True magical herbalism is not a case of following a kind of cook book, a pinch of this and a pinch of that; it is many years of intimate study with plants themselves as the teachers.
Earth - The powers of earth are concerned with what is manifest, the material, the fixed, the solid, the practical, with what is rooted. Earth magic is concerned with manifestation, business, health, practicality, wealth, stability, grounding and centring, fertility and agriculture. Earth plants tend to be nourishing or earthy-smelling, like cypress and patchouli.
Air - The powers of air are concerned with the intellect, the powers of the mind, knowledge (as opposed to wisdom), logic, inspiration, information, teaching, memory, thought and communication. Like the other elements, the powers of air can be constructive or destructive. Air magic is usually concerned with the intellectual or the spiritual, and in ritual air is symbolised through the use of perfume or incense. Air plants tend to be freshly fragrant such as bergamot, lavender, lemon grass, mint and pine.
Water - Water is a liquid, like the blood which flows through our veins. It is associated with the emotions, feelings and the subconscious, and water magic is usually concerned with divination and scrying. Water plants are juicy and fleshy, or grow near water, such iris, lemon and jasmine.
Fire - Fire is the most mysterious of all the elements. It seems almost supernatural in comparison to earth, air or water, which are states of matter while fire is energy. Fire magic is concerned with creativity, life energy and zeal. Fire gives us vitality, igniting action, animation and movement. It sparks courage and acts of bravery. It heats passion and enthusiasm. Fire is the power of inner sight and creative vision, directing it and controlling it to make it manifest in the world. Fire plants tend to have fiery sap or to taste hot like ginger, or warm perfumes, like carnation, clove and cinnamon.
If you want to work in the Hearth Witch way with herbs, then you must begin by getting to know the plants that grow in your local area, those vegetation spirits that live with you, along your local hedgerow, meadow, park, road or in your garden. Get yourself a good field guide so that you can identify plants in your locality.
Few western magicians today understand or work with the Old Knowledge concerning plants. So called 'magical herbals' give instructions on how to collect a plant by drawing a circle around it, telling it a little rhyme before hacking it about, and leaving it a coin or pinch of tobacco in recompense for its trauma. What good these are to it remains a mystery. Some books will tell you that you must ask a tree or plant for its favours - walk round it three times and say "can I have a bit?” How many people know when they have got an answer? Is the plant even listening? You might as well buy some herbs off the shelf in the supermarket, or pick up a dead twig from the forest floor.
Spend time with the plants, noting where they live, in sun or shade, on chalky soil or sandy soil and so on, their growth habits, when they flower, and when they set their seeds. Note the shape of the leaves, their texture and colour, their taste, if edible. In this way you will begin to learn from the plants themselves. Each plant must be approached as an individual spirit, a vital life force approached with love and respect. You must learn to speak its language by listening with an open heart and using the inner senses, as well as the everyday senses of taste, smell and touch. Don’t expect to learn everything at once, as it will likely be over several seasons that the plant reveals its nature to you. The plant itself is always the teacher.
Sometimes a plant or tree will call to you, and you should listen and trust your inner wisdom. Accept any insight which is given to you, no matter what the circumstances. No two oak trees have the same personality, and no two yarrows have the same qualities. Some plants will give willingly, some must be courted, some hunted with stealth. Some will never give you anything, no matter how persistent you are.
Each plant must be correctly approached and harvested in perfect condition; its life force is the essence of its power. This force is harnessed by taking the plant internally, fresh or as an infusion, by employing it in an incense or bathing herb, by using it as a magical potion, or by using it in a spell or ritual. If the herb is approached with love and trust, its force will harmonise with the witch and share its secrets. If the plant is taken with the wrong motives or if it is mistreated or misused, it may cause discomfort, mislead or seek to gain control of the witch. If an enemy is made of the plant spirit, it can destroy.
Finally, remember that all herbs are infused with the energy of the moon. As the moon waxes and wanes, pulling with her the tides of the sea, she influences all that is living. As the moon waxes the energy flows upwards into the leaves and stalks of the plant, as it wanes the virtue travels to the roots. Plants to be harvested for their roots should be gathered at the waning moon, and plants required for their flowers, leaves and fruits should be gathered at the waxing moon.
Sun: The sun is dynamic and expansive. Herbs ruled by the sun turn towards the sun or have yellow flowers like marigold, St John’s wort and dandelion.
Mars: Mars is the planet of war, so Mars plants symbolise a war-like spirit and generally have thorns or stings, like thistles and nettles.
Saturn: Saturn is the planet of aging, limitation and death, so Saturn plants are slow growing or long-living and woody, thrive in the shade, have deep roots, or are poisonous, foul smelling or considered evil, such as hemlock and henbane.
Mercury: Mercury is the planet of communication, so Mercury plants include fast-growing weeds, creepers and winding plants, or plants with hairy, fuzzy or finely divided leaves. They may be aromatic.
Venus: Venus is the planet of love and beauty, so Venus plants overwhelm the senses with sweet scents and lovely flowers, red fruits or soft, furry leaves.
Moon: The moon governs the tides, and moon plants often grow near water or have a high water content or juicy leaves. They may have white flowers or moon-shaped leaves or seed pods.
Jupiter: Jupiter is the bringer of abundance, so Jupiter plants are usually big and bold, and often edible.
When we use a herb or essential oil for magic we are using the inherent powers of that plant. Over the course of millennia, medical and magical herbalists have determined the qualities of plants – which herbs heal which conditions, which have the vibration of prosperity, which cleanse negative energies, which create feelings of peace and harmony and so on – and magic using herbs or oils draws on these qualities.
The rose can represent the opposites of life and death. In spring it is a symbol of resurrection, love and fecundity, while the faded flower represents the transience of life and beauty, sorrow and mortality. While the flower of the rose is beautiful, soft and yielding, signifying love, beauty and passion, the rose has thorns which mean pain, blood and sacrifice.
Coltsfoot is known as 'British Tobacco' and has long been used in herbal smoking mixtures. It may be used as the base for shamanic smoking mixtures or added to incenses to promote tranquillity and induce visions.
It is said that when the oak, ash and thorn grow close together it is a favourite haunt of the fairies, and solitary hawthorns growing on hills or near wells were considered to be markers to the otherworld. Any human who slept beneath one, especially on May Eve, was in danger of being taken away by them.
Fairy food, which is generally described as being red in colour, is prohibited for humans. Should they eat it, they can never return to the realm of men.
Throughout Europe the blackberry is considered an unlucky plant, associated with death and the underworld. According to folk traditions, even to dream of passing through a blackberry thicket with difficulty portends trouble with enemies. In all Celtic countries a taboo exists on eating blackberries after Old Michaelmas Day (11 October) when it is said that the devil enters blackberry thickets and spits on them. In France some people still will not eat them as they are associated with the devil. A cat born on Michaelmas Day is said to be a blackberry cat and will be mischievous all its life.
Incense, perfumes burned to release fragrant smoke, has been used all over the world from ancient times till the present day. Rising smoke has always been associated with prayer rising to the Gods, whether from the domestic hearth, the Pagan altar, the Druid’s needfire or the Catholic Church’s incense burner. In ancient Egyptian temples priests formulated and used aromatics like cedarwood, frankincense, myrrh, juniper and caraway in their rites. One legendary blend was Kyphi, made from sixteen different essences, which would be breathed in by the priests and pharaohs during meditation. The Roman historian Plutarch wrote of it:
"The smell of this perfume penetrates your body by the nose. It makes you feel well and relaxed, the mind floats and you find yourself in a dreamy state of happiness, as if listening to beautiful music."
1 pint boiling water
½ tsp. angelica
½ tsp. chamomile
½ tsp dill
½ tsp. hyssop
½ tsp. lavender
½ tsp. rosemary
½ tsp. rowan berries, crushed.
½ tsp. St. John’s wort thyme
½ tsp. vervain
Pour the water over the herbs and infuse, covered, for 20 minutes. Strain and use to wipe around the doors and windows of your house or any other areas you feel need protecting. Make at the full moon. Do not take internally.
All content and illustrations © Anna Franklin unless otherwise specified | Email Anna
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