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!

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.

Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Cardamom Folklore and Magical Uses

When I was in college, one of my lab partners was a beautiful girl whose family was from Yemen. She was always dressed very conservatively, though fashionably, but beneath her impeccably neat, studious exterior she was warm, kind, and funny as hell.

One day, she brought me some cardamom pods to try as a tea. I hadn’t ever had caramom before (that I knew of), and I was pleasantly surprised. Like she herself, their neat outer pods concealed a wealth of warmth and complexity.

 

Cardamom Magical Uses and Folklore

This ginger relative is one of the oldest spices in the world. It’s believed that it was introduced to Europe by Alexander the Great, who brought it back from the Cardamom Hills of southwest India.

As a warm spice with a hint of sweetness, it’s probably not surprising that this herb has found its way into many a love potion. Some sources associate it with Venus, while others attribute it to Mars — making it perhaps better suited for formulas for lust and passion than anything else. It’s also said to have some commanding and compelling properties, particularly in the areas of lust and love.

Since it’s a Mars herb, it’s also useful for protection. However, unlike the harsh heat of an ingredient like cayenne, cardamom is much softer and gentler — an iron fist in a velvet glove.

In some areas of Asia and Africa, it was used as an aphrodisiac.

To charm a prospective lover (or anyone else, really), chew a few cardamom seeds before talking to them.

Cardamom is an ingredient in some versions of kyphi, an ancient Egyptian incense. It’s often presented as a substitute for cinnamon. It was also used as an ingredient in several ancient perfumes.

Scent- and flavor-wise, it blends very well with a wide array of other herbs. In magical formulas, it’s often used as a catalyst. Overall, it seems to “play nicely” with a pretty impressive variety of ingredients.

Cardamom is said to have a calming, uplifting effect on mood. It relaxes the body and stimulates the mind — no wonder it’s been used as an aphrodisiac!

 

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Using Cardamom

As a culinary and magical herb, the easiest way to use cardamom is to eat it. Add the pods to soups, stews, or rice dishes and remove after cooking, the way you’d use a bay leaf. You can also add the ground spice near the end of cooking.

You can find cardamom in many Indian, Middle Eastern, Turkish, African, and Scandinavian recipes. It’s an ingredient in chai, desserts, sausage, poultry, fish, coffee, and just about any other food or beverage you can imagine.

If you want to charm a lover, serve them some food flavored with cardamom. Empower the cardamom before adding it by telling it what you want it to do, and visualizing it filling with bright, warm, red or pink light. Add the cardamom, and stir the dish with a spoon held in your dominant hand. (If you have a special spoon dedicated to kitchen witchery, so much the better). If you have a love chant, say it. Otherwise, you can sing your favorite love song (or your favorite song to bone down to).

Since cardamom comes in tidy little pods, it’s a great ingredient for love or protection sachets, poppets, or bags. It doesn’t crumble and make a mess like leafy herbs and, if it accidentally gets crushed, it releases a wonderful aroma.

I like to add cardamom to lentils. I boil up a pot of lentils with cardamom, pepper, and turmeric, and add them to dishes throughout the week. It’s an inexpensive, nutritious, flavorful way to stretch out a meal.

 

Cardamom is a wonderful spice with a long history of use. It’s powerful, though its action is gentle, and its warmth blends well with tons of other magical and culinary ingredients. If you’re looking for a subtle — yet potent — love or lust ingredient, you can’t really go wrong with cardamom.

Environment, life, Neodruidry, Witchcraft

A Daily Earth-Healing Meditation

Since today is Earth Day, I figured it’d be a good time to post about a small, simple daily meditation that I use to start my day.

It’s a combination of a grounding exercise and a planet-healing. You don’t need anything to do it, other than a comfortable, quiet place to sit (or even lie down) and five or ten minutes to spare. It’s based around the incredibly important role that fungi play in every ecosystem.

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Tiny eyelash fungi on mossy wood.

The Fungi

Though we often picture mushrooms when we imagine fungi, fungal fruiting bodies make up a tiny portion of the whole organism. Beneath them, spread out in a web, is a vast network of mycelium. The hyphae spread out like thin threads, transporting nutrients, secreting enzymes to break down organic matter, and supplying nutrients to the plants that depend on them. Everything in the world relies on fungi for survival, in one form or another. They secrete carbon dioxide as part of the carbon cycle, and can break down almost anything that isn’t actively toxic to them — even plastic, petroleum, or pesticides. Some fungi turn carbon into melanin, a very stable carbon-containing compound, while others help soil retain moisture. Certain fungi increase soil aggregation, potentially increasing soil carbon storage.

Still, fungi respond to a very careful natural balance. While the soil is a carbon sink, soil fungi also return carbon dioxide to the air — especially in situations where elevated levels of carbon dioxide encourage plant growth, increasing nitrogen demand and upsetting the delicate balance of carbon and nitrogen. Fungi can be vital environmental allies, but the balance needs to be preserved.

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A pair of boletes.

Soil fungi don’t just comprise one or two species, either. Every patch of soil could be a host to a thousand distinct species. Just like the natural microflora of the body shift and change in response to illness, stress, diet, and medication, different stressors affect how these fungi grow, compete with each other, and evolve.

It’s never been more clear that protecting the planet means preserving all of the microscopic activity below the soil, not just the plants and animals above.

The Meditation

To begin, position yourself comfortably. Let your shoulders drop. Relax your jaw and the muscles around your eyes. Unclench your hands, and let them rest softly in your lap.

Inhale deeply, using your diaphragm and pushing out your belly to take in as much air as you can. Breathe in for a count of four, gently hold your breath for a count of three, and exhale for a count of seven. Repeat this three to five times.

Visualize your energy reaching from the base of your spine, through your seat, the floor, and into the soil. You don’t have to go far below the grass here — once your energy reaches the ground, let it spread out like the roots of a tree. Picture the filaments of your energy reaching through the soil, touching the filaments of mycelium that connect everything. Let your roots engage with the hyphae, gently befriending. When you have spread your energy as far as you can, begin sending a stream of loving light down through your roots.

Don’t worry if you don’t know all of the ins and outs of your local soil’s chemistry. Visualize your energy stimulating where it is needed, calming where it is needed, and balancing where it is needed. Visualize the soil fungi doing their microscopic jobs to break down what is no longer needed, and return it to the earth in a usable, nourishing form. Let your contact with the living soil recalibrate your energy, grounding you.

Continue this visualization for as long as is comfortable for you. When you are ready, gently withdraw your energetic roots from the soil. Open your eyes, stretch your limbs, and go about your day with a renewed awareness of how our actions affect everyone — and everything — around us.

 

crystals, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

3 Spells for Keeping the Peace

Ideally, you like the people you’re isolated with right now. Even if you do, though, it’s hard not to get on each other’s nerves once the cabin fever really starts setting in. There are tons of ways to fight boredom and keep busy, but you still might need a little extra help keeping the vibes smooth and tranquil.

That’s where these come in: Three spells to help you keep things happy and peaceful.

Starting with the Cleanest Slate You Can

Okay, so by now you’re probably already used to wiping down, washing, and disinfecting everything that isn’t literally on fire. Good! Physically cleaning a space is a key part of getting the magic flowing — dust, dirt, and clutter are less than optimal for energy flow. So, if you haven’t yet, do a solid spring clean. Set up containers for decluttering — one for things to keep, one for things that need repairing, one for trash, one for recyclables, and one for donations — and work room-by-room. When you’re through, get rid of anything you’re not keeping or fixing.

Once your space is as decluttered and clean as you can get it, rock on.

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A Wind Spell for Peace

The element of air is an oft-overlooked way to cleanse and freshen things. When it’s sunny and breezy out, open your windows and let the fresh air in. Close your eyes and feel the coolness against your skin. You can chant, pray, or state your intent here. I like to say something like,

“Let this breeze blow away all discord, so only peace and joy may remain. As I will, it shall be.”

An Herbal Tranquility Potion

I love making washing potions. It’s easy to do, too — add herbs to boiling water, as you might for tea, let them steep until the water cools, done. You can place dried herbs into a reusable tea bag, square of muslin cloth, or tea strainer, or just leave them loose and strain them out afterward. (As a word of caution, don’t mix the tools you use for potion-making with those you use for food-making. Not all magical herbs are edible, and many are poisonous.)

Some herbs and flowers that are useful here include:

  • Chamomile
  • Coltsfoot
  • Coriander
  • Lavender
  • Lilac flowers
  • Meadowsweet
  • Rose
  • Skullcap
  • Vervain
  • Violet

As the herbs steep, stir them clockwise nine times with a wooden spoon or wand held in your dominant hand. While you do this, say,

“No tension or strife shall come near,
Peace and tranquility alone reign here.”

Visualize the liquid filling with a calming, gentle golden light. When the potion is done and the herbs are removed, add it to a bucket of clean, warm water. Use this to wash your floors, doors, doorways, windows, and any steps leading to your front or back doors. Prepare the mixture fresh each time.

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A Peaceful Herbal Sachet

The same herbs listed above can be made into an herb sachet. To make one, you’ll also need:

  • A square of white, blue, or light purple cloth
  • A ribbon or needle and thread (to close it with)
  • Any other peace-promoting curios you like. These can include metal peace sign charms, a small figure of a dove, tumbled amethyst stones, or anything else that feels right to you.

To begin, make sure the fabric, ribbon/thread, and curios are cleansed according to your favorite method. You can set them in the sun for a little bit, use sound, sprinkle them with blessed salt, fume them with cleansing incense, or whatever other way you like. When they are prepared, it’s time to get to work.

Hold the herbs in your dominant hand. Close your eyes, and feel yourself drawing power up from the earth, and down from the sky. Allow these energies to mingle in you, and direct them into the herbs in your hand. Say,

“[Name of herb(s)], I ask that you lend your power to this spell. Chase tension and stress from here, and bring peace and calm in its place.”

Place them in the center of the square of fabric.

Repeat this process with the curios, substituting the name of the curio for the name of the herb. Place them in the center of the fabric with the herbs as well.

Fashion the square of fabric into a little pouch, either by drawing the corners together and tying them with the ribbon, or by sewing it into a little pillow shape with the needle and thread. When you are through, lightly kiss the sachet, and hold it to your forehead. Say,

“With this spell, I draw in the energies of tranquility, that my home might be a respite from the hardships and strife in the world. Let no stress remain, only peace shall reign.”

Tuck the sachet in a hidden corner of the room you wish to influence. You can let that sachet take care of your whole home, or, if you think your place could use a little extra help, make a sachet to hide in every room of your home.

Remember: If You Can’t Source Ingredients…

… Don’t sweat it! Can’t find an amethyst? Most of the plain stones in your yard are actually variants of clear or white quartz, both of which will do in a pinch. No fresh lilac flowers or lavender buds? You might have a few bags of Earl Grey tea, which is made with lavender and bergamot (which is also helpful for lifting moods and instilling courage). Missing other herbs? See what plants you have in your yard — even “weeds” like clover are associated with things like love and protection, two properties that would be very useful here. You can also check your kitchen. Oranges, in particular, are great for bringing joy and sun energy to whatever spells include them. Zest the peels, allow the zest to dry, and keep it in a cool, dark place for whenever you need a little sun magic.

The most important part of any spell is declaring your intention and focusing your energy on that intention. You can have all of the right herbs, and it still won’t work if you don’t focus the power properly.

Magic is adaptable. You can experiment and bend things to suit what you have on hand. While there are some spells that don’t accept substitutions, the majority of them can be worked around to some degree. Since going out to shops to source rare and hard-to-find ingredients isn’t really feasible right now, this is the perfect time to see how you can adapt your magic to your landscape.

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

The Many Implications of a Jacket

Guess who’s got two thumbs and a jacket she got a pretty rad deal on!

(Me. I did.)

Everything we touch, we leave a little of ourselves in. Maybe you handled a book when you were having a terrible day, or picked up a crystal when you were feeling particularly elated. By that same token, everything we bring into our spaces comes with its own energetic history. This is why it’s always a good idea to cleanse your stones, bowls, wands, or any other tools before you use them — you don’t necessarily want someone else’s bad day screwing with your whole jam, you know?

So you rinse them in clean water, if you can. Maybe you hold them in incense smoke, or the fumes of cleansing herbs. Maybe you place them in sunlight.

All of this is to say that this jacket is very pre-owned, and I don’t know any of its history. Was it owned by a nice little old lady who only wore it on Sundays? Did it narrowly escape being labeled “Exhibit B” in a trial? It’s a mystery!

Even though a jacket isn’t a magical tool, I still don’t really want any bad vibes hanging around. I mean, if nothing else, that is other people’s energy and should be returned to them. This can go beyond sending energy back to its previous owner, too — not only was this jacket previously owned by someone, it was sewn, cut, dyed, and tanned by someone, the cow was raised by someone, and the cow gave its life for it. (I prefer not to mess with plastic leather substitutes for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, plant-based alternatives like hemp were not going to meet my needs here.)

A lot of living things sacrificed their time, energy, and even lives to keep me warm and dry. That deserves appreciation.

When I cleanse secondhand objects, it’s important to me to not only remove the residual energy from the object itself, but to return it to its source and express thanks and understanding of how it got there in the first place. The choice to purchase or wear anything shouldn’t be made lightly, and it should be done with a full view of what it took to get it into a shop, and what’s going to become of it once its working life is through.

Even the choice to send gratitude and positive energy to whoever previously owned, made, or died for a thing isn’t without controversy. Let’s be real — most of the people involved in this jacket’s creation are probably still alive. There’s something to be said for never performing magic for someone without their consent (though this is often considered a limit to love spells and things of that nature). If the previous owner is a devout Christian, how would they feel about a Pagan doing a working for them?
Granted, my experience with this is limited to watching a family member (and, to be fair, Pat Robertson devotee) set AzureGreen catalogs on fire in our kitchen sink while ranting about Satan, but I am inclined to think the answer is: not super great.

On the other hand, nobody says that this hypothetical person has to accept any intentions they don’t want. I ain’t over here trying to force anyone to have a good day. Ultimately, it’s enough that their vibes make it back to them, where they belong.

So, I light my herbs. I sprinkle my salt. And I send the energy back with the intention that it finds its targets happy and well.

Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Elderberry Folklore and Magical Uses

With colds, the flu, and COVID-19, elderberry syrup has made a lot of appearances in various “crunchy” and DIY blogs. Elderberry is touted as an herbal “medicine chest” — even Hippocrates and Pliny the Elder had a hard time overstating the herb’s value. It’s said to improve allergies, inflammation, sinus problems, and pain, and, with prompt use, shorten the duration of cold and flu symptoms.

Elderberries and syrup.

That’s not all elderberry is used for, though. This tree, with its white flowers and dark, shiny berries, has a lot of folklore and a long history of magical use behind it.

Elder Magical Uses and Folklore

The elder tree is believed to house a spirit with the power to help or harm. In Denmark, it is Hylde Moer. Elsewhere, it was dryads, or simply the Old Lady of the Elder tree.

Taking any of the tree’s gifts has to be done with permission. If permission is granted, they have the power to heal and protect. If it isn’t, they have the power to harm. One charm for cutting elder wood goes:

“Old Lady of the Elder Tree,
Let me have some of your wood,
And, when I am a tree,
You may have some of mine.”

In southern Italy, the wood is used to drive out evil, and protect against thieves and serpents.

In Germany, hanging elder branches in a home on Walpurgisnacht protects from evil.

The spongy centers of elder branches are soaked in oil and used as a kind of lamp wick to reveal all of the witches in an area.

In England, carrying an elder stick or cross made of elder wood was said to protect from rheumatism.

Building a cradle from elder wood is a bad idea, for spirits with pinch and poke any child that sleeps in it.

It’s considered a very bad idea to burn elder wood. In Ireland, it was believed that burning elder would would make you see the devil in the flames. Part of the Wiccan Rede goes as follows:

“Elder be the Lady’s tree. Burn it not, or cursed be.”

(Considering the cyanide content of uncured fruitwoods, and the fact that hydrogen cyanide is liberated by heat, this is probably very good advice!)

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The scent of elder flowers is said to be narcotic in nature. Sleeping under an elder tree would cause the sleeper to dream of the fairy realm, or else not wake up at all.

Magically, carrying elder wood, leaves, twigs, or berries is said to protect you from harm, while hanging elder branches over doors and windows of a building protects its occupants.

Elder is associated with death and rebirth — all parts of the plant are toxic (except the ripe, cooked berries), and elder grows quickly from cuttings.

Elder wood is used for wands, and for making instruments whose music is said to be favored by spirits.

In some situations, elder is used as a commanding herb.

Using Elder

All parts of the plant produce cyanogenic glycosides, hence all of the old admonitions against the improper use of elder. The berries are used medicinally, but that’s only after proper preparation.

Magically, elder is a powerful tree — which stands to reason, since the plant itself contains the power to heal and kill. Any tree should be asked for permission before gathering its products, but that goes double for elder. From what I have read, elder wood should be avoided for mundane purposes, and its use should be restricted to magical tools.

 

Elder has gotten a lot of press lately because of its use as a remedy for respiratory illness, but there’s only so much it can do. It can help with sinus problems, inflammation, and shorten cold and flu symptoms, but the best way to keep from getting sick is still to eat well, rest well, stay hydrated, and stay away from people.