Witching Plants: Monkshood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monkshood
Family: Ranunculaceae
Genus: Aconitum
Latin Name: Aconitum napellus
Folk Names: Monkshood, friar’s cap, devil’s helmet, bears foot, blessed lady’s gloves
Planetary Ruler: Saturn
Element: Earth
Sacred To: Hekate, Kirke (Circe), Medea, Kronos, Hel, Frau Holda, Cerridwen

Botany: Monkshood is an erect perennial growing up to a little under 5 feet in height and 2 feet spread. The leaves are palmate with jagged edges, usually dark green with an alternate arrangement on the stem. Flowers are hood-shaped, hence the common name, and a deep bluish violet shade.

Healing: Due to its highly poisonous nature, monkshood is rarely used in modern herbal medicine. However, when made into an ointment and applied externally, monkshood has been used to treat rheumatism.

Magical Uses: The mythical origins of monkshood are mentioned in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, the plant springing from Kerebos’s saliva as it dripped from the dog’s jaws. As a plant of Saturn, monkshood is sacred to deities of the dead, especially Hekate. It was used by Medea in an attempt to poison Theseus and juices from the plant have been used to coat spear tips and arrow heads. Monkshood is one of the ingredients in the classic witches’ flying ointment.

Unless you are familiar with the right dosage of monkshood, it is not advised to use the physical components of this plant in incenses, ointments or oils. If you are careful however, the petals may be added to necromantic charms, given as offerings to the khthonic powers or made into a tincture to consecrate magical tools. As a plant used in flying ointment, monkshood’s spirit may be petitioned as an aid to travelling in the Otherworld, although mandrake is a gentler guide.

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Of the Roads and Crossroads: Hekate

Hekate
Parents: Asteria and Perses
Siblings: None
Spouse/Lovers: None
Children: None
Symbolism: Torches, keys, knives.
Sacred Animals: (Classical) Black dogs, polecats, serpents. (Modern) Ravens, crows, black cats, toads.
Sacred Plants: Monkshood, oak, yew, deadly nightshade, hellebore, hemlock, all plants governed by Saturn, classic “witching” plants.

Hekate is one of the most popular goddesses of modern witchcraft, Wicca and paganism. Her popularity is probably due to her being linked with the “crone” figure in the “triple goddess” myth, tying her in with The Goddess in a lot of neopagan practices.  However, while Hekate is often referred to as being three-formed, three-faced or ruling over three realms, She is portrayed as a youthful goddess in Classical art, not as a wise old crone. Initially Her domains were over childbirth, protection of the young (including animals), and averting evil. Later She gained her associations with magic, witchcraft, herbal lore, necromancy, the dead and ghosts, thus possibly causing Her to become seen as a crone figure.

In Hesiod’s Theogony, She is the daughter of Perses (the Destroyer) and Asteria (the Starry), though other historians variously mention Zeus, Nyx or Demeter as Her parents. Asteria is the sister of Leto, which makes Hekate a cousin to Artemis and Apollon. During the war between the Titan ruling dynasty, and the upstart Olympians, She sided with Zeus and the younger generation of gods, and was highly honoured after Zeus ascended the throne of Olympos. She had a role during the Eleusinian Mysteries, as She helped Demeter search for Persephone, leading the way to the Underworld with her blazing torches. It’s possible that She obtained Her role as a psychopomp because of this, and along with Hermes, She is petitioned in modern magic to help open the gates of the Underworld in order to communicate with the souls of the dead.


hekate-02

 

Hekate gains her dominion over witchcraft possibly through figures like Medea and Kirke (Circe). Medea was a priestess of Hekate and called upon Her to aid with her spells, and the historian Diodorus Siculus claimed that Hekate was the mother of Medea and Kirke. The collection of texts known as the Greek Magical Papyri also feature spells and incantations, calling upon Hekate as a goddess of dark sorcery, necromancy, witchcraft and ghosts. Her knowledge of the magical properties of all herbs was recorded by Ovid in his Metamorphoses and by Apollonius Rhodius in his Argonautica.

Present day witches see Hekate (amongst other witching goddesses) as a patroness of their arts, and honour Her especially during the dark half of the year. The night of the new moon is sacred to Hekate, and historically this was when folk would leave meals, known as Hekate’s deipnon (supper), for the goddess at crossroads, boundaries and graveyards. Some modern witches have revived this practice, offering Hekate bread, cake, garlic, onions, cheese, fish and wine at the new moon. Other traditional offerings are any household sweepings, and modern witches may wish to donate the remains of spells, such as candle wax, incense ash and herbs to their own deipnon. In the wild She can be honoured in graveyards, at crossroads, in deep forests of on the edge of lakes.

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Tools of the Green Witch

For many witches, magical tools are things like wands, athames, pentacles and other esoteric objects. However when practicing herbal, green and kitchen, magic, the tools needed may seem more humble, but are just as important.

Chopping Board
On a purely practical level your chopping board simply provides a hardwearing surface upon which to work with your herbs. You will want preferably two or three chopping boards specifically for magical use; one for the preparation of magical foodstuffs and meals, one for general herbs and one for any poisonous plants you may utilise. Mark each board so you can tell them apart, especially important for the poison board so you don’t inadvertently make yourself ill!

Magically you can imbibe your chopping boards by etching or painting symbols around the edge, or maybe by including a triangle of manifestation (a large equal-sided triangle inside a circle) in the centre of the board, used to magically charge your herbs while you use them. Of course if you have a particular purpose (a philtre to promote love and happiness for example) you can dram appropriate symbols on the board with chalk and then wipe them off when finished with that working.

Pestle and Mortar
A very useful tool for grinding herbs and reducing resins to powder. The heavier granite style pestle and mortars are the best, though you may wish to keep several for different purposes and as with the chopping boards keep a separate marked pestle and mortar for poisonous plants.

Grater
Used for tougher, more fibrous roots and nuts, especially when you have to reduce a root to a powder. Grate the root into shavings and then grind them in the pestle and mortar. As with the other tools keep a separate grater for magical work and don’t use it for cheese!

Bowls
Used for mixing, holding ingredients and soaking herbs, keep a set of bowls aside for your magical work. You may paint symbols on them if you wish.

Jars and Bottles
Used to store your ingredients, the finished products and for infusing various mixtures that need to be steeped for a long time and shaken. Old coffee, jam and honey jars work well for storage jars, just wash them out well and soak overnight in hot water to remove all traces of their prior contents. You can then place them on a baking tray and put in a warm oven to dry and make them sterile. Make sure you label everything well.

Measuring Equipment
A reliable set of scales and some measuring jugs are invaluable. You may also like to invest in a set of apothecary spoons for measuring smaller amounts.

Saucepans
If you can, invest in a set of saucepans for magical work. A small copper pan for any workings sacred to Venus (love, friendship) is ideal however these can be *extremely* expensive. Of course mark any pans you use for poisons.

Spoons and Knives
A decent tablespoon and teaspoon and a set of wooden spoons used for stirring are fine. Two sharp knives, one marked for poisonous plants, are also very useful. If you aren’t skilled with a knife and need to chop something very small, a crescent shaped mezzeluna and corresponding curved board can be very helpful.

Strainers and Sieves
Used to strain herb-infused oils or to pass finely ground herbs through to make powders, these are very useful. You may also want a small amount of muslin or jelly bags for really clear oils, and some funnels for pouring into bottles.

Charts
Almanacs or astrological charts are extremely useful for calculating when the best time to make and infuse magical potions, tinctures, simples, incense and more. These list planetary hours, phases of the moon and other astrological information.

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Green and Kitchen Witchcraft

Witchcraft is a natural practice and the witch works closely with the natural world. In a sense all witchcraft is green and kitchen based. Witches who are skilled in herbal arts, gardening, wildcrafting, or homesteading, will grow their own herbs, or harvest them wild from nature. Witches know how to take those herbs and turn them into incense, magical oils, tinctures, simples and to utilise them in rites, spells and rituals. Their magic is called “low”. This does not suggest that it is inferior, but rather that it is different from the “high” ceremonial magic that was mostly practiced by upper classes, although some elements of high magic found its way into the spells and charms of early cunning folk. Witches are usually a healers, though will also know the beneficial qualities of poisonous plants and not all of their healing ways are gentle. Their knowledge encompasses not only botanical lore but also magical wisdom and folklore.

The practice of green witchcraft is an ancient one. Our tribal ancestors will have had their shamans and sages who worked with the physical wild woodlands, as well as the spirits that dwelt within them, and with the onset of agriculture they would have had rites and charms for the sowing, planting and harvesting of crops. They would have known to appease the spirits of the land before even tilling the soil and to thank them for a bountiful harvest.

Today witches may utilise charms before harvesting herbs, make offerings to the local land spirits and act as a steward for their local area, such as picking up litter. Some take courses to learn more about the botanical nature of plants and to adopt them into their healing and magical practices.

For many witches their kitchens are the hub of their homes. It’s the place where they make their tinctures and potions, herb-infused candles, brew magical alcohol, and cook special ritual meals. Many witches are dedicated to hearth and kitchen deities, such as Brighid, Frau Holda and Hestia, as well as the wilder gods and spirits, and will make a place for them in their homes. Brownies, kobolds and other homely goblins will aid the witch in keeping the kitchen and hearth pleasant if welcome and honoured.

Even cleaning is a magical act, keeping the home and kitchen physically and astrally pure removes all traces of psychic gunk and keeps the household spirits happy. The witch can also add various herbs and oils to her cleaning products to bring about desired magical effects.

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Flower Face: Blodeuwedd

Blodeuwedd
Parents: Math ap Mathonwy and Gwydion fab Dôn
Siblings: None
Spouse/Lovers: Lleu Llaw Gyffes (husband), Gronw Pebr (lover)
Children: None
Sacred Animals: Owls
Sacred Plants: Oak, Meadowsweet and Broom

Blodeuwedd is a fae woman from Welsh mythology. She features in the the fourth branch of the Mabinogi, a collection of manuscripts which make up the earliest prose in British literature. Blodeuwedd was created by the sorcerers Math ap Mathonwy and Gwydion fab Dôn to be a wife for Gwydion’s nephew who had cursed never to find a bride born of a woman. Because of this, the two magicians craft Blodeuwedd from the flowers of oak, meadowsweet and broom and present her to Lleu Llaw Gyffes.

However, Blodeuwedd wasn’t pleased at being wed to  Lleu, and instead fell in love with Gronw Pebr, a dark hunter and lord of the realm of Penllyn. Gronw and Blodeuwedd conspired to kill Lleu, but as Gronw cast his spear at Blodeuwedd’s husband, Lleu was transformed into an eagle and flew away.

After learning what had happened to Lleu, Gwydion found his nephew and turned him back into his human shape. Together they captured and killed Gronw Pebr, and as punishment, turned Blodeuwedd into an owl.

Past literature casts Blodeuwedd as an unfaithful wife, deserving of her punishment, however more modern writers see her as a tragic figure, created for the purpose of allowing Lleu to be wed (literally) to the land and receive the blessings of Sovereignty. It’s understandable that Blodeuwedd rejects the man chosen for her and desires a lover of her own choosing. Especially a darker, wilder lord from the forest, considering she herself is crafted from flowers and the stuff of the earth.

Because of this, Blodeuwedd feels like a faerie woman who prefers the green and growing things of the land to the company of humans. Her transformation into an owl connects her to lunar mysteries and shapeshifting, and some druid traditions see her as an initiator goddess.

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Witching Plants: Enchanter’s Nightshade

Nightshade
Family: Onagraceae
Genus: Circaea
Latin Name: Circaea lutetiana
Folk Names: Witch’s Grass, Great Witch Herb, Wood Magic Herb
Planetary Ruler: Saturn
Element: Earth
Sacred To: Hekate, Kirke (Circe), Medea, Frau Holda, Cerridwen

Botany: Enchanter’s Nightshade is a perennial of the willowherb family. Native to Europe and naturalised in the United States, it grows to approximately 2 feet in height with heart-shaped leaves growing up to five inches in size. Enchanter’s Nightshade flowers in the summer, with tiny pinkish white star-shaped flowers. These become spiky, clinging seeds in the late summer. This plant prefers shaded woods but has become a nuisance weed to many gardeners as well. Despite the name, Enchanter’s Nightshade is not a member of the Solanaceae family and is quite harmless.

Healing: I’ve found a reference that Enchanters Nightshade can be made into a tea to help with rheumatism, but no original sources that back it up.

Magical Uses: Named for the Classical Greek sorceress Kirke (Circe), Enchanter’s Nightshade is a useful addition to any working of enchantment, especially connected with shapeshifting, hexing and charming others. Harvested and dried, it can be safely added to incense blends for transformation or blends designed to draw a lover to you.

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Spiritual Cleansing

Purification rites have been employed for thousands of years. Keeping physical and spiritual pollution at bay is paramount to good magical and religious practice, as any lingering miasma can cause poor signal clarity, lethargy and even illness. Physical pollution is disrespectful to others you are working with, and to the Gods and spirits, while spiritual pollution can infect our communities.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to keep negative energy from building up in your home and to purify your space prior to magical work. Having a regular practice of just cleaning, hoovering and dusting can work wonders however there are recipes for special waters, washes and incenses that can be more effective than just soap and water alone.

Van van oil is a Hoodoo-derived formula, a brilliant cleansing agent with a variety of positive uses such as driving away bad luck, opening new roads and empowering charms.

In a large jar place five stems of chopped lemongrass, with 100ml of jojoba oil, twenty-one drops of lemongrass oil, ten drops of palmarosa oil, ten drops of citronella oil and one drop of vetivert oil. Cap the jar and shake well. Let it sit for two weeks, shaking the jar daily, and then strain and add a teaspoon of blessed sea salt (you can bless this yourself).

You can add two tablespoons of van van oil to a mixture of 30ml bleach and 30ml washing up liquid to make a floor and surface wash.

After you have physically cleaned your space it’s wise to smudge as well. Smudging is the art of using smoke to astrally clean and purify your space. Using smoke to purify has a long history. Iron Age roundhouses lacked a ventilation hole in the roof so the smoke would gather in the top of the house and kill any bugs that tried to make their homes in the thatch, and Ancient Egyptians burned various resins to keep their temples pure.

A common smudge is to use bundles or sprigs of white sage (Salvia apiana). Simply bunch the sage together and light the tip in a naked flame. The leaves smoulder and create a pungent pleasant-scented smoke. If you’re worried about burning your fingers you can put crushed sage leaves on a glowing charcoal instead, though traditional smudging calls for fanning the smouldering herbs about the space and your person. Other common smudges ingredients are cedar, yarrow, rosemary, lavender and juniper.

You can also use khernips (lustral water) to cleanse and purify an area. Khernips was used in Ancient Greece as a purifying agent. It is made by lighting and then extinguishing burning bay laurel leaves in a bowl of spring water, bay laurel being sacred to the god Apollon who governs purification rites. You can add extras if you wish, such as sea salt and essential oils, but it isn’t needed. The water was used to wash hands, and also sprinkled about an area to keep it cleansed.

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Witching Trees: White Willow

“The Old Forest was indeed ancient…; and in it there lived yet, ageing no quicker than the hills, the fathers of the fathers of trees, remembering times when they were lords. The countless years had filled them with pride and rooted wisdom, and with malice. But none were more dangerous than the Great Willow: his heart was rotten but his strength was green; and he was cunning, and a master of winds, and his song and thought ran through the woods on both sides of the river. His grey thirsty spirit drew out of the earth and spread like fine root-threads in the ground, and invisible twig-fingers in the air, till it had under its dominion nearly all the trees of the Forest from the Hedge to the Downs.”
– 
The Lord of the Rings- J.R.R Tolkien
White Willow
Family: Salicaceae
Genus: Salix
Latin Name: Salix alba
Folk Names: Sallow, Osier, Saugh Tree
Ogham Letter: Saille
Planetary Ruler: The Moon
Element: Water
Sacred To: Persephone, Hekate, Selene, Artemis, Helike, Haides, Cerridwen, May Queen, Jack in the Green

Botany: The white willow (salix alba) is a tree in the salix genus of around four hundred species of deciduous trees and shrubs. It is native to Europe and Central Asia, growing anywhere between thirty to a hundred feet tall. The bark is greyish-brown, smooth on newer branches but deeply gnarled on older branches and the trunk. Leaves are two to three inches long and are a pointed oval shape, and are a pale silvery green shade. Male and female flowers appear as silky catkins in the spring, starting off white but turning yellow. Willow of all species are water-loving and are planted in areas prone to flooding.

Crafts: Willow is employed in numerous ways. It is burned to make charcoal for drawing and the flexible ‘withies’ are used in wickerwork to make baskets and art. Willow is also used to make human-shaped wicker frames for green men, so the foliage can be woven into the figures. Branches of willow make beautiful pale creamy-coloured wands and the withies are used to bind birch twigs to an ash handle to make the traditional witches’ besom.

Healing: Willow bark has long been used to relieve pain and reduce fever and is used to make asprin. The sap can be applied to acne and a skin wash can be made from a decoction of the bark and leaves, which can also be used to treat dandruff.

Magical Uses: Powdered willow bark shavings make a good ingredient in any incense dedicated to the lunar and chthonic deities. Being of a watery virtue willow is used in any workings involving dreaming, intuition, emotional healing and lunar rites

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Corn Moon

The August Full Moon was a day and night of witchery.

I had been working the day before and on my walk home I poured out mead in offering to the oak tree where I’d harvested a branch on Lammas. That night I was struck down with a fever and my dreams were intense, full of symbolism where I swam in dark waters with others who carried globes of light. The following day my fever broke and I was moved to craft a new stang made from local willow. It is short, not quite three feet in height, and has patches of bark removed to expose the bone-ivory wood beneath. When it is smooth I shall mark it with signs to hallow it to the Queen of Those Below.

I ate a supper of spiced vegetables and cider, pouring sweet red wine into the offering bowl for the Horned Lord as must every time I drink His blood, before heading out into the fields, frosted with silver under the moon. I drank to Him and Her, and to Their retinue, pouring out dark golden mead for the nymphs and offering chocolates to the Lady of Roses. I passed the local graveyard on the way back, hailing the spirits of the dead. I’ll return on the dark of the moon with garlic-infused bread, fruit cake and wine for them to feast upon.

I drew two faerie cards, hearth and home and spirit guide, before treating myself to a slice of lemon tart and hot sweet tea before bed and dreams of nymphs, goat-foot Gods and divine marriage.

Correspondences
Other Names: Barley Moon
Candle Colours: Yellow, Gold, Pale Orange
Herbs/Flowers: Wheat, Corn, Barley, Cornflowers, Poppies, Moon Daisies, Chamomile
Ogham Tree: Hazel
Gemstones: Golden Tiger’s Eye, Carnelian
Deities: Demeter, Ceres, Triptolemos, Freyr, Nerthus

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