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Notes from the Apothecary

February, 2019

Notes from the Apothecary: Cumin

Cumin is a fragrant spice in the apiaceae family, meaning it’s related to carrots, parsley, and the similar looking caraway. We use the seed of the plant in both cooking and magic.

Cumin has been used for thousands of years, and most likely originated near Syria, based on evidence from nearby excavation sites. Cumin was a table spice in Ancient Greece, a tradition which continues today in Morocco. The Romans adopted the use of cumin, and Spanish and Portuguese colonists eventually brought the spice to the Americas, where it is enjoyed in a range of cuisines.

The Kitchen Garden

Cumin is one of those mesmerising flavours that simply doesn’t taste like anything else. When I was first learning about cooking Indian food, I had not realised that cumin was such a commonly used ingredient. Adding it to my store cupboard changed my life. Most curries I cook now have whole cumin seeds fried until they pop and release their smoky, earthy goodness into the hot oil. Every chilli con carne is blessed with my kitchen’s holy triumvirate of cumin, coriander and turmeric, making the house smell simply divine.

Whole seeds and ground cumin are both readily available in grocery stores and supermarkets. I’ve found that the best value way to buy cumin is to visit an Indian or Mexican store or wholesaler, as shops that don’t specialise tend to bump the price up.

The Apothecary

Cumin seeds are used as a natural medicine all over the world. Alleged cumin medical properties include being an anti-inflammatory, diuretic, antispasmodic, carminative, aromatic, digestive, and an emmenagogue. In their book about healthy seeds, Danny Sarmiento writes that cumin helps prevent the harmful effects of stress on the body. That must be why I love a cumin heavy curry on a weekend after a hard week!

Sarmiento also states that cumin can offer relief for asthma sufferers as it may dilate the airways. There’s also some indication that the seeds may be effective for treating diabetes.

The seeds are filled with nutritious vitamins and minerals including iron and manganese, so they’re a great addition to just about anyone’s diet.

The Witch’s Kitchen

Cunningham lists cumin in his encyclopaedia of magical herbs. He states the spice is masculine, associated with Mars and fire, which makes sense when you think of how this spice is often used in hot curries and Mexican food! Heat is definitely linked to cumin. But I also find it earthy, and grounding.

According to Cunningham, the spice is used for protection magic, to ensure fidelity, for exorcism and to prevent theft. Bread baked with cumin seeds won’t be stolen by spirits, so if you follow this superstition, don’t leave cumin-spiced bread out for the fair folk! Cumin can be burnt with frankincense to create a powerful protective incense. Scatter cumin and salt to create a protective boundary. Carry in a pouch at handfastings to drive negative thoughts or energies away from the happy couple. Or add some to the wine later on, for an exciting wedding night!

Home and Hearth

Mix cumin seeds with fine salt. Walk the boundary of your home at Imbolc or the Spring Equinox. Sprinkle the protective mix while you visualise your home as a safe and special place. Imagine the sun’s returning light suffusing your home with a warm, comforting glow. The salt and spice mix will keep negativity at bay, whilst allowing love entry, and encouraging loyalty.

I Never Knew…

There’s an old superstition that you should curse and shout as you sow cumin seeds, to ensure a good crop.

All images via Wikipedia or Wikimedia commons.

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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 Ancestorsand Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways.

A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors on Amazon

Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways on Amazon

The Love of Chocolate by Guest Author Lilith Dorsey

February, 2017

The Love of Chocolate 

 

 

Dark and delicious, almost everyone loves chocolate. This little bean is not only tasty but also quite magickal. It has a long history of use throughout several countries and cultures.

Chocolate is made from the seeds of the cacao tree, discovered over 3,000 years ago in the rain forests of Central America. Originally it was used as an alcoholic beverage. Prized by Ancient Mayan societies, Chocolate from the very beginning was an integral part of rites and rituals. The Mayans has uncovered a way to cultivate the beans. Next they dried, roasted and ground them into a paste. This was then combined with chili peppers and cornmeal to make a strong beverage. This ritual drink was used for everything from initiations to burial rites.

The invasion of Mexico by the Spanish brought chocolate to Europe. There it was prized as a beverage of wealth and power. It was reserved for the elite as a supreme delicacy.

Even if you’re not a magickal person it is easy to see how chocolate is a sensual delight. It’s smell, texture and touch lend themselves to passion. Because of this chocolate is a wonderful ingredient to use in your love spells and workings.

In my book Love Magic, I talk about combining two great aphrodisiac ingredients, chocolate and strawberries. “Strawberries are one of the many plants ruled by Venus. This recipe blends two great romantic pleasures—both strawberries and chocolate—to conjure up some sweet romance.” Craft this recipe witch care and magickal intent and you will be able to manifest your desires.

 

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries Recipe

1 pound strawberries, washed and dried
2 Tbs. butter
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (chunks or chips)

To make dipping easier, leave the leaves on your strawberries. Melt butter and chocolate in a double boiler. Dip strawberries one at a time into melted chocolate. Cool in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes. Enjoy with your love.

 

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About the Author:

Lilith Dorsey M.A. , hails from many magickal traditions, including Celtic, Afro-Caribbean, and Native American spirituality. Her traditional education focused on Plant Science, Anthropology, and Film at the University of R.I., New York University and the University of London, and her magickal training includes numerous initiations in Santeria also known as Lucumi, Haitian Vodoun, and New Orleans Voodoo . Lilith Dorsey is a Voodoo Priestess and Psychic, and in that capacity has been doing successful magick since 1991 for patrons, is editor/publisher of Oshun-African Magickal Quarterly , filmmaker of the experimental documentary Bodies of Water :Voodoo Identity and Tranceformation, author of Voodoo and Afro-Caribbean Paganism,The African-American Ritual Cookbook, her latest book Love Magic and also choreographer for jazz legend Dr. John’s “Night Tripper” Voodoo Show.

 

Lilith can be reached at the following:

 

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/LilithDorseyAuthor/

Twitter https://twitter.com/LilithDorsey

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/lilithdorsey/

Youtube https://www.youtube.com/lilithdorsey

Let’s Spell it Out

November, 2010

The Day of the Dead (El Dia de los Muertos)

This time of year we either think of the Celtic holy day of Samhain or its American reinvention, Halloween.  For the purposes of this article, I strive to “spice things up” a bit, by sharing with you the Mexican Day of the Dead, or El Dia de los Muertos, the one day each year that Death takes off from work.

Beginning on October 31st and ending on November  2nd, the Day of the Dead, or Los Dia de los Meurtos, or Days of the Dead, is when revelers dress in costumes, feast and honor Death and those that have departed this realm.  This is a national holiday, and is considered by many to be the most important festival.

Global Customs of Honoring the Dead

It is not uncommon to find ancient practices from around the world where the spirits of lost loved ones are honored and revered.  Although most occur during the season of Autumn, others fall in the Spring or Summer.  For instance April has days set aside by the Chinese and the Germanic peoples.  The Chinese have Ching Ming (Tomb Sweeping Day), which has been popular since 3700 BCE, on either April 5th or 6th, depending on their calendar.  In Germany, Walpurgis or Walpurgisnacht, night of the goddess Walpurga, falls on Aprils 30th.  The Japanese celebrate the Festival of Souls, called either Obon or Bon, on either July 13th or August 15, depending on their calendar.  In the Fall, the All Saints Day Fiesta is celebrated in the Philippines and in Mexico as well as parts of America the Day of the Dead, El Dia de los Muertos, is celebrated from October 27th through November 2nd.

Origins of the Day of the Dead

Although now patriarchal and Catholic, Mexico didn’t start out that way and neither did the honoring of the beloved ancestors.  Its roots go back to the Aztecs who believed that the souls of the dead returned to Mexico with the Autumnal Monarch Butterfly migration.  When the Spanish conquered and converted the native Central and South Americans, they brought along with them the European Christian practices of Hallowmas and All Souls Eve (October 31st) and All Saints Day or All Souls Day (November 1st or 2nd).  Many scholars believe that the Mexican Day do the Dead is a conglomeration of these customs with those of the Aztecs.  In northern America, the Puritans tried to extinguish the customs of the Pagans, but in Central and South America, the date and concept were perfectly plausible to the native peoples as it coincided with their already established Day of the Dead.

Spirits of the Day of the Dead

When hearing the word “fairy”, one usually thinks of the nature spirits of the Celtic peoples.  But, faeries are found worldwide, including in the Mexican and Central American folklore.  The spirits of the Day of the Dead celebration, who appear as pudgy children, are called Jimaninos, pronounced  heem-awn-neen-yo’s, (the feminine version is Jimaninas) which means “little children” or Angelitos, the spirits of dead children.  By whichever name they are called, they are usually shy, except during the Day of the Dead celebration.  They accompany the living during the festivities including dancing, feasting and visiting the cemeteries.  These sprits are not forgotten, in fact, special care is taken; men make small altars of clay upon which special food and treats made by women and toys are placed.  It is thought that at the stroke of midnight that these children, who do not fully understand that they are in fact dead, come and take the essence of the offerings.  Perhaps, like the American Halloween, the treats are to keep away the tricks; these faeries are known to play pranks on the day of the Dead.

Treats, No Tricks

Women are very busy all day long preparing food that will be enjoyed come sunset by both the living and the dead.  The living, all dressed up and carrying colorful candles or lanterns, take the food and drink to the local graveyard where everyone feasts in revelry until midnight, when they all go to midnight mass in a more solemn mood.  A plate of food that was set aside for the spirits of the departed, filled with their favorite dishes, is taken back home and set out either at the head of the kitchen table or on the family altar which is the power point of the home as well as the door between the living and the dead.  This way, any spirits who show up in the middle of the night will feel welcome.  These offerings of food for the deceased are called ofrendas, which means “mortuary food”.  The altars are more elaborate than usual for hits celebration, they are decorated with marigolds and skulls made from either marzipan or bread.  At one time actual skulls of the ancestors were decorated, but the Church frowns upon having a real skull, so this ancient Celtic and South American practice has been replaced by “skeletal treats”.  These skeletons and skulls are everywhere and made from bread, chocolate, molded sugar and candy.  Come dawn the following day, this food will be physically eaten by the living, but most people will tell you that is has absolutely no taste because the flavor, which is the astral essence of the food, had be spiritually “eaten” by the dead who came to visit the previous night.

Images of Death: Skulls, Ghosts and Graveyards

Similar to the American Halloween, there are oodles of decorations for the Day of the Dead celebration.  Everywhere are calaveras, which is Spanish for “skull”, but refers to all sorts of curios and mementos with the “death” theme.  These can be purchased by vendors in the town square and are used to decorate homes and villages.

Many stores will be closed on the Day of the Dead so that everyone as a family unit can participate in the preparation; including weeding, raking and decorating graves as well as setting up the altar in the home just in time for the festivities that start at sunset.

Villagers dress in brilliant costumes, including skeletons, mummies, ghosts or ghouls.  They parade through the town holding calacas, handmade puppets, and also carry an open coffin with a living person dressed as corpse inside.

Some families will arrive the night of October 31st while others celebrate on November 1st or 2nd.  They bring with them picnic baskets filled with the feast, red candles, incense, tequila and musical instruments so they can play lively music to the dead until midnight.

Tex-Mex Celebrations

The name for the Day of the Dead is slightly different on the northern side of the border.  It is either called El Dia de los Difuntos (the Day of the Deceased) or El Dia de los Finados (the Day of the Finished and/or Departed).The focus on the celebration is on the importance of the of the separation of the separation of the living and the dead but reconnecting the two through memories.   Again, this is both a social gathering as well as a religious practice.  Unlike the Mexican Day of the Dead, feasting is not the central theme of this event.  Instead, the focus is on the graveyard maintenance and decoration of the cemetery, where friends and relatives gather and storytelling.

The Spell/Ritual

The purpose of this magickal working is for you to make a spiritual connection with someone that you love that has moved on from this realm to that of the Summerland.  This could be done privately or if you would rather in a group setting.

Supplies: red candle, bowl of saltwater or Holy Water, lighter/matches, white flowers, picture of the deceased, offering (ofrenda or plate of food, or some other type of offering that your loved one would enjoy) and incense (to bring the friendly spirits near, use Cinnamon, Lavender, Mastic, Musk, Pepperwort, Red Storax, Saffron and Wormwood; to attune your senses to the sprit realm, use Balm of Gilead, Sage and Sandalwood; to assist seeing the spirits, use Amaranth, Mastic, Sage and Yarrow and to bring in the Mexican/Azteca energies, use Bay, Copal, Frankincense, Lemongrass, Marigold, Rosemary, Sage and Yerba Santa).

Altar decorations: if you wish, you may add Monarch Butterflies, Calacas (puppets), toys and treats for the Jimaninos/Angelitos and play music in the background.

Space Clearing: If you wish, either create Sacred Space or cast a Magick Circle in the manner of your tradition.

Statement of purpose:  stand at your altar and say:

“On this night when the Veil is thin

I/We honor the ancestors, both friend and kin;

I/We call to them for visitation

During this Day of the Dead Celebration.”

Acknowledgement of the Elements:

Light the incense and walk the circle/area in a clockwise direction while saying:

“By the power of Air and Fire

I/We bring about our deep desire

To spend time with family and friends

Whose life in this world did end.”

Put the incense down and pick up the bowl of salt water.  Sprinkle it around the area while walking clockwise and saying:

“By the power of Water and Earth,

I/We honor the cycle of life, death and rebirth;

Tonight we come together once again,

Let our love now enter in.”

Place white flowers in vases in the center of the circle on the altar to honor Spirit and say:

“By North, South, East and West;

Living and dead, we are blessed.

Spirit, guide us on our journey,

Love is the bond, and the key.”

Light the candle and focus on the picture of the deceased.  With your loving thoughts, send an invitation to them across time and space to join you.  The light is their “lighthouse” to better find you, so say:

“A spark in the night lights the way

So you may find me on this day.”

Offering: if you have prepared a plate of food, place it upon the altar and say:

Tonight we feast as we did before,

I ask that you walk through the door;

Stay with me as long as you wish

As I’ve prepared your favorite dish.

At this point, you could share stories and memories, recreate your own version of the parade or go to the cemetery and do some housecleaning.

You can end at the traditional stroke of Midnight, or whenever you feel is correct.  In your own words, thank your loved one for spending time with you and say your farewells.  If you cast a Circle, close it in the manner of your tradition.

After the ritual:

  • Leave the offering out overnight.  Custom says for you to eat it the next day, or, you could place it outside for the animals.
  • If possible, let the candle burn out or at least until midnight.
  • If you had toys for the Jimaninos/Angelitos, you can donate them to a local shelter.

Sources:

  • Complete Book of Incense, Oils and Brews by Scott Cunningham
  • Entering the Summerland: Customs and Rituals of Transition into the Afterlife by Edain McCoy
  • Halloween by Silver RavenWolf
  • Rites of Passage: The Pagan Wheel of Life by Pauline Campanelli
  • A Witch’s Guide to Faery Folk by Edain McCoy
  • When the Drummers Were Women by Layne Redmond