Tag Archives: pagan

Gathering in the Wild

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Another age-old practice that is still followed today, though much less so in recent centuries in the
Western world, is the harvesting of wild herbs, or “foraging.” This is, of course, how the first humans
acquired their knowledge of the plant kingdom. Today, not many people are skilled enough in
identifying plants in the wild to safely harvest anything, but there are still some who do, either for
personal use or for commercial trade (or both.) Some wild herbs are used for culinary purposes, but
not many—our taste buds have grown too used to the sweeter, richer flavors of cultivated herbs over
the centuries. Instead, most wild harvesting is done for medicinal purposes, and only then for plants
that don’t grow well in domestication. Ginseng and Solomon’s seal are two examples of highly
sought-after herbs in the Northern hemisphere. Unfortunately, both are over-harvested due to their
commercial value, and the planet is at great risk of losing both of these wonderful specimens if
human greed isn’t reined in. As for magical purposes, Witches who know how to forage are generally
ecologically-minded by nature, and know how to harvest responsibly, with reverence for the magical
energies of the environment and the intention to keep it sustainable. If you live near a forest, a body
of water, or other natural area where a diversity of plant life is found, you might want to see if there
are foraging classes or trainings available in your community. It is never recommended to go foraging
without any kind of education in it, as it can be very easy to mistake one plant for another—with
potentially deadly results! So don’t simply print off a guide to common wild herbs and head out into
the woods to find ingredients for your next magical tea. But if you can learn from an expert naturalist,
even just how to identify one or two useful and abundant herbs, the experience of harvesting in the wild can add an astoundingly powerful influence to your magical practice.

Drying and Storing Herbs

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Another benefit of growing your own herbs is that you can dry them yourself, which means you’ll have better quality spices for your cooking, and more potent magical energy for your spellwork than you do with store-bought herbs. There are several ways to dry herbs, the simplest being to simply hang them in bunches upside down in a dry, well-ventilated place away from direct sunlight. Many Witches find these upside-down bundles to be a joyful enhancement of the atmosphere of their homes. You can buy herb drying racks specially for this purpose, or simply use rubber bands or twist ties to keep the bunches together, and hang them from the ceiling with string, or even just on a nail in the wall. Just be sure they’re getting enough air—you may want to rotate them from time to time. It takes about three weeks for most herbs to dry in this manner. Once the leaves crack when pinched, they’re dry. Another, faster method is to lay the herbs flat on a cookie sheet and dry them in the oven on low. This will only take a few hours, but requires regularly checking on the herbs, as you don’t want to burn them! By the way, you can use either of these methods with any leftover fresh herbs that you bought for a spell or a recipe, so no need to worry anymore about fresh herbs going to waste! As for storing, most fresh herbs are best kept in the refrigerator, though basil lasts longer if you keep it on the counter with the stems in water and the leaves loosely covered with a plastic bag. For dried herbs, glass jars are ideal, though plastic ziplock bags can work fine, as long as they’re sealed airtight. Whichever container you choose, keep dried herbs in a cool, dark area—out of direct sunlight and away from sources of consistent heat, such as over the stove. And be sure to label all herbs—you may think you’ll remember which is which when you’re first placing them in the jars, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry!

Cinnamon

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(Cinnamomum cassia)

Zodiac sign: Aries, Gemini
Planet: Sun
Element: Fire
Deities: Venus/Aphrodite (Greek and Roman goddess of love), Bast (Egyptian goddess of protection and pleasure)

One of the world’s favorite spices for thousands of years, cinnamon comes from an Asian evergreen tree with leathery leaves and brown, paper-like bark. The tree also produces yellow flowers and purple berries. The bark, leaves, and buds are used for many purposes beyond adding flavor to hot cocoa and baked goods. One of the more unusual uses for cinnamon in ancient Egypt was as a mummification agent. It was also beloved by Chinese healers and is referenced in the Bible. Once cinnamon found its way to Europe, it motivated explorers to locate its source, which led to the colonization of Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) and its reputation as “the spice that launched a thousand ships.” Cinnamon is still used medicinally, to relieve upset stomachs and other digestive problems. Pregnant women are advised to take it easy on cinnamon, but it can be effective for morning sickness. Cinnamon taken in combination with other herbs is also known to boost the action of the combination. Magical goals for cinnamon include love, lust, luck, protection, prosperity, spirituality, power, and success. It is used in sachets of corresponding colors for a number of these purposes, such as pink or red for drawing love. Cinnamon also makes a very pleasant incense, and is burned to increase connectedness to spiritual energy. Interestingly, cinnamon works particularly well in money spells in combination with its culinary companions—cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, and ginger. Cinnamon-scented decorative brooms and pinecones, which you can find commercially available at gift shops, can be charged to bring love and happiness into the home. Cinnamon, also known as sweet wood, is classified as a dermal toxin (or skin irritant), and so should not be applied topically. If using cinnamon essential oil to anoint candles or other magical objects, wear gloves or dilute heavily in a carrier oil.

Mugwort

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(Artemisia vulgaris)

Zodiac sign: Gemini, Taurus, Libra
Planet: Moon, Venus
Element: Earth
Deities: Artemis/Diana (Greek/Roman, both goddesses of the Moon and the forest)

Mugwort is a member of the daisy family, and though it’s not quite as pretty to look at as some of its cousins, it is a favorite herb among Witches. Growing between three and six feet tall, with a subtly purple stem and small, reddish or greenish yellow flowers, this versatile plant was used to flavor beer before the cultivation of hops became standard. Some say that this is where the herb gets its name—from the “mug” that the beer would be drunk from. However, like lavender, mugwort is also a great repeller of moths, and some believe the name comes from an older word for “moth.” Aside from its early role in beer-making, mugwort is not considered a culinary herb, but it has many medicinal and magical uses that make it worth adding to any Witch’s herb pantry. Like chamomile, mugwort is among the nine sacred herbs in the Anglo-Saxon Witchcraft tradition. Roman soldiers valued mugwort for its ability to combat fatigue, and put sprigs of it in their sandals to keep their feet from getting worn out on long marches. Later, as Christianity spread across Europe, mugwort was associated with John the Baptist in Germany and Holland. People would gather mugwort on St. John’s Eve—a holiday coinciding with the Summer Solstice—and make crowns of it to wear for luck and prevention of illness. Other reputed reasons for carrying mugwort were the prevention of backaches and the curing of “madness.” Today, mugwort is used medicinally as a topical anesthetic, and for relief of burning and/or itching of the skin. Some people chew fresh mugwort leaves to alleviate tiredness and clear their minds. An infusion of fresh leaves can calm chronic stomach issues and help increase appetite, and dried mugwort mixed with honey can be used to fade bruises. However, mugwort is a very potent herb and should not be used internally on a regular basis, as it can cause a host of problems, especially for pregnant women. If you are just beginning your education in herbalism, stay away from ingesting mugwort until you have done thorough research and have developed a strong intuition about what will serve your body well. For now, it’s enough to stick to external, magical uses for this powerful herb. These magical uses include dream work, divination, safeguarding the home from unwanted energies, and protection during travel. Mugwort added to dream pillows can encourage prophetic dreaming, while placing sprigs of the herb near divination tools, such as Tarot cards and runes, can increase their power and accuracy. Some Witches like to use an infusion of mugwort to clean their ritual tools, and especially their scrying tools, such as crystal balls and mirrors. Burning mugwort during divination sessions can also enhance receptivity to the messages coming through. Hanging mugwort on or over a door protects the space inside from unwelcome spirits or other energies, and carrying a mugwort sachet while traveling can help prevent delays and mishaps. Finally, the “St. John’s Eve” tradition continues today in its pagan form, as Witches may wear a garland of mugwort while dancing around the fire at Midsummer’s Eve. Throw the garland into the fire at the end of the night for protection throughout the coming year. Mugwort is also known as artemesia, felon herb, St. John’s plant, and sailor’s tobacco. It is classified as a “noxious weed” in some parts of the U.S., so beware of planting any without first doing further research, or you could face fines.


Sage

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(Salvia officinalis)

Zodiac sign: Taurus, Sagittarius, Cancer
Planet: Jupiter
Element: Air
Deities: Zeus/Jupiter (Greek/Roman, both gods of the sky)

Another member of the mint family, sage has been associated with healing for thousands of years. Its Latin name, “salvia,” comes from the Latin word meaning “to heal,” as in applying a salve to a wound. Sage—sometimes called “common sage” or “garden sage”—is used as a culinary spice, particularly in its native region of the Mediterranean, and so is easily found in grocery stores. It has long, pale, almost silvery-green leaves which are wonderful both fresh and dried, but the taste is very strong, so a little goes a long way. Sage was both sacred and very practical for the Romans, who revered it at harvest time and also used it to clean their teeth, as well as to boost brain power and memory. This particular power has been utilized consistently throughout history, including the 10th century, when Arab doctors boiled sage leaves and drank the tea with honey in order to increase their mental clarity. In the Middle Ages, sage tea was drunk to treat such diverse conditions as liver disease, epilepsy, and fevers. The English drank it as a “healthful tonic,” and made use of it in meat dishes as well. An old custom there holds that no man needs to die “whilst sage grows in his garden.” Sage has also been used for years to treat a variety of throat and lung ailments, including symptoms of tuberculosis. Sage’s magical properties make it ideal for smudging to clear a space, object, or person of negative or otherwise unwanted energies. It is particularly good for dealing with the energies of grief and loss, helping to dispel energy that might otherwise get trapped within the grieving person and prolong the grieving process. Other magical uses include longevity, wisdom, protection, and wish fulfillment. Aside from being used as a smudge or an incense ingredient, sage can be added to sachets for both wisdom and healing from grief. For the fulfillment of a wish, write the wish on a sage leaf and sleep with it under your pillow for three days. Then, bury the leaf outside of your home. Note: a non-culinary, non-ingestible species of sage is used by Native Americans in smudging rituals and other spiritual practices. Usually called “white sage” (Salvia apiana), this variety is in danger of becoming extinct. While common sage grows easily and robustly almost anywhere, white sage grows only in the American Southwest. Increased interest in both Native American and Western Witchcraft traditions across the globe have led to over-harvesting in the wild. Because common sage works just as well for all purposes described above, this guide recommends avoiding purchasing white sage, as doing so will only increase the likelihood of extinction.