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Blueberry (and Bilberry) Folklore and Magical Properties

I love blueberries. Few things are as delightful as a fat slice of warm blueberry pie or cobbler, with a generous dollop of ice cream (or non-dairy ice cream equivalent, as it were).

I was very excited to find that the previous occupants of this house had planted some blueberry bushes in the back yard. Unfortunately, these bushes weren’t exactly thriving — they’d been planted in an area that’s under trees. It gets plenty of light during the late autumn to early spring, but very little in the warm months. Our soil is also hard clay, and it didn’t appear that the area had been given much organic matter.

So, as much as it worried me to do it, my spouse and I uprooted these bushes and moved them into a much sunnier spot, blended well with a generous amount of shredded bark and leaf compost. We also planted two more bushes of a different variety, to fill out the tree guild we’re building around the Chehalis apple tree I talked about two weeks ago.

A cluster of ripening blueberries on a bush.
Some lovely little unripe blueberries on one of the bushes in the back yard.

This post isn’t about soil composition and permaculture, though I could definitely go on for volumes if it was.

No. Today, I want to get into some of the folklore and magical uses of these wonderful little balls of deliciousness.

It should be noted that blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium, V. corymbosum, et al) are a strictly New World fruit. There’s a European relative called the bilberry (or European blueberry, Vaccinium myrtillus) that’s very similar, and the magical properties of these fruits are virtually interchangeable. If you live in an area where bilberries are native, use bilberries. If you live where blueberries grow, use those instead.

Blueberry and Bilberry Folklore

While blueberries are named for their deep purplish-blue color, the name “bilberry” is likely of Scandinavian origin. The Danish word bølle means “whortleberry,” which is another word for certain members of Vaccinium including the bilberry.

You can tell blue- and bilberries apart by their fruits. Blueberries grow in clusters, are a purplish-blue, and have a blossom end that looks a bit like a pentagon with five pointed flaps. Bilberries grow alone or in pairs, are almost black, and have a circular, smoother blossom end.

A bilberry on a bilberry shrub. The blossom end is facing upward, showing a distinct lack of the pointed flaps found on blueberries.
As you can see from this bilberry’s “butt,” they have rounder blossom ends and lack the pointy flappy bits of American blueberries. Compare it to the unripe blueberries in the photo above this one.

In Ireland, blueberries (fraochán or fraughan) are traditionally gathered during the last Sunday in July and the first of August. The first of August is Lughnasadh, a festival marking the beginning of the harvest season. Bilberries and blueberries are a traditional addition to Lughnasadh festivities all around the world.

Since gathering bilberries was traditional for the beginning of the harvest season, they were treated as a kind of oracle. If the crop was abundant, other crops would similarly flourish. If the bilberries did poorly, everything else would, too.

In ancient Greece, bilberries came from Herme’s son Myrtillus. King Oenomaus of Pisa had been given a prophecy: He would one day be killed by a son-in-law. Seeking to avoid this fate, Oenomaus decided to prevent his daughter, Hippodamia, from ever marrying by challenging every one of her would-be suitors to a chariot race on the Isthmus of Corinth. If the suitor won, he’d get Hippodamia. If he lost, Oenomaus would kill him. Since Oenomaus’ chariot was pulled by horses given to him by the god Ares, there was no way he could ever lose.

Then came Pelops. Hippodamia fell for him immediately, and went to her father’s servant, Myrtillus, for a favor. She wanted him to sabotage her father’s chariot so he’d lose the race, and Myrtillus, full of unrequited love for Hippodamia, agreed. On the day of the race, Myrtillus switched the metal linchpins of Oenomaus’ chariot with ones made of beeswax. Oenomaus’ chariot flipped, and Pelops beat him easily.

Some versions of the story say that Oenomaus, with his dying breath, asked to be avenged. Pelops then threw Myrtillus into the sea, and Hermes turned him into a bilberry shrub when he washed to shore. Another version says that Pelops, Hippodamia, and Myrtillus were traveling, when they stopped at an island so Pelops could fetch his new bride some water. When he returned, Hippodamia was in tears. Myrtillus had tried to sleep with her, she cried, while Myrtillus protested that she had promised to do so in exchange for sabotaging Oenomaus’ chariot. The enraged Pelops then killed Myrtillus.

In the folklore of some of the people indigenous to blueberry’s native range, blueberries are called “star berries” for the star-shaped blossom end.

In the Victorian language of flowers, bilberry represents treachery. This symbolism is likely borrowed from the Greek story of Myrtillus.

Blueberry and Bilberry Magical Uses

Blue- and bilberries are associated with protection and luck in European witchcraft.

Dried bilberry leaves are used in protective powders but can also be used whole for prosperity and luck.

The fruit is similarly used for protection and hex-breaking.

(Considering bilberry’s associations with treachery and crop divination, I wonder if their protective properties stem from their connection to physical danger and starvation. Today, we know that fruits like blueberry and bilberry can protect against oxidative cellular damage due to their antioxidant content, but their traditional connection to protection goes back much farther.)

Using Blueberries and Bilberries

Blueberries and bilberries couldn’t be simpler to use. For kitchen witches, include them in recipes for protection and the removal of malevolent enchantments.

Crushing the fresh berries can yield a pigment suitable for drawing protective sigils on paper talismans, the skin, and anywhere else you might need them. Just bear in mind — both of these berries are sweet, and your talismans may be sticky and likely to attract bees this way!

To protect your property, dry bilberry or blueberry leaves. Powder them well, then sprinkle the powder around the perimeter of your home or yard.

White, bell-shaped blueberry blossoms.

To break a hex, jinx, or run of bad luck, burn dried blue- or bilberry leaves. Use the smoke to fumigate the same way you’d use incense smoke.

Blueberry and bilberry don’t appear to be reversing herbs. That is, they don’t return treachery or malevolent magic to the sender. They just keep it from affecting you.

Since bil- and blueberry seems to predominantly be a protective herb, I would hesitate to use it solely for drawing luck. It appears that it’s virtue in luck drawing lies in its ability to get rid of jinxes and other things that hold you back. For luck spells, then, I’d pair blueberry or bilberry leaves with an ingredient used more specifically for attracting good luck. The berry leaves can clean up the things standing the way of your luck, and the other ingredients can draw it in. Allspice, chamomile, and fenugreek are all good options to consider here.

Interestingly, strawberries are sometimes used in small amounts for luck drawing. You could then theoretically make a jam, smoothie, or pie with both blueberries and strawberries, and, when appropriately made and empowered, use it to attract good luck to you.

It remains to be seen how my poor transplanted blueberries do, but the newer ones seem to be thriving. When the time is right, I’ll harvest the fruits and some of the leaves, and hopefully have enough protection and hex-breaking to last me all year!

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life, Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs

Apple Folklore and Magical Properties

So, apples.

They’re versatile, inexpensive, and delicious. You can use them to carve stamps, prepare stuffing, or make a pie. Got an apple core? Feed it to worms or toss it in compost. They’re a delightful package of deliciousness, nutrition, and fiber.

They’re also pretty prominent in the religions of the areas from which they come. Eris tossed a golden apple and started the Trojan war. IĂ°unn’s golden apples give the gods youth, immortality, and vigor. Manannán mac Lir tempted Cormac mac Airt with a branch covered in nine apples of red gold. Emain, the otherworldly Plain of White Silver, had silver boughs with white apple blossoms.

We don’t have magic apples here, though I feel like Chehalis apples come close. I was drawn to their colors, ranging from emerald green, to golden yellow, to a pale, almost ethereal shade somewhere between the two. (I’ll just be happy if I get to eat one of these apples without the birds and wasps getting to them first!)

An apple ripening on a tree.
One of the little Chehalis apples on the tree in the back yard.

But apples are more than just magical symbols of the Otherworld, anyway. They’re also an indispensable ingredient in kitchen witchery, and even herbal healing.

Apple Folklore

Teasing out the folkloric significance of apples is more challenging than it might seem. Up until the 1800s, the word “apple” was used not just for apples, but also for as a generic term for fruits other than berries. This is why we have “oak apples” (a plant deformity caused by gall wasps), “earth apples” (cucumbers or potatoes, depending on who you ask), “love apples” (tomatoes), or “May apples” (a low-growing relative of barberry).

Ethnobotanists have made some compelling arguments for apples being used as a symbolic substitution for fly agaric mushrooms (Amanita muscaria), an entheogenic fungus. This is an interesting bit of information to keep in mind as you read through the rest of the folkloric and symbolic significance of apples.

The fruit eaten by Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden in Christian mythology is often said to be an apple. This is particularly interesting when you consider the effect of that apple and Terence McKenna’s “Stoned Ape” theory of humanity’s development. This widely-criticized theory holds that entheogens (specifically Psilocybe cubensis) are responsible for much of the progress of humankind. If Adam and Eve’s apple could be viewed as an entheogenic fungi, then the Christian story of the fall of man would be an allegory for entheogens leading to the development of clothing, agriculture, and more.

The larynx, which is usually (though certainly not always) more prominent in male humans, is called an “Adam’s apple” because of a bit of folklore that claimed that the prominence was created by the fruit sticking in Adam’s throat.

In later Christian mythology, Jesus Christ is portrayed as holding an apple. Here, the apple transforms from a sign of the fall of humanity, into a sign of redemption. Considering that this redemption leads to eternal life, this apple is somewhat akin to the apples of IĂ°unn.

In the Norse Prose Edda, the goddess IĂ°unn is said to carry an ash wood box in which she keeps golden apples. When the Norse gods begin to grow old, they eat her apples and become young again. The gods, then, depend very heavily on IĂ°unn’s presence and good will in order to maintain their youth and strength.

Apples weren’t always associated with youth and life, however. In the HeiĂ°arvĂ­ga saga, the poet speaks of the “apples of Hel.” These appear to be the antithesis of IĂ°unn’s apples — the food of the dead.

In Greek mythology, Eris felt insulted when she wasn’t invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis like the other gods were. As revenge, she tossed a golden apple inscribed with the words “to the fairest” in between Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. They immediately began arguing over who deserved it, and asked Paris to mediate. Aphrodite promised him the hand of the most beautiful woman in the world if he chose her, so he did. Unfortunately for everyone, that woman was Helen of Troy, and Paris’ decision kicked off the Trojan War.

The island of Avalon, the mythical, mystical place of Arthurian legend, is the Island of Apples. The name “Avalon” is thought to stem from the Welsh word “afal.”

In Cornwall, Kalan Gwav (Allentide) is a time for giving shiny, bright red apples to friends and family as tokens of luck.

In the Irish Echtra The Voyage of Bran, Bran mac Febail sets out on his adventure when he receives a silver apple bough brought from Emain, the Plain of White Silver.

The Irish sea god Manannán mac Lir’s golden apples emitted a kind of magic lullaby. This could soothe people afflicted with injuries or illnesses to a healing sleep. The name of his paradisical home, Emain Abhlach, comes from the Old Irish “Ablach” (“of the fruits” or “of the apples”).

Apples, fresh flowers, and sheet music on a wooden table. One of the apples has been cut in half to expose the seeds. An ornate knife sits nearby.

In the mythology of the people from the North Caucasus, there is a tree that groows magic apples capable of guaranteeing a child to whoever eats them.

During the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, people dip apples in honey and eat them to bring in a sweet year ahead.

Wiccan lore views apples as a sacred symbol. This is because, when cut in half horizontally, their seeds and core form a pentagram.

An old bit of boat builder’s lore holds that it’s bad luck to make a boat from apple wood, since apple wood was used to make coffins. Doing so was believed to doom the sailors to an early grave.

A common bit of marriage folklore says that, if an unmarried woman peels an apple in one long, continuous piece, then throws it over her shoulder, the peel will fall in the shape of the first letter of her future spouse’s name.

Wassailing is an old English folk practice performed to bless the trees and bring in a big crop in the next harvest season. (I went to a wassail ceremony earlier this year, and it was a ton of fun!)

The Magical Uses of Apples

Apples are a common autumn food and addition to altars for autumn and winter holidays. This is because they’re in season during autumn, and tend to keep very well if they’re stored properly. Apple sauce, apple cider, dried apples, and carefully-stored fresh apples were vital additions to the western European diet during the cold months.

An apple bough with buds, flowers, ripe fruit, and unripe fruit is said to mark a door to the Otherworld.

In general, apples are magically associated with love, fertility, protection, and prosperity. The flowers are excellent additions to charm bags, the fruit is great for kitchen witchery, and the leaves can bring fertility and prosperity to one’s home or garden.

Using Apples in Magic

Apples are possibly one of the easiest and most convenient magical ingredients. Since apples are pretty sturdy and edible when raw, they’re often used as a kind of edible “package” for magical intentions. Hold an apple in your hands, visualize it filling with your intention, whisper your intention to it, and eat.

If you have access to apple leaves (either pruned or fallen — please don’t pick fresh leaves from the tree), bury thirteen of them in your garden. This is said to increase its productivity for the next year. I’d argue that you could also add these leaves to compost, or bury pruned or fallen apple wood in your hĂĽgelkultur mounds.

Apple blossoms are great ingredient for love magic. Their action is said to be gently seductive. They are also used for peace, contentment, and success. This suggests that they’d be a useful addition to any spell for attracting happiness into one’s life.

Apples are also said to be protective. Apple cider vinegar can be a useful (and pungent) addition to jars and bottle spells for protection against both one’s enemies and malevolent energy.

Another small Chehalis apple ripening on a tree.
Another little Chehalis apple.

I can’t tell you how excited I am for apples this year. The springtime apple blossoms were incredible, and I check on the ripening fruits with excitement every day. Here’s hoping you can find ways to incorporate these magical fruits into your meals, rituals, and daily practices.

Books, Witchcraft

The Black Toad: West Country Witchcraft and Magic

It’s been a bit since I’ve sat down to read an entire book from start to finish. To be honest, I just haven’t had the time or attention to spare. I do want to get back into providing reviews and recommendations for books, since I see so many posts on social media asking for resources.

This week, I’ll be looking at Gemma Gary’s The Black Toad. At only 133 pages (not counting the bibliography and index), it’s a slim volume. Though diminutive, it’s definitely not hurting for content!

I’ll be honest, a lot of modern books and websites about witchcraft kind of make my eyes glaze over. Now, in a time where everything just gets boiled down to vibrations, intention, and personal gnosis, all of the advice and explanations sound very samey after a while. (They’re also not terribly helpful, and then people wonder why their craft doesn’t work!)

I really enjoy books on witchcraft that have a more historic bent. When I write about herbs or minerals, I end up looking into folklore, not modern lists of associations or uses. It gets closer to the heart of the matter and keeps me from having to reinvent the wheel through personal gnosis, as it were.

All of this is to say that I really, really like The Black Toad. It covers protection, luck, plant charms, weather witchery, and cursing, broken up into the domains of Old Mother Red-Cap, Green-Cap, and Black-Cap. All of this is presented without apology — for the one with the power to heal and protect must necessarily also have the power to destroy.

A rowan branch laden with red berries.

The spells and charms aren’t written like lists of instructions. Instead, they’re detailed descriptions of historical ways that witches and wise people had for protecting themselves and their animals, improving their luck, healing, and handling their enemies. It’s more than possible to use it as a spell book, but it’s primary value, to me, is as a depiction and explanation of traditional practices.

The only downside is that scientific names aren’t (or possibly can’t be) provided for some of the plants mentioned. Take sage, for example. The mention of sage states that it was drunk for health and longevity. However, there’s a sage native to the area that isn’t a sage at all — wood sage (Teucrium scorodonia). The actual sages, the Salvia species, are native to the Mediterranean. So is this sage an imported garden sage, or native woodland germander? Unfortunately, historic resources often don’t leave us much to go on.

A stack of books, magical seals, and dried herbs. Smoke rises from a bowl of burning herbs.

Some other reviewers pointed to the use of Biblical passages in some of the formulas as a problem. However, this is ahistoric and there are plenty of traditional resources that use passages from the Bible. There’s no reason to believe that witches and wise people, historically, would have reason to look down on doing so. The attitudes of modern people toward organized religion have no bearing on what people were likely to use in the past.

I’d recommend The Black Toad to anyone with an interest in traditional western European witchcraft. It gives a useful picture of the role and domain of wise people, as well as several spells that are still useful today.

Environment, Plants and Herbs

Dead Nettle Folklore and Magical Properties

’tis the season for deadnettles!

If you have any semi-neglected patches of ground in your life, you may have seen them — short plants with heart-shaped leaves, arranged like low towers accented by tiny flowers. Though they’re not native to this area, they’re pretty abundant. If you’re into controlling invasive plants, you’ll probably be happy to know that they’re also delicious edibles!

Don’t let the name fool you. Dead nettles aren’t poisonous, and they’re not nettles. They’re called “dead nettle” because they look an awful lot like stinging nettle, but their leaves are stingless. In reality, they’re part of the mint family (which probably explains their prolific growth and ability to thrive pretty much anywhere).

A bee enjoying some soft pink dead nettle flowers.

One of the best things about these nutritious plants? They’re easy to identify and don’t have any poisonous lookalikes. They’re also useful in all kinds of other ways.

Dead Nettle Folklore

Medically, purple dead nettle is used for allergies. It’s rich in quercetin, and has anti-inflammatory properties that make it useful for people with spring hay fever.

Some areas call it purple archangel, because it appears there around the Feast of the Apparition (May 8th). This was when the archangel Michael was said to have appeared on Mount Gargano, Italy, in the sixth century.

White dead nettle is sometimes called bee nettle. This is because it provides an early source of pollen and nectar, so it’s very popular with bees (and children! Kids sometimes suck the nectar from white dead nettle flowers, kind of like how kids used to suck the honeysuckle flowers that grew on the elementary school’s fence when I was little).

Some white dead nettle flowers. A small ant is crawling inside of one of them.

In Lancashire, it was said that white dead nettle flowers always come in twos, because they’re actually pixie shoes that have been left outside. These flowers also have two black spots inside, which are sometimes called “Cinderella’s slippers.”

White, spotted, and purple dead nettles are all used to treat stings from actual nettles. Mash the plant, squeeze out the juice, and apply it to the stung area. You can also chew some of the leaves and apply the resulting paste.

Magical Properties of Dead Nettle

Dead nettle is associated with determination, due to its ability to grow pretty much anywhere. (I’ve been harvesting it from cracks in the concrete, here.) It’s also connected to happiness, optimism, and relief.

Bright pink dead nettle flowers.

Like other members of the mint family, it dries well. Harvest some, hang it upside-down, and put a paper bag around it to keep off dust and catch any dropped leaves or flowers. Once you have some dried dead nettle, you can use it in teas, incense blends, sachets, poppets, jar spells, or pretty much anything else. This small, unassuming herb is fantastic any time you need a hit of joy and motivation.

Dead nettle is also useful in kitchen witchery. Add it to soups, salads, or even pesto to benefit from its magical and anti-inflammatory properties.

This plant also works wonderfully in tinctures, salves, and oils. This is a great way to preserve it well beyond its season.

For now, I’m pulling it out of my raised beds to prepare them for other things. Some will be left for the birds (chickens, especially, seem to love the stuff), and the rest will be brewed into tea, blended into smoothies, eaten fresh, dried, and pureed and frozen in ice cube trays to add to soup or fill out pesto!

Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Crocus Folklore & Magical Uses

It’s spring (kind of)!

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

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

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

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

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

Crocus Folklore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crocus Magical Properties

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

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

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

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

Simple Crocus Spells

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

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

Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Nutmeg Folklore & Magical Uses

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

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

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

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

Nutmeg Magical Properties and Folklore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whole nutmegs covered in mace.

Ground nutmeg was used as incense in ancient Rome.

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

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

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

Using Nutmeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uncategorized

Preseli Bluestone Folklore & Magical Properties

The minerals that I’m drawn to shift over time. For a long time, it was smoky quartz. I read all I could about it and discovered that the properties that it’s said to possess were exactly what I’d needed at that time. Next it was Herkimer diamonds, especially the black ones. Same thing. Recently, I’ve been exploring the stones that come from the areas that a significant portion of my ancestors hailed from, which is how I came upon Preseli bluestone.

Preseli bluestone is best known as the stone used to make the inner ring of Stonehenge.

To be fair, the Druids didn’t actually make Stonehenge — it’s way older than that. While the did use Stonehenge, they didn’t drag the stones there. Stonehenge was actually an evolving project, contributed to by various tribes over a very long period of time until it became what we see today.

Preseli bluestone originates in a specific area of Wales, a staggering 160 miles from Stonehenge itself. Now imagine doing it by walking, and also you’re pushing gigantic rocks. There had to be something special about these stones for them to be considered worth the trouble.

Stonehenge and Preseli Bluestone Lore

One theory is that people indigenous to the Preseli area migrated, taking the stones with them due to their religious or cultural significance or as a means of establishing an ancestral authority over their new homeland.

The ages of Stonehenge’s stones vary widely. One is over two and a half billion years old, while another is a relative youngster at only 800 million. If we were to shorten these years to mere seconds, the younger stone would be about 25 years old. The older would be over 79.

Parts of Stonehenge have been standing since roughly 2500 BCE. The site itself seems to have been abandoned around 1000 BCE.

Some of the stones have carvings on the surface — these are only visible using either lasers, or sunlight at a very specific angle.

The techniques used to create Stonehenge are pretty sophisticated. The lintels (the long stones on top) are locked to their supporting stones with a mortice and tenon joints, slightly smoothed, and connected to their neighbors with tongue and groove joints. Their supporting stones were leveled on the top to account for the changes in elevation of the ground, so everything sits very evenly. When all of the stones were intact, they would have looked like a continuous ring.

A close-up image of Stonehenge, showing two lintel stones balanced on four sarsen stones. The end of one of the lintels demonstrates the "tongue" portion of a tongue and groove joint. Some of the sarsens in the rear of the photo show nubby projections, which would've helped to lock their lintels in place.
If you look carefully at the end of the lintel on the left, you can see the tongue end of a tongue and groove joint. Look at the sarsens in the back, and you can see the nubby bits that would’ve held their lintels in place.
Photo by Kris Schulze on Pexels.com

One stone, the Slaughter Stone, probably wasn’t actually used to kill anything. It gets its name from the bloody appearance of water that collects on its surface — the water reacts with iron compounds in the stone, oxidizing them and turning the water a rusty color.

Preseli bluestone was said to be transported by Merlin, using magic.

The Ethicality of Preseli Bluestone

The original place where bluestone is found is Carn Meyne. This is a protected area, and is off limits to mining and rock collecting alike.

The Preseli bluestone on the market today ostensibly comes from a nearby farm, where a deposit of the stone was found. Others may come from specimens collected from Carn Meyne before it was legally protected.

With this in mind, there’s some concern that Preseli bluestone trafficking might be a thing. If the Pagan and new age communities’ demand for bluestone outstrips the supply, then it could incentivize the smuggling of bluestone or other unethical practices. It can already be challenging to find genuine bluestone, since green dolerite is sometimes re-labeled and sold as bluestone for a higher price.

As always, it’s up to you to decide whether or not to acquire bluestone. If you do, do so from a reputable dealer. If you find that you may be succumbing to some of the consumerist habits that lurk in aspects of the new age movement, consider whether a different, ethically sourced, local stone will better meet your needs.

Preseli Bluestone Magical Properties

The significance of bluestone to Stonehenge’s creators has been lost with time. The most we have now is what modern crystal users have deduced. For the most part, it’s used to tap into one’s ancient origins — connecting with the spirit of the peoples for whom bluestone was important. Some authorities believe that the bluestones of Stonehenge may have been used as healing tools. While the larger, outer sandstones marked a boundary, the smaller interior ring of bluestone may have been used to heal the sick and injured.

It’s also sometimes used in variants of shamanism to strengthen one’s connection to the spirits of the lower world, those of plants, animals, and the elements.

Some use bluestone as a kind of spiritual anchor. This may be due to its connection to ancestral workings. When you feel unfocused or adrift in life, working with Preseli bluestone is said to help re-instill feelings of connection and direction.

It’s important to note that Stonehenge also, at least at once point, served as a burial site. I feel this gives Preseli bluestone a connection to death and the dead, not necessarily in a purely ancestral way. Stonehenge was also designed to align with the movement of the sun. This, plus Preseli bluestone’s green color (when polished — the rough stone is blue) further connect it to the energy of growth and abundance. When you combine these concepts, it’s a stone for understanding the cycles of life, death, and the recycling of energy and nutrients.

I find Preseli bluestone to be uniquely beautiful, even beyond its magical and historical pedigree. It’s a beautiful mottled green and white, almost like a dendritic agate without the branching. As someone who will likely never get to experience Stonehenge in person, I love that it’s still possible to forge a connection to the ancient people who created it.

Link round up

Good News Round Up: 6.17.2022

Hello! Have you ever wondered what your dog’s thinking? As it turns out, scientists might have an answer for you — sort of. This is a collection of posts and articles that I thought were interesting, funny, or just made me feel a little better about the state of things. I hope they can do the same for you.

A Glimpse Into the Dog’s Mind: A New Study Reveals How Dogs Think of Their Toys. Apparently, dogs have a “multi-modal mental image” when it comes to their favorite playthings. That means that they most likely focus on what is, to them, an object’s most significant sensory features — like its smell. Scientists discovered this by having dogs search for their toys under varying conditions, and observing which senses they seemed to rely on the most for specific objects.

Plants Appear to Be Breaking Biochemistry Rules by Making ‘Secret Decisions.’ As it turns out, plants make decisions about their respiration in ways that we didn’t anticipate. They can actually choose how much carbon they release, by deciding how much they retain for building more biomass. This all happens via a molecule called pyruvate. Most interestingly, plants can actually track what sources their pyruvate comes from, and factor that into their decision making process.

This DIYer Made the Coolest Boho Bookends for Only $1.75 , and They Look Straight Out of a CB2 Catalog. Are you into biophilic design? This is a design philosophy that uses natural materials, like wood and stone, which have beneficial impacts on our mental well-being. This super cheap, easy DIY uses a scrap of travertine limestone, and there’s no perfectionism allowed — the perfectly imperfect, organic shape of the material is part of the appeal.

Binding and Burying the Forces of Evil: The Defensive Use of “Voodoo Dolls” in Ancient Greece. The popular image of the “Voodoo doll” has little to do with the practice of Voodoo. The classic image of a human-shaped object that you stick pins in to cause harm is much closer to the concept of the poppet, a vehicle for sympathetic magic. This paper discusses the use of effigies as a means of binding and suppressing evil in ancient Greece, as well as similar binding rituals in Egypt and Assyria. It’s a long read, but an interesting one.

Researchers identify the origins of the Black Death. We all know that the bubonic plague came from fleas that carried Yersinia pestis, but how did the fleas get it to begin with? One popular theory held that it came from wild rodents in East Asia, but archaeological evidence and ancient plague genomes tell a different story.

Project: SigilPen. I often have to explain that Neodruidry is my religion, but witchcraft is a method. I use modern Druid magic, and I use witchcraft, though the two are very different. Either way, I love magical alphabets, sigils, and the concept of language and symbols as a form of magic on their own. SigilPen is a way of creating neat, accurate sigils using a magic square (kamea).

A lot of online sources for sigil magic fall into the trap of using a single magical square — usually the Square of Saturn — rather than choosing the kamea that’s aligned with what you’re actually trying to do. SigilPen allows you to choose whatever square you want to work with, and helps you translate your word, phrase, or name into a sigil. The site has several other very interesting tools for modern magic, aside from the SigilPen.

Pretend I folded this up and passed it to you under a desk.
– j.

Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Fennel Folklore and Magical Properties

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

Flowering fennel tops.

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

Fennel Magical Uses and Folklore

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

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

[C]hervil and fennel

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

when he hung set and sent into the 7 worlds

for wretched and rich all to remedy

stands she against pain

stands she against poison.

Who is mighty against 3 and against 30

against fiends hand

against spells

against enchantment by wicked wights.

An excerpt from the Nine Herbs Charm, from the Lacnunga

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

A trio of fennel bulbs.

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

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

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

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

Followers of Dionysus carried wands made of fennel stalks.

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

Using Fennel

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

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

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

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

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

A swallowtail caterpillar crawling on a fennel flower.

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

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

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

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.