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Celebrating The Old Ways in New Times Review & Interview with Gabiann Marin

March, 2019

March 2019 for Celebrating The Old Ways in New Times

March 2019 for Celebrating The Old Ways in New Times

Bright Blessings!

I cannot tell you how excited I am that it is almost the Spring Equinox! To prepare, I assembled a precut garden box today, and have been diligently bagging up the dead leaves from last fall I spread over the garden beds I already have. I never buy mulch that way! Once the thaw starts, I dig out the leaves, and just throw them away.

While I joyously begin celebrating Spring at Imbolc, the fact I can see the green fingers of garden bulbs pushing up out of the earth reminds me the growing season is set to begin very soon. I am buying seeds left and right, and soon, we will start stockpiling the pea gravel and soil for the new garden bed!

The undesirable parts of things like cleanup, spending money on supplies, and lifting and carrying heavy things must be performed to benefit from the beauty of the victory garden we covet. I, for one, hate the sight of worms, and have ever since I was a child. I, however know that without those blind wrigglers, my garden will not grow, and if I don’t see them, I know something is very wrong.

Like the garden, our lives are made up of all sorts of things. Things we like, and things we dislike. More than that, we also like and dislike things about specifically our own selves.

Turn on the television, and you can almost always find a makeover show, or some type of advertisement for a service or product that will completely transform you, supposedly getting rid of some aspect of yourself you loathe. Our culture supports that self-loathing, as they use it as excuse to earn money from us.

Now, I am not saying we ought to forego improving ourselves. What I am saying is that all of us have something we CANNOT change about ourselves that we imagine to be some monstrosity. Some hate the shape of their feet, the sound of their voice, the fact their hair is naturally curly or straight. Some hate having an adams apple, and some think their neck is too long or short. Some want to get rid of freckles, or bleach their skin which they imagine is too dark. Almost all of us have demonized some aspect of ourselves we simply cannot help.

But we are not monstrosities in any way. We simply misunderstand these parts of ourselves, and radical self-acceptance is the only solution. What better time for that than the Spring Equinox, which is often used to get rid of the old and bring in the new? Instead of throwing out some part of ourselves, why not change our way of thinking instead?

This Month’s Review

To fit with this theme. I lucked into an interview with Gabiann Marin, author of the awesome book, Monsters and Creatures. I found the book to be well written, well researched, and an easy read. Of course, she could not include ALL monsters and creatures from all of time in the book, but she packed in quite a lot into the neat 196 pages.

From the Basilisk to Zombies, Marin draws readers into the fascinating world of creatures, and provides more than just lore. She includes historical anecdotes, and education about real phenomenon.

I highly recommend the book, and it can be had through this link.

Not only was I fortunate enough to review this good book, but I got to interview the amazing Gabiann Marin!

Read on!

The Interview

Saoirse – First, let me say, I was impressed with your book Monsters and Creatures. I never know what to expect from a reference book on creatures- and I was thrilled because I found your book very well researched.

You packed so very much good information into it. How long did it take you to gather all of that in formation, and what was the process for research you used? What background in research do you have, and what is your philosophy about educating your readers as an author? 

Gabiann – Thank you.  The research part was quite interesting.  I have grown up with many of the creatures in the book in so far as I have loved and read mythology and fantasy and history since I was a small child.  In fact the very first book I bought for myself (at the age of seven)  was The natural history of the vampire by Anthony Masters and I still have that book. So I guess it took a lifetime to gather all the information. 

The greater challenge was how to get all the information I wanted to talk about into such a small book.  I didn’t want it to just be a dictionary of fantastic beasts.  I’m a writer and the power of all these creatures are in their stories and I wanted to be able to share that… Give a context of these creatures in history and psychology and society.  

I have been a professional writer for a long time as well as an academic, so I read widely and have a pretty varied interest and abundant curiosity in just about everything – so I find researching information pretty easy. 

The process for this book was really to decide what monsters and creatures I wanted to include.  The publisher was pretty adamant the popular ones were included… Which I agreed with… But I was also intent on introducing readers to more unusual and lesser known creatures and tell their stories too. 

Saoirse – What made you decide to write about this topic, specifically? This appears more like a long-term interest in these beings turned into a good book to share what you have learned with others. Am I right? 

Gabiann – Yes.  I love animals and the natural world and am fascinated in how we, as humans, connect to and understand nature.  I have always believed the stories of monsters and creatures are some of the most potent and informative ways that we express our love and fear of the world around us. 

Saoirse – As I am Pagan, I know a lot of people who embrace belief in human connection with supernatural beings. One friend said these “creatures” may be nothing more than manifestation of spirit people perceive so well, they mistake them for flesh! While we know about logical explanations like- manatees can be mistaken for mermaids, etc- what is your take on the theory my friend presented? 

Gabiann – I have a rather unique perspective on people’s belief systems and how they engage with the mystical, the natural and the supernatural… And that is that however someone perceives these creatures – as real or imagined, as pyschological manifestations or as historical creatures… They are probably right. 

We manifest our understanding of the world and ourselves through the stories we tell and that shapes how we treat each other and the world around us.  Spirit reaches us through story, symbol and myth.  

If your friend perceives spirit as a unicorn or a dragon.. Then that is how spirit presents itself to her.  She is using these stories exactly how they were meant to be used – for her to step beyond the human condition and understand the world beyond herself. 

Saoirse – I want to know all about you! Tell me about your writing in general, and beyond that, YOU in general? What made you decide to write? What else are you good at? What projects are you working on, and what else is in the workings? 

Gabiann – That’s a big topic… Where do I start? 

I suppose I have always been a writer, I wrote my first short story at the age of eight and won my first literary prize when I was fourteen.  I became a professional writer when I started University.  I was originally going to be a vet but ended up at the last minute studying writing instead. My mum was surprisingly OK with this!  

I started my professional writing life writing film and theatre reviews and then actual plays.  I worked as a corporate copywriter for a few years but realised it was a bit soul destroying so shifted over and became a writer for charities and causes I believed in… Like Amnesty International, The Wilderness Society and Greenpeace.  

I also wrote for Australian television for a few years but it was a hard road back then with very little Australian content being made. So in 2000 I began writing children’s books.  In 2003 I wrote a book for young readers about a child in Australian Immigration detention called A True Person, which won a few international awards but most importantly was the first book in Australia to tackle that issue.

I still write social justice material in fiction form but moved into editing and writing non fiction after leaving an academic job in 2016.

Currently I am dividing my time between teaching writing and film at University, while editing and writing non-fiction, original and adapted film scripts and completing a fantasy fiction book about Medusa.

Saoirse – Tell me about your personal spiritual path, and if it influenced your work on this topic.

Gabiann – I am Wicca and have been since I was quite young, however I am more a pagan in the classic sense, in that I believe there is a natural force which guides the world and creates and determines life. I believe we need to understand and respect this force… Which currently as a global entity we are not doing.

All of my work has, in some way, reflected my belief that people are part of – not in conflict with – the natural world.  And the natural world is actually supernatural, in that it contains spirit as well as material things.  This is hardly controversial, as literally everyone in the known history of humankind has believed a version of this – yet for some reason mankind have been intent on focusing on the differences in this belief and killing each other over how we individually choose to understand and express that spiritual essence .  To me spirit is nature herself… Everything in it is amazing.  It contains things which we are only just beginning to understand. 

I don’t follow any organized religion because I believe that most of them limit us into hatred and division with both ourselves and the other beings we share this planet with.  But I have a huge respect for most religious people who are just trying to find ways to connect with the bigger sense of power around them.  I believe that when we are in contact with the natural world… Go beyond the realms of mankind’s selfishness, greed and violence, we can connect to that spirit. But honestly I do not think we as humans are the most important things on this planet.  Not the single or indeed the main focus of any spiritual force which may exist.  The trees and the rocks and the mountains have watched us rise and they will watch us fall.  Creatures we can barely imagine have roamed this earth thousands of years before we were even conceived of.. And other creatures will no doubt walk across our fossilized bones.  And that is a good thing.  Nature is immortal. So the smallness and pettiness of humanity and our need to find meaning and place has always underpinned my work.  As well as a commitment to kindness, justice and understanding … Towards each other and all beings. 

Saoirse – Have you had any personal encounters with creatures or spirits you would like to share?

Gabiann – I think there is magic in the world, and spirit… particularly animal spirits, can help you find your way to that magic.

When I was in my twenties I had a very hard time. As I believe most young women in their twenties do in a world that is constantly telling us that as females we are simply not good enough, pretty enough, smart enough. Then one night I had this amazing dream of two tigers who embraced me when I thought they were going to rip me apart. 

I woke up realizing that I was worthy and strong and loved.  I still believe today they were manifestations of spirit telling me to stop worrying about all the silliness around me and understand that my purpose… the purpose for all of us,  was simply to be a good person. Once I realized that, life became much clearer for me and I was able to follow a path that wasn’t so concerned about whether I fitted in with the very narrow ideology of being a compliant, acceptable, quiet woman. Which I certainly am not!  And rather tell stories and be part of the world in a way that expanded, not limited my and other creatures existence.

I am still very spiritual and have engaged with spirit in many ways since then.  But I remember that dream so clearly even now.  It’s why I became a pagan and a feminist. 

Monsters and Creatures, as well as its companion book – Gods and Goddesses, was written as an introduction into the history of humankind’s need to use story and myth to understand the world.  They are small books but I hope they pack a punch and give people a bit of an insight into what unites us – which is story… and what defines us – which is how we understand the world around us.  

They are both written to be fun, informative and easy to read and I really hope people engage with them.  Our continuing fascination with supernatural creatures is one of the many things that unite us as people.  And sharing these stories is the best way to create connections between us across time and cultures.  

I am happy to engage with readers but have a limited social media profile as I find the online world to be somewhat mean-spirited and focused on conflict.  I have a facebook authors page and an Amazon Author’s page through which I am happy to engage with those wanting more information about me. 

If you are interested in getting a copy of any of my books they are widely available through Amazon as well as most good book stores.  

Saoirse – What is your FAVORITE Monster/Creature you included in your book, and why? Any encounters, dreams, or visions of/with it/them?

Gabiann – This is a bit like asking me to choose a favourite child! 

All of them are my favourite in different ways. I love the more unusual ones like the Japanese Yokai because they are just so quirky and, although they can be a bit nasty, they are essentially just really cool, interesting little creatures who don’t bother anyone and just hang about doing their own thing. 

Researching the book I found the bird-like creatures the most fascinating as they were probably the ones I knew the least about. Again they are usually positive, kind creatures who help rather than harm us. 

But I guess if I had to pick a favourite it would have to be Medusa. She resonates about the power of women and her story is one of injustice. She was never a monster, just someone who was trying to live her life. She only harmed those who attacked her and she was a victim of one of the most heinous and cowardly acts in all of mythology. It is impossible, I think, to see the story of Medusa as anything but a parable about male violence against women and the hatred of the established patriarchy of strong independent females. For that reason she probably resonates the strongest. 

I am actually writing a fiction book about her – its a crime caper comedy believe it or not!  

For more information on Gabiann Marin Visit:

Gabiann’s Linkedin Profile
Her Author Page on Facebook you can follow.
Her Amazon Author Page.

The Sabbat

The Sabbat this month is Spring Equinox, known by many Pagans as Ostara. Many take Bede and the Grimm’s word for it that Ostara was a Germanic goddess who had a hare as companion and eggs were auspicious to her.

Unfortunately, no evidence that this was a goddess exists in imagery or writings prior to Bede.

But since writings can be lost, and many passed traditions on orally, there is a chance this is true. It may also be true that Xtianity absorbed the Pagan rites to Ostara in their Easter practices.

One thing that is NOT true is the ridiculous meme claiming Ishtar was the goddess Ostara because the name is similar to Easter. Ishtar was never venerated in the British Isles, and ancient British pagans had no knowledge of her whatsoever. Xtians converting British Pagans did not adapt Middle Eastern Pagan practice either.

If Ostara was a goddess, she was, as Grimm, and Bede say, Germanic.

Both Ostara and Easter are celebrated with the new life of the Earth, and new spiritual life for worshippers in mind.

But while Xtians think of it as their god rising from the grave, and Pagans think of it in earth based terms, another way to look at it is rebirth of way of thinking.

New Life

Earlier in the article, I spoke of the things we loathe about ourselves that are things we cannot control.

Examples I shared were of physical things we might not like, but have no ability to change. Other examples include things such as the presence of depression that is being treated as well as possible, but is a lifelong condition, memory problems after stroke, inability to digest a favorite food anymore, inability due to medical reasons to have kids, or even being divorced when you did not choose to be.

My challenge this time is to think of that thing which you cannot change- and forgive yourself for it.

Believe me, I do not say this lightly, as I have things I am upset with myself for. I say things like “I am sorry for the way I am” and “I wish you did not have to deal with the fact I have X problem.”

This is perhaps the least productive thing we do as human beings. In essence, we punish ourselves for something we have no control over.

We make ourselves out to be guilty, when in fact, if we could change whatever it is we hate about ourselves, we absolutely would.

So, the self-loathing stops. Now.

It’s going to take a conscious effort to undo your counter productive way of thinking about yourself, and replacing that with forgiveness, and amping up the self-love, and it’s one a one time, “fling a spell and forget it” thing. It will take a different amount of time for each person, and you may have to tweak the working to suit yourself.

I want you to know that you are a perfect reflection of the creator, and what WE think of as flaws are sometimes just things our culture spits at. We have to train our minds to resist this cultural poisoning, which is basically abuse, and VERY toxic. We have to sometimes be the goddess or the father god for ourselves, and know better than the crap we are told.

This working entails giving a gift to yourself. You are worth it! This is done in parts. How far apart you space the parts is up to you.

The Working

To start, get a plain white candle and a small receptacle to burn paper in.

Get paper, and writing materials.

Part 1– You are going to sit down and write a letter to yourself.

You are going to make it as long as you like. Go into great detail about the thing you loathe about yourself and go ahead and cry out how much you wish you could change things. It is okay to type and print out the letter if you’d prefer not to hand write it. Include in the letter why you understand you can’t change this. Say all you want to about it and how you feel about it. Just get it all out. You don’t even have to have one sitting be the whole letter. It can be as long or as short of a letter as you want. It can even be just a paragraph or less long.

Part 2– Then you are going to write your goal for changing thinking. You are going to have to really think about what thinking you need to discard, but also what thinking you need to replace it with. Then, you need to decide what action after the change of thinking you are going to take. Be as detailed or as vague as asking your goddess or god for guidance.

Part 3– Have your initial letter, and then your other papers which list your goals and planned changes, have your receptacle to burn in , and light the candle. You can do this at your altar if you want to, but you can even do this outdoors, or over the kitchen sink, or stove if you prefer. Do this at the place where you are most comfortable burning papers.

Read your letter aloud to yourself. Let it all sink in, and as you are reading, feel how crucial it is you let this self-loathing go. Then read the second papers, and truly tell yourself that you are going to lay aside the old way of thinking, and start the new way of thinking.

When you have read it all, take one more sheet of paper, and write out a very short summary of everything on the papers.

Burn the papers, keeping the summary.

As the papers burn say, “Out with the old, in with the new, I am the goddess/god, and I am whole and perfect. So Mote It Be.”

Once the papers have burned, release the ashes to the wind, and let your candle burn all the way down. Clean your area up, and place your summary somewhere you can look at it to remind yourself of all the things you wrote. Because, remember, this is a long-term change, not something you are going to release and forget. We have to make conscious efforts to transform, most especially our way of thinking. There is no “putting it out there to the Universe to manifest”. We are going to do this ourselves, for a permanent change.

Part 4- Gift yourself something representing the change you are making. If you hate your feet, get regular pedicures or start wearing shoes you really love but thought you could not wear on “those” feet. If you are upset you did not reach a goal, and the opportunity is gone, celebrate a goal you DID make. If you are upset you have a chronic condition that is never going to go away, pamper yourself somehow and reassure yourself you are not to blame.

Blessed Spring, and New Beginnings!

Blessed Be!

Monsters and Creatures: Discover Beasts from Lore and Legends (The Supernatural Series) on Amazon

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About the Author:

Saoirse is a recovered Catholic.  I was called to the Old Ways at age 11, but I thought I was just fascinated with folklore. At age 19, I was called again, but I thought I was just a history buff, and could not explain the soul yearnings I got when I saw images of the Standing Stones in the Motherland. At age 29, I crossed over into New Age studies, and finally Wicca a couple years later. My name is Saoirse, pronounced like (Sare) and (Shah) Gaelic for freedom. The gods I serve are Odin and Nerthus. I speak with Freyja , Norder, and Thunor as well. The Bawon has been with me since I was a small child, and Rangda has been with me since the days I was still Catholic. I received my 0 and 1 Degree in an Eclectic Wiccan tradition, and my Elder is Lord Shadow. We practice in Columbus, Ohio. I am currently focusing more on my personal growth, and working towards a Second and Third Degree with Shadow. I received a writing degree from Otterbein University back in 2000. I have written arts columns for the s Council in Westerville. I give private tarot readings and can be reached through my Facebook page Tarot with Saoirse. You can, also, join me on my Youtube Channel.

Going Shamanic Radio

February, 2019

Going Shamanic” is hosted by Jennifer Engracio on P.A.G.E. Media Project’s blogtalk radio each month. The show focuses on how to integrate shamanism into every day life. Instead of relegating the spiritual aspect of ourselves to Sundays at church or weekend workshops, this show will support listeners in weaving ritual, prayer, magic, alignment with the Spiritworld and the Earth into their lives to enrich their experience of living.

This Month’s Topic: Exploring Plant Medicine with Janis Young

Today Jen welcomes Silverowl (Janis Young) whose unique approach to healing encompasses work as a Shamanic Practitioner (crystals, drumming, pipe medicine), Holistic Nutritionist (diet, lifestyle), Reconnective Healing Practitioner (energy work), and Charter herbalist (remedies & potions) to assist in the ongoing quest for health.

Instead of relegating the spiritual aspect of ourselves to Sundays at church or weekend workshops, this show will support listeners in weaving ritual, prayer, magic, alignment with the Spiritworld and the Earth into their lives to enrich their experience of living. Jen is also the founder of Spiral Dance Shamanics.

Going Shamanic is hosted by Jennifer Engrácio, about how to integrate shamanism into everyday life.

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About the Author:

Jennifer Engrácio has been a student of shamanism since 2005. Jennifer is a certified teacher who has worked with children in many different education settings since 2001. She is a certified shamanic coach, reiki master, and lomilomi practitioner; in addition, she runs Spiral Dance Shamanics. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, she now lives in Calgary, Canada with her life partner.

Engrácio participated in self-publishing three books that are now available:

The Magic Circle: Shamanic Ceremonies for the Child and the Child Within”

Women’s Power Stories: Honouring the Feminine Principle of Life”

Dreaming of Cupcakes: A Food Addict’s Shamanic Journey into Healing

For more information go to: www.spiraldanceshamanics.com

Notes from the Apothecary

May, 2018

Notes from the Apothecary: Honeysuckle

What a sweet name, conjuring images of bees and summer and jewel like flowers dripping with nectar, while butterflies gorge themselves on the sugary goodness. According to sacredwicca.com, honeysuckle is a Beltane flower, which makes sense as I remember the intricate blooms beginning to open in my grandparents’ yard around this time of year. We would sit in the pale English sun drinking in the smell of the nectar and the gently, bustling hum of honeybees. This exotic looking but fairly common plant holds a great deal of nostalgia for me, and the connection to my recent ancestors makes it an appropriate choice to write about at this other time when the veil is thin; Beltane, the opposite side of the wheel to Samhain, when the fae and their kin are strongest.

The Kitchen Garden…

Eat the Weeds tells us that honeysuckle is ‘iffy for foragers’, basically meaning that it’s one of those plants that has so many varieties, some of which are edible, some of which are not and some of which are downright poisonous. Because of this, if you are planning on cultivating honeysuckle for eating, you should ensure you absolutely know what variety you are growing. Lonicera japonica, or Japanese Honeysuckle, has leaves that can be boiled and eaten, and the flowers are so sweet and delicious they are enjoyed like candy. Lonicera villosa, or waterberry, has edible berries, but is often confused with variants which are not so tasty or even bad for you.

The upshot of this is, don’t eat any part of the honeysuckle plant unless you are one hundred percent sure that you have an edible variety. If in doubt, just don’t. Don’t be disappointed about the dubious edibility of this beautiful plant though. There are many great reasons to have a honeysuckle plant in your garden. As a climbing plant, it’s often used to hide unsightly walls or old fences, replacing urban grimness with nature’s treasure. As well as this, it attracts bees and butterflies, essential pollinators, filling your garden with colour and sound. This in will attract birds, and bats in some climates, so honeysuckle is a great addition to any wildlife garden.

Some species can be invasive, so it’s recommended to keep it away from fruit trees and the like as it can literally use their trunks as ladders to climb, which is not so healthy for your poor fruit trees. But with some liberal pruning when needed, honeysuckle is a beautiful, practical plant which brings a sweet fragrance and a splash of summer colour to any garden.

The Apothecary…

Mrs Grieve, in her Modern , tells us that there are over 100 species of honeysuckle but that only a dozen or so are used medicinally. She tells us that the fruits have emiticocathartic properties, a word which is not common in modern usage but presumably means honeysuckle berries can be used both as an emetic and a cathartic. Emetics cause the body to expel toxins, either by vomiting or defecating, and cathartic work solely on accelerating defecation. This sounds pretty grim, but emetics are often used if the patient is known to have ingested something toxic which needs to be expelled quickly. Of course, the berries cause vomiting because they themselves are toxic (some varieties; see above) so shouldn’t be consumed at all, really.

Other traditional remedies include using honeysuckle leaves or flowers as a diuretic, to ease asthmas, and to help with cramps and even bad skin.

The Witch’s Kitchen…

Honeysuckle is a climbing plant, and reminds us that we have to start at the bottom and work our way up. It is a symbol of perseverance, determination and hard work. Rev. Carol A. Ingle tells us that the plant is associated with the tarot card, The Chariot, allowing you to focus on having discernment, authority and mastery of any task at hand. She also recommends the use of honeysuckle in good luck spells and also bending others to your will. The plant is also great for protection magic.

Culpepper claimed it was a ‘herb of Mercury’. This plant, therefore, is often used in money magic, to attract wealth or new opportunities leading to better prosperity, such as luck for a new job interview. Mercury is also all about clear communication, so meditating on honeysuckle can allow you to open up your mind to allow the words you need to say to someone to come to the fore.

Named Féithleann in Irish, the plant is also known as the Irish Vine, so if you work with the Celtic Tree Calendar, honeysuckle is a great substitute for vine. Please note, I find the Celtic tree Calendar a thoroughly modern construct, as there is no evidence the Iron Age Celts followed a year split up into tree-based months, however it is a lovely construct and one that clearly means a great deal to many people. The magic of trees and plants cannot be disputed, and if this is a way that some practitioners connect with that magic, I have no problem with that. As long as it’s clear that it is not a reconstruction of what our Celtic ancestors followed it is inspired by their reverence for trees and plants, which in itself is a lovely idea.

Home and Hearth…

Irish folklore states that honeysuckle around the door of a home will prevent a witch from entering. Of course, the protective nature of the plant is actually that it will prevent negative energies from entering your house, so this is still great advice!

Bring honeysuckle flowers from your garden into the house to attract money. Keep the flowers in water, then as they start to wilt, immediately discard them, either in your compost disposal or in the eastern side of your garden if possible, to represent the manifestation of your desires.

I Never Knew…

Honeysuckle is much enjoyed by livestock, including chicken and goats. Indeed, the Latin name for one species, lonicera caprifolium, comes from the Latin for ‘goat’s leaf’.

Image credits: Lonicera x heckrottii ‘Gold Flame’ by Wouter Hagens, public domain; Lonicera caprifolium by Sten at Danish Wikipedia; Lonicera nigra by Nikolaus Joseph Jacquin (1727-1817), public domain.

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About the Author:

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.

She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft.

Follow Mabh on TwitterFacebook and her blog.

Click Images for Amazon Information

Notes from the Apothecary

August, 2017

Notes from the Apothecary: Self Heal

 

 

Prunella vulgaris; prunel, brunell, carpenter’s herb, hook heal, sickle-wort; a common herb in the British isles, and indeed most places in the Northern Hemisphere; currently creeping its way across my lawn, unapologetically purple. I was delighted to find this magical little plant as a ‘freebie’; we didn’t cultivate it, it’s completely made its own way in and it is most welcome. The plant has a long history of medical use, being commented upon by Gerard, Culpeper and many other renowned herbalists and botanists, for its wide-ranging uses, which we will examine further below.

 

Although useful as a magical plant, we don’t find it in Cunningham or similar books, yet there is much history surrounding this little miracle plant.

 

The Kitchen Garden

 

Eat the Weeds tells us that the young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, however the raw leaves can be slightly bitter. This may be an option if you are really low on greens, but I would only cultivate this plant to be harvested as an herb, or simply to be enjoyed as an extremely beautiful addition to any garden.

 

Purple flowers in the garden help attract bees and butterflies, and bees in particular really love this plant (see the pic I took at the top of the article; I had bent down to shoot the flower when the bee buzzed in, a couple of inches from my nose!). If you grow your own herbs, fruits and vegetable, it’s essential that you encourage pollinators, so self heal is ideal for this.

 

The Apothecary

 

Where to start. The common name, self heal, tells you all you need to know and not very much at the same time. We get that sense that for centuries, this plant has been revered for its healing properties, but what exactly does it do?

 

Mrs Grieve tells us that the whole plant may be used medicinally, as an astringent (causes cells to contract), a styptic (stops bleeding) and a tonic (a general restorative). She recommends 1oz of the plant mixed with a pint of boiling water, to make an infusion which is considered a ‘strengthener’. She also recommends the same infusion mixed with honey (yum, back to the bees again) and used as a gargle for sore throats and mouth ulcers.

 

In 1657 William Coles wrote Adam in Eden or Nature’s Paradise: The History of Plants, Fruits, Herbs and Flowers. In this ambitious volume he mentions self heal several times, including making a remedy for quinsy (a serious complication arising from tonsillitis) made with a combination of self heal, jew’s ear fungus and elder honey. Seriously, if you are at risk of quinsy though, see a doctor! It’s worth noting that Coles was a staunch advocate of the Doctrine of Signatures, the idea that plants look like the part of the body they are useful for healing. He believed that God would have wanted mankind to know what each plant was useful for. Sadly, this strategy doesn’t always follow through, which is why it’s always important to research your herbs thoroughly and scientifically.

 

Coles also wrote that ‘There is not a better wound-herbe in the world’ and recommended it for leaning wounds to stop infection, and to soothe the nipples of breastfeeding women who had been bitten by their enthusiastic babies. He also concurred with Mrs Grieve in that it is a useful tonic for sore throats, particularly those accompanied by a fever, most likely tonsillitis again.

 

Culpeper tells us that there is a proverb:

That he needs neither physician nor surgeon that hath self-heal and sanicle to help himself.

 

So self heal, along with other herbs such as sanicle, mentioned here, can be seen as an essential part of a herbal first aid kit, or it certainly was as far back as the 17th century, if not much earlier.

 

The Lab

 

In modern medicine, there is hope that self heal may hold some anti-viral properties, and may even be useful in the treatment or prevention of cancer. The plant is capable of inhibiting a virus’s ability to replicate itself, so may be very useful in modern anti-viral drugs. So far tests have been done involving the herpes virus and HIV. More testing needs to be done though, to find conclusive evidence on this.

 

There is also some indication that self heal could be useful for diabetes sufferers, although again, this theory is in its very early stages.

 

The Witch’s Kitchen

 

 

There is anecdotal superstition that witches grew self heal in their gardens to hide their malicious activities. Self heal is so common that most people would not look twice at it, so perhaps it was used to mask other, more interesting herbs.

 

Culpeper wrote that self heal was ‘another herb of Venus’, lending the plant a feminine aspect and associations with both the planet and the goddess of the same name. Venus speaks to us of love, sex, sensuality and beauty; not just physical beauty but art, music and all types of creativity. Self heal can be seen as a catalyst for not only healing the body, but healing the soul, and reminding us not to be ‘all work and no play’. Self heal on the altar or in a sacred space can be a symbol for repairing or building a friendship, or perhaps a more intense relationship.

 

Venus is also associated with wealth, and by extension work, business, career and other opportunities. Self heal in a button-hole might be an easy amulet to wear for a job interview, or a business meeting. If this is too ostentatious, try some leaves or flowers in a tiny bag in your pocket, perhaps with a small rock to remind you to be grounded and true to your ideals.

 

Venus, as a goddess, is also associated with victory and triumphs, so self heal can be used as a tool to help you achieve your goals. Place leaves or flowers around you while you visualise your goals coming to fruition. Picture yourself where you want to be; getting that job, winning that race, overcoming stage fright or, for writers like myself, getting that next book contract! Crush a leaf and smear some of the juice on your forehead. This is activating your magical and energetic connection to the parts of the universe you cannot see with your eyes alone, and will help cement your will. Remember to make a commitment to do the work required in the physical world, and ensure you stick to it.

 

If the plants grow nearby, water them and thank them for their help. Always wash the juice off your skin afterwards, and if an irritation occurs, as with any substance, wash it off immediately and seek medical help if necessary.

 

Home and Hearth

 

If you don’t mind the odd ‘weed’ in your lawn, let self heal be when it pops up in your garden. The delightful purple flowers will encourage bees and other beauties, and purple reminds us of spirit, universal energy and balance. As such, you can pick some of the flowers for your late spring/early summer altar, depending on when your flowering season occurs. Mine are just starting to wilt, the glorious violet blooms dropping away to leave the empty flowers heads which have a similarity to ears of corn, making them a lovely decoration for a harvest celebration or Lammas altar.

 

I Never Knew…

 

In Ireland the herb is known as Ceannbhán beag, which translates as ‘little bog cotton’.

 

All images copyright 2017, Mabh Savage.

 

***

 

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.

She is the author of:

 

 A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors

 

 

and

 

Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft.

 

 

Follow Mabh on Twitter, Facebook and her blog.

Notes from the Apothecary

May, 2017

Notes from the Apothecary: Plantain

 

Plantain1

 

No, not the banana type fruit; I’m talking about the weed that we all walk past every day, that has a surprising wealth of health benefits. My friend calls it a ‘Magic Bandage’, and indeed, a cut or a graze can be safely wrapped in a clean, bruised leaf which soothes and heals at no expense. There are several types of plantain, and for the most part I’m referring to the broadleaf plantain, but I will also mention the ribwort, which has long, slender leaves. There are other variants too, so do look up which are native to your own area.

The Kitchen Garden

There’s generally no need to try to cultivate this amazing plant. It grows prolifically in environments ranging from your own garden to utter wasteland. The plant can survive in almost arid conditions, yet copes well with very moist conditions too. In lawns, it can be a bit of a pest, if you’re bothered about your lawn being immaculately groomed. I quite like the odd bit of clover and plantain in my back lawn; it’s a nice bit of variety!

The young leaves can be eaten as a ‘green’ in salads, in much the same way young dandelion leaves can. As the leaves age, they become tougher, and stringy, yet if stewed, can still be enjoyed as a healthy addition to casseroles or similar. The leaves are high in vitamin A and calcium, so make a healthy addition to your diet.

The seeds are also edible, and a good source of fibre, but some have a husk which is indigestible. The seeds are very tedious to gather as they are tiny!

The Apothecary

 

Plaintain2

 

Culpeper recommended grass and ribwort plantain ‘against spitting of the blood, immoderate flow of the menses’ and piles’, which he attributed to the plant’s astringent properties. He also recommended the juice of the ribwort for lessening agues (fever and shivering).

Mrs Grieves had plenty to say about the broadleaf plantain, including an interesting note that it was one of the nine sacred herbs mentioned in the Lacnunga, a collection of Anglo-Saxon texts and prayers. She also refers to William Salmon’s herbal, the 1710 text which tells us the plantain is good for the lungs, against epilepsy, dropsy, jaundice, and even helps restore lost hearing.

James A. Duke’s book The Green Pharmacy tells us that the plant is good for treating burns, dandruff, haemorrhoids (which backs up Culpeper’s much earlier assertion); also insect bites, stings, laryngitis, sore throats and sun burn. He even mentions it as a potential weight loss aid.

In 2007 in fact, a study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine reported that the broadleaf plantain had the capacity to inhibit tumour growth, when tested on rats. Other scientific studies give evidence that the plant is genuinely effective at wound healing, and has an anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and even a very weak anti-biotic effect.

Other Uses

Plantains, like comfrey, contain a substance called allantoin, which has moisturising properties and promotes cell growth, and is one of the key components in the plant’s ability to help heal wounds and soothe burns. This makes the plant useful in some cosmetic applications, such as hair rinses, and skin tonics.

Apparently, the tough fibres in the older leaves can be used to craft fishing line, cords, and even sutures.

The Witch’s Kitchen

Culpeper stated that the broad leaf plantain was governed by Venus, and as such some of its healing power came through its ‘antipathy to Mars’. Cunningham concurs the connection to Venus, which as always, we can link to either the planet, or the goddess, and the usual associations implied. So love, desire, sex, fertility, prosperity and triumph. If you plan your spells astrologically, plantain could be used when under the influence of the planet Venus. You could use the leaves, flowers or seeds on your altar or in your sacred space, or in a spell pouch with other items, to accentuate the influence of the planet, which often represents harmony, happiness and the arts.

Plantain is also used for a very specific protection: against snakebites. Cunningham tells us is it the root of the plant which provides this protection. Judika Illes doesn’t specify which part of the plant to use, but she does say to ‘Charge plantain with its mission of protection. Carry it in your pocket to guard against snakebite.’ The Element Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells.

The immense healing power of the plant means it can be seen as a kind of cure-all, and you can implement the plants naute into your magical workings. Something which heals physically, can also heal mentally or metaphysically, and you could use the plant to help heal rifts, ease anxiety, and even alleviate insomnia.

Home and Hearth

I was taught to make a salve of plantain by using a good amount of the leaves, finely chopped, steeped in petroleum jelly and strained whilst the solution is still warm. When it sets, you have a thick, plantain salve which is good for burns, stings, cuts, grazes; any minor wound or inflammation of the skin really. Petroleum jelly is not ideal for everyone’s skin however, and two different friends recently recommended either using almond oil, or coconut oil as a base.

I think I am going to try coconut oil next, as this will also set which makes it a little easier to travel with. Also, I personally know I don’t react to negatively to coconut oil, and neither does my little boy, in fact his eczema prone skin practically sucks the stuff up. I’ll let you know how it goes. Before trying any oils or salves on wounds, it’s a great idea to ‘patch test’ with the base first. Rub a bit into the inside of your elbow or on your wrist, and see how your skin reacts. If your skin becomes irritated or inflamed, you know you need a different base.

A small pot of the salve travels with us whenever we are out and about. The great thing about plantain is that it is available so readily, if a small cut or graze occurs, we can nearly always find a leaf, bruise it, and apply it directly.

I Never Knew…

Plantago Major, the broadleaf plantain, was called ‘White Man’s Footprint’ or ‘White Man’s Foot’ by Native Americans, as the plant had a tendency to spring up where ever the European settlers had been.

Many thanks to fellow magical person Fee Edden for her help with the research for this article.

Picture credits: Wikipedia.

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author and musician, as well as a freelance journalist. She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft. Follow Mabh on Twitter, Facebook and her blog.