Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Elderberry Folklore and Magical Uses

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

Elderberries and syrup.

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

Elder Magical Uses and Folklore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using Elder

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

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

 

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

divination, life, Neodruidry, Witchcraft

Ruis and Saille.

ADF-structured rituals have an oracle portion that gives us an opportunity to know how our offerings were received, know which blessings we are receiving in turn, and get messages from the spirits we work with. I’ve always used tarot for this, but I’ve been curious about branching out into journeying, geomancy, and other means of divination.

All of this is to say that, for my reading this week, I didn’t pull a card at all.

I’ve been trying to learn to divine using Ogham staves. It’s more than a little challenging for me — memorization isn’t my strong suit (to put it mildly), and the Ogham alphabet is visually very simple. That means that, somewhat like my experience with the Tarot of Marseilles, there isn’t a whole lot for me to go on. Unlike the ToM, however, Ogham letters don’t have suits or numerical cycles on their side, which makes it even more difficult.

My best bet? Lots of practice. There are far fewer Ogham letters than there are tarot cards, so I’m bound to absorb some of it eventually.

This week, I drew two staves. Since I can’t exactly shuffle wood, I placed them face down, mixed them up, and drew them the way I would a tarot card: I moved my receptive hand over the pieces, and waited for the little energetic “tug” that led me to the right ones.

An orange cat paws at a set of driftwood Ogham staves,
Kiko attempting to draw staves for me, featuring hazel and elder.

I drew Elder (Ruis) and Willow (Saille).

Elder stands for the passing of an old cycle. This can be something that is due to pass, or something that we want to hold onto. The elder tree has a lot of connections to death and rebirth, so it’s a reminder that the only constant is change.

Willow stands for balance and equilibrium. In some sources I’ve read, it also stands for cycles, learning, and taking time to accumulate knowledge before acting.

I’ve experienced a lot of synchronicity with regards to both of these things, just in the past two or three days alone. It’s a supermoon in Virgo. This afternoon, I was listening to a webinar about living as a highly sensitive person (which, for me, is pretty much shorthand for “on the verge of a nervous meltdown basically always”), and Dr. Christine Page was giving a talk about inviting change in order to quit burning yourself out and making yourself sick. I mean, as I was typing this, I had to pause because I got an alert on my phone. It was an email: “Tips for Working With Change,” from Sharon Ramel.

It’s spring, the birds are singing, the weather’s warming, the sap is starting to run. The trees are still bare, but there are plenty of little signs that the soil’s beginning to wake up. I can’t say that I know exactly what changes the willow and the elder and pointing to, but I can’t help but look forward to them.

 

Plants and Herbs

Pansy Folklore and Magical Uses

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

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

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And this appears to be some yellow Viola tricolor.

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

Heartsease Magical Properties and Folklore

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using Heartsease

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

crystals, Witchcraft

“Fake” Crystals — Opalite, Goldstone, and More.

So, fake crystals.

Some materials that make it into the gem trade pretend to be something they aren’t. They might even come complete with a list of healing and metaphysical properties, leaving buyers none the wiser.

Wait, fake crystals?

There’s a whole spectrum of things covered by the term “fake crystal.” On one hand, it can mean a gem where the trade name doesn’t reflect the mineral itself (e.g. various types of crackled or dyed quartz). It can also mean a material that’s treated like a gem when it isn’t. It might be made into towers, molded into points, tumbled into nuggets, or even shaped into palm stones and spheres.

How can you tell if a gem is actually a crystal vs a man-made material?

Honestly, the best way I’ve found is to know the various types of art glass that end up in the gem trade. If you’re trying to suss out a man-made crystal masquerading as a natural one, there are certain tells you can look for. That’s a better subject for another post, however, so let’s look at art glass that’s frequently sold as and mistaken for natural gemstones.

Opalite

640px-10-20MM_Tumble_Polished_Opalite
Photo from Albion Fire and Ice. CC BY-SA 4.0.

Opalite is a type of opalescent glass, sometimes sold as sea opal or opal moonstone. There¬†is a natural stone called “opalite,” but you’re more likely to come across it under the name “common opal” since synthetic opalite is much more prevalent.

Some unscrupulous sellers will try to pass off opalite glass as natural opal or moonstone. Fortunately, opalite is pretty recognizable — it’s smooth, evenly colored, doesn’t exhibit any cracks or inclusions, and may occasionally contain air bubbles.

Crystal healers sometimes credit opalite with the ability to shift energy blockages, improve one’s ability to communicate, and stimulate creativity.

Goldstone

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Goldstone photo by GDK. CC BY-SA 3.0. No changes were made.

Goldstone, or aventurine glass (no relation to aventurine), is a stunningly sparkly type of glass made in a low-oxygen environment. It has to be produced in a specific type of environment to allow the copper ions in the mixture to reduce to pure, elemental copper, and within a very narrow temperature range to allow the glass to stay liquid while the copper precipitates out, creating the evenly-distributed gold glitter throughout the glass.

I have seen goldstone marketed as sunstone, as well as sold in ways that obscure the fact that it’s a man-made glass. Goldstone doesn’t really look like natural sunstone, however — the color and distribution of metallic crystals is too even.

Some crystal healers say goldstone promotes energy, confidence, vitality, and ambition.

Blue Goldstone

Blue goldstone looks very similar to regular goldstone, the only difference is the color. Blue or purple goldstones use different metallic elements in their formulations, giving the stones a deep blue or purple color (hence the name) with silver glitter.

Blue goldstone doesn’t really resemble any natural stone, but I have seen it sold as “blue sunstone.”

Like goldstone, blue goldstone is said to help with vitality. It’s also credited with the ability to soothe anxiety and communication.

Fake Quartz

With a cursory visual inspection, molded glass can pass for quartz. There are a few key things to look for to be able to tell regular glass from the real McCoy:

  • Quartz is probably going to be cold to the touch, colder than glass.
  • Quartz will probably be slightly heavier — it generally (not accounting for differences in composition of the matrix, inclusions, etc) has a density of 2.65 g/cm3 while borosilicate glass is about 2.2 g/cm3.
  • Glass is likely to contain air bubbles, and probably won’t have the natural imperfections of quartz.
  • Glass is softer than quartz — it won’t be able to scratch a glass plate, but quartz will.

Some low-quality quartz crystals are ground up, melted down, and used to create reconstituted quartz. This is frequently used for scrying spheres, since it offers perfect clarity along with the other properties of quartz. The best way to tell reconstituted quartz from naturally-formed quartz is its lack of imperfections, and its price tag. A reconstituted crystal sphere of a given size and clarity is much less expensive than its natural counterpart.

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Reconstituted quartz spheres can be as transparent and flawless as glass, but natural quartz very rarely is.

Does it matter?

Eh, maybe.

If you have a piece of opalite, goldstone, or even resin or glass that you get something out of, I’m definitely not going to tell you you’re wrong. I’ll be the first to tell you that something’s origins or how natural it is don’t necessarily dictate its usefulness; I’ve used literal, actual garbage in spellwork before.

That said, it¬†royally sucks to get mislead by an unscrupulous seller. If you enjoy opalite and find that it’s useful for you on your spiritual path, that’s awesome! Just please make sure you know what you’re buying, and don’t let someone overcharge you for their “super rare sea opal.”

It can also be important when you’re looking into making things like gem elixirs. While glass is pretty much inert, you really, really want to make absolutely certain that you’re not working with something that’s going to leach harmful compounds into your elixir. For that reason alone, you absolutely want to make sure that you know exactly what kind of minerals — natural or man-made — you’ve got.

Of course, no man-made material is going to have the exact same physical or metaphysical properties as the gemstone it’s imitating. But (as I mentioned in my post about identifying natural citrine) goldstone, blue goldstone, and opalite can have a legitimate use, even in a very traditional magical system. Color magic is a viable aspect of witchcraft, and goldstone being made in a factory instead of underground doesn’t make it any less orange and sparkly.

 

If you try to use nature-derived material in your spellwork, you might want to familiarize yourself with the man-made stones that occasionally make their way into the crystal and gemstone market. If you don’t really care, or feel drawn to these stones for their own sake, there’s no reason to avoid them. Opalite, goldstone, blue goldstone, and reconstituted quartz are all beautiful and useful in their own ways. If you find a piece that resonates with you, enjoy it and treasure it — no matter whether it came from the earth, or from a laboratory.

Three white candles in the middle of dried vines.
Witchcraft

The Magical Properties of Wax

Candles are a cornerstone of some of the most simple — and powerful — magic there is. Pretty much everyone’s first spell is some form of candle spell, because they’re inexpensive, easy to come by, and effective (once you know how to use them). A lot of care and thought goes into the selection of a candle’s size, color, and even shape. This got me thinking… What about the wax?

candle-397965_640.jpgCandles made from the wax of the bayberry plant are traditionally burned on new year’s in order to bring prosperity into the home. We’re also way past the days when all we had were bulk paraffin chime candles. There’s some history behind using specific wax candles for specific purposes, and a lot of options out there. It made me to do some experimenting.

Bayberry wax is typically, but not always, green. I’ve also seen plenty of bayberry candles that have turned out beige, brown, or even a grayish color. So, assuming that it isn’t the color of the wax alone that gives it its associations with prosperity, that gives me a jumping off point.

 

 

Looking at the metaphysical properties of the origins of each wax and my own experience, here’s what I’ve found:

Palm wood is said to be associated with transformation and transitions, but also peace and relaxation. Wands made of palm conduct energies around them and stimulate intuition. While not at all analogous to the living wood, petrified palm wood is protective and grounding. While those are typical traits of petrified wood in general, they seem to go hand-in-hand with palm’s ability to help us navigate transitions and upheaval.

Palm is one of the waxes I don’t have much experience with, in a magical sense. Based on its other properties, I’d use candles made of palm wax for stability and protection, particularly when it comes to weathering major life changes.

Beeswax¬†is a bit different. Honey is frequently used in sweetening jars, to anoint other candles, and so on, because it’s sweet and sticky. It’s an attraction ingredient par excellence, and its inviting golden color certainly doesn’t hurt.

I predominantly use beeswax candles in my practice, but they’re especially good for spells that involve drawing things to you — like love, money, friendship, and so on. Good beeswax even has a warm honey smell that’s absolutely wonderful while it burns.

Another nice thing about beeswax is that it’s fairly firm. So, if you use it in a spell to bring something to you, and you want to dispose of the candle’s remains, it’s really easy to melt the candle stub down and form it into a love-, money-, or whatever-drawing amulet. Soften the wax, flatten it, and inscribe it with a rune, symbol, sigil, or even just a word expressing your intent, then use it however you please.

Paraffin¬†is where things get a little strange. It’s a byproduct of the petroleum industry, which leads a lot of people to view it as less natural than the alternatives out there. It does release compounds like toluene into the air, which keeps it from being the best choice for anywhere that isn’t well-ventilated. I haven’t found any sources for magical properties of paraffin itself, other than as a base for candles. I¬†was able to find a few for petroleum jelly, which is often used as a base for herbal salves, but they primarily touted its ease of use as an ointment.

Some sources cite petroleum’s origins as a good basis for ancestor magic — even going back to our non-human ancestors.

It seems that few people have really delved into the magical properties of paraffin, which I can understand. If your practice relies on using materials that are as close to nature as possible, it’s hardly going to be your first choice! Paraffin’s history of use seems to indicate that it’s like a white candle — while it might have properties of its own, it’s also a neutral, all-purpose stand-in for other waxes. Its associations with the ancient dead also make it useful for death-related or ancestor work.

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Soy is another option for candle wax. Traditionally, soybeans are associated with prosperity and luck. Soy milk is used in recipes for employment and business success. In magical cooking, soy ingredients are said to promote psychic awareness and spirituality. As the seed of the soy plant, soybeans also have obvious connotations of growth.

Soy wax is a great choice for spells and rituals for financial gain and abundance of any kind. (I like it when I’m looking to grow my bank account!) I have a fantastic soy-based candle by Enchanted Botanicals that I light before spells to establish a sacred space — that soy-seed-growth energy is an excellent foundation for spellwork.

Tallow¬†is a bit hard to come by now, because it’s made from rendered animal fat, sticky, and not quite as appealing as other waxes for candle crafting. Since it’s sticky, it made for an excellent vehicle for magical herbs — all you had to do was roll it in fresh or dried herbs, and you were good to go. Raymond Buckland recommends against using tallow for candle magic in Advanced Candle Magic, but this seems to be a purely practical concern (tallow can be smelly and messy).

As animal fat, tallow has connotations of wealth and sacrifice. It’s a food, so, by burning it, you’re giving up something you could use for your own sustenance. This would make it a worthwhile choice for an offertory candle — as long as who- or whatever you’re offering it to doesn’t have any taboos against the animals used in making it!

For more specific magical properties, you’d have to look at its origins. Pigs are associated with abundance, prosperity, and fertility. Cows are associated with nurturing, protection, and fertility. Sheep are associated with peace, harmony, and tranquility.

There are other options for candle wax out there, including clear gel (which is probably closest to paraffin). I’d like to experiment with them and see how I can expand this list.

 

art, Witchcraft

Spiders, Sea Perch Eyes, and Salvador Dal√≠

I’ve been writing a thing about sleep, which has resulted in a not-insignificant amount of research into everything from sleep apnea statistics, to what kind of effects certain sounds have on the body’s cortisol level, to what Salvador Dal√≠ used to do with sturgeon eyes.

Let me back up.

I once read a paper on Academia.edu (which I highly recommend if you’re at all interested in Semitic mysticism, lecanomancy, ancient Greek magical texts, or Egyptian magic). Ever since, I regularly get emails about some incredibly interesting subjects. For example, I have a pretty good handle on how to get a skull to talk for divination purposes, as well as how to punish it if it only tells lies and refuses to stop yelling. I don’t recall the exact search string that led to me getting a link to a copy of Dal√≠’s 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship, but I did.

In it, he describes an ideal meal of sea urchins (“three dozen sea urchins,” to be exact, “gathered on one of the last two days that¬†precede¬†the¬†full¬†moon, choosing only those¬†whose¬†star¬†is¬†coral¬†red¬†and discarding the¬†yellow¬†ones”) and beans¬†√† la Catalane, after which you are to sit in front of a blank canvas without any light, until it’s become too dark to see it.

“It will become more and more¬†dim until, when night has submerged you, you will completely have ceased to see it, or at most will¬†only be vaguely aware of the space it occupies. Continue still to look at it, without remorse, for¬†another good fifteen minutes, for it is under these circumstances that your spirit will work best and¬†most decisively, and do not worry about making the maid wait when she calls you and says that the¬†soup is on the table, for after what you have eaten at noon, your long afternoon sleep and everything¬†that you are in the midst of painting in the dark, without yet even suspecting it, you have already in a¬†sense had your supper, and more.”

After this, he recommends dining on sea perch, specifically the eyes. After consuming all but the hard kernels inside, you are to keep them in your mouth. Then, after getting into bed:

“[T]ake these eyes out¬†again. Keep one in your hand, and put the other two on a small book or on a black box which you will rest on your knees, placing them at a certain distance from each other in such a way that, when you hold your forefinger in front of the two super-white balls and focus on your forefinger, the eyes of the sea perch will join, thanks to the precious distance between your own eyes, the grace and the mystery of your binocular vision, and the two eyes of the sea perch will become one single ball. This ball will seem to exert a hypnotic effect on you, and it is very desirable that on that night you should go to sleep¬†while looking at it.¬†But at the same time that you are staring at these two balls which have become one, it is furthermore necessary that, holding the third sea perch eye ‚ÄĒ the one which your wife has smilingly yielded to you ‚ÄĒ between the crossed forefinger and middle-finger of your right hand, you should gently caress it. You will then have the striking and unbelievable sensation of having contact with two sea perch eyes, and not merely with the one which is really between your fingers.”

This is “the secret of the sleep with three sea-perch eyes,” and, ideally, will make your sleep start off on the “right, good, and wise path!”

Later, he talks about the importance of constructing an aranearium — that is, a place to keep a spider. Granted, his ideal setup is strikingly different from mine. When I kept tarantulas, a small glass or acrylic aquarium with a suitable substrate and a very firmly-locking lid was enough to keep everything from a docile rose hair to a tetchy¬†cobalt blue. He explains:

“The best aranearium is constructed with a slender olive branch, which you shape as nearly as¬†possible into a perfectly round hoop, leaving four or five olive leaves clinging¬†to the outer part of the¬†circle, on which the spider will enjoy placing himself on various occasions. This hoop of olive wood¬†you will secure on a four-foot pine pole provided with a solid base. At the bottom of the hoop place a¬†small box in the shape of a perfect cube, of very green pine, provided with two holes, one in the top, and the other in one of the sides. This empty cube will serve as the spider’s nest. Within the previously moistened¬†box, introduce a¬†little earth and¬†allow¬†it to¬†dry well¬†in the¬†sun. Since amber¬†is¬†very sympathetic to the spider ‚ÄĒ and how much more to the painter! ‚ÄĒ you must always keep a little¬†ball¬†of¬†it¬†on¬†the¬†cube,¬†which¬†you will¬†use¬†to¬†magnetize¬†the¬†tip¬†of¬†your¬†wand,¬†with¬†which¬†you will¬†manipulate and train your spider, so to speak, and with which you will reach to it its feasts of flies, of which you must always have several in reserve, which you may keep in a little bowl beside the ball¬†of amber ‚ÄĒ for between amber and dead flies there also exist numerous affinities.

I’m interested in his ideas about the affinities between dead flies and amber. We know fossilized insects are often found inside of it, and that amber exhibits an interesting¬† triboelectric effect. Could that be adjacent to what he’s referring to? Or is it something closer to Remedios Varo’s exercises in effecting extraordinary change through the arrangement of shoes and stuffed hummingbirds?

He goes on to explain that a good artist’s studio needs five of these araneariums, for a particular purpose. You must place a crystal bowl full of water so that it reflects the landscape, and arrange the five araneariums in a line between you and it. Then, looking at the reflection in the water through the webs in the hoops of the araneariums, you can see the land adorned with a “glorious rainbow aureole produced by the irisation of your araneariums[.]” Ideally, you’ll do this around age twenty, and avoid ever looking at that sight again. This sight with therefore move you so much, it will have the effect of “set[ting]¬†traps when we are young for our future adult emotions[.]” In other words, create a kind of a snare for nostalgia, so we can be moved by a smell, a postcard, or something equally small and mundane.

I admit, I’m not much of a fan of Dal√≠ as a personality — while his work was undoubtedly brilliant, he was also arguably the first “celebrity artist.” While there were plenty of other famous artists before him, he arguably treated self-promotion as just as much of an art form as painting. Was he really building spider-homes and caressing sea perch eyes? I can’t say. I do find some interesting parallels between his writing and Remedios Varo’s letters and journals, though, as well as other occult practices.

Maybe I should build a spider box or five. For now, I’ll content myself with Rigoberta’s company.

Rigoberta, the orb weaver.
Rigoberta, the orb weaver.