered the oil I’d started on October’s first full moon, which gave me an inexplicable craving for pizza (courtesy of all of the dittany of Crete. That stuff smells delicious). Now I’ve got a neat little bottle of fresh raven oil chilling in my secret stash, which makes me pretty happy. I’d love to be able to work this combination of herbs into another form — incense, maybe — but many of them are the type that just tends to be throat-pluggingly smoky and bitter when they’re burned. They might work alright if they’re in small amounts and sufficiently worked into a sweeter-smelling base, but that’ll take a little experimentation.
This month came with its usual compliment of especially vivid dreams and messages, but I won’t bore you with those details. I hope the feeling lasts, though. I’m always at least a little sad to see them go once the veil’s no longer as thin.
Let me preface this by saying that I love my cats. I do. But one of them has an odd obsession with getting into any plant that’s within reach (and several that aren’t), and the other will hurl things and scream if one of us fails to sit on the kitchen floor with him in the morning. I don’t know why this is, but it’s the reality of the situation.
Anyway, as you can probably tell, this makes setting up and maintaining a home altar somewhat… challenging, shall we say. Not only do I not want my altar disturbed, I also don’t want to have to worry about someone eating something they shouldn’t. So, here’s how I keep everyone (and everything) safe:
Train Your Cats to- hahahahahaha
Sorry, couldn’t resist. Couldn’t finish that thought with a straight face, either.
Choose Portable Altar Decor (But a Permanent Space)
In my opinion, part of an altar’s power is in its presence even when it isn’t being used. Some of that is lost when you have to set up and take down your altar every time you need it, but that doesn’t make a portable altar any less beautiful or meaningful.
If you do have to go the portable route, however, I’d recommend keeping a dedicated altar space. Even if you can’t have food offerings out without your dog getting into them, or your cat tries to knock over all of your statuary, you can still have a specific space that’s only used for your temporary altar. Get a nice accent table and cover it with a cloth. Set it with a good-sized crystal or a vase of flowers (if your animal companions will allow for it). Save the other altar tools and decorations for when you’re actually performing a working, but keep that space as a designated altar even when it isn’t in use.
Use a Drawer
One of the best ways I’ve found to avoid my felines’ penchant for destruction is to choose a table with a nice, deep drawer, and set up an altar in that. You can still have a permanent space, and all you have to do is pull the drawer open to get to work.
Remember to close it gently, though — you’ll keep your altar tools and decorations from rattling and knocking around that way.
Use the Floor
If having things knocked over is your primary concern, why not just put them on the floor to begin with? The fact is, having chairs and tables so far from the floor isn’t a universal thing — plenty of cultures around the world use low tables, floor cushions, or nothing at all.
Designate a space for a floor altar. Set it with a small accent rug and your altar supplies. Place a comfy floor pillow in front of it, and you’re golden.
Use the Outdoors
If your interior space is too thoroughly dominated by your four-legged roommates, consider working outside. It’s a bit less convenient if the weather’s bad, but outdoor altars are beautiful, functional, and, if you work closely with your local nature spirits, immensely powerful.
The only tip I’d offer here is to choose altar decorations that are resistant to walking away. Expensive statues might disappear on you, and shiny crystals may prove irresistible to the local bird population. Materials that aren’t durable enough might end up a bit worse for wear after a few rainstorms and a couple of rounds of sun bleaching, too. Largish stones, garden statuary, candles, and — of course — plants are inconspicuous, not likely to disappear, and can handle being outside.
Watch the Center of Gravity
Few things are as nerve-wracking as a tall, lit candle. This is especially true when that candle is in the same room as a cat. If candles are part of your practice, make sure to invest in some good, heavy candle holders. If you can make sure your candles are sufficiently bottom-heavy, they’ll be less likely to tip over easily. For this reason, I also recommend tealights and jar candles over, say, long, fancy tapers.
The same is true of any statuary or other decorations. Avoid choosing items that have a high center of gravity, because they’re much more likely to tip over if, for example, a very zealous boxer puppy wags his tail too close to your altar.
Invest in Some Museum Wax
Museum wax is what helps keep museum displays in place. It comes in several types, from an opaque, gummy material to one more like clear dental wax, and can help things stay stationary if they get bumped. The only caveat here is that it doesn’t work on an altar cloth — museum wax provides a tacky surface between two smooth finishes, so it won’t really help to keep your statues in place on top of fabric.
Know Your Poisons (They May Not Be What You Think)
I remember watching a video by a crystal worker a few years ago. In it, they mentioned being guided by their intuition to charge a piece of cinnabar(!) using fire(!!). The reason I mention this is that, sometimes, the list of things we know we should keep away from our pets isn’t as long as it ought to be.
For example, cinnabar is an ore of mercury. Some specimens even have droplets of mercury on or in them. Metallic mercury is, itself, not that toxic — organic mercury compounds are far more dangerous — but inhaling heated mercury vapor is a super bad idea. Honestly, you shouldn’t even really handle cinnabar or wear it next to your skin. If you want to work with it, use gloves, keep it in a glass container, and definitely don’t let your pets touch, lick, or play with it. Definitely definitely don’t heat it up.
Some other gemstones contain toxic materials, like lead, arsenic, or antimony.
Plants and mineral specimens aren’t the only sources of a potential poisoning, either. Some pottery — particularly very old or inexpensive stuff — may not be food safe. This means that its paint or glaze can contain toxic minerals that might leach out if you use it to cook with or eat from. While this isn’t usually a super serious concern for altar tools, it can be if you have a pet who tries to sneak a drink out of your altar’s water vessel or steal your food offerings!
The bottom line is, it’s important to know what goes on your altar. If you have pets, it’s equally important to assume that everything is going to end up on the floor or in someone’s mouth eventually.
We went to one of my favorite places in the whole city: Ginkgo Gardens. (It is not, however, my wallet’s favorite place. I never manage to leave there without at least a hundo in plant friends, pots, or sculpture. Whoops!)
Even though my window plant shelf is pretty full, my Calathea is doing so well that I wanted to find it a few buddies to fill out some empty spaces on the etagere next to my desk. Right now, it’s mostly occupied by picture frames and whatever oils I’ve set to infuse at the moment — it could definitely benefit from the acquisition of some new plants.
And oh boy, acquire I did!
It was rainy, but that’s okay. Rain always gives me a headache and makes it a bit tougher to get around, but I ain’t made of sugar. A little misting won’t keep me home!
I could probably spend all day walking around their outdoor area. It’s not large, but it’s packed with the most beautiful stuff. (Also, I thought the masks on the statues near the entrance was a tiny bit of brilliance.)
In the end, we came home with several treasures: a Pilea, a Calathea, a Maranta, an Asplenium (you know how much I love ferns), and a Tillandsia. I also found a lovely little brass pot tucked away on a shelf…
And this guy.
When my partner and I saw it, we both went, “Oh, whoa.”
“A Friend,” I declared.
He agreed, and we immediately set about figuring out which plant made for the superior hairstyle.
After calling it a Friend, I couldn’t really think of a suitable name. (I’m terrible at naming things, so this didn’t exactly come as a surprise.) I figured Public Universal Friend was as good a name as any!
Here’s hoping the weather is treating you well, and there are many small, green buddies in your future.
Ah, goldenrod. To some, it’s an essential part of their herbal medicine cabinet. To others, it’s a source of misery. I love seeing the bright yellow flowers on their drooping, swaying stems, but I’m also not one of the people suffering from goldenrod allergies. (Allergies to plenty of other pollens, yes. Goldenrod specifically, no.)
Interestingly, many people blame goldenrod for late summer and autumn allergies. Without an allergy test, there’s really no way to tell — ragweed blooms at the same time, and it’s a very common allergen. Most pollen allergies are triggered by wind-pollinated plants, but goldenrod is pollinated by insects. Ragweed, however, is not.
(This is also why raw honey and bee pollen aren’t actually great ways to desensitize yourself to pollen. The pollen that makes it into the hive isn’t likely to be the same kind that’s making you sneeze.)
Goldenrod is a bit of a misnomer. It isn’t a single plant, it comprises 120 different members of the aster family. It’s scientific name is Solidago, via the Medieval Latin “soldago,” via a somewhat circuitous rout from the Latin “solidus.” It’s a name that references strength and solidity, the ability to make something (or someone) whole again. With goldenrod’s traditional medical and magical properties, it’s a very apt name.
Goldenrod Magical Uses and Folklore
Various legends tie goldenrod to the presence of wealth. One source said that, wherever goldenrod grows, gold is buried. (But, were that the case, I can guarantee that DC wouldn’t be nearly as economically stratified as it is. Just saying.) Another says that to find goldenrod growing near your home portends a spell of good luck.
Goldenrod is also tied to water. Folklore holds that, wherever it grows, a spring must be nearby. The plants were also used as effective, if temperamental, divining rods — they were said to only work in the hands of the right person.
One legend tells the story of how goldenrod received its bright yellow flowers. An old woman, traveling through the forest, was growing weary. She asked all of the trees around her for a walking stick, but they refused. She found a small stick on the ground, and asked it for help instead. The stick agreed, and she used it as a walking stick until she was out of the woods. As soon as she stepped beyond the tree line, she shed her disguise — revealing herself as a powerful fairy. In return for the stick’s help, she sprinkled it with gold.
Another story speaks of two little girls who went to an old witch for help. One girl, tall and blonde haired, asked the witch to grant her wish. She wanted to be admired by everyone. Her friend, short and blue-eyed, wished that she and the blonde girl would never have to grow apart. The girls were never seen again after that day, but it’s said that, wherever they walked, there sprung up the yellow goldenrod and the blue aster.
This isn’t folklore so much, but the tires on the Model T Ford that Henry Ford gave Thomas Edison were made of goldenrod. The plant naturally contains a decent amount of rubber — through experimentation, Thomas Edison managed to produce a taller goldenrod that was up to 12% rubber. He partnered with Henry Ford, George Washington Carver, and Henry Firestone to put these tires into mass production, but synthetic rubber arrived on the scene before goldenrod tires ever made it out of the experimental stage.
Goldenrod is one of those plants that seems to be an herbal pharmacy in itself. In America, indigenous people used the leaves externally for skin conditions, and internally for ulcers and lung or kidney problems. After colonists dumped tea into the Boston Harbor in protest, they used goldenrod as a tea substitute. One of Solidago virgaurea’s names is “woundwort,” and it was used in Europe to stop bleeding from wounds. Studies in Germany have found that it’s an effective treatment for kidney stones. It contains compounds that encourage urination, reduce inflammation, soothe pain, and kill pathogens, and the whole plant is edible (though easily confused with toxic Haplopappus heterophyllus, so be careful).
Of course, don’t take my word for this — if you have a medical condition, seek treatment from an expert..
Keep your eyes peeled, since the appearance of goldenrod near your house means good luck is on the way. Of course, if you want to influence fate a little bit, you can plant goldenrod or keep a vase full of it in your home. If you practice feng shui, put it in the money areas of your home. If you don’t, put it near your front door to draw wealth in.
If money’s not your thing, you can also use it to bring in love. Wear or carry it, and you’ll soon cross paths with your true love. Add the dried leaves and flowers to sachets, herbal mixes, incense, or potions for love-drawing.
To dowse with goldenrod, hold a stem in your hand, and watch the flowers. They will nod in the direction of what you seek.
You can turn goldenrod into a useful yellow dye, paint, or magical ink:
Collect the young flowers when they’re about to open, and their concentration of pigment is at its highest.
Let the flowers dry completely.
Simmer in a cup of hot water with a teaspoon of alum for twenty minutes. (Alternatively, grind the flowers fine with a mortar and pestle, add just enough boiling water and alum to cover, and sit in a sunny spot for a full day.)
Filter out the flowers, and add about a half teaspoon of gum arabic if you’d like a thicker consistency. This part is mostly helpful for ink, since it makes it flow and adhere to the paper more nicely.
If you don’t anticipate using all of your dye/ink/paint right away, add two or three drops of essential oil to inhibit mold. Thyme or oregano work well for this.
Bottle, label, and store in a cool, dark place.
Goldenrod is a beautiful, magical plant with a bad rap. It’s showier than ragweed, so its bright yellow flowers are often erroneously blamed for symptoms actually caused by wind-pollinated plants. It’s abundant this time of year, so, if you find yourself in need of a little love or money magic, consider making an offering to the goldenrod plant and harvesting no more than 25% of its leaves and blooms. Even better, sow a local variety in your garden so you can enjoy its presence and provide a valuable food source to butterflies, moths, bees, and other pollinators at the same time!
Yesterday, literally the same day that I posted that tarot reading, I got a bit of disappointing news. I don’t want to get into the details, but it turns out that an artistic opportunity that I’d been pretty excited about isn’t going to happen for me. C’est la guerre. Even amid fulfillment and happiness, it’s a bit much to expect everything to be a slice of fried gold.
Still, understanding that fact doesn’t really banish the bad feelings. Here’s what did, though:
I set a timer.
I gave myself ten minutes to be completely self-indulgent in my complaining. After that, the grumpling grace period was over and I had to keep quiet about it. This serves two purposes:
It keeps me from dwelling on whatever’s bothering me.
It keeps me from becoming insufferable to absolutely everyone around me.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I use this time. I flop dramatically on furniture. I go full Howl’s-Moving-Castle-goopy-wizard. I get to feel my feelings, I can be cartoonishly whiny until I laugh at myself, and other people won’t secretly wish they could lock me in a dumpster.
I did some agitation pedaling.
My partner calls it “having the zoomies.” I call it having more energy than I know what to do with. Sometimes it’s from anger or annoyance. Sometimes it’s boredom. Sometimes, it’s because I ate four bowls of cereal for dinner.
Either way, ten minutes of furious living room biking usually sorts it out decently well. I work myself up to my top speed, and hold it as long as I can — all while mentally focused on a goal I have. When I get to the point where I can’t sustain it anymore, I release the energy toward that goal.
Sweat is also cleansing. Sweating can be a sacred act. There are reasons why so many cultures have traditions built around inducing a good sweat.
Singing along to Turisas is entirely optional, but it helps.
I took a bath (with friends).
(No, not human ones. I don’t think any of them would talk to me afterward.)
When it comes to spells to fix a disappointment, I think they should be spontaneous. It’s not really the time to go worrying about moon phases or astrological timing — if you have needs, fulfill them. Emergency magic performed from the heart can be just as effective as a meticulously planned ritual.
Water is the element of emotions. It’s cleansing. It’s healing. It’s a great way to kill some time doing something that’s objectively good for you. It was late at night, so I didn’t have the energy to make myself a full-on brew, but I do pretty much own my weight in various teas. I boiled some water, added two bags of peppermint and one of chamomile, and asked for their help.
“Peppermint,” I said, said I, “I feel like complete ass and would like that to not be a thing anymore. Peppermint, clear my energy from all that’s dragging me down, and, with chamomile, fill that space with luck and prosperity.”
I held my projective (dominant) hand over the vessel, and did the energy thing. When I felt that it was good enough, I asked the brew if it was ready.
“If this be done, and done well, push my hand away from the vessel.”
(Fortunately, I felt the familiar little energetic “push” against my palm. I don’t think I had it in me to sit on my bathroom floor and troubleshoot this spell.)
I poured the brew in a bath full of warm, fresh water, dumped in an unmeasured buttload of Trader Joe’s $1.99 sea salt, stirred it with my projective hand, and called it good. As soon as I stepped in, feeling the silkiness of the water, smelling the fragrant peppermint-and-chamomile steam curling up from the surface of the water, I began to feel better.
I also had a bright, unmistakable vision of a wolf’s face when I closed my eyes, but that’s probably going to take some further research.
I followed the advice I’d been given in the first place.
There’s a lot to be said for the idea of conceptualizing things as happening “for” you instead of “to” you, though that can be tough to remember in the moment. Personally, every setback I’ve ever experienced — every call I never received after a job interview, every breakup — has always led to something better within the space of a few weeks, like clockwork. I don’t force positivity on myself, and you shouldn’t either if you’re really not feeling it, but I try to keep this track record in mind.
Anyway, all of this is to say that, when the sun is shining and everything’s going great, sometimes a minor bump in the road can seem bigger than it is. Tarot readings function as more than a prediction and an energetic snapshot of your life. They’re also advice. Yesterday’s advice was to celebrate, spread joy, and not let my emotions overrule my discernment. I have a lot to celebrate (I sold a painting recently! I can hike longer trails! I did a bunch of paid writing!), I’m hoping this post might be helpful to someone else who’s feeling the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and, logically, I know this disappointment will pass and be forgotten before long.
I turned it around.
Creativity is deeply personal. When you put yourself into what you make, it’s hard not to take rejection pretty hard. Most of the time, though, that rejection has nothing to do with you — because creativity is so personal, there’s no accounting for what people want. What I consider my best work is almost never as popular as the things I’m not nearly as attached to.
Similarly, this situation in no way impugns me as a person or a creative force. So, worn out from pedaling, freshly minty, and completely called out by my own tarot deck, I went to varnish some paintings.
I don’t want to suggest that vigorous cycling and a bath are the way to deal with, say, a house fire, the loss of a loved one, someone stealing your car, or a loved one burning down your house and stealing your car, but these techniques can help shift the energy around the things that occasionally show up to heck your day apart.
First thing’s first! All of the tarot readings available in my shop are 30% off(!) for the entire month. I’m also adding some new spreads, so, whether you’re looking for a simple three-card reading, an extended 22-card reading, or something geared toward a specific question or life situation, there’s a reading for you.
Did you remember to say “white rabbits” yesterday morning?
Yesterday was the first day of October, the month when the veil between worlds grows thin. I can feel the thinning, too — my dreams always get extra vivid and extra strange, and I very often smell the scents I associate with my grandmothers who’ve passed on. We’re lucky this year, since, in addition to yesterday’s full moon, we’ll be getting another full moon on October 31st.
I mean, I didn’t feel super lucky earlier this week, when I managed to pinch a nerve in my neck (which absolutely felt like part of my brain) and trigger a four-day headache. You probably know the kind. While daily headaches are pretty much part of intracranial hypertension, this was one of those bad boys that seems to radiate from a single, intensely painful spot right at the base of the skull, which seem like nothing short of a brick would cure. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do the usual preparations I do this time of year, but I was able to knock my various bones and fleshes into shape well enough to manage.
(A protip from a pain specialist I used to see regularly: Only use cold therapy on your neck, not heat. Also, bad spines go on the rolly tube.)
Seven days ago, I set up a working designed to run through the end of the waxing moon and culminate on the full. Everything went off without a hitch (and with some wonderful results, but more on that another time), and I decided to celebrate by setting up a batch of oil that I use for trance and dreamwork. From experience, it seems to work best when I set it up on the October full moon. Sometimes, I let it infuse from one October to the next. This year, I think I’ll try letting it go just until the blue moon later this month.
It’s a special blend of dittany of Crete, mugwort, mullein, and cherry, among a few other secrets, and it’s wonderful for anything that involves crossing over into other realms. Not quite potent enough to be mind-altering, but it definitely helps the shift happen. Add a piece of black kyanite, and it’s *chef kiss*. I’m going to post the full recipe one of these days, but I’d like a few more rounds of experimenting with it before I do.
Whether you said anything about rabbits yesterday morning, or your relatives on the other side start hanging around more often, I hope this harvest moon is an abundant one for you.
I love ferns. If you want to feel like you live in some kind of magical woodland glade, get some ferns, a pack of Triloka Enchanted Forest, and cue up a couple tracks from The Moon and the Nightspirit. For real.
Ferns have a reputation for being fussy, and it’s not entirely undeserved. They’re not like most plants — their reproduction is weird, their lighting and humidity needs are weird, and some of them will die if you ever have the audacity to subject them to tap water, dirt, or a sidelong glance.
One of my favorites is a little $4.99 “assorted fern” that makes frequent appearances on my Instagram. I put it the window, watered it often, and, to my surprise, it turned out to be a very robust staghorn fern. This was doubly astonishing to me, because a) I originally thought it was some kind of bird’s nest fern, and b) I once bought a staghorn on purpose, followed all of the care instructions to the letter, and it died within two weeks.
Ferns are weird. They’re also very magical plants that occupy a significant role in the folklore and esoteric practices of cultures everywhere they grow.
Fern Magical Uses and Folklore
In Slavic folklore, ferns produce a magic blossom once a year, on the eve of the Summer Solstice. Whoever is lucky enough to find a fern flower will receive good luck, prosperity, and the ability to understand the speech of animals. Baltic, Swedish, and Estonian culture has a similar tradition — in every case, the flower is believed to be protected by evil spirits. In some folklore, the Devil was said to appear and snatch the flowers for himself.
Unfortunately for the possessors of a fern flower, the story goes that any wealth granted to them would vanish if they ever shared it. To keep the riches of the fern flower, they would have to become cold-hearted, stingy, and isolated. In one tale, a boy who obtains the magical flower ends up losing all of his friends and loved ones because of it — eventually wishing for death to release him.
Ferns don’t actually flower, though. They have no need to. They are indescribably ancient plants, old enough to predate seeds. They do produce “fertile fronds,” which can appear as vaguely flowerlike clusters. These stories may refer to fertile fronds, a different flowering species that resembles a true fern, or the difficulty of attaining wealth and fortune.
Fern seeds were believed to be invisible, and only able to be found on Midsummer Eve. Possessing these seeds could make one invisible, help them understand birdsong, tell them where to find buried treasure, or grant them the strength of forty men.
In one Russian folktale, a farmer who lost his cattle was instantly granted knowledge of their whereabouts when a fern seed fell in his shoe.
In England, it was believed that you could catch the elusive fern seed by placing a stack of twelve pewter plates in a field of ferns. When the seeds appeared, they would fall through the first eleven plates and come to rest on the last.
Nicolas Culpepper claimed that, if a horse were to step on moonwort, it would cause them to throw a shoe. This could be because of its purported effect on iron — stuffing it into a lock was said to cause it to open.
In Hawai’ian folklore, the deity Kamapuaʻa occasionally took the form of a fern. The earth goddess Haumea also had a species of tree fern as a kino lau (body form).
Ferns are tied to weather magic. Burning them was said to cause a storm, as could pulling one up by the roots. On the Devonshire Moors, it’s still customary to burn growing bracken to bring rain.
Tying fern fronds to the ears of horses was said to protect them from the Devil.
In modern magic, ferns are used for rain-making, money spells, and protection. Adding the fronds to spells or arrangements of fresh flowers helps boost the magical properties of whatever they are placed with.
There are so many species of fern with so many different medical uses, I can’t possibly cover them all here. While not all ferns (or all life stages of fern) are medicinal or edible, different fern species have been used for everything from stomach aches to snakebite. From what I have read and observed, they are most often used for skin afflictions — spores are said to reduce pain from stinging nettle, and ointments or pastes made of various fern species are used to tread cuts, bruises, and skin ulcers. In Scottish lore, ferns were mixed with egg and used as an ointment to restore sight or reduce redness in bloodshot eyes! (Please don’t do this just because you read it here, though. I don’t want anybody getting some kind of raw egg eye infection.)
For protection, plant or place potted ferns near windows and doors. (Just make sure they have the right levels of sunlight and humidity!) Llewellyn has a spell using ferns to banish evil, which may piggyback on its use for rain-bringing. Rain is cleansing, ferns are protective, so these two properties could drive evil out of a place.
If you’re lucky enough to come across fern spores (those black dots along the backs of fronds), carry them when you want to go unnoticed.
In hoodoo, ferns seem to be largely for protective magic. Among other uses, sprinkling crushed fern leaves along windowsills is said to keep intruders away, and adding it to a floor wash with black snake root clears away jinxes.
That said, some spells may refer to specific ferns using secret names. Maiden’s hair is the maidenhair fern, for example, while horse’s tongue is the hart’s tongue.
Magically, your best bet is one of two things: purchasing fern fronds, or growing some of the easier-care varieties in pots. While older sources cited specific plants in their folklore, the modern herbals I consulted for this post didn’t — they just said “ferns.” In my opinion, I don’t think it matters much what type of fern you choose to work with. When it comes to spending my time tending a growing plant versus tracking down the exact species used in a spell, I’ve found I’m pretty much always better off using a plant I’ve developed a relationship with (or, at the very least, one that’s abundant where I live). They have an affinity for water, which explains their use in rain magic. They all have spores, not seeds, which explains their use in invisibility (and, to a lesser extent, protection) spells. Find a fern that will grow happily for you, and see what magical secrets it holds.
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 la 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.
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.
Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis, is one of the most beautiful parts of watery places out here. Though the plant has bright yellow-orange flowers, they aren’t what give it its name — rather, it’s the curious property of the leaves. Since it grows near water, and excess moisture has a nasty tendency to support the growth of all kinds of pathogens, the leaves repel it. If you take one and drop water on it, it will bead up and glisten like jewels. If you take a leaf and hold it underwater, it looks like it’s covered in pavé-set diamonds.
They have a very clever reproductive strategy, too. Their showy flowers encourage sexual reproduction by attracting hummingbirds and other pollinators. They also have much smaller, more discreet flowers, which don’t open up the way their other blossoms do — they self-pollinate. This gives jewelweed the ability to produce two different sets of seeds: one that costs more energy and has a wider gene pool, and one that’s much cheaper, but lacks genetic diversity.
The seed capsules are pretty cool, too. One of the plant’s other common names is touch-me-not, because of the way it disperses its seeds. Plant jewelweed once, and it’ll keep self-seeding and coming back. After pollination, the seed capsules hang out and wait for something — anything — to touch them. Brush up against one, and the valves on the pods will quickly coil back and fire the seeds in a tiny explosion. (This all sounds perfectly normal, until you picture what it would look like if every pregnant person was also basically a baby confetti cannon.)
Jewelweed Magical Uses and Folklore
These plants are well known to people indigenous to where they grow. Their virtues are largely medicinal, so I didn’t have very much luck finding explicitly-stated magical properties or associations. Peer-reviewed research supports its use for itchy skin conditions, including tinea (the fungus responsible for ringworm, athlete’s foot, and jock itch).
Jewelweed contains compounds that act as antagonists to the urushiol found in poison ivy. Most people are sensitive to urushiol, and end up with a telltale itchy, blistered rash from it. Applying jewelweed sap immediately after coming in contact with poison ivy can help stop the rash in its tracks.
I’m reminded of a rhyming couplet I read once, though I fail to remember where:
Jewelweed, starve ivy’s greed
Touch-me-not, stay ivy’s rot
(I have no idea. If you know the origin, let me know!)
The elemental and planetary associations for jewelweed are pretty much what you’d expect: water and Venus.
The flowers are a bright yellow-orange. Following the elemental correspondences, color attributes, and medicinal uses, I would use jewelweed in workings to bring joy and prevent or alleviate suffering. Water is the element of the emotions. Orange is for joy and positivity. It can keep you from spending a long, miserable time dealing with poison ivy blisters. The leaves repel what they don’t want on them. It makes sense to me!
As mentioned above, jewelweed makes a nice flower essence. It also appears to be provisionally edible, but you need to cook it thoroughly to denature its toxic compounds.
Most uses of jewelweed involve either applying the crushed, raw plant to the skin, or adding it to salves, washes, or witch hazel.
Magically, I would dry some of the flowers and add them to sachets or witch’s bottles for creativity, joy, and the prevention of sorrow. Use the seeds in spells to increase the flow of inspiration. Since the plant depends on its flowers for genetic diversity, avoid taking more than a third of them. (Unless you’re in the Pacific Northwest, where it’s considered invasive. In that case, go to town.)
Jewelweed is a really unique plant. Sew it once, and it’ll keep coming back. It has an admirable tenacity, and can be a real friend to anyone who’s ever touched poison ivy on the trail. While traditional magical lore seems to be a bit thin on the ground, it has enough special qualities that it’s easy to extrapolate. Work with jewelweed, and see what it tells you.
My first experience with pokeweed was watching one sprout out of the side of my house.
I didn’t know what it was at first — it cropped up, seemingly overnight, in a tight space between the foundation and the heating oil tank. Since I was given to notions about lilac trees and beds of flowers at the time, and also didn’t want the foundation to crumble, I was tempted to pull it out. Something about the bright magenta-purple stems and lush leaves stayed my hand.
Nah, I thought. Let’s see where this goes.
Not long after, I was “rewarded” with hanging clusters of delicious-looking deep purple berries. I say “rewarded,” because pokeweed is also known as American nightshade and those shiny, tasty-seeming berries are super poisonous.
Well, unless you’re a bird. Or a raccoon. (As I discovered when Vladimir, the very rotund beast that lived above my friend’s garage, began leaving disturbingly recognizable pokeberry doots in front of the beer fridge.) While pokeweed berries are extremely deadly to most mammals, they’re a very important food source for plenty of other species. After other snacks have run their course, pokeberries are still hanging on.
Humans can eat the young shoots, but only when they are very young, and only after cooking them in two changes of water. I’ve also read that the berries may be edible too, but you have to remove the seeds first. Personally, I’m not really willing to try that particular experiment.
This past weekend, my partner and I stumbled on a pokeweed plant on a walk. Though mostly eaten, there were still a few deep purple berries left, and the intensely pink stems hadn’t yet lost their luster. That’s when I got the idea to write this post.
Pokeweed Magical Uses and Folklore
Pokeweed has a long history of use as a medicinal herb by people indigenous to its native range. That said, the effective dose is extremely small and the line between “medicine” and “poison” is thin. Isolated compounds in the plant — like Pokeweed Antiviral Protein — show a lot of promise as antiviral, anti-HIV, and even anti-cancer agents, but that’s another story.
The United States Declaration of Independence was written in ink made of pokeberries. Soldiers during the American Revolution frequently wrote letters in pokeberry juice, since it grew pretty much everywhere and made a very useful ink.
Pokeweed is variously associated with Mars or Uranus.
The Mars association makes sense, as various parts of the pokeweed (especially the dried berries) are used in spells for courage.
On the other hand, the Uranus association makes just as much sense. One of pokeweed’s medicinal properties is as a purgative (and oh, what a purgative). Shamans relied on this purging power as a kind of sympathetic magic, to expel evil spirits from afflicted people. It’s also used to break hexes and exorcise spirits/demons from a space. In other words, pokeweed purges evil or unwanted influences.
Crushing the berries creates a very powerful magical ink. Some people ferment them, others add vinegar, salt, or other natural preservatives and use it as-is. This ink is often used for hex breaking, and can also serve as a substitute for blood in a pinch (depending on the spell, of course).
You can also add the dried berries to sachets or spell jars for bravery or hex-breaking. I would avoid adding them to baths or incense, just in case, and definitely never add them to salves or teas. The juice of the plants can be absorbed through the skin, causing issues similar to poison ivy. It also contains compounds that can trigger mutations, so that’s neat.
Pokeweed is a striking-looking plant. The bright magenta stems, vibrant green leaves, and shiny clusters of dark berries are stunning. Like many poisonous plants, it holds a lot of power within it — but that power demands respect. Pokeweed has the ability to feed, heal, and harm, all depending on how it’s used.