Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Jewelweed Folklore and Magical Properties

Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis, is one of the most beautiful parts of watery places out here. Though the plant has bright yellow-orange flowers, they aren’t what give it its name — rather, it’s the curious property of the leaves. Since it grows near water, and excess moisture has a nasty tendency to support the growth of all kinds of pathogens, the leaves repel it. If you take one and drop water on it, it will bead up and glisten like jewels. If you take a leaf and hold it underwater, it looks like it’s covered in pavé-set diamonds.

They have a very clever reproductive strategy, too. Their showy flowers encourage sexual reproduction by attracting hummingbirds and other pollinators. They also have much smaller, more discreet flowers, which don’t open up the way their other blossoms do — they self-pollinate. This gives jewelweed the ability to produce two different sets of seeds: one that costs more energy and has a wider gene pool, and one that’s much cheaper, but lacks genetic diversity.

The seed capsules are pretty cool, too. One of the plant’s other common names is touch-me-not, because of the way it disperses its seeds. Plant jewelweed once, and it’ll keep self-seeding and coming back. After pollination, the seed capsules hang out and wait for something — anything — to touch them. Brush up against one, and the valves on the pods will quickly coil back and fire the seeds in a tiny explosion. (This all sounds perfectly normal, until you picture what it would look like if every pregnant person was also basically a baby confetti cannon.)

Jewelweed Magical Uses and Folklore

These plants are well known to people indigenous to where they grow. Their virtues are largely medicinal, so I didn’t have very much luck finding explicitly-stated magical properties or associations. Peer-reviewed research supports its use for itchy skin conditions, including tinea (the fungus responsible for ringworm, athlete’s foot, and jock itch).

Jewelweed contains compounds that act as antagonists to the urushiol found in poison ivy. Most people are sensitive to urushiol, and end up with a telltale itchy, blistered rash from it. Applying jewelweed sap immediately after coming in contact with poison ivy can help stop the rash in its tracks.

I’m reminded of a rhyming couplet I read once, though I fail to remember where:

Jewelweed, starve ivy’s greed

Touch-me-not, stay ivy’s rot

(I have no idea. If you know the origin, let me know!)

The elemental and planetary associations for jewelweed are pretty much what you’d expect: water and Venus.

The flowers are a bright yellow-orange. Following the elemental correspondences, color attributes, and medicinal uses, I would use jewelweed in workings to bring joy and prevent or alleviate suffering. Water is the element of the emotions. Orange is for joy and positivity. It can keep you from spending a long, miserable time dealing with poison ivy blisters. The leaves repel what they don’t want on them. It makes sense to me!

Orange is also a color of creativity, and I did find a source who talks about using jewelweed in a flower essence to bring the flow of awen into your life. This also makes sense when you think of the plant’s seeds — whether it has pollinators to help it out or not, jewelweed will create new life!

Using Jewelweed

As mentioned above, jewelweed makes a nice flower essence. It also appears to be provisionally edible, but you need to cook it thoroughly to denature its toxic compounds.

Most uses of jewelweed involve either applying the crushed, raw plant to the skin, or adding it to salves, washes, or witch hazel.

Magically, I would dry some of the flowers and add them to sachets or witch’s bottles for creativity, joy, and the prevention of sorrow. Use the seeds in spells to increase the flow of inspiration. Since the plant depends on its flowers for genetic diversity, avoid taking more than a third of them. (Unless you’re in the Pacific Northwest, where it’s considered invasive. In that case, go to town.)

Jewelweed is a really unique plant. Sew it once, and it’ll keep coming back. It has an admirable tenacity, and can be a real friend to anyone who’s ever touched poison ivy on the trail. While traditional magical lore seems to be a bit thin on the ground, it has enough special qualities that it’s easy to extrapolate. Work with jewelweed, and see what it tells you.

Environment, life

Farmer’s market, murder shack. Tomato, tomahto.

My eyes were still closed when she started cleaning my face. If I weren’t at home, this would’ve been embarrassing, at best — I tried to turn my head away, but she held it firmly in place. There’s something about being a parent that makes using spit as a cleaning solution seem perfectly reasonable. According to some people, having kids endows mothers with super-powered saliva that can clean the most stubborn grime.

This appears to hold true if those kids are kittens, too.

“Ça suffit, Kiko.”

I opened my eyes to daylight, a pink nose, and a face full of whiskers. She started to purr.

It was early Sunday morning, and Kiko objects to my nighttime moisturizer. I spend perfectly good dollars to slather myself in serums and creams, and Kiko, one paw planted firmly on my cheek to hold my face in place, wakes me up by scrubbing them off again. She is a very gentle, caring, and perceptive cat, who routinely perches on the side of the bathtub to pat my cheeks and make worried faces when I’m not feeling well. She also has very definite opinions on skincare. (Gods help you if you try to wear lipstick around her.)

My partner and I didn’t really have plans for Sunday. It’s a day for catching up on housework and running errands — I mop, sweep, water plants, and putter around with other chores, he does laundry and washes whatever dishes there might be. With beautiful weather and an empty schedule, I figured we’d go to the farmer’s market and poke around.

And then we saw the line to get into the farmer’s market stretching around the block. Aw, butts.

“Let’s… Uh. Let’s get breakfast and go to a park, maybe,” I offered. This seemed reasonable.

Of course, “park” could also mean “abandoned ghost town,” in a certain light. So, armed with a smoothie and a largish quantity of chicken and waffles, we headed out to track down the remains of Daniels, Maryland. Neither of us had been there before, and it’s not like we had anything better to do… Why not go for a long drive and possibly accidentally stumble onto a secret forest murder shack?

Daniels isn’t haunted (as far as I know). It isn’t as eerie as Centralia, there are no horror movies inspired by it. A church was struck by lightning and burned down, but, from what I’ve read, the only loss was an expensive ring. There’s no real mystery behind it, either — the population dwindled, and the C.R. Daniels Company decided to shut things down.
(Really, the creepiest part is the idea that a company can own an entire town, and then decide to close your damn house.)

There’s still a very unique energy in places where people no longer live. I feel like that goes double in places like Daniels. Nature driving people out and retaking a space in one blow is sudden, violent, and has a sense of finality. The haunting feelings in those places make sense.

But what did people think as they packed up to leave Daniels? How long did it take for nature to start taking space back, and what came first? Was it the spiders, raccoons, or birds infiltrating old houses? Or did vines climb the walls first, sending in tendrils to pull the bricks and stones apart one piece at a time?

“Viva” “Cloud Nine” “Love You!” “Don’t just exist! LIVE”

In 1972, four years after the C.R. Daniels Company decided to shut things down, tropical storm Agnes rolled through an demolished most of the remaining buildings.

We weren’t prepared for how crowded things were, or the lack of a bridge. Instead of trying to find the remains of the town, this became a scouting mission. We’d need to find the best place to cross, not too near the dam. Somewhere where the bank wasn’t too steep, where there was already a trail worn through the thick, fluffy greenery. We’d have to come back early, when the weather was a bit cooler and there wouldn’t be as many people around.

Frustrated for the second time that day, we hiked along the water. I found a lovely patch of jewelweed, and something unidentifiable scented the breeze with a lemony citronella fragrance. The air was fresh, the mosquitoes were somewhere else, and things were good on this fine day. We paused for a bit so I could bathe some pieces of Arkansas quartz and Herkimer diamonds in the clear water, and I lit a tiny stick of incense as an offering.

When another group needed the spot to launch a kayak, I doused the incense, and we packed up to go home.

We’re going back, though.

We have a plan.

Plants and Herbs

Pokeweed Folklore and Magical Properties

My first experience with pokeweed was watching one sprout out of the side of my house.

I didn’t know what it was at first — it cropped up, seemingly overnight, in a tight space between the foundation and the heating oil tank. Since I was given to notions about lilac trees and beds of flowers at the time, and also didn’t want the foundation to crumble, I was tempted to pull it out. Something about the bright magenta-purple stems and lush leaves stayed my hand.

Nah, I thought. Let’s see where this goes.

Not long after, I was “rewarded” with hanging clusters of delicious-looking deep purple berries. I say “rewarded,” because pokeweed is also known as American nightshade and those shiny, tasty-seeming berries are super poisonous.

Well, unless you’re a bird. Or a raccoon. (As I discovered when Vladimir, the very rotund beast that lived above my friend’s garage, began leaving disturbingly recognizable pokeberry doots in front of the beer fridge.) While pokeweed berries are extremely deadly to most mammals, they’re a very important food source for plenty of other species. After other snacks have run their course, pokeberries are still hanging on.

Humans can eat the young shoots, but only when they are very young, and only after cooking them in two changes of water. I’ve also read that the berries may be edible too, but you have to remove the seeds first. Personally, I’m not really willing to try that particular experiment.

This past weekend, my partner and I stumbled on a pokeweed plant on a walk. Though mostly eaten, there were still a few deep purple berries left, and the intensely pink stems hadn’t yet lost their luster. That’s when I got the idea to write this post.

Pokeweed Magical Uses and Folklore

Pokeweed has a long history of use as a medicinal herb by people indigenous to its native range. That said, the effective dose is extremely small and the line between “medicine” and “poison” is thin. Isolated compounds in the plant — like Pokeweed Antiviral Protein — show a lot of promise as antiviral, anti-HIV, and even anti-cancer agents, but that’s another story.

The United States Declaration of Independence was written in ink made of pokeberries. Soldiers during the American Revolution frequently wrote letters in pokeberry juice, since it grew pretty much everywhere and made a very useful ink.

Pokeweed is variously associated with Mars or Uranus.

The Mars association makes sense, as various parts of the pokeweed (especially the dried berries) are used in spells for courage.

On the other hand, the Uranus association makes just as much sense. One of pokeweed’s medicinal properties is as a purgative (and oh, what a purgative). Shamans relied on this purging power as a kind of sympathetic magic, to expel evil spirits from afflicted people. It’s also used to break hexes and exorcise spirits/demons from a space. In other words, pokeweed purges evil or unwanted influences.

Using Pokeweed

Crushing the berries creates a very powerful magical ink. Some people ferment them, others add vinegar, salt, or other natural preservatives and use it as-is. This ink is often used for hex breaking, and can also serve as a substitute for blood in a pinch (depending on the spell, of course).

You can also add the dried berries to sachets or spell jars for bravery or hex-breaking. I would avoid adding them to baths or incense, just in case, and definitely never add them to salves or teas. The juice of the plants can be absorbed through the skin, causing issues similar to poison ivy. It also contains compounds that can trigger mutations, so that’s neat.

Pokeweed is a striking-looking plant. The bright magenta stems, vibrant green leaves, and shiny clusters of dark berries are stunning. Like many poisonous plants, it holds a lot of power within it — but that power demands respect. Pokeweed has the ability to feed, heal, and harm, all depending on how it’s used.

Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Capers Folklore and Magical Properties

Edible flowers have always intrigued me — I love floral flavors, far more than floral scents. Lavender Italian soda, candied violets, briny capers… Give me all of the flowers. I was eating my favorite breakfast the other day (toasted sesame bagel, veggie cream cheese, sliced tomato, thinly sliced red onion, and capers) when one of the little pickled buds dropped out and rolled onto my plate. It was surprisingly pretty, a deep olive green at the tip, turning to a deeper violet near the base, and it got me thinking.

What are capers good for?
(Besides being delicious.)

I didn’t find many traditional magical uses for these guys in my search, but I did find some very interesting medical uses and folklore than seems to provide the basis for their modern magical properties.

Capers Magical Properties and Folklore

Going down to bone town.

No, really. They’re mostly used as aphrodisiacs.

Even the Christian Bible acknowledges this — in Ecclesiastes, translations dispute whether a certain passage should read as “desire” or “caperberry.” In Hebrew, the word for caperberry, aviyyonah, is linked to the word avah, meaning “desire.” The King James version of Ecclesiastes 12:5 reads, “the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail.” Meanwhile, older translations render the word “desire” as “caperberry.” As a result, some modern translations go for “desire,” while others use “caperberry.” Confusing, huh?

In ancient Greek medicine, capers were used to relieve gas and bloating. This isn’t really tied to any aphrodisiac effect, but it’s probably easier to want to do the do when you aren’t farting like a Clydesdale.

The Witch’s Cottage Garden lists capers as a Mars plant. This is most likely due to the plant’s thorns — plants associated with Mars tend to be prickly — but also fits its use as an aphrodisiac. While Venus plants are associated with love and beauty, Mars energy can be passionate and lustful, in addition to assertive and warlike.

Other sources list as useful in magic for lust and potency, which also suits it’s Mars energy and desire-promoting qualities.

Using Capers

Eat them, but not too much. Capers are preserved, so they’re very high in sodium. (Ironically, if you have sodium-sensitive blood pressure and blood pressure-related sexual dysfunction, they can make it harder to get in the mood.)

I like including them in salads or, as I mentioned before, on a bagel with cream cheese. If you don’t eat cheese, a nondairy alternative or some avocado would work — I find that the salty, lemony bite of capers benefits greatly from something cool and creamy to offset it.

If you want to use capers in your magic without eating them, the mature flowers are very pretty and unusual-looking. While I haven’t seen the flowers for sale (I think most people prefer to pick them when they’re just buds, for culinary purposes), you can find the whole plant for sale and grow them fairly easily if you’ve got a dry climate and plenty of sun.

As a note of caution, the caper spurge (Euphorbia lathyris) is a poisonous plant that is often confused for capers. Eating the buds can cause mouth pain, nausea, cardiac arrhythmia, fainting, and delirium. So, if you going to go try to find capers, maybe stick to garden centers and grocery stores unless you’re really, really good at IDing plants.

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.

divination, life, Plants and Herbs

The Rowan and the Heather

This week, I wanted to dive back into Ogham divination. I’ve been practicing working with a pendulum made of a fallen cypress root, and the set I have is probably the most conducive to using it.

When I first learned pendulum divination as a preteen, I did it a simple way: hanging a ring or pendant from a piece of string into an empty glass, and asking it to show me “yes” and “no.” Usually, an even number of taps on the glass was a “yes,” while an odd one was a “no.” I’ve always enjoyed using pendulums, and I’ve been having a really interesting time devising ways to mix different types of divination together. Driftwood Ogham fews and a wood pendulum seemed a natural match!

I didn’t ask a specific question this time. So far, this set seems pretty good at telling me what I need to know. It isn’t much like tarot or Lenormand, in this respect. It’s less about answering questions than providing a different, more nebulous kind of insight. If Lenormand describes actions and situations, and tarot describes the energies and emotions surrounding those situations, Ogham is another layer entirely.

The pendulum was still over every oval of driftwood, except for two that made it swing in swift, ever-widening circles: Rowan and Heather.

Heather came up for me last week, when I asked specifically about working through some old patterns. These are things that are going to take more than a week to get past, so I’m not surprised to see this friend appear again.

Rowan is Luis. In Ogham divination, it represents protection from every kind of danger — physical, emotional, and spiritual. It’s defense, precaution, and care. Bind two rowan twigs into an equal-armed cross with red thread, and you have a protective charm. This points to either having protection, or needing it. In either case, it’s time to look to the things that make us feel safe.

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Honestly, it reassures me. If Heather points to needing to metaphorically “burn down” old protective patterns so new growth can emerge, Rowan tells me that they aren’t necessary. I am protected, I am safe. I don’t need them. There are healthy behaviors and mechanisms there, better ways to protect myself that don’t involve self-sabotage.

I can keep doing the work without fear, and I’ll be better for it.

 

 

Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Turmeric Folklore and Magical Uses

Turmeric is what gives curry a yellow color (as well as everything else it touches). It has a subtly spicy, earthy scent and flavor, and, to be honest, is next to impossible to find folklore or magical uses for.

It’s not that they don’t exist, of course. It’s just that they’re kind of drowned out by the number of blog posts, articles, and books on its nearly-magical health benefits. People use it for inflammation, diabetes, cardiovascular health, and to improve liver function. It’s a bit outside of the scope of this post to go into all of that — besides, I’m not a doctor — but it’s pretty evident that turmeric occupies an important place for a lot of people around the world.

Turmeric is native to southern Asia and some Pacific islands. In the places where it grows wild, it has a history of use as a medicinal herb going back about 4000 years. Interestingly, though turmeric was known in ancient Greece, it never really caught on except as a dye. (Interestingly, ginger, turmeric’s cousin, didn’t seem to have this problem.) Needless to say, if you’re looking for uses of turmeric in European-based witchcraft, they’re a little thin on the ground.

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Turmeric Magical Uses and Folklore

Nobody seems to be able to agree on what elemental correspondences go with this herb. Some say air, while one source I found said fire. While fire makes sense to me, I would probably say earth.

In India, turmeric seems to function as a sacred anointment. It’s used for brides and grooms during the pre-wedding haldi ceremony, girls entering puberty, and the bodies of the dead. Most of the sources for witchcraft uses of turmeric cite purification as one of its properties, so, while I doubt that its associations in Indian culture are exactly the same, this makes a lot of sense.

Malevolent spirits, particularly the angry dead, can be sent away with the smell of turmeric.

Turmeric is also indicated for spells for healing, strength, and vitality — since it’s a potent medicinal herb and general tonic.

Turmeric’s golden color is useful in color magic. Yellow is associated with abundance and happiness, while gold is associated with the energy of the sun, prosperity, success, and healing. (This sun energy might be an explanation for why turmeric is so useful for purification!)

Using Turmeric

Since turmeric stains pretty much everything it touches, that makes it great for making magical inks, dying sachets, bags, or poppets, or adding color to sweetening jars or other potions.

Turmeric essential oil has a very warming scent, and can be substituted for hot spices when you don’t necessarily want their sharp pepperiness. Like the root itself, though, the essential oil stains — use it with caution!

If you can keep it out of humidity, you can use turmeric to bury magical tools to purify them the way you might use sea salt. Again, be careful — don’t use it to bury anything porous, and keep it dry, or you might find that whatever you buried is now yellow.

 

I love turmeric, and I put it in everything. While I haven’t experienced the magical health benefits a lot of natural health websites attribute to it, it’s delicious, easy to use, and gives everything such a bright, pleasing color. If you’re looking for an ingredient for magical ink for a prosperity, abundance, joy, or purification spell, you can’t really go wrong with turmeric.

Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Dogwood Folklore and Magical Uses

I love dogwood blossoms, I think they’re my favorite non-flower flower. Even the wood and foliage of some species is absolutely breathtaking to look at — there’s nothing quite like a bloody dogwood in the snow.

Depending on where you are, dogwoods are either blooming, starting to bloom, or have been blooming for a few weeks. Since I’m missing the dogwoods at the National Arboretum so much, I figured this would be a good week to look at the folk and magical applications of Cornus wood, leaves, berries, and flowers.

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Dogwood Magical Uses and Folklore

As a native American tree (eastern U.S. and Mexico), there’s not a lot of writing on flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) as it pertains to European-based witchcraft. Southern Europe does have a plant called the Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), which is in the dogwood family, and most of Europe and western Asia has the common dogwood (Cornus sanguinea). C. mas and C. sanguinea both flower, but neither of these are quite as showy as the big white or pink blooms of C. florida. Since all of these plants are related, it’s possible, even preferable, to make substitutions depending on what species are locally available to you.

Dogwood is associated with loyalty, secrets, wishes, protection, fertility, desire, and illusion. (The illusion part, in particular, makes a lot of sense — the flowers of the flowering dogwood aren’t actually flowers at all, they’re modified leaves.)

The dogwood is strongly tied with Christian mythology, since the flowers form a cross shape. It was believed that the wood was used to form crosses for crucifixion, so Jesus prevented the dogwood from ever growing large enough to be used for this purpose again.

An old folk remedy for treating mange in dogs involved making a decoction of dogwood bark, and washing the affected areas with it.

Leaves, bark, or flowers can be used as a protective charm.

As an herb of secrecy, it’s a good idea to include some dogwood leaves in a diary, grimoire, or Book of Shadows. An oil made from the flowers can be used to dress a letter and keep prying eyes off of it.

Make a wish come true by catching a drop of dogwood sap on a cloth on the evening of Midsummer, and wishing on it. Carry it until you get your desire, then bury the cloth.

It’s bad luck to bring dogwood flowers into your home, or to burn the wood in your hearth.

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Using Dogwood

One theory for the etymology of “dogwood” is that the name stems from “dag,” from which we also get “dagger.” This is related to the straightness and density of the wood — the sticks are pretty much ideal for crafting shafts for tools or weapons (Ötzi was found with dogwood arrows), and the wood is dense enough to sink in water. In a practical sense, this makes dogwood an excellent material for crafting wands or other magical tools.

A lot of dogwood’s associations fit neatly into one another. Illusion, protection, and secrecy all blend well. I probably wouldn’t use dogwood in place of, for example, cayenne pepper as a protective herb because the energy is so different. Dogwood is subtler — it protects by concealment. It’s a smokescreen, not a fiery wall. Even its use as arrow shafts points to a plant that’s best used to take advantage of the shadows!

American flowering dogwood has four bracts. From a numerological standpoint, four is strength, stability, and pragmatism. This blends nicely with its use as an herb for protection and loyalty.

Dogwood is useful in color magic, since the blooms can range from white, to yellow, to pink, to red. Even the leaves can turn from gold or green to pink, yellow, orange, or red.

 

 

 

Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Elderberry Folklore and Magical Uses

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

Elderberries and syrup.

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

Elder Magical Uses and Folklore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using Elder

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

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

 

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

Plants and Herbs

Pansy Folklore and Magical Uses

Pansies remind me of my late grandmother. She used to grow them in her backyard garden, as little cheery-faced border plants. She also had a very gentle, relaxing aesthetic — I remember the grandfather clock in the hallway, the little embroidered pillow full of fragrant pine needles, the print of geese with cheery blue ribbons on the kitchen wall, the way the hallway always smelled like roses and the kitchen smelled like fresh coffee. I can always tell when she’s around me because of those smells.

It was nice spotting these little flowers last week, with their yellow faces turned toward the sun. I’m not positive about their exact species, but they resembled my grandmother’s pansies enough to make me curious about their uses.

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And this appears to be some yellow Viola tricolor.

It’s probably unsurprising to hear that pansies have a wealth of properties associated with them. You can heart it in their names, too — heartsease, call-me-to-you, love-lies-bleeding, love-in-idleness.

Heartsease Magical Properties and Folklore

In Roman mythology, the viola turned to love-in-idleness when Eros mistakenly struck it with one of his arrows, causing it to smile.

In Greek mythology, Zeus created the flowers as a way to repent for his treatment of his lover, Io. She was once a beautiful maiden, but Zeus’ wife, Hera, became jealous. To protect Io, Zeus transformed her into a cow. Since she was forced to be on a diet of grasses and herbs, Zeus made the earth yield flowers.

In another legend, Cupid worshipped the heartsease flowers. To stop this, Aphrodite turned them from white, to tricolored.

Pansies and violets are associated with Venus, and often used as a love ingredient. Placing some under your pillow is said to attract a new lover. Planting them in a heart shape is a bit of sympathetic magic — if they thrive, so will your relationship.

They are also associated with Pluto, and death and rebirth.

Picking the herb on a sunny day is said to cause a storm to come. Picking one that’s still dewy brings death.

Using Heartsease

I think love magic gets a bad rap. When many people think of it, they picture a desperate, lovelorn person, performing spell after spell to convince the object of their affections to want them back. That’s not really the case, though. I mean, if you think about it, everything is love.

Want more money? You really want your boss or your clients to love your work.
Want to be more successful or popular? That’s platonic love.
Love magic is attraction magic. If you draw in love, you can use those same attributes to attract whatever you desire.

Pansies come in a variety of colors, which lends them well to color magic. Each color has its own particular attributes. The little yellow ones I found could be found for mental abilities, divination, happiness, travel, or blessing a new home.

If I could, I’d plant a pot of yellow pansies near the front door of my home. Bless the space and draw in love all at the same time!

Medicinally, heartsease has been used to treat asthma, inflammatory lung conditions, and cardiac complaints. Externally, it’s used for skin problems like eczema. Considering this, and considering how many other herbs’ medical uses mirror their magical ones, it’s really not surprising that it’s an herb of love and death.

 

Pansies are demulcent, mucilaginous, and anti-inflammatory. They have been used to calm irritated skin, ease chest complaints, and soothe other matters of the heart, too. They’re also easy to grow, so, if you have the room, I definitely recommend planting some of these cheerful little flowers!