Caraway Folklore and Magical Uses

I never paid much mind to caraway seeds, really. I mostly knew them as the little vaguely anise-flavored bits in my rye bread, and the occasional ingredient in a love recipe. Lately, though, they’ve gotten my attention.

As it turns out, caraway seeds are one of the best herbs for digestion — particularly for people with functional dyspepsia. Caraway is a carminative, which means that it relieves gas, and the licorice-like compounds in it have a very mild anesthetic effect that’s soothing to a troubled stomach. I have a bag left over from a spell, and I’ve been grinding the seeds to use as an after-meal tea. (I also have samples of a caraway-based digestive remedy called FDgard, but that’s a subject for a different kind of post.)

Long story short, since I’m going to be ingesting a bunch of it anyway, I thought it might be a good idea to brush up on some of the folklore and magical uses of caraway. If you’re going to be brewing it into a tea several times a day, might as well enchant it at the same time, am I right?

Caraway Magical Properties and Folklore

Need to keep your stuff from being messed with? Bust out the caraway.

In Germany, it was sprinkled on coffins to keep evil spirits away from the dead.

By a similar token, it is believed that anything that contains caraway can’t be stolen — putting a pinch of it in a wallet, purse, or car helps deter thieves. Placing a dish of it under a child’s crib was said to keep witches away. Sometimes, the seeds were even mixed into animal feed to keep chickens and sheep from wandering away!

Caraway seeds.

Caraway is often used as a love herb. Chewing some of the seeds before kissing someone is believed to entice them to fall in love with you. (Perhaps not incidentally, caraway was also used since antiquity as an after dinner breath-freshening and gas-fighting herb. It’s probably easier to get someone to fall for you if you’re not enveloped in a dense cloud of halitosis and farting like a Holstein.) Hiding caraway in your lover’s food is also believed to keep them faithful to you.

Bathing in an infusion of caraway removes the spiritual causes of disease.

Using Caraway Seeds

Herb lore usually treats herbs in terms of what they’re able to bring to or repel from you. How many herbs are described as love-drawing, money-drawing, or banishing? After reading about caraway, it seems to be more useful for keeping what you have over bringing in something new. Even in love recipes, its action is geared more toward helping you maintain what you already have — you need to be reasonably close to someone in order to kiss them and get them to fall for you, right?

I think caraway’s greatest strength is as a protective herb, where this preserving quality can really shine. It would also be a useful addition to house blessing spells, or other spells with the aim of maintaining love, providing protection, and keeping evil away at the same time. In love formulas, I usually combine it with other things that have a more direct action.

Caraway seeds are also used to improve memory (which, when you think about it, is another type of preservation). Combined with herbs like peppermint, lavender, and mugwort, they’d make a great addition to a dream pillow or sleep sachet to help with dream recall.

 

If you don’t often use caraway in magic or cooking, I suggest keeping some on hand. Medicinally, it has a whole list of benefits ranging from improved digestion, to better circulation, to pain relief, and relatively few side effects. Magically, it is a very versatile herb for helping you keep all of the things you hold dear.

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4 Great Alternatives to Incense

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Incense is pretty magical. Not only does it give a place that certain mystical je ne sais quoi, it works for sympathetic magic, carries prayers and petitions away on its smoke, and clears away stagnant energy. It’s pretty awesome stuff.

… Unless you’re asthmatic. Or have migraines triggered by smells. Or live in a dorm. Or aren’t yet “out” as a witch. Or are one of any of the millions of other people who, for various reasons, can’t light up.

What do you do then?

Burning incense.

I can get away with using incense sometimes. For other occasions, I’ve found a bunch of very effective incense alternatives that work in both a magical and a mundane sense.

1. Hydrosols

Hydrosols are a “byproduct” of essential oil distillation. I put “byproduct” in quotes because, while they are certainly considered a byproduct if the oil is what you’re after (in much the same way that a rosebush would be considered a weed in a wheat field), they’re very useful on their own. I originally started using them as part of my skincare regimen — putting a couple of sprays on a cotton ball and using it as toner, or stashing a bottle in my bag to cool and freshen my skin throughout the day. After that, I began expanding my use to more metaphysical purposes.

Since hydrosols are derived from the same herbs used to make incense and essential oil, they carry the same properties. The only difference here is that they are closer to water, rather than the airy qualities of incense smoke. So, if you’re using incense to represent the air element on an altar or in a ritual, you may want to choose a hydrosol made of an air-aligned herb (like yarrow or peppermint), or add a feather or other airy representation to your work.

To use them, treat the spray like incense smoke. If you’d use incense to fume an object, space, or person, for example, give a spray of the hydrosol instead. I’m a big fan of those  produced by Wildroot Botanicals.

2. Essential Oil Sprays

These are very similar to hydrosols, but a bit different in composition. While hydrosols are made up of the water-soluble portions of a plant, essential oil sprays are made up of water, a blend of oils, and something to keep the oils in solution (usually witch hazel or ethanol). Hydrosols are usually sold as the product of a single herb, while essential oil sprays are often a proprietary mix of oils, sometimes with crystals, gem elixirs, or flower essences added.

This makes essential oil sprays great for ritual purposes, because you can easily customize them to meet your needs. Need a fire elemental spray? Use oils from fire-aligned herbs, and add some water-safe red or orange crystals. Since a lot of the ready-made sprays have proprietary oil blends, however, they may not be the best choice for skincare applications like beauty magic.

To use them in a spell, treat them just like you would a hydrosol. Enchanted Botanicals has some really nice sprays — their Clearing spray is powerful stuff! I’ve used it for everything from cleansing spaces and tools, to helping to lift a bad mood.

Fresh herbs.

3. Loose Herbs

You don’t always have to burn herbs to get the benefit of them. Burning has its place, but you can also add a dish of loose herbs to your spell, then release them to the wind when you’re done. Rather than waft incense smoke over an object, lay it on or cover it with the herbs. (If you add a few drops of essential oil, you can also pass the herbs off as potpourri.)

Harmony Hills Boutique has a very good selection of hard-to-find herbs at reasonable prices, and they ship quickly.

4. Tincture Paper

Tincture paper is fun if you absolutely need to be able to burn something, but incense still isn’t an option. It’s made by creating or taking a tincture of the herbs you’re working with, and adding a few drops to a piece of blotting paper. The paper will readily absorb the tincture, the alcohol will evaporate, and, once the paper’s dry, it’s ready for use.

These papers are nice because you can write petitions on them, create your own blend of tinctures to add to them, and they’ll burn quite a bit faster than incense. So, if you can handle limited amounts of smoke, or just don’t want to wait for incense to finish burning, try them.

 

Incense is treated as de rigueur in a lot of spells, but isn’t always an option for everyone. If you’re one of the many people who can’t use incense, try hydrosols, essential oil sprays, loose herbs, or tincture paper instead — you may find that you actually prefer them to dealing with smoke!

Please don’t eat the oil.

*DEEP BREATH.*

Okay.

As someone with a chronic health condition, I’ve heard a lot about how all I really need are essential oils. This comes from a place of love (usually, though it sometimes comes from a place of “please buy this from me or my upline is going to be pissed”) and from people who mean well, but that doesn’t make it any less grating. I still smile, say thank you, and accept the advice in the spirit in which it was given — a desire to help me be healthy again. As hard as it is to continually hear that I’m only suffering through medication and medical procedures because I haven’t properly tried oils/yoga/meditation/green juice/coffee enemas, I can’t really get mad over it.

Sometimes, though, this advice crosses the line between “well meaning, but misinformed” to “please stop telling people to do this.”
That line is when people begin telling me I should be eating essential oils.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Sure, some oils are routinely used in food — by commercial food operations, who use industrial food-grade oils to flavor batches of food intended to feed hundreds at a time — but this is not what I’m talking about.

You’ve probably experienced this scenario: You’re on Facebook or Instagram, minding your own business, and you get a message. Not just any message, oh no. It’s a friend you haven’t spoken to since high school, and they want to tell you about their wonderful new business opportunity. One look at their profile tells you all you need to know: their feed is hashtagged out the wazoo, and replete with photos featuring crockpots of soup, fresh-baked pies, and water bottles glistening with condensation… All serving as backdrops for tiny, all-too-familiar amber bottles.

My primary gripe with putting essential oils in food comes from two things:

  1. What’s actually in essential oils.
  2. Deceptive marketing tactics (and those who uncritically repeat them).

There’s too much oil in the oil.

Look at it this way. Oil is… well, oil. This is why is needs to be diluted for use — it doesn’t mix with water, and will sit, undiluted, on your skin/in your esophagus/wherever else it touches and burn the living crap out of you if you aren’t careful. Adding a few drops of oil to a meal without a sufficient volume of liquid fat (or an emulsifying agent), for example, may not end up flavoring the meal. It will, however, set up one poor bastard for one hell of a flavor adventure.

Essential oils are also highly concentrated. If a recipe calls for a teaspoon or tablespoon of rosemary, for example, this is not going to be answered by using rosemary essential oil instead. It takes a tremendous amount of plant matter to yield a comparatively tiny amount of essential oil (which is also why they’re not exactly as sustainable or green as many oil sellers would have you believe, but that’s a subject for another day). Not only that, but, by not using the whole herb when it is called for, you’re missing out on the compounds that don’t get released as oil. Anything water-soluble is lost to the hydrosol during distillation, and doesn’t end up in the finished oil at all.

Oils are more expensive, less safe, and don’t even give you all of the flavor or benefits of the whole herb.

That’s not what “purity” means.

Sometimes you’ll hear multi-level marketing reps defending essential oil consumption by saying something like, “My essential oils say they’re safe to use internally!” or “My essential oils are more pure than the competition, therefore they’re safe!” This is a bit of marketing jargon likely passed down to them from their upline that misses one obvious issue: The reason essential oils aren’t safe to eat is that there’s too much essential oil in them. 

I mean, theoretically the less-pure oils might be safer, because at least then you’re slightly less likely to OD on the equivalent of eight pounds of lavender in one sitting. In this context, “pure” does not equal “safe to consume.”

So is it medicine, or not?

One thing that I find fascinating is the discussion about whether essential oils are medicine or not. Sure, they’re required to say they can’t treat, cure, or prevent any disease, but there is still a lot of historical evidence of herbs and herbal distillates used as medicine before isolating, refining, and synthesizing active compounds became the pharmaceutical standard. So, some people who doubt the safety or efficacy of a pharmaceutical approach will reach for an essential oil bottle over a prescription slip.

And then reach for that bottle again when they want to cook a meal. And again for a relaxing bath. And again for an air freshener.

So are essential oils medicine, or aren’t they? If they are effective at treating anything, they are medicine and should at least be treated with the respect you’d afford a bottle of gummy vitamins. Essential oils don’t work through fairy dust, they contain compounds that act on processes in the body just like medicines do. This is why the same oils that can help dry up a blemish or disinfect a cut are outright neurotoxic to animals — differences in the way these compounds are metabolized yield dramatically different results from species to species.

Essential oils work therapeutically because those compounds are concentrated within them. If “the dose makes the poison,” why use a concentrated form of an herb instead of what a recipe actually calls for? I don’t drink Nyquil because I like the way it tastes, so I’m not going to put concentrated plant compounds in my food or water for flavoring.

Less is more.

Overexposure to essential oils is definitely something you want to avoid. Some oils can have unwanted effects if they’re used on a daily basis, and some are known to cause sensitization with repeated exposure.

While sensitization can happen at any time, the risk is increased with certain oils and improper dilution. Most reactions cause localized skin rashes, but some particularly unfortunate people will go into anaphylactic shock. It’s not at all uncommon for aromatherapists, for example, to become sensitized to even the safest oils purely due to daily exposure. This isn’t meant to scare anyone away from using essential oils, but to underline the importance of treating them like what they are — a highly concentrated form of plant-based volatile compounds.

So, why do some people advocate eating essential oils?

I want to make one thing clear — it isn’t doctors or certified health practitioners that I’m taking issue with, here. These are people who know what they’re doing, and are both aware of and prepared to weigh the risks (adverse reactions, sensitization) against the potential benefits to their patients. They also generally don’t push adding essential oils to food. A health practitioner might recommend enteric-coated capsules of peppermint oil to someone with IBS, to ensure that standardized levels of the therapeutic compounds in the oil are delivered where they are needed (instead of just irritating the crap out of the esophagus because lemon oil is literally never going to mix properly with your bottled water, Taylor). Actual medical usage isn’t the problem. I mean, I’ve got a fat stack of FDgard samples from my gastroenterologist, and they’re basically coated caraway oil and menthol.

The thing is, I use essential oils on a consistent basis. I even make things that I give away, trade, or sell to other people. It’s safe to say that I go through more essential oil than your average person, but, even so, a bottle will last me for a while.

That’s bad news for an essential oil rep. The more ways they can find to sell oil, the better. People don’t make new bottles of homemade spray cleaner every day. They don’t take long, luxurious baths every day. They don’t need to make their own herbal salves or cold-process soaps every day.

You know what they do do every day? Eat and drink.

Suddenly, the bottle of lemon oil that could last all year only lasts for two months. Tell people that only X-brand of essential oil is pure enough to eat, and the oil rep can lock in a customer base that will not only keep returning to them for the “purest” oil, but go through it much faster than they otherwise would (and likely end up joining the rep’s downline in order to save money). All of these things add up to more profit for the MLM.

People are fond of essential oils as a “safer,” “greener” alternative to things they mistrust. Big Pharma, spray cleaners, air fresheners, personal care products, all of these are multi-billion dollar industries, and that breeds mistrust. Businesses don’t just rake in billions without considerable effort and a strong profit drive. If they are profit-driven, how often does the safety of their customers take a back seat to money?

In 2016, the global essential oils market was valued at over $6.6B USD. Of that, doTerra alone pulls in over $1B in sales annually.

Please don’t eat essential oils.

 

And so I made a safe travel charm (since the gremlins were already handled).

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“Hey, mind doing a tarot reading real quick?”

I’m kind of used to this — my S.O. and I swap readings on the regular. If he has a decision he’s unsure about, he asks me to pull a few cards. I do the same if something’s bugging me. It’s a helpful way to get some insight that we can’t really get by reading for ourselves.

See, he’s wanted a motorcycle for basically ever. He’s taken riding classes, shopped around, and kept his eyes open for deals. This time, he was messaging me from a dealership. He’d found a used bike at a decent price, but wanted to know more before making the commitment and dropping the dosh.

I pulled a few cards — strangely enough, one of them reversed itself before I could flip it to see what it was. (I often arrange my deck so it’s all upright, and watching the card slowly spin in place until it was perfectly upside-down was super bonkers.)

Temperance reversed, and The Magician.

Buying the bike wouldn’t be sound judgment or a good monetary decision, but it would be the manifestation of something he’s wanted for a long time. The cards he’d pulled before asking me indicated that buying the bike would take a load off of his mind, but waiting would offer a new, better opportunity.

He decided not to buy. (I was pretty relieved, gotta say. I trust his skills, it’s just everyone else on the road I’m concerned about.)

Sure enough, not long afterward, he was hit with the perfect opportunity to get a great bike. Its last owner bought it new last winter, but now he has to move overseas. So, my S.O. managed to snag a nearly-new bike in fantastic condition, with the exact specs he was looking for.

… Which meant that I had to make a charm for safe travel. He’s got a bell, but there are worse things on the road than gremlins.

Historically, travel was always fraught with peril. If there weren’t highwaymen, there were rough roads, storms, injured animals, broken axles, and worse. Even today, it’s not exactly a breeze — most accidents happen within a few miles of home, and longer journeys have their own set of problems. (Trust me, I know. I managed to get run over less than a block from my house as a kid, and someday I might type out the story of how I got stuck on a stranded train in the Utah salt flats seated behind a guy who was on the lam after shooting a dude.)

Long story short, there are a ton of magical measures to help keep you in one piece on the road. Since this is a bike he’s planning on using to commute in the city — weather permitting, of course — I thought this charm was the best way to help keep him safe. Hopefully, it’ll also keep his bike safe, so we don’t have a repeat of the time our car got hecked apart by bad gas in Mississippi!

travelcharm.jpg

 

 

An Amulet for Safe Travel

For this, you’ll need:

I performed this spell on the full moon, during the equinox. Travel doesn’t always leave us room for picking the most auspicious day for spellcasting, so feel free to put this amulet together whenever you need to. Good timing is nice, but not required.

Set up your ritual space as you usually do. Hallow the space, cast a circle, open the gate, call the quarters, you do you.

Combine the herbs, using your projective (dominant) hand. As you do, visualize them filling with energy — enough to extend beyond the amulet itself, to surround whichever vehicle it’s placed within. Place the herbs in the center of the fabric.

Empower the stones as you usually do. If you don’t have a preferred method, hold them in your projective hand. As with the herbs, visualize them filling with warm, protective energy. Place them on the herbs.

Hold your hands over the herbs and stones. Say whatever words are appropriate for your situation — it doesn’t matter if they’re fancy or feel magical, what matters is that they come from the heart. State your intent for this charm. What kind of vehicle do you want to protect? What kind of hazards do you want to protect it from?

Draw the corners of the fabric up, so it forms a bundle. Tie the string or ribbon around the opening (I usually use a miller’s knot) to keep everything in place. If you have any other travel charms, tie them on as well. For this charm, I used a holed stone and a safe travel bindrune (made of raidho and algiz) burned onto a small slice of pine.

Keep the safe travel amulet in the vehicle or, if you’re traveling by public transportation, in a pocket or bag. Before an especially long or risky journey, take a few minutes to hold it in your hands and channel the protective energy.

Let’s Read: Veneficium: Magic, Witchcraft, and the Poison Path.

Note: This post contains affiliate links to the book(s) I mention. These allow me to earn a small finder’s fee from Wordery.com, at no cost to you. Thank you for helping to support writers, publishers, and this site!

veneficiumEven if I don’t currently include entheogens in my practice, the ideas and practices of the poison path fascinate me. It takes a tremendous amount of bravery, considerable knowledge, and a firm devotion to the idea of expanding consciousness over bodily safety. It relies on the concept that the dose makes the poison, and growth lies on the thin line between curative and deadly.

The concepts of the poisoner and the witch are inextricable. Just look at the reasons people fear “evil” witches: they were said to cause sickness in people and cattle, wither crops, and bewitch others into nonordinary states of consciousness. Just look at the Evil Queen who sends Snow White into a deep slumber with a poisoned apple, or the Sea Witch who glamours herself and tricks the Prince into falling in love with her. (And what is desire, if not an altered state of consciousness?)

Even in the Bible, the lines between magic and poison are blurred, at best. The words “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”  (Exodus 22:18) appear, but may not mean what  they seem to mean. The original Hebrew word, mekhashepha, is of uncertain meaning. Does its root, kashaph, mean “to cut” or “herb using”? A prohibition against magic in its entirety seems unlikely, given the historical context. Other sources later translated the word to mean those who used magic for evil — in other words, witches who “poisoned” by magical means. Could the Bible be warning its readers against poisoners here, instead?

Daniel A. Schulke’s Veneficium: Magic, Witchcraft, and the Poison Path explores the use of mind-altering substances, but it’s emphatically not a “how to” guide. A History of Pagan Europe followed the development and spread of Pagan practices across Europe, and this is in a similar vein — a resource for the history and cultural spread of the spiritual use of entheogens.

One bit I found particularly interesting was the chapter on The Spirit Meadow, particularly the description of bread made of black millet. There’s a sort of folkloric figure called the Black Miller. He’s a powerful, fearsome, shape-changing sorcerer, who makes an appearance in a song by Faun (Die Wilde Jagd), and in “The Black Mill” by Jurij Brezan. It’s unclear exactly where the moniker “Black Miller” came from. In context, it’s unlikely to refer to his appearance or ethnicity — much like the “black” in “blacksmith” refers to the material, not the smith themselves. In Veneficium, some of the information presented by Schulke adds an interesting dimension here, in a section about darnel (Lolium temulentum):

Darnel may well have been present in the notorious ‘black breads’ served at the Sabbat, as documented by DeLancre*, either as a deliberate inclusion or in the bread for its deliriant qualities, or simply as a by-product of the agricultural practices of the time. It is plausible that a toxic stew of deliriant grains, serving as the component basis of the Sabbat-bread, had synergetic effects operating between psychoactive components, if indeed darnel formed a part of witchcraft rites. This idea has been proposed in relation to the everyday bread eaten in medieval Europe[.]

*According to DeLancre, “… their bread is some horrible black cake made of black millet and some other drug…” which ‘confuses the senses’ of those who eat it, and likewise binds them to Satan.

Die Wilde Jadg tells the story of a pair of shapeshifters: one pursuer, one pursued. Based on the connotations of black millet, bread, and hallucinogenic fungi, it’s pretty easy to picture the eponymous “Black Miller” grinding away at the psychoactive raw materials of the “speculative ‘Black Bread of the Sabbat'” — a pretty spot-on occupation for a shapeshifting sorceror.

It would be easy for a book like Veneficium to fall into the trap of being dry and tedious, but it never does. The language is as poetic and striking as it is informative, and the subject matter is absolutely fascinating. If you have any interest in the spiritual use of entheogens and aren’t looking for a guide book, I highly recommend it.

Fixing Etiolated Succulents

It’s almost spring, and the unseasonably warm weather has my plants all confused. I’ve got a new basal shoot on my nepenthes, my cacti are putting out new growth, my pothos and aloe are threatening to take over my apartment… So, even though it’s a bit early still, I figured now was a good time to take inventory and see who’s going to need some pruning and re-potting. Unfortunately, it looks like the lack of winter sunlight has left some of my younger plants in a bit of a state, and they’re going to need some “fixing.”

Why is fixing in scare quotes? Well, unfortunately, once a plant is etiolated, there’s really no going back. A stretched-out echeveria is not going to become a neat, compact rosette again, no matter what you do for it.

That doesn’t mean all hope is lost, though.

Let me start from the beginning.

(more…)

Let’s eat paste!

Okay, not really.

I haven’t written much lately, mostly because of two reasons:

  1. I was incredibly sick and felt like death, and
  2. It’s almost time for me to turn in all of the essays I’ve written over the past year for evaluation by whoever at ADF is in charge of that kind of thing.

So, in essence, I haven’t written much because I’ve been busy writing in between bouts of coughing and other assorted misery. I have done some other creative-type things, though, which is awesome. I’m in the process of moving my altar (hopefully to a place where cats can’t happen to it), too.

Anyway, you’re probably wondering what the paste bit is about. Let me explain.

(more…)