Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Fennel Folklore and Magical Properties

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a Mediterranean herb related to carrots. The type you see in supermarkets is bred for its large bulb, which is eaten as a vegetable. You can also find the dried leaves in teas and herb blends. It has a flavor very reminiscent of anise or licorice that becomes mild and sweet during cooking. It’s also related to silphium, a plant that was both considered a delicacy and included in formulas to cause miscarriage.

Flowering fennel tops.

One of the most interesting things about fennel is its action on the endocrine and reproductive systems. While it isn’t true that the ancient Romans harvested a relative of fennel to extinction for to use for herbal abortions, alcohol extracts of a relative of giant fennel (the source of the spice asafoetida) have been found to prevent egg fertilization and induce miscarriages in rats.

Fennel Magical Uses and Folklore

While fennel isn’t exactly the same plant as asafoetida, fennel seeds do act as a uterine stimulant. Part of this is due to an estrogenic effect, possibly courtesy of the compounds anethole, dianethole and photoanethole. Fennel also contains an enzyme that effects the body’s ability to process certain drugs. In the 3rd century, a doctor named Metrodora included a species of fennel in a compound of herbs to cause miscarriage.

Fennel is one of the plants in the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm. To wit:

[C]hervil and fennel

very mighty these two plants created the wise leader holy in heaven

when he hung set and sent into the 7 worlds

for wretched and rich all to remedy

stands she against pain

stands she against poison.

Who is mighty against 3 and against 30

against fiends hand

against spells

against enchantment by wicked wights.

An excerpt from the Nine Herbs Charm, from the Lacnunga

Interestingly, Pliny the Elder claimed that silphium (the much-desired fennel of ancient Greece and Rome) had a powerful purgative effect when initially consumed. It was said that the plant purged the body of undesirable “humors,” effectively causing a kind of physical purification. However, Pliny also thought that snakes ate fennel to improve their eyesight, so maybe don’t take everything he says at face value.

A trio of fennel bulbs.

When planted around the home, fennel acts as a magical ward. This may be based in part on its use as an insect repellant — the idea being that it repels evil just as well as it does bugs. As an extension of this idea, medieval households would hang fennel above the door and fill their locks with fennel seeds to keep wandering, unsettled ghosts away.

Fennel seeds are burned to purify spaces. You can also dress a candle with fennel seeds to break streaks of bad luck and crossed conditions in your life.

Fennel’s estrogenic effects were sometimes relied on to improve libido. By extension, the flowers and seeds are often used in sachets and charms to enhance one’s love life.

Planting fennel and dill together can result in hybrid plants that look like a cross between the two and taste like neither.

Followers of Dionysus carried wands made of fennel stalks.

Fennel is used for courage. Chew the seeds or drink fennel tea before you have to do something scary or difficult.

Using Fennel

Consume the seeds or drink the tea to help trigger a late menstrual period. The maximum dosage of fennel seeds for an adult human is about 6 grams. More than that may cause unwanted effects.

You can use pretty much any part of the fennel plant — chew the seeds, put them in tea, eat the bulb and stalk as a vegetable, you name it. This means that you’re pretty much free to choose whichever part of the plant resonates best with you, and use it however it suits your purposes. If you plan to consume it, be sure to do your research to make sure it won’t interact with any other herbs or medications you’re currently using. It’s generally safe in food amounts, but the risk of adverse side effects increases with the dose.

Fennel seeds are great additions to sachets, powders, and potions.

Growing fennel is fairly easy. It can grow in zones 5-10, and is a perennial in zones 6 and up. Nonetheless, it’s usually treated as an annual — it self-sows prolifically, and you’re likely to harvest and use the whole plant once its mature anyhow.

Sow fennel in early spring, about 16-18″ apart in an area that receives full sun and has enough headroom for the plant to reach its full 5′ adult height. (It’s best to direct sow, because fennel isn’t very receptive to transplanting.) Avoid planting it near other plants, since it secretes a compound that prevents competition. Coupled with its sun-blocking height, and you may find that its neighbors really struggle. Fennel also hybridizes readily with some other plants, so you may find that the seeds you get from it aren’t true to the parent plant at all.

A swallowtail caterpillar crawling on a fennel flower.

Water fennel regularly until its well established. The plant generally doesn’t experience many problems, though you might find swallowtail butterfly caterpillars chewing on the leaves!

Harvest fennel after about two months, once its mature. Cut off the flowers as they appear, unless you want to gather the seeds (or would like the plant to self-sow).

Burn the seeds or stalks for purification or protection. Blend with rose petals, cinnamon, and other love and lust herbs for use in aphrodisiac formulas.

life

The Benefits of Not Being an Emotional Empath.

Much has been made over the idea of being empathic. This is pretty similar to being empathetic, in that both are based on structures in the brain that fire in response to other people’s behavior. While empathetic people can essentially “feel” the emotions of others, in the sense that they feel happy when others express joy and sad when others grieve, this goes deeper for empathic people.

A lot of articles have been written on the pros of being an empath, and some go so far as to treat it like a kind of superpower. At times, it can get weirdly confusing — some quizzes conflate being empathic with being generally energetically sensitive, when they aren’t the same. I’ve been called an empath because I feel drained after big gatherings and get headaches from floor cleaner, but, even if those are traits that are common to empaths, they aren’t signs of being emotionally empathic.

Anyhow, all of this is to say that being an empath isn’t necessarily optimal. The world needs empaths, but it also needs people whose mirror neurons aren’t doing the equivalent of cutting the brake lines on an F1 car. And so, here’s a list of reasons why it kind of rocks to not be an emotional empath:

Your energy is yours.

Sure, everyone should know how to shield themselves from other people’s energy. For empaths, though, this process is a lot more involved. People whose mirror neurons are more selective don’t have to worry as much about whether the feelings they feel are theirs, or the detritus of someone they came in contact with.

You can provide another kind of emotional support.

Empaths are good at emotional support because they feel what other people feel. Depending on the situation, that’s not always desirable — sometimes, you need someone who has an easier time maintaining distance to provide stability. There are also plenty of emotional situations where it doesn’t actually help to be told, “I understand you.” Some people need a witness to their experience, not someone to be in it with them.

This is a time when sympathy and compassion are helpful, but empathy may become detrimental. Not just detrimental to the empath, either — an empathic response can actually block what the other person needs from you. In the words of Graham Johnston, “using the prefrontal cortex to mentalise […] might be more helpful than using the anterior cingulate cortex to empathise with them.”

You can still be empathetic without being empathic.

Empathy arises in a specific area of the brain. In some people, this is more active than others. There is no hard line between being an empath and being devoid of empathy. It’s a spectrum.

What’s more, even if you’re not able to feel empathy like others do, you can still have sympathy and exhibit compassion. As mentioned above, there are plenty of times when a compassionate response is more helpful than an empathetic one. Even if you can’t empathize with someone’s grief, you can sympathize with their misfortune and treat them with compassion.

Projection is more difficult.

The number of people who consider themselves empaths probably outnumbers the actual empaths in the world. Unfortunately, empathy is often treated like the one good thing it isn’t possible to have too much of, but this is a) not true, and b) something that tempts people to identify with a label that may not actually apply to them.

As a result, there are an awful lot of empaths who don’t so much feel what others feel, as they project their own feelings onto other people. What if you honestly think you’re feeling what someone else is, but your feelings are inaccurate? What happens if you misidentify the source of these emotions?

Even if you are empathic, and you do accurately feel another person’s emotions, these emotions aren’t paired with that person’s personal, mental, and cultural context. You can respond to them in a way that you feel would be helpful, but, even if you’re feeling their feelings, you will always be responding from within your own context. If someone is grieving, and you feel their grief, you might want a hug to help soothe that pain within you. If you project this desire onto the other person, it’s not helpful. In the end, the solution is still to act from a place of sympathy and compassion.

An empathic response can actually increase bias.

This is a bit complicated, but follow me here.

Say you wear a red shirt. All of your friends wear red shirts. Maybe you even go to conventions about red shirts. Red shirts are awesome.

There’s another group of people who wear blue shirts. Maybe you understand why they do this, maybe you don’t. That part doesn’t matter. The red shirted people are your in-group. The blue shirted people are an out-group. Your groups’ experiences differ. They don’t go to your red shirt conventions, and you don’t get invited to their blue shirt parties. Unfortunately, this can lead to bias against people who are in the out-group.

In a 2009 study, some researchers performed experiments to see how to mitigate the effects of in-group/out-group biases. One big thing that helped was contact with members of the out-group. Another was empathy toward the out-group. Both empathy and contact reduced prejudice and biases. Here’s the weird part, though: When put together, they negated each other. Empathy plus contact didn’t improve the situation.

The researchers explained this through the concept of a “meta-stereotype.” This term refers to how a person thinks they are perceived by a member of their out-group. When an in-group member anticipates having contact with an out-group member, this concern is activated. Empathy heightens it. When you’re that preoccupied with feeling what a member of the out-group thinks of you, it becomes much more difficult to have a productive, natural interaction with them.

Worst of all, these findings were backed up by another study by a different group of researchers for years later. In this one, researchers found that attempts to take an empathetic stance toward members of an out-group actually reinforced in-group identity and negative attitudes toward out-group members. Oof.

This doesn’t mean that empaths are more likely to be prejudiced against others, of course. It does mean that, when you’re that sensitive to the feelings of others, it creates a heightened sensitivity in yourself that actually makes it much harder to relate to people in a natural, helpful way. High levels of empathy don’t always lead to better interactions between different groups of people. It’s a double-edged sword.

You take longer to burn out.

Feeling all of the feelings is tough. That’s why there are so many resources out there for empaths to learn to shield themselves, ground themselves, cleanse their energy, and generally cope with the aftermath of being exposed to other people’s heavy duty emotions and energies all of the time. This can be extremely exhausting for them, and some may even get burned out.

Burn out is a (sadly) common hazard of caretaking. People who work in medical fields or veterinary medicine, or even just provide care to young children or elderly relatives, can just become mentally and emotionally exhausted. If you’re not in those fields, don’t have access to professional resources to help you prevent burn out, and are still faced with feeling other people’s emotions, it can be pretty grueling. This is especially true when you’re primarily exposed to other people’s negative experiences (grief, loss, et cetera).

People who are empathetic in an average sense, and not empathic, still suffer from burnout. It’s just not quite as rough when you aren’t literally feeling other people’s feelings on top of everything else.

You can still be sensitive.

Being an empath involves having a deeper-than-average response to another person’s exhibited emotions. That is, your mirror neurons go off like a string of firecrackers when someone else has an emotional response to something, triggering those feelings in you.

This doesn’t really have anything to do with other sensitivities, though. You can still be sensitive to foods, scents, energy, sounds, and all kinds of things that have nothing to do with other people or their emotions. Someone may be an emotional empath, but less perceptive to subtle energies. Others are just Highly Sensitive People. Childhood trauma can even make some people extremely sensitive to displays of sadness or anger in others. This isn’t because their mirror neurons trigger feelings sadness or anger in them — they’re sensitive because they have an anxiety response to displays of negative feelings. Their heightened perception is a survival mechanism.

Empaths are wonderful, caring people, but the internet is literally full of articles praising the virtues of the empathic. Being an empath isn’t automatically an enlightened state of being, however, and can be detrimental to oneself and others. There are numerous benefits to having an average capacity for empathy, and it doesn’t exclude you from being sensitive to things other than emotions. Remember, it takes all types. If everyone was an empath, or everyone had low empathy, we’d be screwed.

Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Spruce Folklore and Magical Properties

I’m finally moved, and luckily settled in to a place that my partner and I absolutely love. Seriously — we decided against buying a house right now (it’s very much a seller’s market), and it’s going to take a very special house to get me out of here once we are ready to buy. There are lots of very lovely trees around, from neighborhoods full of crape myrtle and magnolias, to a Kousa dogwood whose fruits tempt me every time I walk past it. (I always have to tell myself no, it’s part of the landscaping, not really owned by anyone in particular, and there’s no way to tell what it’s been treated with.)

My favorite, however, is a big blue spruce.

It has a weeping growth habit, so its massive branches of smoky blue needles hang dramatically. It has a really cool energy, too — not necessarily the “loving, supportive, enlightened” feeling a lot of herbal energy guides point to, more like a very old and wise thing who is also very curious about the tiny things around it. I get a gentle amusement from it. It even has a natural face in the bark. I love it.

How to Tell a Spruce vs. Pine vs. Fir

First, the big question: What kind of tree are you looking at? All of these species fall under the general category of conifers, meaning that they are cone-bearing seed plants. Spruce, pine, and fir all produce needles, too, which can make identification tricky from afar. Fortunately, there’s a pretty easy way to tell.

Pine

Are the needles long, thin, and sprout from a single spot in groups? You’re looking at a pine.

Fir

Are the needles short and flat? Pick one up (there’ll probably be plenty shed on the ground) and pinch it between your index finger and thumb. Does it roll easily? If the answer’s no, then you’ve got yourself a fir.

Spruce

Are the needles similar to fir needles, but have a square cross-section instead of a flat one? Try rolling them between your index finger and thumb. If they roll, that’s a spruce.

Spruce Magical Uses and Folklore

In western Sweden, researchers have found a spruce that may be the world’s oldest living tree. It’s nearly ten thousand years old, and has survived by cloning itself via layering.

According to the Hopi people, the spruce was once a medicine man who turned himself into a tree. It’s a sacred plant.

To the A’â’tam, the father and mother of humanity escaped a flood by floating in a ball of spruce pitch.

Northern Algonquian people used it to prevent illness.

One source indicates that blue spruce is a symbol of pure intentions, while, in a more general sense, spruces represent generosity, enlightenment, protection, healing, and intuition.

Using Spruce

Just befriend one. It’s both easier and more difficult than it sounds.

Trees are individuals, so the easiest way to tell if you’re barking up the wrong tree (ha ha) is by sitting near one. They have natural ways to mount a defense against creatures they don’t want around them, so see if you end up covered in ants, breaking out in a rash, or otherwise having a bad time. That’s a sign that this tree doesn’t want to be friends — at least not yet.

On the other hand, if you’re sitting by a tree and smell a sweet fragrance, maybe feel a gentle breeze and the sun on your face, hear the birds singing, get a sense of comfort and acceptance, and otherwise generally feel good, this tree might want to get to know you.

Once you’ve found a tree to be friends with, look at it. Look at it from afar, and examine the bark close up. Let your pareidolia take over, and see what features you can see in the bark. The tree might choose to show you its face to make it easier for the two of you to connect. After all, it’s easier to converse when you can see the other party’s face, right?

Talk to the tree. It doesn’t have to be out loud. Hang out. Make it little offerings, like fresh water or an interesting (and plant-safe) rock. Remember, this is a friendship — do small things to show you’re thinking of it, and don’t forget that, sometimes, the best gift you can give is your time.

The relationships you forge in the natural world are part of the foundation of magic. You’ve gotta learn to speak the language if you’re going to try to ask for help.

You can also consume spruce buds, as long as you’re sure the tree hasn’t been exposed to a systemic pesticide, industrial runoff, or car exhaust. Spruce buds are high in vitamin C, and have been used for tea, in syrup, and even to make a beer to sustain sailors over long voyages. You can also eat the young buds directly, if you’re into that.

Spruce trees are beautiful things native to the northern regions of the world. I can’t speak for all of them, but the ones I’ve known have been very nice to work with, even if that “work” is just sitting and exchanging energy for a time. If you don’t live in an area with native spruce trees, and you’d like to work with them, consider using spruce bud tea or syrup to experience some of their power.

Witchcraft

Is energy manipulation necessary for magic?

Funnily enough, I got the idea for this post a long time ago — when I was reading up on reasons why cognitive behavioral therapy might fail. That, coupled with a lot of books and papers on traditional and folk magic, raised an interesting question in my mind:

Is energy manipulation requisite for magic?

I’ve seen some experienced witches who poke fun at the spells created and posted by younger ones. I’ve even written about raising and directing power myself. Here’s the thing though — none of that shows up in the really old stuff.

Seriously. I can point you to a hundred different old bits of magical folklore and formulae, and not a one will mention anything about raising, directing, or releasing power. Nonetheless, these spells were important enough for the practitioners to pass them down.

If you look at modern spells and rituals, though, some manner of energy manipulation is considered absolutely requisite. If you skip it, or somehow do it wrong, you won’t achieve your goal. You could argue that the old wise women and cunning men raised and directed power without doing so in so many words, or even worked old magic without realizing that that’s what they were doing. If that’s the case, then who’s to say that this power-raising has to be done on a conscious level?

I have a theory that I find pretty interesting. It’s similar to one posed by Phil Hine in Condensed Chaos, when he talks about Spirit, versus Energy, versus Cybernetic models.
I don’t think magic changed. I think we did.

The Guardian posted an article a couple of years ago on the apparent decline in effectiveness of CBT. Oddly enough, this decline might be due to nothing more than CBT’s reputation. When it was first developed, it was lauded as a marvel of modern psychology. This perception may have influenced how effective it was for people who tried it — believing they were learning a miracle cure for their problems, they experienced one. As more and more people went through CBT with less than stellar results, this perception shifted. It’s declining in effectiveness because it no longer benefits from a reputation as a miracle.

This isn’t to say that all magic is a product of the placebo effect (though there are certainly branches of mental magic that rely on it to a degree). I’ve had experiences I definitely can’t attribute solely to that. But, as the article above mentions, a 1958 book by psychoanalyst Allen Wheelis stated that Freudian psychology no longer worked because people had changed. Modern humans were better at self-understanding. They now needed different tools.

The old techniques weren’t completely wrong; they’d just outlived their usefulness.

Oliver Burkeman

Modern humans are better at understanding the physical underpinnings of the world (arguably at the expense of our metaphysical understanding and psychic sensitivity). We have knowledge that would’ve been unthinkable to our ancestors. Learning changes us. We interact with energy — and therefore magic — differently. One of my ex-partners’ grandmothers cured people of worms by snapping a handful of straw over their stomachs. My ancestors did things that, if I posted them to an online grimoire, would have experienced witches laughing and poking fun at them for being ineffective “baby witch” spells.

The act of observing changes the observer as well as the observed, and we’ve done a lot of observing.

Does this mean that one way is better, more legitimate, more powerful? I really don’t think so. As Burkeman says, old tools outlive their usefulness. We’ve changed. Ten thousand years ago, nobody could digest milk in adulthood. (And don’t even get me started on what we’ve done to our jaws.) We occupy and interact with our environment differently — including the unseen world. It’s entirely possible we need to consciously manipulate energy because that’s what we’ve adapted to.

I’m curious to see what shape the future takes.

crystals

Working with Herkimer Diamonds

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I like crystals. Even if I didn’t work with them, I’d probably collect them.

I received my first one when I was very little — about five or so, I think. It was a piece of dyed hot pink agate, shaped into an egg about as long as my thumb. I didn’t know anything about geology or crystal properties, but I knew I liked it and so, like a corvid, I kept it with the rest of my treasures.

(Most of those “treasures” were dead swamp cicadas that I’d pick up on the sidewalk in late summer. I had — okay, have — a Thing for iridescent colors.)

I still collect crystals, though now they actually get used for things. Unfortunately, the reality of the crystal market means I can’t just buy whatever I like. There’s a vetting process. Since I’m also lazy, this means that, for the past couple of years, I’ve only picked up Arkansas quartz, Herkimer diamonds, and piece or two from Brazil after making a nuisance of myself to the seller.

All of this is to say that Herkimer diamonds kick ass and they’re very easy to obtain ethically. If I could only use one crystal for the rest of my life, it’d be one of these.

What are Herkimer diamonds?

Well, for one, they’re not diamonds. They earn their name because they come from Herkimer county, New York, and are an exceptionally hard, clear variety of (usually double-terminated) quartz.

Herkimer is known for these stones, so there are a bunch of mines you can visit to get your own from the source. There’s no child labor involved, and the process of mining is pretty much you, some hand tools, and a bucket, so these crystals are also lower on the social and environmental impact scale than many others. A bunch of Etsy merchants make a point to visit Herkimer once a year or so, dig for some, then sell them, so they’re also pretty easy to obtain even if you aren’t interested in making the trip yourself. (Two of my favorite sellers are Luminous Harvest and Greengem. Bonus, Greengem is also a source of beautiful, conflict-free rings — even some really fancy alternative engagement rings.)

How are Herkimer diamonds used for spiritual healing?

Herkimer diamonds have a reputation as extremely high-vibration crystals. They’re supposedly good for purifying the physical and astral body, attuning you to another person, group, or place, removing energy blocks, and increasing the “oomph” of the other stones they’re used with.

According to Michael Gienger’s Healing Crystals, they can be used for awareness, clarity, dream recall, heightened awareness and consciousness, and pain relief. It’s also trigonal and secondary, which makes it particularly helpful for people with “trigonal personalities,” and who wish to unlearn negative behavioral patterns and live in greater harmony with their external environment. For more information, read Gienger’s Crystal Power, Crystal Healing. It’s a very interesting read that outlines his really unique approach to the subject.

(Of course, I don’t endorse the use of crystals in place of conventional medicine. They’re great as a complementary therapy, but please consult a doctor first.)

A hand holds a Herkimer diamond in clear river water.
Cleaning a Herkimer diamond in the river. Look at all of those hydrocarbon inclusions!

What are the magical properties of Herkimer diamonds?

Since they’re clear quartz, they are pretty efficient “all purpose” stones. They do often come with some neat, unique features that make them particularly useful, in a magical sense:

  • Many of them contain hydrocarbons, visible as black lines, dots, or flecks within the crystal. These bits of incredibly ancient vegetable matter connect us to our ancestors, all the way back to our pre-human family tree. For this reason, they can be very helpful for ancestor work.
  • Most of them are double terminated, which makes them helpful for simultaneously sending and receiving energy.
  • A lucky few contain deposits of water, too! “Enhydro” crystals are strongly connected to the water element, as well as earth. This makes them useful for rituals for purification and emotional healing.
  • Some of the rainbow fractures and water or hydrocarbon inclusions give them a character that’s similar to garden quartz (or shaman quartz). The inclusions and “flaws” can create beautifully complex scenes inside the crystal that are lots of fun to fall into. This makes them great as a meditative focus, or an aid to trance or journeying work.
  • They’re generally not huge. To be honest, most of the ones you’ll find in metaphysical shops are downright tiny. This makes them great for including in pouches, sachets, bottles, or whatever else your witchy heart desires.

Herkimer Diamond Clearing Spray Recipe

This is a recipe for something I whip up when I’m in a situation where salt, smoke, or other methods of clearing energy aren’t advisable. Plus, it smells really good.

You’ll need:

  1. First, make sure your ingredients are good to go — tell them what you’re using them for, and what you’d like them to do for you. Bergamot protects from evil, cuts off interference, and functions as a “power” herb. Lavender cleanses and promotes peace. Ylang ylang is calming and uplifting. Rosemary is cleansing and protecting. Vervain purifies, gets rid of negative energy, and enhances the action of other herbs in the mixture. Frankincense is purifying and energy raising.
  2. Add the dried herbs and oils first. You can go with your preference here, one is no more powerful than the other. You don’t need much — a drop or two of oil, a pinch or two of herbs.
  3. Swirl the mixture when you’re through, and speak your intention again. This can be simple. Start with, “With this mixture, I[…]” and state your intent.
  4. If you plan to keep this for a long time, fill the bottle two thirds of the way with high proof grain alcohol, like Everclear. (The Tisserand Institute has more information on preservation here.)
  5. Fill the bottle the rest of the way with lavender hydrosol or distilled water. Swirl to mix.
  6. Add the Herkimer diamond.
  7. Screw the top on the bottle and label it. You’re done!

While the sun is great for empowering things, it’s also not super great for scents. If you want to charge this mixture, do so either under moonlight, or very briefly under sunlight. To use it, simply mist the object, person, or space in need of some energy clearing.

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!

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.