life, Neodruidry, Witchcraft

A Soggy Samhain

It was cold and rainy here over the weekend, though that was fine by me — we weren’t exactly spoiled for choice when it came to bonfires and dumb suppers this year. Besides, though rainy weather does my brainmeat up all wretched, it does make me want to clean and air everything out.

So cleaning, cleansing, and refreshing all of my wards is exactly what I did. I would have refreshed my altar too, but I did that on the last new moon — dusting it, wiping it down with a special blend of oils, herbs, and flower water, burning more herbs in my hearth-cauldron, lighting candles, the whole bit.

I often like to take all of the herbs that are getting to be past their peak, ones that I’ve had lingering in my herb jars, drawers, and cabinets for a bit too long, and burn them on Samhain. It just feels right to burn the old herbs, thank them for their usefulness, and either save the ashes (depending on the herbs) for black salt or return them to the soil. I didn’t get to do that this year, but that’s okay — I don’t really have a big stash of old herbs anyhow.

I also filtered the oil I’d started on October’s first full moon, which gave me an inexplicable craving for pizza (courtesy of all of the dittany of Crete. That stuff smells delicious). Now I’ve got a neat little bottle of fresh raven oil chilling in my secret stash, which makes me pretty happy. I’d love to be able to work this combination of herbs into another form — incense, maybe — but many of them are the type that just tends to be throat-pluggingly smoky and bitter when they’re burned. They might work alright if they’re in small amounts and sufficiently worked into a sweeter-smelling base, but that’ll take a little experimentation.

This month came with its usual compliment of especially vivid dreams and messages, but I won’t bore you with those details. I hope the feeling lasts, though. I’m always at least a little sad to see them go once the veil’s no longer as thin.

So how was everyone else’s holiday?

life, Witchcraft

This Harvest Moon

First thing’s first! All of the tarot readings available in my shop are 30% off(!) for the entire month. I’m also adding some new spreads, so, whether you’re looking for a simple three-card reading, an extended 22-card reading, or something geared toward a specific question or life situation, there’s a reading for you.

Did you remember to say “white rabbits” yesterday morning?

Yesterday was the first day of October, the month when the veil between worlds grows thin. I can feel the thinning, too — my dreams always get extra vivid and extra strange, and I very often smell the scents I associate with my grandmothers who’ve passed on. We’re lucky this year, since, in addition to yesterday’s full moon, we’ll be getting another full moon on October 31st.

I mean, I didn’t feel super lucky earlier this week, when I managed to pinch a nerve in my neck (which absolutely felt like part of my brain) and trigger a four-day headache. You probably know the kind. While daily headaches are pretty much part of intracranial hypertension, this was one of those bad boys that seems to radiate from a single, intensely painful spot right at the base of the skull, which seem like nothing short of a brick would cure. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do the usual preparations I do this time of year, but I was able to knock my various bones and fleshes into shape well enough to manage.

(A protip from a pain specialist I used to see regularly: Only use cold therapy on your neck, not heat. Also, bad spines go on the rolly tube.)

Seven days ago, I set up a working designed to run through the end of the waxing moon and culminate on the full. Everything went off without a hitch (and with some wonderful results, but more on that another time), and I decided to celebrate by setting up a batch of oil that I use for trance and dreamwork. From experience, it seems to work best when I set it up on the October full moon. Sometimes, I let it infuse from one October to the next. This year, I think I’ll try letting it go just until the blue moon later this month.

Infusing under the full moon (and the leaves of my big calathea).

It’s a special blend of dittany of Crete, mugwort, mullein, and cherry, among a few other secrets, and it’s wonderful for anything that involves crossing over into other realms. Not quite potent enough to be mind-altering, but it definitely helps the shift happen. Add a piece of black kyanite, and it’s *chef kiss*. I’m going to post the full recipe one of these days, but I’d like a few more rounds of experimenting with it before I do.

Whether you said anything about rabbits yesterday morning, or your relatives on the other side start hanging around more often, I hope this harvest moon is an abundant one for you.

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!