symbol

Notes from the Apothecary

July, 2018

Notes from the Apothecary: Sunflower

 

Despite being used by many Pagans as a symbol of the Summer Solstice, the bright and bold sunflower actually flowers a little later, in the deep heart of summer, during July and August. When the lazy, hot days take over, before the light starts to wane, these great, golden faces nod towards their namesake, spreading sunshine wherever they grow.

Sunflowers range from small, cheeky bright yellow flowers to towering golden giants, yellow and black, resembling great, mutant bumblebees on stalks. There are darks ones, pale ones and even some that seem almost black or purple.

 

The Kitchen Garden

Sunflowers are pretty easy to grow, and the seeds are often given to kids to encourage them to enjoy gardening. Competitions to see who can grow the tallest sunflower are common, and watching the plants soar skywards in the warmer months is a prize in itself.

Although they are named for their resemblance to the sun, sunflowers do actually need a sunny spot to achieve their full potential, along with some well drained soil and good compost. Many sunflowers can be grown for their seeds, which are nutritious and tasty when toasted. The seeds are cultivated commercially for their oil, which is used for so many culinary purposes it would take the whole article to list them here! Sunflower oil is a healthier alternative to many fats, even some types of olive oil. It’s fairly neutral in flavour, which makes it widely popular as it can be used in a diverse range of cuisines. Across Eastern Europe, a crumbly version of the sweet halva is made from a sort of sunflower butter.

 

The Apothecary

Mrs Grieve tells us that the seeds of the sunflower have diuretic properties, meaning they help us pass water more frequently, which can be useful to flush out our kidneys if combined with drinking lots of water. It’s important to remember that when using any diuretic, some important minerals and vitamins can be lost, particularly potassium. Dandelion is a great way to remedy this.

The seeds have also been used as an expectorant, and this application helps with bronchial, larynx and pulmonary issues including whooping cough. Grieve recommends making a medicine with 6oz sugar and 6oz gin! After that much gin, I’m fairly certain that whatever the ailment, you will begin to feel somewhat better… or simply not care that you feel ill!

In other cultures, sunflowers were used to help with snakebites.

 

The Witch’s Kitchen

Klytie, the Okeanid nymph of Greek mythology, fell in love with either Helios or Apollo (Sol, the Sun), but was forsaken for her sister, Leukothoe. After watching the sun and pining for a time, she was transformed into a flower that followed the sun. Originally, this was the heliotrope, but in modern retellings, due to folklore that states that the sunflower follows the sun throughout the sky, Klytie has become the nymph who transformed into the sunflower. This makes the sunflower a little tragic, a symbol of unrequited love, and a reminder to let go of that which does not serve us.

Sunflower oil is one of the few foods that was historically permitted throughout lent, symbolising fasting, spiritual cleansing and self-discipline.

In a very literal sense, the sunflower represents the sun, and therefore fire, south, passion, love and creativity. Use the petals or whole flowers to decorate the southern aspect of your altar or sacred space. They make a useful offering or decoration at Lughnasadh or Lammas (1st August or thereabouts, depending on your tradition), as not only do they represent the sun at its height, but the harvest, food, wealth and well-being.

Cunningham tells us that sunflower seeds have been used by women who wish to conceive, and also as a protection charm against smallpox. Considering smallpox was eradicated many years ago, this use could be expanded to a general health charm, or a general protection charm, perhaps when combined with other magical elements. Cunningham also states that cutting a sunflower at sunset while making a wish, will cause the wish to come true before the next sunset, if the wish is not ‘too grand’. This is a touch vague, but reminds us to be down to earth, realistic, and that sometimes we need to make our own wishes come true!

 

Home and Hearth

If you wish to know the truth of a situation, meditate upon the image of a sunflower, or on an actual plant, either outside or in a pot in your house or sacred space. The sunflower represents an open face, total honesty; revealing all aspects of a situation. If you are able to, cut one of the flowers (with permission, never steal flowers and never cut wild-flowers) and when you go to bed that night, place the flower under your bed, all the while focusing on the situation you wish to know the truth of. Make sure that before you go to bed that night, you put a note pad and pen on your bedside table. You should dream of the situation, and the dream should tell you the truth of the situation. As soon as you awake, write down as many details of the dream as you can remember. If you do it immediately, you will remember more detail, so don’t delay!

Use the details in the dream to establish the truth of your situation. If it makes no sense even after this, it means the truth has been hidden for a reason, and you need to let it go.

 

I Never Knew…

Sunflowers have been used for thousands of years to make dyes for fabrics, in colours ranging from the expected orange and yellow, to brilliant blue!

 

Image credits: Sunflower (Helianthus L.) by Pudelek via Wikimedia Commons; Blütenstand (tellerförmiger Korb) einer Sonnenblume (Helianthus annuus) in Balve-Eisborn by Asio otus via Wikimedia Commons; Photograph showing a field of sun flowers and a sun spot by Thomas Quaritsch via 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 Ancestors and Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways.

 

 

 

 

 

The Holy Grail

May, 2018

What is the Grail to you?!

The Grail stands as a beacon of hope and wholeness in the midst of the Wasteland created by modern Western materialism.  The potency of this symbol beckoning us back to living in harmony with both ourselves and the land around us is a myth very much of our time.  It speaks directly to wholeness and connection and reminds us that to bring the Wasteland back to fertility and lush abundance we must return to the Source that nourishes it.

Our modern Society and education systems gives us few really useful tools to take with us on the great journey of Life.  We need knowledge and understandings that we can directly apply to the challenges and traumas we face, that enable us to emerge empowered and strong, not weak and victimised. The Lost Wisdom of the Grail telesummit brings together a wide variety of Wisdom Keepers who are working to help humanity overcome the challenges it currently faces and envision a future where all are valued and flourish.

– Saira Salmon, https://www.sairasalmon.com/

Recently I received an invitation to be one of the speakers on a Telesummit in May 2018, titled The Lost Wisdom of the Grail, (https://www.sairasalmon.com/grail/) hosted by Saira Salmon. She has organised this summit from a strong personal connection to the Grail teachings and Grail mythology.

Saira’s question to me was: “How and where does the concept of the Grail appear in your shamanic work and classes?” This was a very exciting question to engage with!  My immediate response was to request a dream on this subject from my spirit team.


The dream that came was about “the wounded masculine” – linking it to the hurian tale of The Fisher King. In the dream I had to make my way to this wounded male figure (first I could not even see if it was a toddler or grown man). When I got there I realized that he was my father/son/husband/male friends all in one. The dream was asking me to reflect on where I need to heal my inner masculine (born a woman) to arrive at a healthier relationship of masculine and feminine in our world. (The external world is always an expression of our internal world!)

Over the centuries many scholars and mystics have arrived at different definitions of what the Holy Grail is or was. For me personally the crucial question is: what is the Holy Grail to you?!


For me, first and last, the Grail is a CRUCIBLE – a sacred container of transformation and transmutation – the big question is: are we willing to make ourselves a crucible (sacred chalice or Holy Grail)?!

For much of 2016 and 2017 I was working intensely with a mysterious figure who called herself The Poison Mother.  She came to me in Sweden and became one of my key allies over time. I made an art video about our work together by the same name:

The Poison Mother


As our work unfolded she told me that was familiar with her under a different name:  Norse goddess Sigyn (wife of the trickster god Loki). Her big question to me (to all of us!) is: am I willing to make myself a crucible for transmutation in the world? This means rather than avoiding “toxic situations” actually choosing to be there and using myself as a chalice (or Holy Grail) to be an agent of change in service to our collective consciousness evolving.


In ancient Sumeria this sacred marriage (or Hieros Gamos) was the central idea at the heart of their religion.  I just finished an art video exploring this mystery today:

The Sacred Marriage in The Great Below


Another Grail in Norse cosmology is the cup that the Valkyrie holds out to the warrior in the moment of death. She is also known as the “The Maiden with the Mead” and she is a supernatural being (a goddess!) and Mistress of Initiation. (I invite you to check out the work of author Maria Kvilhaug (http://freya.theladyofthelabyrinth.com/?page_id=35) who wrote a PhD dissertation on this subject!) This cup is said to hold the mead and her offering accompanies a sacred marriage between the Maiden and the “Hero” of the tale. He faces fierce trials and a descent into the Realm of the Dead to earn this privilege.

It is my belief that profound mystery rites of initiation involving women and feminine power are found at the very heart of Norse cosmology (more commonly perceived as quite a male-god dominated tradition!) The same thing is true for many other cosmologies that map an Other World. The details might be culture-specific but the concept and mystery teachings are very similar.

My personal intention is to call together groups of powerful talented people and harness the group power to retrieve those ancient mysteries and initiations! – If that works speaks to you – please check out my 2-year Seiðmaðr & Seiðkona 2-year program in Sweden (starting Summer 2019):

http://www.shaman-healer-painter.co.uk/info2.cfm?info_id=224450


For the Celtic peoples this ritual was about the sacred marriage of the king to the goddess of the land (Sovereignty). Without this marriage the land becomes a barren waste land (and look at what we are doing to the Earth and her creatures – we need to revive this mystery teaching!
This is the core of the shamanic teaching I am doing – putting ancient mystery teachings back into practice in the modern world with modern groups of people working in spirit-led ways, using the process of direct revelation).

When we lose these wisdom traditions our inner world becomes barren. Our external world becomes a wasteland, dominated by conflict, pollution and a lack of respect for all sentient beings. This way of being in the world brings dis-ease and disharmony with the great Web of Life (or Web of Wyrd in Norse cosmology).

Another question Saira put to me was: what is the Grail in terms of spiritual work with young people? In this context for me The Holy Grail is the safe sacred space – container – for young people to develop their own spiritual toolkit in partnership with their spirit allies. In our culture we make sure that children are looked after in the physical/social/emotional realm but often we leave them rudderless when it comes to the spiritual dimension. I obviously wrote a whole book about this (Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit for Life) but to sum it up in just a few words… our children and young people need:

  • A viable spiritual toolkit to help them navigate the challenges life throws at them

  • Safe sacred space with kindred spirits – if their innate psychic /healing/shamanic abilities are to be nurtured

  • Rites of Passage offered by the Elders of our Communities – safe experiences of initiation and stepping through developmental portals in order to become fully-fledged adults who do not fear death.

Therefore The Grail is directly linked to a rich inner life, to sacred space held by elders and wisdom keepers, to a sacred marriage within ourselves but also between the archetypal figures of King and Sovereignty (Goddess of the Land)!


Are you willing to be a crucible for change and transmutation in our world?!

If this material speaks to you: please make sure to register for the Grail Summit and tune in. Expert speakers from all over the world will share their unique take on this material! And this summit is FREE!!

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About the Author:

Imelda Almqvist is an international teacher of shamanism and sacred art. Her book Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit For Life (Using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages) was published by Moon in 2016.  She is a presenter on the Shamanism Global Summit  2017 as well as on Year of Ceremony with Sounds True. She divides her time between the UK, Sweden and the US. Her second book SACRED ART, A Hollow Bone for Spirit : Where Meets Shamanism will be published in December 2018.

Click Image for Amazon Information

www.shaman-healer-painter.co.uk  (website)

https://imeldaalmqvist.wordpress.com/  (blog)

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=imelda+almqvist  

(Youtube channel: interviews, presentations and art videos)

Roll of a Mentor

August, 2009

Learning Braucherei

Traditionally, magickal systems would be learned from another person face to face.  As I have discussed before, information available from print and online sources have enabled the seeker to learn without a teacher, although it is of great help to have other Pagans for learning and discussion.  One tradition that still places emphasis on in person learning is variously known as Braucherie, Powwow, or Hexerie.

Braucherie originated among German immigrants to the US in Pennsylvania; erroneously called “Pennsylvania Dutch” because they referred to themselves as Deutsch (German).  The practice of magick was shunned by the Amish and Mennonites, who were among these immigrants, but considered it evil.  These immigrants brought with them a system of folk magick in the form of chants both spoken and written, actions performed with household objects such as ribbon, yarn, pins and eggs, a specially selected stone, use of herbs, and talismans.  They also brought a grimoire called The Sixth and Seventh of Moses, which contrary to claims of antiquity, was actually compiled  in Germany in 1849 by Johan Scheible.  This soon became secondary to another book of magick called The Long Lost Friend by John George Hohlman, first published in 1820, whose secondary title was The Powwower, a term often applied to this tradition.  Personally, I prefer not to use the term to avoid confusion with Native American traditions.

The primary focus of Braucherie has always been healing and this is one of the main reasons I was attracted to it as well as my mainly German ancestry.  I have used it quite a few times to stop minor bleeding (a common use)  as well as to help heal sprains, sore muscles and burns.  My first use of it in healing occurred when my dad burned his left hand improperly mixing fireworks chemicals.  I broke the rules by “trying”, as working magick is known in this system, for my dad without his permission, but I believe the Gods allowed it because of the close relationship.  Practitioners did not discourage their clients from conventional medical care and normally accepted only donations.  My dad went to the ER and followed up by seeing a dermatologist and applying a prescribed salve and I’m glad to say that his hand healed completely with no scars or loss of use.

Some other applications for this variety of folk magick were overcoming adversity, gaining luck, protection against negative magick, animals and natural disaster.  The most famous form of protection was the Himmelsbrief, literally meaning “Heaven’s letter”, elaborately worded and decorated documents, many of them never opened by the bearer, which implored protection against war, fire, flood, deadly disease and other disasters.  Their use almost certainly peaked during WW I when perhaps tens of thousands of soldiers and sailors carried one.

The most famous magickal symbol and the only aspect of Braucherie familiar to most people is the hex sign.  These round colorful designs were first seen painted directly on barns and later became popular as signs that were often displayed on or by front doors, sheds, garages and inside homes.  Some people say they are “chust for fancy”, meaning merely decorative, but many of them incorporate magickal meanings in symbols such as the distelfink (finch), tulip, heart, geometric patterns and color correspondences.  In German, the word Hex means magick without a negative connotation like in English.

A tragic chapter in the history of this tradition occurred in November 1928, when John Blymire and two accomplices murdered braucher Nelson Rehmeyer in his home in rural York County, Pennsylvania.  Blymire had become convinced that a personal run of bad luck was caused by a curse placed on him by Rehmeyer and it could only be broken by cutting off a lock of the braucher’s hair and burning his magickal book, but sadly, while attempting this, they killed him and unsuccessfully tried to burn down his house.  The subsequent trial, which was well publicized, dealt a serious blow to the practice of magick in Pennsylvania, causing many to see it as a dangerous superstition and those who kept it alive to practice quietly. (1)

As with many other systems of folk magick, Braucherie practitioners insisted that it did not conflict with them being Christian and resented being called witches.  Often, chants include references to Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and the Trinity as well as drawing equal armed crosses in the air.  Some practitioners also included Bible verses or used the book as a magickal tool.  While Christian practitioners have a monotheistic theology that recognizes God and Satan, Heathen practitioners call upon Germanic gods and goddesses, particularly Frau Holda, and draw upon Northern European myths and folklore.  Many of these prefer the term Hexerie, which comes from the German word for Witch, “Hexe”.  It is only been in recent years that it has been studied and practiced from a Pagan perspective, leading to Urglaawe which is the study of Germanic spirituality, myths and folklore by those who call them the first ways. (2)

Whether one desires to learn Braucherei as the primary focus of their spiritual path or as a useful art to add to their magical practice, one needs to address the question as to whether it must be learned in person or if self study is valid.  Like any other question, there is more than one viewpoint worth considering.  I am thankful to several members of the Yahoo group Hexenkunst for their input.

Like I said at the beginning, traditionally the only way to learn was in person, normally from someone of the opposite sex who was often a blood relative.  I heard from members who told me they were taught by relatives and one said he was the apprentice of Jesse of The Three Sisters, an educational foundation dedicated to the teaching and preservation of Pennsylvania Dutch folklore, spirituality and traditions.  He added that traditional practitioners took a dim view of learning only from books.  Jesse also wrote me explaining that it would be difficult to learn energy manipulation as well as the correct pronunciation of Deitsch (local German dialect) words used in chants without in person contact.  She added that her and her husband learned from older brauchers as well as gaining much information through interviews with them.  One Wiccan tradition, Black Forest, incorporates this magickal practice and its founder learned it the traditional way.

However, for many who desire to learn, in person training is not possible.  In recent decades, this magic has mainly been practiced by seniors, many of whom passed without finding an apprentice even among their relatives.  I heard from someone who wanted to learn, but the only brauchers in her family were great-grandmothers who were deceased.  Since this tradition is quite local, mainly south central Pennsylvania, living outside this area would require travel to learn in person or attend festivals.  I heard from a man calling himself Oracle from Bucks County Pennsylvania who explained that he learned from books because he felt quite drawn to this practice and German spirituality in general, but could not find a teacher, although he later found his brother, a former student of a hexenmeister who became his mentor.  He figured he must be doing something right as his magick had been successful, as mine has been.  My learning has also been through books and the only German I speak is what little I remember from high school, which I never use in magick and is High German anyway.

A good compromise would be an online course and one is offered by The Three Sisters, lasting a year and requiring minimal travel.  Personally I believe that in person learning is best, but there is nothing wrong with book learning or distance learning, in my opinion, if the student is sincere and has accurate information as well as the dedication to learn then apply it.  I believe that initiation comes from the Gods who teach and guide all who are willing and listen with their hearts.  Requiring lineage raises the inevitable question of who initiated the first magickal practitioner.  While I respect and agree with those who desire to keep this practice traditional in both its form and teaching, I feel it needs to respond to the needs of those who sincerely desire to follow it but do not fit the traditional mold.  As the Three Sisters Center says on its website, ” We believe that this living being of culture and tradition must be continuously nurtured and allowed to evolve, recognizing that otherwise it would stagnate and die.” (3)

(1) “History of Rehmeyer’s Hollow” http://rehmeyershallow.com/?TabId=57

(2) “Urglaawe” http://www.thortrains.com/utmo/Urglaawe.htm

(3) “Three Sisters Center” http://www.threesisterscenter.com/