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.

Witchcraft

Raising Power (and Then What?)

The whole moon hexing-thing seems to have opened up a whole can of worms, hasn’t it?

It seems like most witchy spaces have kind of gotten past the collective initial reaction to it, but it continues to raise a lot of interesting questions — some thought-provoking, some annoying and gatekeepy.

One discussion I came across involved the validity of using the internet as a magical learning tool. Sure, there’s a lot of very “Well, in MY day” attitudes about it among older witches and Pagans, but there are some valid criticisms to levy. The internet has democratized the spread of information, but that goes hand-in-hand with the spread of misinformation (as anyone currently dealing with relatives who believe COVID-19 is a hoax can attest). Granted, a lot of books on the subject are no better. I can’t recall the title, but I vividly remember reading one passage about an Irish potato goddess that someone not only wrote, but someone else published and other people bought. Misinformation still spread, just more slowly.

From this sprouted a discussion about the validity of online spells, and the preponderance of people looking for magic as a kind of quick fix. “Ceremonial” magic gets derided, while simple candle and jar spells pop up and get passed around everywhere. The only problem there is that the “ceremonial” stuff is often not ceremonial it all — it’s the power-raising and the meat of what makes the magic happen. Candle and jar spells are completely valid and workable, but there’s more the thing than putting herbs in a jar and hoping for the best.

This, in turn, hosted a conversation about power raising. One person was completely unconcerned about online spells — they could never work to begin with, because the instructions didn’t include anything about raising power “properly.” Why, one person asked, would you send your energy into your materials?
That, in particular, got me thinking: What does proper power raising and releasing even look like?

Before I even came to witchcraft, I was familiar with raising power — not as a practice, but as a feeling. I picked up on the bright, effervescent thrill that went through me when I was dancing, or when the song I was listening to hit that crescendo that was just perfect, and I could feel the build and release of energy. It wasn’t going anywhere in particular, but it was happening.

As I learned, I was taught the basic circle casting, power-raising, releasing toward your goal construction of a spell. While that’s a perfectly workable means of spellcasting, it’s also not the only way to do it “right.”

Like anything else in magic, it depends on the intention. I don’t mean the intent of the spell, I mean your intention to cast it in the first place. Your intent might be to get a new job, but your intention is to use a candle/jar/sigil/whatever spell to get a new job. That determines what your spellcasting looks like, even down to the release of power. Not every situation calls for a “cast a circle, raise power, release it toward your goal” strategy.

Candle spells are nice because they’re a simple, accessible type of sympathetic magic. You want something to happen as the candle burns. Maybe you want to reverse a hex, so you use a two-color candle and watch the black wax neutralize whatever the other color is. Maybe you want to feel better, so your fatigue decreases as the wax is consumed. Maybe you want to attract a lover, so their heart warms as the flame grows and burns. Versatile!

That also means that the candle is a way of releasing that power. You light the wick, the flame consumes the wax, it releases it as the products of combustion — heat, light, soot, and water vapor. Sending your intention and energy into the candle allows it to be burned when the time is right, or as needed — you raise and release power once, direct it into the sympathetic vessel, and let the element of fire do the rest. You could raise and release power toward your intent, but, at that point, the candle is strictly ambiance.

Jar spells are nice because they’re long-lasting. You fill a container with symbols of your intent, and put it somewhere to work. Maybe you want to keep a happy and stable home, so you fill it with peaceful ingredients and bury it in your back yard. Maybe you want to attract a new lover, so you fill it with rosebuds and bury it near your front door. Maybe you work with someone who really sucks, so you fill it with nails, hot pepper, and stolen pieces of hair and ditch it by a railroad crossing. In this case, much like the candle, the spell isn’t necessarily helped or hurt by a one-time release of energy toward a goal.

Sigils are their own thing entirely. They hopscotch back and forth over the line between magic and psychology as a matter of course, so they’re not going to follow the rules for raising and releasing power. That doesn’t mean that they don’t work, though.

Servitors are interesting energetic constructs, but that means that your energy should be directed toward making them. You don’t really need a circle for it — you’re going to give the energy its own shape, anyway. If you can’t keep it from getting away from you without a magical container, you’re probably going to have trouble with that second part as it is.

Knot magic is another time-release kind of spell. It’s a form of sympathetic magic where the tying or untying of knots contains and releases energy as needed. If you aren’t putting your energy into the knot-tying itself, then the action of untying the string doesn’t actually release anything.

Does this mean that energy raising and releasing have no real rules, and any online spell will work? Well… No.

The common thread of all of the types of spells I mentioned above is that the materials and actions in the spell have a reason for being there. The spell jar’s a magic battery. The knotted string is a string of magical firecrackers. The candle is a way of holding energy until the flame releases it. There are definitely some spells out there that are unfocused, at best.

For example, say you want to draw in a new lover. You fill a pretty dish with rosebuds, lavender, and jasmine flowers, add a drop of love-drawing oil, and send your energy and intent into the dish. You feel that the herbs have absorbed all of the energy they can, so the spell is over and you dispose of the remnants.

And then what? Where does the energy go? How does it get to its goal? You could burn the herbs and release it with the element of fire, fire’s related to warmth and passion. You could even scatter them in a moving body of water, water’s related to the emotions. But, unless the spell tells a novice witch to do that, are they going to?

I like online spell resources because they’re good for ideas. You can usually tell which have a chance of working (and which don’t stand a brine shrimp’s chance in a photon tube) by asking a pretty simple question for each ingredient and instruction: Why is this here?

Most will tell you to meditate or visualize. These are ways of raising mental and magical energy, but not the only ones. You can dance, sing, or ride a twelve-speed vibrator the size of a Thermos until your eyes bug out, and it’ll work just as well as long as you keep your goal in mind.

They might not give you an effective way to direct or release this energy. Don’t get me wrong, you can do way worse for yourself than holding a bunch of lavender flowers and meditating on something that would bring you joy, but that probably isn’t going to bring you much closer to your goal.

At each step, ask why. At each ingredient, ask why. Not only will it let you know if you’re wasting your time, it’ll make it easier to write your own spells or make substitutions when necessary.

life, Neodruidry, Witchcraft

How Antidepressants Made Me Better at Witchcraft

Have you ever seen that meme about psychiatric medication? The one that’s all, “pills are trash, forests are medicine!” (Which, by the way, is a toxic, steaming load of horse puckey.)

It’s not an uncommon attitude in some new age and Pagan-adjacent circles. I could digress into a discussion of the destructive power of the naturalistic fallacy, but it’d take at least eleven posts just to contain it. Instead, I want to point out one thing:

Medication made me way better at everything, including witchcraft and Druidry.

A lot of people express reluctance at trying psychiatric medication, and I can’t blame them. It can take awhile to find the right one, and, after that, to work out the right dose. That’s frustrating, even scary. Some worry that medication will “dope them up,” reduce their creativity, or subdue the traits that make them them. For me, nothing could be further from the truth. Without the constant high-pitched background buzz of anxiety and panic disorder, I’m much freer. I have some side effects, but they’ve been a small price to pay.

I do occasionally feel stabs of resentment that I’m reliant on something “unnatural” — but that’s a me problem. If there were a “natural” equivalent to what I need, believe me, I would have found it. I didn’t, despite years of experimentation. I came close a few times, but there was no herbal remedy for my panic that didn’t also knock me unconscious, make me throw up, or worse.

The fact is, the idea of “perfect” physical or mental health is a construct. It’s not a birthright, it’s not even a natural concept. In Sick Woman Theory, Johanna Hedva explains,

“Sickness” as we speak of it today is a capitalist construct, as is its perceived binary opposite, “wellness.” The “well” person is the person well enough to go to work. The “sick” person is the one who can’t. What is so destructive about conceiving of wellness as the default, as the standard mode of existence, is that it invents illness as temporary. When being sick is an abhorrence to the norm, it allows us to conceive of care and support in the same way.

By contrast, in nature, an organism that is “well” is one that’s able to meet the challenges of its environment. That isn’t a super high bar to clear — it also very often doesn’t look like the human conception of wellness. In reality, few creatures would meet the definition of “well” to which humans aspire. Animals live with parasites. Crows steal lit matches and bow over ant hills, seeking relief from mites when they need to. One crow with an injured beak needed the help of his mate to eat, and she gave it. We find deer that have lived for years with teeth or bullets embedded in them, muscle and bone growing gnarls over what biology apparently considered an impolite intrusion. We find creatures that have existed, eaten, and fucked for a lifetime, tumors and abscesses locked away behind walls of thickened bone. As salmon amply demonstrate, as long as you can survive to adulthood and pass on your genes, nature doesn’t much care what state you’re in. If you end up truly unwell, you don’t survive. If you’re surviving, even if it takes an anthill, a patchwork of scars, or an understanding mate to keep you there, you’re doing well.

“Perfect wellness” is not a natural standard, and the kind of health sold by the wellness industry is not only unnatural, it is deeply damaging.

Natural perfect health is rare enough to be nearly mythical, because there is no real binary opposite to sickness. Everyone will experience a significant amount of pain and disability at some point in their life. Some are fortunate enough not to experience that until they are very old. For others, that point just comes earlier and lasts a bit longer.

We are pushed to consider caring for ourselves as temporary, which perpetuates the myth of being “well” as a default, natural state. As long as the aspirational standard of natural perfect health exists, we’ll keep working ourselves to death trying to reach it. So, the idea that you must be naturally, perfectly clear-headed in order to commune with the Divine or perform magic? It’s kind of crap.

It’s an idea that’s also used to delegitimize practices that use entheogens — practices where altered mental states are valuable, if not necessary. It derides rituals that use substances in favor of quiet, whitewashed sensibilities.

In my case, it’s just a lot easier for me to get things done when my brain isn’t dysfunctionally revved up on a constant stream of high-test adrenaline, neurons struggling to swap about four serotonin molecules between them. It doesn’t matter if the “things” I’m trying to do are dishes or divination.

It’s not wrong to prefer natural tools in ritual, but the standards that apply to a wand or an herb don’t work when you try to apply them to the self. Medication — the help that gets us closer to the functional, animalistic concept of “wellness” — isn’t an enemy or a detraction from spiritual experiences.

If you’re hanging in there, even if you need medication to keep you here, you’re doing well. Nature and the divine won’t reject you for that.

life, Witchcraft

You don’t need to worry about the moon.

Today, in Things I Never Thought I’d Have to Type:

Just in case you came across this Twitter thread yesterday — the moon is going to be fine. A minor internet kerfluffle ensued when some kids got the bright idea to hex the moon (?) and the fair folk (??) for… Reasons, I guess.

Everyone who gets into a hobby — whether it’s pottery, baking, or witchcraft — has a moment or two when they develop starry-eyed aspirations of punching way above their weight. For some people, that means trying to tat an entire lace tablecloth by hand. For others, I guess it’s trying to curse the moon. But, much like ending up with a pile of tangled thread instead of heirloom-quality table linens only really hurts the crafter, trying to hex the moon or the fae only really hurts the caster. The only real difference between the two is that a finished tablecloth would have been beautiful and served a purpose.

Kids have been doing asinine things since the beginning of time. When I was four, I ate an icicle that was hanging off of the muffler of my grandma’s car and became violently ill. When I was ten, I ate a plate of dog food to prove a point (the point was that chicken alfredo is gross, don’t @ me). My adorable baby cousin once spent twenty minutes enthusiastically smashing sliced peaches into his hair. This probably isn’t the first — or even most impressive — time someone’s tried to pull something like this. The moon will be fine. Moon deities will be fine. They’ve survived the destruction of their temples and imagery, the forced conversion of their believers, and actual people walking around and leaving trash on the moon. They survived Theodosius the Great and the Donation of Constantine. This is kind of adorable by comparison.

(It’s also what happens when you dive headlong into spellwork without learning enough about history or theory, but that’s another subject.)

space egg

Admittedly, energy might be a little weird for a bit. Not to get too deep in the weeds, but, during some vision work I performed before finding out about all this, I experienced what I can only describe as an energetic whirlpool. I tried to feel it, but it slipped right over my hands like oil on water. I asked what it was and what it was for, and was told that it wasn’t my problem and not to worry about it. I went on my way. I didn’t know what it meant at the time, and, to be frank, didn’t feel like it was useful or important to delve into something that had been expressly described as Not My Problem. In retrospect, it makes sense.

I don’t think these witches should be bound or otherwise disciplined by more experienced heads. I think they’ll get what’s coming to them well enough, either through the backlash of their own work, or the humbling realization that the whole situation is more cringey and hilarious than anything else.

As for the fae, maybe leave some honey or milk out in your garden. Wear some gold. Carry some cold iron. The fae are temperamental at best, and this definitely isn’t a situation where I’d recommend going the “fuck around and find out” route.

life, Witchcraft

Cleansing Your Space After an Illness

By now, your home has probably had some sick people in it. Even if you’ve been fortunate (or diligent) enough to avoid COVID-19, the pandemic has triggered a spike in people using telemedicine — which means that they’re avoiding healthcare offices and handling more things at home.

Even in homes that haven’t seen illness, the vibes might be getting kind of weird by now. Being in close proximity to other people, no matter how much you love them, can result in more arguments, more tiny annoyances, just more of everything. (Absence may not always make the heart grow fonder, but it can certainly do a lot for sanity now and then.)

Cleansing is intended to recalibrate the energy of a space. Without getting too Witchcraft 101, it’s a good idea to do it where there have been arguments, nightmares, annoying guests, or anything that just makes a room feel a little “off.” It makes sense that you’d want to energetically cleanse a place where people have experienced sickness or physical or emotional pain. Odds are, you’re going to be giving the whole room a regular disinfecting anyhow, so why not combine the two?

In many folk magic traditions, magic and housework go hand-in-hand. As cleaning protects the home from filth and sickness, magic protects from spiritual ills. Hoodoo, in particular, has a strong tradition of using floor washes for bringing good in and shooing evil out. In nature, the cycles of weather and the seasons keep things moving. Fresh energy is brought in, the old is re-integrated. This isn’t something that can take place indoors, where it’s sealed-up, soilless, dry, and climate controlled all year!

Open Up

Cleansing a space gets things moving. That’s why it’s important to allow as much of the outdoors in as you can. Open windows and doors, bring in the wind and the sun. Much like grounding allows us to recalibrate our own energy fields, this lets the energy stirred up by the process to re-integrate into the world outside.

Perform a Physical Clearing

Vacuum carpets. Sweep floors. Change linens (preferably for a set that’s been aired in the sunlight). Wash curtains. Air out bedding. Anything that can be physically cleaned, should be. Pay particular attention to areas that don’t see much action, like the corners of rooms. These spaces allow things — both physically and energetically — to accumulate.

Do a Double-Duty Cleansing

Many of the ingredients that are used for energetic cleansing are also useful for sickrooms.

Floor cleaners with pine oil purify spaces and ward off evil, while having some antimicrobial activity. (Unfortunately, Pine-Sol no longer contains pine oil.)

Lemon is also used for energetic cleansing, while the citral and linool in lemon oil have some bacteria-inhibiting and antiviral action.

Fresh herbs.

Vinegar is sometimes used for energetic cleansing, by leaving a dish in an empty room to evaporate. When prepared as an appropriate dilution, vinegar also inhibits candida, e. coli, and staph.

Some herbs, like white sage, are antimicrobial when burned. If you don’t use white sage, bay leaf has also shown some similar effects.

These measures will shift the most resistant energy patterns and restore the flow.

It’s important to note that these ingredients are all aromatic. That means that they might be too strong to be tolerated by someone with a respiratory condition or sensitivity to smells. Air everything out well afterward. Even if the smell is dissipated, the cleansing action is still there.

It’s also important to note that, if you’re dealing with a serious pathogen like the novel coronavirus, you should disinfect using a cleaner approved by the EPA for that specific purpose. Not every cleaner, herb, or oil is effective against every pathogen out there. If you know what bacteria, fungus, or virus you’re dealing with, make sure you knock it out first with a good disinfecting agent. You can clear the vibes afterward.

Bring in the New

Next, it’s important to bring in the kind of vibrations you want to have around. You can place crystals that correspond to the kind of energy you want to bring in (or the kind of illness you’re working on healing), but it should be noted that a lot of crystals come with energy you may not want. If you’re in doubt, find a piece of Arkansas quartz or a Herkimer diamond harvested by the seller. Arkansas and Herkimer county are home to some beautiful, powerful clear quartz crystals — you can ask for their assistance, inform them of your intent, and they’ll work just as well.

You may also want to sprinkle cleansing salt in the corners of the room. Plain sea salt is fine here, but you can create your own cleansing salt by combining it with your preferred herbs. Eucalyptus leaves, lavender buds, and dried lemon zest with some coarse sea salt all work well for this purpose.

Playing music helps, too. Music and sound have a powerful effect on our mental — and even physical — states. The frequency of a cat’s purr helps speed the healing of bones, muscles, and connective tissue. In one study, 528hz was found to lower biomarkers for stress. Even if you can’t replicate exact frequencies, your favorite music can have a strong impact on a room’s energetic imprint.

As a chronically ill person, I’ve found that I’m especially sensitive to when things start to go a little bit “off.” Even if you don’t have the energy to do all of the things on this list, doing just a few (opening a window, playing music, getting rid of some clutter) can help improve the feel of a place.

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!

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

Herbs for Justice, Protection, and Invisibility

If you’re taking part in the June 5th spiritual protest or any other justice-related spellwork, you might be wondering what materials you should reach for. Traditional hoodoo resources are a great source for this — the generations of the Black community’s mistreatment at the hands of law enforcement is made painfully evident when you look at the number of oils, powders, and roots that help with court cases and legal trouble.

If you don’t have access to traditional rootwork resources, though, that’s okay. There are plenty of other plants you can go to, especially if your spiritual and magical path hails from a different part of the world. Since this is somewhat short notice and COVID-19 is still affecting business closures, here are some herbs I thought would be a) effective, and b) easy-to-find, even if you don’t have them already. Some, you might be able to find by the side of the road. Others, you might have in your kitchen already.

Amaranth

Amaranth is used for protection and invisibility — help journalists and protesters avoid violence. It’s an ancient grain, so, if you have a sensitivity to wheat, you may already have some to cook with.

Buckthorn

Buckthorn is useful for protection and legal trouble. Alder-lead buckthorn grows across the U.S., Carolina buckthorn can be found in the east, and California, cascara, and hollyleaf buckthorn grows in the west. Common and glossy buckthorn also occur in the U.S. as invasive species — get your magical ingredients and curb the invasion, all in one shot.

Celandine

Celandine is protective and helps with legal matters. It helps win the good will of a jury, and is used to avoid unjust imprisonment. Lesser celandine is an invasive species in the U.S., especially in the east and northwest, and is sometimes known as “fig buttercup.”

Mugwort

Mugwort is used for protection and healing. It keeps away evil, protecting the target from dark forces. When carried, it helps ensure that loved ones return home safely. Mugwort grows as a weed everywhere but the plains states in the U.S. You can find it on waste ground, roadsides, by train tracks, and in fallow fields.

Oregano

Chances are, you’ve got some of this common spice in your kitchen. Grab a shaker of it, a piece of charcoal, and a fireproof dish, and burn the leaves. As you do this, pray for justice. Your intent will be carried on the smoke.

You can also add oregano to spells for protection — useful for aiding the protesters and oppressed communities.

Rosemary

Rosemary is my favorite protective plant. It’s also an easy-to-find culinary herb — if you don’t have rosemary itself, you might have “poultry seasoning” (which probably has sea salt, garlic, and other protective goodies in it).

Vervain

Vervain is a very powerful sacred herb. It empowers anything it’s added to, and is used for protection, peace, healing, sending negativity back, and more. This is common vervain, not the U.S. native blue vervain, but both are part of Verbena. Blue vervain grows wild in disturbed areas.

Woad

Woad is often used for ancestor work, particularly by those of Celtic extraction. It’s also used for banishing and spiritual protection. As far as I’m aware, the Celtic peoples didn’t really give a flying fornication about ethnicity or bloodline purity or what have you, so, if using it speaks to you, go wild.

Woad isn’t particularly easy to find, but it’s a favorite for battle magic.

Yarrow

Yarrow helps instill courage. You can find it all across the U.S., in gardens, forests, and grasslands alike, growing along roadsides and hiking trails.

This is a very short, basic list based on my own experience and research. (For a more in-depth treatment of war witchcraft, there’s a great article on Zindoki.com.) Most of these herbs are pretty easy to find, you might even be able to harvest some from untended land near your home. Just remember — take no more than 30% of the plant, and always ask permission and leave an offering.

The injustice suffered by some of us, hurt all of us.
Work your magic by the moon. Kick some ass.

Burning incense.
life, Witchcraft

Rosemary for Remembrance

My family has a long history of military service stretching back on both sides — all the way back to the soldiers in Acadia and beyond. I don’t know the names of my ancestors who died in war, though I’m sure there must have been some. Monday was Memorial Day, so I thought I’d do a Witchcraft Wednesday post on a ritual for memorializing the departed. Even if your Memorial Day plans don’t include rituals or spellwork, or you usually perform your remembrance work around Samhain (when the veil between worlds is thinnest), this is a good, simple working for this time of year.

All you’ll need are:

  • A white (or natural beeswax) candle
  • Rosemary oil (optional)
  • Sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • A piece of string or ribbon
  • The names, photos, or even just visualizations of your departed ancestors
  • Other herbs or woods associated with remembering or honoring the dead, like marigold. Oak is symbolic of strength, vitality, and victory, and is often a motif on military headstones.

Begin by anointing the candle with rosemary oil, if you wish. Next, fashion the rosemary into a wreath and tying it with the string or ribbon. If it is large enough, place it around the base of the candle. If not, place it before it. Inhale the sweet green aroma, as rosemary is the herb of remembrance. Let whatever memories or images it conjures up for you flow.

Fresh herbs.

If you have photos or belongings from the deceased, or even just other herbs, leaves, or flowers, arrange them how you wish. There is no right or wrong way.

You can say a few words acknowledging your lost ancestors’ bravery or sacrifice, if you wish. This is a complicated time for many people, and that’s okay. Many people choose military service as a way for them or their families to escape poverty, which is a terrible choice to have to make. Even if you are a pacifist, or are against the wars that they fought, you may wish to acknowledge the courage it took to go into the battle that claimed their lives.

Light the candle.

Say,

“The ones you left behind mourn you, but you are beyond pain and fear. You did not return home, but you are alive in our hearts and minds. Be at peace.”

If your belief system includes reincarnation, now is a good time to visualize your ancestor as they might have been reborn — free and happy, in a healthy, uninjured body. You can add some words to that effect, if you wish.

Allow the candle to burn. Dispose of the ritual remains in a manner appropriate to your tradition.

Though Memorial Day is for honoring the fallen, there are those still living who have sacrificed their well-being. The Wounded Warrior Project has a variety of veteran programs designed to help them move forward with mental and physical wellness, career and VA counseling, and more. If you can, please consider donating.

divination, life, Neodruidry, Witchcraft

The Accidental Journey

When I was little, I loved to sleep. I still do, to be honest.

At least, the adults around me thought it was sleep. I wasn’t really sure what it was. While hypersomnia has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, sleeping was never really just a means to an end.

I didn’t really have any privacy growing up, I didn’t have my own bedroom until I moved out — if I didn’t have to share it with my brother, I had to share it with my mother. You couldn’t even get five minutes in the bathroom without someone either banging on the door or just barging in. But the time and space behind my eyelids was mine.

When I was little, I learned the patterns my brain followed when it started its spiral into sleep. As soon as my thoughts turned into free-association nonsense, I learned to tweak them just enough to influence my dreams. If I timed it just right, I could dream lucidly, or, if nothing else, have dreams that were vividly beautiful and meaningful to me.

Sometimes, I wouldn’t be tired enough to descend into sleep. I experimented with ways to make myself dream — slowing my breathing, blinking my eyes in certain patterns, listening to certain songs, repeating phrases or disembodied snippets of poetry under my breath.

The first “awake dream” I had shocked and confused me as much as it delighted me. It was brighter and more vivid than the most memorable lucid dream I had, and I still retained a sense of the “real” world around me — I had a sense of awareness in two places at once, and gently ignored the walls around me for the impossibly lush, green gateway ahead. Unlike a dream, I could control my body. Unlike a fantasy, I couldn’t control anything else.

I didn’t know hedge riding, shamanism, or path-walking was a thing yet, I was only eight or nine years old. I kept it to myself, knowing that my experiences would either be dismissed as childish make-believe or decried as somehow demonic.

It was a long time before I learned what it was, and how lucky I’d been. I learned that doing this could be useful for more than just me. I’d spent a lot of time journeying as a scared, angry kid, and was fortunate to find things that (for the most part) were helpful at soothing my hurts and teaching me to avoid the destructive patterns I was being taught. It was because I was able to accidentally find my way there that I was able to find my way into a better life.

I know I was extraordinarily lucky, and things could have gone very wrong if I hadn’t been. Waking, sleeping, or journeying, I’m grateful every day for the way they turned out.