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!

Natural Citrine vs. Heat-Treated Amethyst — Does it matter?

From what I have seen, citrine is like wasabi or olive oil — it’s entirely possible for someone to love it without ever having actually used it. That’s not to say that a lot of citrine crystals on the market are fake, as in made of resin or glass, just that not everything labeled as citrine is actually what it says it is.

What is citrine, really?

Citrine crystals are best known as a bright, sunny yellow variety of quartz. Nobody is really sure where the color comes from. Some suggest that it’s caused by iron impurities in the crystal’s structure, while others say it’s more likely caused by aluminum or irradiation. From what I’ve been able to gather, there are probably several varieties of yellow quartz created under different conditions, all of which have been lumped together for the gem trade under the name “citrine.”

Metaphysically, it’s a stone often used for prosperity, luck, and success spells. Its sunny color lends well to everything relating to the yellow, gold, and orange areas of color magic. As a healing stone, it brings positivity and optimism.

How is citrine faked?

Real citrine is pretty rare. It doesn’t seem so when you walk into a crystal shop, though — chances are, there are tons of clusters of bright orange crystals, usually at a very reasonable price. So, what gives?

While citrine is uncommon, amethyst is not. It’s not at all unusual to take amethyst, subject it to heat treating, and get something that can pass for citrine — in the sense that it’s a crystal, and yellowish.

Heat-treated amethyst

Heat-treated amethyst.

How can you tell if a citrine is real or heat-treated?

To put it bluntly, if you’re used to seeing heat-treated amethyst, real citrine is… Well, disappointing. Most of it looks closer to a smoky quartz than the vibrant orange hues of the heated stuff. It’s like looking at a glass of orange juice next to a glass of orange soda. Compared to a glowing yellow heated amethyst cluster, the real stuff looks almost anemic.

There are other ways to tell, too. Real citrine:

  • Does not often have the same growth habit as amethyst. While we’re probably all used to seeing clusters of low-growing amethyst crystals that look almost like grape jelly, citrine usually appears with longer, straight crystals or as individual points, more akin to clear quartz.
  • Tends to vary between a light yellow, like white Zinfandel, to a smokier, apple juice color. It doesn’t naturally have that bright orange appearance.
  • Tends to be very clear.
  • Is pricier than heated crystals.

By contrast, heat-treated crystals:

  • Tend to have a very milky base, or be cloudy throughout.
  • Often show up as pieces of geodes, usually with a very white base. Individual points usually have a very triangular, almost toothlike appearance.
  • Are extremely brightly colored.
  • Don’t cost much.

There’s one other way to tell a citrine from a baked amethyst — pleochroism. It’s not something the average crystal-buyer can really use to their advantage, but it’s much less subjective than determining how clear a crystal is, or exactly where it falls in the range of natural and artificial colors. Pleochroism describes an optical phenomenon where a mineral appears to change colors when viewed from different angles, particularly when using a polarized light source. Amethyst, citrine, and smoky quartz are all pleochroic. Heating amethyst to alter its color causes it to lose this property, so it is consistently yellow (or orange, or brownish) regardless.

Interestingly, citrines created by heating smoky quartz do continue to exhibit pleochroism. These citrines also become pale when they are heated further, and turn yellow when exposed to radiation.

Citrine.jpg

Yellow citrine crystals.

Does it really matter?

Well, yes and no.

Some argue that heat treating a crystal is just exposing it to the same effects that would happen naturally, so the end product isn’t actually any different from a genuine citrine. Others say that that isn’t the case, and the natural circumstances of a crystal’s formation influence its properties.

If you’re looking for a bright yellow or orange crystal because you want to tap into the magical properties of those colors, it probably doesn’t matter how the crystal was made. If using things in a raw, unadulterated form is important to you, you probably want to shy away from artificially colored crystals. The choice is ultimately up to you.

It matters to me because, under the right conditions, you can tell the difference between a heated amethyst and a citrine. Pleochroism is an empirical way to tell which crystals are baked amethysts, and which are not. I feel like this is an important distinction — magic is transformative. Natural citrine takes in light, and shifts its color based on how its viewed. A crystal that’s supposed to be pleochroic and isn’t wouldn’t be as useful to me as an unaltered stone.

From a practical standpoint, it can also matter because heating a stone affects its durability. High heat can alter the matrix, especially of crystal clusters, making it chalkier and more prone to crumbling.

 

Color magic is a deep and fully developed magical system of its own. If the color is all that matters to a spell, it doesn’t really matter whether a stone is natural, heated, dyed, or coated. For witches who prefer to work with stones in an unaltered state, the distinction between natural and heat-treated citrine can be an important one.

 

 

 

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.

Inspiration in Unplaces

Have you ever felt out of place in a familiar spot? I don’t mean socially awkward or anxious, just given the sense that you’re in a place that shouldn’t be — like a shopping mall before the stores open, inside of a school at night, or somewhere else divorced from its usual context by some small, important detail. They are a familiar place, easily made into a strange-seeming unplace.

There are two times of year in this area, one in spring and one in autumn, where the light around four PM turns everything a lovely orange-gold, but the angle of the sun creates stark shadows of a particularly surreal length and sharpness. With a clear blue sky, it reminds me of Dali’s “Landscape with Butterflies” — colors too bright to be real, shadows too long and forbidding to be welcome.

Salvador Dali's Landscape with Butterflies.

Salvador Dali’s Landscape with Butterflies.

The idea of unplaces fascinates me, the way something so minor can make the familiar so strange. I think part of it comes from when I was a little kid, in an area where we largely had to make our own fun. I spent a lot of time in an abandoned school behind the house I grew up in, and, once I was a little older and could hop a fence, sneaking around storm water basins and drainage culverts. It’s a bizarre feeling, ducking under a pulled-up bit of chain link and stepping into a wet, wild world where the spongy turf and overgrown trees suddenly and strangely block the sights and sounds of traffic. There are no more sidewalks, no more streetlights, just murky ponds of massive snapping turtles and every quietly resentful goldfish that’s ever been loosed down a toilet. It is a small shift, just a chain link fence and a few strides, but it’s an important one.

I remember riding the train across the country a couple of years ago. I lived in Delaware at the time and, having saved up enough for a seat on Amtrak, decided to give it a go. As we passed through the million shades of the desert, from persimmon orange to the blinding, glittering white of Utah’s salt flats, I could see occasional islands of abandoned humanity. There were no towns around them, no yards, fields, or fences — as if some capricious and malevolent giant had plucked them from their foundations and left them there like forgotten toys. Just the occasional roofless husk of a deserted homestead, sometimes with a scrap of dry-rotted cardboard abortively tacked over a window, even less occasionally with the rusted corpse of an ancient car sinking slowly into the sand around it. Even in the safety of the train, sitting in a cushy seat just wide enough for me curl up to sleep in for the four-day journey, they gave me goosebumps.

In Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, there’s discussion of a place being uncanny, or, in German, unheimlich. But unheimlich isn’t used there in the passive sense of being merely unfamiliar, where an observer can gain understanding with time and effort. Instead, it’s used in the sense of a place being “full of not-knowing,” where gaining understanding may not be possible, helpful, or even safe.

It’s surprising how little it takes to make a place unheimlich, into what feels like something you were never meant to see. Sometimes it takes strange geography, like an average, suburban-looking house seemingly transplanted to the middle of the desert at random. Sometimes, it’s something as minor as a shift in schedule or a change in weather that turns the familiar into the uncanny, or even the unsettling. It’s this that can help us see a place with new eyes.

There’s a lot of strange magic in the places you don’t belong.

Find the unheimlich.

Unethically Mined Crystals: What can you do?

Last Friday, I posted about some of the ethical concerns surrounding the use of crystals. If that has you feeling a way about your own collection, you aren’t alone. The stones are already dug up, so there’s no putting that horse back in the barn — so what can you do to help remedy the situation?

It’s important to look at this from a few angles. On one side, there’s the human cost of bringing crystals to market. On the other, there’s the environmental impact. On the other other, there’s the energetic impact on the stones themselves.

The Human Side

Mining is difficult, hazardous work. Sometimes, it’s even done by children whose families have limited options for survival — you don’t put your kids to work like that unless the danger of starving is bigger than the danger of a mine collapse. Contributing to humanitarian causes to help lift families out of poverty is one way to reduce child labor, by eliminating the need for kids to have jobs in the first place.

Supporting ethical crystal suppliers is another key. As I touched on in last Friday’s post, altering market pressures to disincentivize unethical gemstones is one thing we can all begin to do on an individual level. If people don’t buy crystals from questionable suppliers, it won’t be worth it for them to stay in business. It takes a long time to do, but it’s currently the best weapon we have against the unethical gemstone trade. (There are other, very complex issues tied up in supporting exploitative businesses, but those are outside of the scope of this post.)

The first step to correcting any problem is being willing to surrender the benefits that came with it. In this case, that’s an abundance of inexpensive and readily-available crystals. From an energetic standpoint, look at things like donation as a sacrifice — you give up your time or money (a tangible representation of the energy it took to earn) to try to bring balance back to the world.

The Environmental Side

Healing the environmental scars left behind by crystal mining is similar to working on the human side — removing the incentive for environmentally-destructive practices. Businesses are run by humans, and humans respond pretty predictably to the removal of extrinsic motivation. So, by refusing to buy from high-impact mining operations, it’s possible to (eventually) disincentivize environmental destruction.

Sun rising over mountains.

In some cases, doing this may limit the kind of crystals you have available to you, but that’s not really a bad thing. There are even mines that allow you to visit and gather your own crystals, which is a brilliant means of fostering a connection to them in a low-impact, ethical way.

There are also environmental initiatives and conservation efforts that work to combat some of the destruction caused by mining. Though these are less direct at addressing the problem itself, they are no less integral to helping mining-affected areas recover.

The Crystal Side

Lastly, you have the stones themselves. Sure, you can cleanse them, but is some incense smoke or running water enough to heal the wounds of their origins?

Sometimes, stones take more than a one-off cleansing to prepare them. It can take months of regular cleansing and handling to bring them back to equilibrium. I don’t necessarily recommend going through this before you ever work with a crystal, though. If your work and intentions are pure and focused, just using the stone is a form of recalibration in itself. Magic has a residual effect on the things it touches. Just like other tools are affected by regular work, stones are the same.

heart-3243179_1280

I have known witches and lightworkers who obtained crystals from people who got in over their heads, magically speaking — jumping into baneful things and spiritwork they weren’t prepared for, and leaving all kinds of energetic dross behind in the process. The crystals’ new owners ended up doing things from rolling them in wet leaves, to stashing them in the forks of trees, to singing or playing music to them every day. Feel out the energy of your stones, and do whatever calls to you. This is a pretty heavy energetic burden to bear, so work on lightening it, even if it feels a little (or very) silly. A lot of magic involves being playful, uninhibited, and occasionally ridiculous. Get weird, if that’s what resonates. Be the airbrushed van unicorn you want to see in the world. 

In a perfect world, all of this would never be an issue. There would be no incentive for child labor, unsafe working conditions, or environmental harm, and we’d all know exactly where everything we buy comes from. Unfortunately, that isn’t the world we live in right now, but there are ways we can try to offset the impact of crystal mining and begin to heal some of the scars it leaves behind.

Automatic Asemic

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Sometimes, writing can be a visual art form.

Not the same way logo design or typography are — just the shape and flow of text itself. The letters don’t have to spell anything, they don’t even have to be letters (just look at the beautifully evocative text of the Codex Seraphinianus) in order to have meaning.

A portion of a page from the Codex Seraphinianus.

A portion of a page from the Codex Seraphinianus.

In the Codex Seraphinianus, the artist chose to use an invented language that doesn’t map to an existing one — while he invented an alphabet to write in, these letters join together to form words that don’t mean anything. The overall feeling is of being a young child who has gotten a hold of some beautiful and inexplicable book. The child knows the words mean things to those who can read them, and it feels like there is a whole secret world of knowledge there for the unlocking. But, without that kernel of understanding — without some way to turn the jumble of shapes into something that makes sense — there is a perpetually tantalizing, mysterious feeling of knowledge kept just out of reach.

In its primary role, written language is bound by semantics. C with an A followed by a T spells “cat,” and you know the sounds each letter stands for and the small, furry animal to which they refer. Asemic writing is writing unbound by semantics. It has meaning, it can be interpreted, but these things are not subject to the rules and logic of reading. The shapes and repetition of letters are treated as a pattern, neither more nor less than the fronds of a fern or the shapes of Arabesque tile, and the feelings and images they evoke are what give them meaning. This necessarily varies from person to person — where one may read aggression in the slant of a garbled word, another may see exuberance — but this subjectivity does not mean asemic writing makes any less sense than language.

codex

A close up.

It’s just different. 

In some of the magical and spiritual disciplines I work with, language becomes more than its literal meaning, and asemic writing can be doubly so. You can take a sentence, strike out the vowels and repeating letters, then rearrange the remainder into a sigil used to focus energy and intention. A planchette can dash across a page, leaving the uncertain scrawls of a spirit in its wake, while a group of breathless observers try to find sense in the jumble of lines and shapes. Scrubbed of their literal meanings, freed from the restrictions of semantics, letters and words (or alien shapes that only suggest letters and words) can condense into something else.

There are whole areas of literature devoted to analyzing word choice. “Happy” may not always mean “joyful,” and “patience” may not always be virtuous, and its worthwhile to examine why someone chose the words that they did. Even when words no longer have meaning, this still applies. Asemic writing is still made up of the lines and arcs we associate with text, and their placement is never random — there are things to be read in the ascending slant of a line, or a ripe, bubblelike downward curve.

Even when you can’t read the words, there is meaning in them.