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Notes from the Apothecary

October 1st, 2017

Notes from the Apothecary: Pumpkin

 

 

It’s that magical time of year again, where anything that can be fragranced or flavoured seems to take on the aroma of a combination of vanilla and pumpkin, with the emphasis on the sweetness of this gorgeous gourd. But why do we revere the pumpkin at this time of year? The answer comes from Irish Celtic history, and the seasonal nature of the fruit (yes, it’s a fruit!) itself.

 

The Kitchen Garden

Although the pumpkin, like other squashes, originated in North America, it can now be found all over the world. It’s classed as a ‘winter squash’ due to the fruits ripening around autumn and winter time. This is one of the main reasons it is so widely in use throughout Samhain and into the Thanksgiving and Christmas/Yule periods.

 

The fabulous thing about pumpkins is that so much of the plant is edible. You have probably eaten the flesh at some point, either in pies, soup or puddings. You may even have eaten pumpkin seeds, which are tasty roasted and salted or used in baked goods such as bread. But did you know you can even eat the flowers of pumpkins? The only downside to this is, if you eat a pumpkin flower, it cannot then be pollinated and grow into a pumpkin!

 

In Korea and some parts of Africa, even the leaves are eaten. In Zambia, they are boiled and mixed with groundnut paste.

 

Pumpkin is great in sweet or savoury food, and can be combined with other squashes easily. A touch of chilli adds a fiery zing, and other warming spices such as cinnamon transform a very earthy plant into a symbol of fire.

 

Growing pumpkins requires a good bit of space, and although you can start them off indoors, they really need moving outside onto a large pile of compost where they can spread out. We only grow our squashes on the allotment, as there simply isn’t room in the garden; not if we want to have space for anything else!

 

The Apothecary

Because the pumpkin was only discovered upon the exploration of North America, some of the older herbals don’t cover it in great depth. In Mrs Grieves’ Modern Herbal, she lumps the pumpkin in with watermelon, although she does clearly state that it is a very different plant. She says the pumpkin is sometimes known as the melon pumpkin, or ‘millions’; a term which has certainly gone out of fashion today.

 

She states that in combination with other seeds such as melon, cucumber and gourd (Grieves cites this as cucurbita maxima, a south American squash), an emulsion can be formed which is effective for catarrh, bowel problems and fever. She also tells us that melon and pumpkin seeds are good worm remedies, even for tapeworm.

 

For our furry friends, high-fibre pumpkin can be added to the diet of cats or dogs to aid digestion. It is also sometimes fed to poultry to keep up egg production during the colder months. Always speak to your vet before changing your pet’s or livestock’s diet.

 

The Witch’s Kitchen

 

 

Pumpkins appear throughout folklore and fairy tales, often in themes of transformation. Think of Cinderella, whisked off to her ball in a coach which only a few minutes before was a giant pumpkin. The pumpkin is a symbol of our hearts’ desires, travelling towards our goals and the transformation of dreams into reality.

 

We mustn’t forget that the coach turned back into the pumpkin at midnight! This reminds us to enjoy what we have while we have it, to grasp the opportunities in front of us as we never know when they might disappear.

 

A piece of pumpkin or pumpkin seeds on your altar represents autumn moving into winter, the final harvest and goals of self-sufficiency; whether literally through living off the land and growing your own food, or through honing your passion into a craft that can support you.

 

I will have pumpkin seeds at north in my sacred space, to remind me of all the ‘seeds’ I have planted this year which I hope will grow into greater things even through the cold months; ideas for songs and poems, research into my ‘magical birds’ book, and plans to save money in preparation for our new baby. These are my seeds, and I need to nurture them. Just like the pumpkin, they need care, attention and feeding! Pumpkins need compost, sunshine and water, whereas my ideas need hard work, time and commitment.

 

Home and Hearth

The archetypal ‘Jack O’ Lantern’ most likely comes from the Irish and Scottish Celts, who would have carved a face into a turnip or swede, placed a light within and used this as an amulet to ward off evil spirits, or possibly as a guiding light for ancestral or guardian spirits. When colonists came to America carrying these traditions with them, they found the larger and softer pumpkin; a much better vehicle for the carved totems! And so the pumpkin became the new guiding light of Samhain, All Hallow’s Eve and eventually, Hallowe’en.

 

It’s only the seeds that you need to remove from a pumpkin in order to leave a space for the light inside, and you can keep a few of these seeds to try and cultivate your own plants next year. If you are able to do this (and I appreciate not everyone has the space to grow a pumpkin plant- they are quite large!) this will create a cyclical connection between this year’s and next year’s magic, cementing continuity and your own connection to the turning season.

 

If this simply isn’t practical, keep a few of the seeds on your altar or in a sacred space, as a reminder of the different stages of life reflected in the changing seasons.

 

If you scrape some of the flesh out as well as the seeds, keep this and cook with it at Samhain. You are making the most of your pumpkin, using as much of it as you can to avoid waste, and you are connecting your magical lantern to your Samhain feasting.

 

The lantern can be placed in a window, or on a doorstep if it is safe to do so. If you use a naked flame such as a candle or tealight, please be aware of animals and children, especially during trick-or-treating! The last thing you want is some small child setting themselves on fire or spilling hot wax on themselves. A great alternative is one of those LED candles which you can now pick up very cheaply.

 

 

 

 

The lantern guards your space, keeping away unwanted visitors, and guiding your ancestral spirits to where they need to be, including back beyond the veil once the period of Samhain has passed.

 

I Never Knew…

The word ‘pumpkin’ originates from the Greek word pepon, which means ‘large melon’, which may explain how it sometimes ends up under the melon section in older herbals!

 

Image credits: Pumpkins Hancock Shaker Village, public domain; Photograph of a homegrown pumpkin species, “Atlantic Giant”, (cucurbita maxima), copyright Ude 2009 via Wikimedia; Nathan looking at Jack O’ Lantern display in Benalmadena, copyright 2016 Mabh Savage.

 

***

 

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.

 


 

Notes from the Apothecary: Hawthorn

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What would May be without May Blossom? The sweet yet pungent, delicate creamy petals that appear as if from nowhere; a pale messenger of summer’s imminent return. Since I was a little girl we have brought hawthorn flowers, or May Blossom, into the house at or around Beltane, of course always asking the trees permission, and thanking it for its gift. The smell would hover around our hearth for days, and the resulting bare branches once the blossom had died would be burnt on the next bonfire.

Hawthorn has more folklore surrounding it that any tree I know, and is particularly mentioned in Celtic and Faerie mythology. The Eildon tree; by which Thomas the Rhymer met the Queen of Elfland and thus vanished into the hollow hills, is supposed to have been a hawthorn, and indeed hawthorn trees are often found at the boundaries of things. They mark the edges of fields, the end of one person’s land and the beginning of the next, and they mark the edges of the world, where the veil is thin and we can step through and see beyond the mundane.

The Kitchen Garden

Hawthorn is readily available in most temperate climates, and need not be cultivated in a garden unless required as a hedgerow, which is its primary agricultural use. Cunningham tells us that once upon a time witches would have had hawthorn hedgerows. I find this a touch fanciful, but agree that a hawthorn hedge for a witch’s garden would be absolutely perfect.

The main part of the plant that is used for culinary purposes is the berry, or the haw. Don’t eat the haws whole and raw, as there are tiny fibres that can upset the digestive tract, and there is very high concentration of tannin which can also cause problems.

The berries can be cooked and used in a variety of ways though, including jelly, jam (in the UK jam and jelly are not the same thing!) and ketchup.

My friend makes an amazing apple, chilli and hawthorn jelly which is just delicious. The benefit of using the haws is they are packed with nutrients. For more ideas have a quick google, but I found plenty to be going on with here.

Apparently hawthorn wine is a thing, and will be investigated later in the year…

If you have any sort of heart condition, you must speak to your doctor before consuming hawthorn because…

The Apothecary

…hawthorn literally increases the amount of blood pumped out of the heart, widens blood vessels and increases nerve transmission. It can also lower blood pressure which, while usually a good thing, may be problematic for some.

Further research has indicated hawthorn may have positive impact on cholesterol, lowering the LDL which is commonly known as ‘bad cholesterol’.

Going back in time to 1931, Mrs Grieve wrote that ‘Both flowers and berries are astringent and useful in decoction to cure sore throats.’ She also concurred that the plant was a great ‘cardiac tonic’.

Hawthorn berries have also been used as a remedy for indigestion, diarrhoea, stomach cramps and even anxiety, although I imagine the anxiety relief may be a symptomatic relief i.e. if suffering palpitations or similar, the hawthorn would help regulate these.

Once more, please do not take without consulting a doctor.

The Lab

The sweet smell of may blossom is so sweet and sickly at times, it reminds you of rotting flesh. This is because the chemical trimethylamine is present in the petals, and this is one of the first chemicals found in decaying animal tissue. So if you feel that the hawthorn has associations with death and the underworld, there is an actual, scientific reason for this!

Hawthorn wood is extremely hard, and has many uses, including making parts for boats. In this way, it transcends earth, sea and sky.

Because of the dense nature of the wood, it burns at very high temperatures so is good for campfires on a cold night!

The Witch’s Kitchen

For me, hawthorn is the ultimate liminal plant. It is all about boundaries, edges, the moment before transformation, anticipation, pause, balance and reflection.

I love that hawthorn blossoms at Beltane, because for me, Beltane is the Celtic fire festival of the start of summer; the light part of the year. It is half a turn away from Samhain, and as such, just like at Samhain, the veil is thin and we walk side by side with our ancestors. The hawthorn tree reminds us of the liminal nature of Beltane; that we have one foot in winter and one in summer; one in this world and one in the next.

Hawthorn is useful when doing any work that demands a cross over into other realms. Dream work, work with the ancestors, divine meditation and path-working will all benefit from the boundary guarding attributes of this sacred tree. Any activity where your body needs to stay grounded whilst your mind, spirit or energy wanders; these are the activities where a hawthorn wand, hawthorn blossom or even the berries can be beneficial.

Hawthorn is associated with the roman goddess Cardea, who is the goddess of the hinge, literally that by which doors open. Cardea has two compatriot deities; Forculus, the deity of doors and Limentinus, the guardian of thresholds, whose name shares the same roots as the term ‘liminal’. These deities, and the tree itself, remind us that many actions may be required for one thing to happen. The door is nothing without the hinge, and cannot exist without the threshold. These gods were particularly involved in the marking out of boundaries and sacred spaces, so a hawthorn wand or staff is absolutely ideal for these purposes.

Hawthorn lives at the hub of all the elements. Like most trees, it is born of earth, watered, lit by sun and reaches for the sky. But because hawthorn is a boundary guardian, it has great power in all the elements. If I had to choose one element I would associate it most strongly with, it would be fire, due to the time of its blossoming. However, I would also suggest that different parts of the tree can be used for different elements: The red berries for fire, the white flowers for air, the leaves for water and the branches for earth. This is my own personal interpretation, and I encourage you to find how the tree works for you best, perhaps by spending time in the woods or by holding part of the tree while meditating.

The Celts used Hawthorn to determine whether a File (a bard or satirist) had spoken ill of a king or leader. The File would face the kingdom with a hawthorn tree at their back. They would hold a piece of the tree in one hand, and a stone in the other, and speak words from their poem or satire aloud. They would then place the wood and stone beneath the tree, and if their words were false, the ground would swallow the offerings.

As such, hawthorn is associated with the power of words, justice, clear judgement, honesty and natural magic of all kinds.

Home and Hearth

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If you celebrate Beltane, why not crown a May Queen with a wreath of the blossom? Use wire or similar to make a rough circle the right size, then weave blossoms into the frame, using thread or string if necessary to keep them in place. The crown won’t last long, but neither do the blossoms on the trees, and neither does summer. It reminds us that the world and the seasons are ever changing, and to grab opportunities when they arise, and not let them pass by.

In late summer, gather some of the berries and use them to represent south or fire on your altar or in your sacred space. Always leave plenty of berries on the tree though, as they are a vital food for birds, particularly song birds, including the pictured robin, and the blackbird, lon dubh, who is also a guardian at the gates to the Otherworld.

I Never Knew…

‘Thorn’ in a place name (e.g. Thornhill) refers to the hawthorn tree. As such, there are more English place names with this tree in than any other, and the hawthorn is the most frequently mentioned tree in Anglo-Saxon boundary charters.

Image credits: Top, CRATAEGUS MONOGYNA – AGUDA by Isidre Blanc via Wikimedia Commons. Bottom, Robin (Erithacus rubecula), Daventry Country Park by David Merrett via Wikimedia Commons.

Thank you for welcoming me back into the Pagan Pages family. It is good to be home.

Knowing if you are pagan is relatively simple, but choosing your path is a little more complex. There are hundreds of pagan paths that a practitioner can follow. Before you choose your path research them. Follow your heart when you make your final decision.

The title of this column is Blessed Be the Kitchen Witch. I am a kitchen witch but I am so also much more. I have brought many more practices into my craft, hearth witchery, cottage witchery, green witchery and garden witchery. I am an earth based witch and all of these practices are centered on the hearth and home so to me all fall into Kitchen Witchery. They are what make me the witch I choose to be. This column will have a little bit of all. It’s easy to be a Kitchen Witch if everything at your kitchen works perfectly. Last time I had some problems with plumbing, all I needed to do was to visit MarinesPlumbing.com and call this contractor. They are real magicians, I should say.

All of the spells, advice, and tips in this column are used with harm to none. Please follow the Wiccan Rede when doing any of the workings found here.

The following was found on the internet and I don’t know who the Author is.

The Kitchen Witch’s Creed

In this pot I stir the sun,

an’ follow the rule of harming none.

Banishment of bane when goin’ windershins;

an’ with water and salt negativity is cleansed.

Household duties are more than chores,

Magick abounds when mopping the floors.

With this broom, I do sweep,

To clean my house and safety keep.

Marigold, Basil, Thyme, and Yarrow,

My spell is cast for a better tomorrow.

Lemons for joy and apples for health,

The pow’r within brings great wealth.

And in this kitchen I do pray,

To truly walk the Witch’s Way.

The tools of a Kitchen Witch do not necessarily have to be bought. A simple wooden spoon can become a wand. A cup or bowl can become a chalice and vessel. Ordinary kitchen knives can be used for an athame and boline. The kitchen broom becomes a staff. The slow cooker or crock pot or a heavy duty cooking pot can be used as a cauldron. A simple coffee grinder takes place of the mortar and pestle. A Kitchen Witch’s magick comes from within, so be sure to use natural materials. Ie: glass, metal, wood, pottery, and ceramics, the broom should be made of straw.

A Kitchen Witch uses essential oils and incense to create balance. He or she turns everyday mundane life into magicak moments. They will take pride in the meals they prepare, and the recipes they create. There are many spells involving a broom and mop. They use these items to cleanse their home which is also their sacred space. He or She will also keep to the rule of harming none as not to jeopardize their magick. Their symbols involve household items such as a cauldron, broom, corn dolls, the triquetra, and a kitchen witch doll. Of course they will use any symbol that is comfortable for them.

A little lore using simple elements from the house.

The refrigerator is the appliance dedicated to air.

Fire dwells within the stove

Water rules over the kitchen sink

All the foods and herbs in the kitchen are ruled by the earth element.

It is thru the use of these basic everyday items from our kitchens that our magick is created.

Even more lore from a Kitchen Witch’s home

Be sure to wash all of your dishes every night is you work with fairy magick. Faries don’t like a dirty kitchen and they won’t let you sleep until you clean it!!

Hang wind chimes in doorways, in front of windows outside, or from a balcony rail to ward off negative energy and keep away intruders.

Sifters and strainers kept in the kitchen are good for protection and will keep the kitchen safe.

If you have a bunch of accidents in your kitchen it is time to magikcally cleanse it.

Sew herbs or magickal powders into the lining of your drapes. Place packets of herbs or magickal powders under your throw rugs. This helps protect and scent the home at the same time.

Herbs for alternate healing


NOTE: Before using any of these remedies please check with your doctor. Some may be bad for your health if you have an existing condition that will interact with the herbs.

Arthritis: Comfrey

Flu: cayenne pepper

Gout: comfrey.  Gout is also in the arthritis family

Headaches: rosemary

Insect Stings: Marigold

Nightmares: chamomile, rosemary

I will have more for you next month.

 

Natural Remedies

Cool whip will condition your hair in 15 min.

Dump Nestea into a bath for sunburn

Use meat tenderizer for bee stings

Puffy eyes? Preparation H….I know it sounds gross but it works…yes I have used it…lol

Use that old time favorite snack jell-o for stinky feet… I know.. now I am really grossing you out, but these really work.

Put Kool-Aid in plain yogurt and let your kids use it for finger paints. Your kids will love it and it won’t hurt them if they eat it.

Use Pam cooking spray for a sticking bike chain

Pam will also remove paint and grease from your hands

Peanut butter will take the ink off the face of dolls

Stay tuned for more

March brings us our Spring Equinox. It is also the sabbat of Ostara. Ostara is celebrated on this equinox. It is also known as Lady Day. Ostara is named after the Goddess Eostre. While modern day Wiccans equate Ostara with the spring equinox, the original Ostara was a lunar holiday celebrated on the 1st full moon following the equinox. The significance of Ostara is the beginning of spring and the renewal and rebirth of nature herself.

The full moon for March is called the Chaste Moon. March is the month when spring is upon us. With spring comes the rebirth of plants and animals. Now is the time for new beginnings, new projects, and planting your flowers and new herbs.

I live in an apartment complex so I don’t have flower beds (the BIG downfall of apartment buildings) I do however have a balcony. Since this is the 1st spring I have been here I am going to try my hand at balcony gardening. I will get planters for the railing and plant some of my favorite flowers and a herb garden. I can’t wait. This month’s gardening will be geared towards the apartment dwellers.

For those of you who have a sunny kitchen window (I don’t) the windowsill full of potted plants and herbs not only looks good, but they release magickal energies into the room. Plant some common herbs that are used in your kitchen. Of course plant some of the herbs you like so you can have their energies too.
This month’s craft

Doorway Protection for those living in an apartment

Items Needed:

1 purple candle   glue gun and glue sticks  wire cutters

¼ yard ½ “ lace, gathered and color of choice

2 yds ¼ “ satin ribbon in your color of choice

4 yds ½ “ satin ribbon in a contrasting color

10 small silk rose buds ( found at Hobby Lobby or Michaels)

Gather these items into your sacred space. Light the purple candle. Before making this protective charm, sit and clear your mind and think of how you want this charm to protect your home. When you are ready begin.

1. Take the broom and “very carefully” pass it thru the flame of the candle, the fire will help infuse your charm with your energy. Do this for each item.
2. With the ¼ “ ribbon tie a double bow and glue to the top of the handle. Cut the wire stems off 2 of the silk rosebuds. Glue these to the center of the bow.
3. Take the ½ “ ribbon and tie it into a triple bow. Glue this to the base of the handle. Cut the wire stems off 4 of the rosebuds. Glue them to the center of the bow.
4. Glue the gathered lace along the bottom edge of the bristles(about 1” from the bottom) Cut the stems off the remaining rosebuds and glue them evenly spaced across the lace.
5. Hold your finished broom in your hands as you visualize its intent.

The following incantation is recommended but now necessary. I know it doesn’t rhyme but I haven’t yet mastered that.

Wrapped in ribbon and lace

This broom is enchanted.

Cleansed in fire, now may my wish be granted.

Magic broom of mine protect from harm,

Ward off negativity

Blessed be.

Hang the broom bristles up over your door.

Allow the candle to burn for a bit then extinguish. Put the candle away and use the next time you work any protection for your apartment.

As I told everyone in June 06, I had a “kitchen witch doll” that hang in 7 different kitchen’s and had made it thru all the moves. Well I had to give her a decent send off as she didn’t make it thru my last move intact. Next month’s craft will be the making of a Kitchen Witch Doll.

In closing: Everyone has their own magickal or sacred place. Mine is my home. I feel the magick of my home as well as work my own magick. For some this is their magickal place too. Whatever your place, make it your own. Decorate it to your taste. For those who’s space is outside, enhance your place by adding nice chairs and pots of flowers that you feel drawn too. This place too can be made your very own. Whether inside or out, have fun making your space. Let it take on your personality as well as keeping its own.

Remember: Magick happens all around us.

See you next month

Notes from the Apothecary: Snowdrop

 

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Imbolc is upon us, and I am now seeking snowdrops with every step. Snowdrops symbolise the first stirrings of spring very strongly to me, ever since I placed a closed flower on my altar and within minutes of my ritual it had fully opened; a tiny, star like wonder. Although they grow all over Britain and the US now, they weren’t classed as a ‘wild’ plant until the 18th century, as they were only introduced from Southern Europe in the 16th century. They have some delightful alternative names: February fair maids, Eve’s star, white bells, dew drops and even death’s flower, presumably a reference to the fact that snowdrops are poisonous. As well as causing physical harm when eaten, there are some superstitions that snowdrops are very unlucky, particularly if taken inside the house. There are some English anecdotes of people dying suddenly after someone brought snowdrops in to decorate the home, however I have never suffered any ill effects from using them on my Imbolc altar.

The Kitchen Garden

Snow drops are not edible at all, but they are extremely beautiful. If you decide to grow snowdrops, you can usually get the bulbs via mail order, or your local plant nursery. Please don’t dig up bulbs from the woods or from grass verges. The Latin name is galanthus, which you may need if ordering online. One fantastic thing about snowdrops is that they are perfectly happy in shade, so they can be used to fill a space in your garden where other plants would miss the sun. Plant your bulbs in the early fall, in loose soil and a bit of compost. Don’t leave your bulbs too long before planting or they can dry out. Mark the space where you plant them, as when the flowers die down, the ground may look bare again and you may accidentally dig them up!

 

 

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The Apothecary

A fifteenth century glossary classes the snowdrop as an emmenagogue, something which promotes menstruation. There are also hints that it may have been used as a digestive aid, however the effects of the toxin in the plant are actually harmful to the digestive tract.

John Gerard, the 16th and 17th century botanist, claimed that the snowdrop had no medicinal value, but Mrs Grieves disagreed, citing the above information which pre-dates Gerard’s findings.

Currently, there is some research being undertaken into the properties of galantamine and how it can be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, and galantamine is found in snowdrops as well as some other spring bulbs.

The Witch’s Kitchen

The snowdrop is a clear indicator that spring is on the way, and as such, carries all the symbolism that this implies. You can use snowdrops to symbolise east, the sunrise, new beginnings, air, winters end, and as an offering to Brigid or Persephone. If using on altars, please keep out of the reach of children and animals as they are toxic.

As well as the physical associations with winter’s end, you can take a more metaphysical approach and use the snowdrop as a symbol of something coming to an end that you have been struggling with. Seeing snowdrops in a visualisation or meditation may mean that something in your life is about to change, or that a goal you thought was out of reach may be coming close; look out for opportunities and grasp them when they occur.

Snowdrops represent hope, light and determination. They are so small and delicate, yet they are the first living things to break through the hard, frozen ground. They are the epitome of hidden strength.

Home and Hearth

If you are troubled by the superstition that bringing snowdrops into the house is bad luck, try drawing or painting some to go in your sacred space instead. You don’t need to be Monet; a streak of green with pendulous white dripping from the tip will do. Experiment and find something that says ‘snowdrop’ to you, and makes you think of the little spears of hope reaching for the sun.

Use your image as a focus for meditation, visualise yourself walking among snowdrops, or finding a sudden patch of them whilst on a woodland ramble. Record how you feel, what else is around you; and sounds or smells that may pop up. Is there a familiar presence? Something you have felt when honouring a particular deity, or perhaps a sense of nostalgia that triggers a childhood memory?

Write down your findings, see how they fit in with your current life situation, and use this time to record your hopes for the coming year.

I Never Knew…

In Essex, as recently as the 1950s, snowdrops were known as Candlemas bells, further cementing the association with the start of February, and therefore with Imbolc.

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Mabh Savage is the author of Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft. She is also a freelance journalist, musician, poet and mother of one small boy and two small cats. Find out more at https://soundsoftime.wordpress.com

Notes from the Apothecary: Narcissi

 

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Most of us will be familiar with narcissi in the form of the daffodil; spring’s signpost. Those yellow heads, nodding towards the returning sun, have provided seasonal inspiration for centuries. Wordsworth, in 1802, was moved to write:

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

Which perfectly describes (as does the rest of the poem) the way in which daffodils are able to blanket an otherwise green or brown area, almost as if they are colouring in the season.

Narcissi is the plural of narcissus, the Latin name for these golden trumpets. The name may come from a Greek term for being intoxicated (hence the term narcotic) or may be linked to the Greek hunter of the same name, who fell in love with his own reflection and gave us the term narcissism. Pliny the Elder believed it was the former, and it is possible the Narcissus of Greek legend was named for the flower, and not the other way around.

The Kitchen Garden

One of the problems with bulbs is that they all tend to look pretty similar, and it’s not unheard of for people to go out looking for wild garlic, and come back with some bulbs that may look similar, but which could be narcissi, bluebells or snowdrops. The danger here, as you will learn below, is that most bulbs are quite nasty to the mammalian system, and can even cause death, so please, please don’t eat them unless you are 100% sure, and definitely don’t ever eat daffodils.

In the kitchen, a bunch of daffodils on the counter or kitchen table will brighten up the room, and bring a sense of welcome and peace to the area. As they age, their odour becomes stronger, and speaks of warm, spring days and the promise of summer to come.

Yellow represents happiness, a carefree aspect and vitality, so golden daffodils will bring those feelings into your home. White or orange daffodils will bring peace and kindness, respectively.

The Apothecary

It’s pretty key to understand that narcissi and many other spring bulbs are actually quite poisonous. Having said that, it’s very interesting to note that this aspect was actually used as a medicinal property in times gone by, and they were classed as a ‘purgative’; a chemical which makes one empty the bowels rapidly. Basically, by giving someone a very, very upset stomach, you were hoping that they would pass whatever else it was that ailed them at the same time.

Culpeper also noted that they could cause vomiting, and that this could be effective in soothing ‘tertian ague’; a kind of malaria which he advised occurred more in springtime, coinciding with the arrival of the helpful flowers.

The Witch’s Kitchen

Cunningham, in his popular Encyclopaedia of Magical Herbs (Llewellyn, 1985), tells us that the daffodil is a feminine plant, associated with the planet Venus and the element of water. Using this information, you could place the flowers or bulbs at the western point of your altar or sacred space, or you could incorporate them into astrological workings where Venus was prominent.

If one transmutes the planet Venus into the Goddess Venus, then we have a flower that is connected to love and fertility, which are both facets of this plant, again, according to Cunningham. One can expand further upon this and see an implied association with Aphrodite, which allows the encompassing of the Greek pantheon as well as the Roman. Daffodils could be used as altar decorations when worshipping either of these goddesses, or honouring their feast days. Venus was particularly honoured during April, and there should still be plenty of daffodils available during this time.

Adonia is a festival that celebrates Aphrodite and Adonis, and is celebrated on the first full moon after the Spring (Vernal) Equinox. In 2017 this will be April the 11th (in the Northern Hemisphere) as the Vernal Equinox falls around the 20th March, depending exactly where in the world you are. Daffodils would be ideal to add to the flowers for these festivals, although roses should also be present where possible.

Culpeper disagrees with Cunningham, and finds that yellow daffodils are ruled by Mars. This puts them firmly in the hot, fiery camp, and makes them useful for sanctifying the quarter of south, and honouring the sun. This makes sense, when you think of how firmly these flowers are part of our springtime; nodding the sun gently back into place after the cold, dark winter.

Personally, I like to place my daffodils at east on my altar, and in a central point in my kitchen. They speak to me of Brigid, in the same way that snowdrops do; new beginnings, hard work and courage. They speak of the rising sun, and the pale to golden yellow of spring mornings.

Home and Hearth

 

Apothecary2

 

As we move more firmly into spring, check out your local supermarket/grocery store for offers on bunches of daffodils. I don’t condone picking them from wild spaces, but they are widely cultivated and these flowers are ideal to take home to bring a bit of spring colour into your life.

If you grow them yourself, of course you can pick as many as you like, but I would recommend leaving some to flower and die in the spot they were planted, as they will please your local spirits and also the bees and other insects that are starting to return.

Have a look and see if you can find any of the more unusual plants. You can find two headed daffodils, white ones, orange ones, white petals with a golden trumpet and vice versa. If you are a practitioner of colour magic, you can utilise these different kinds of narcissi in many different ways due to the sheer diversity in shade.

I Never Knew…

Socrates called narcissi The Chaplet of the Infernal Gods due to the level of toxicity the plant produces.

Image credits: Narcissus calcicola, Olaf Leillinger, 2006, via Wikimedia and Narcissus tazetta var. chinensis, KENPEI, 2007, via Wikimedia.

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

Like many others my age, the first witch I saw on TV was Samantha on the show Bewitched. But there was real life witch in my area whom I saw on TV several times. Jeffrey B. Cather RN, better known as Lady Circe of Toledo, OH, was respected by the media when they turned to her as the unofficial representative of the Pagan community. She was well spoken, knowledgeable and had an air of leadership about her. When I saw her on TV in the 70s and 80s, I was not yet studying the old ways, but it was in the back of my mind and the knowledge that such people existed kept the spark of my interest alive. When she passed away in 2004, I read she was a WW II veteran and since this was before the VA decision to add the pentacle as a symbol of belief, I’ve wondered if her headstone was ever changed.

Shortly after I was hired by the Postal Service in 1994, I saw a documentary called “Witches, Werewolves and Vampires.” It was more on the lighter side, but I was intrigued by what the Witches were saying about a magical nature centered religion which included a goddess. This was the moment I decided to see if what the Witches were saying was true and if this was something for me. Its funny how the words and attitudes of someone we never meet and who have no idea we exist can change our lives, so perhaps our words and attitudes can in turn affect people we will never meet and may not even know they exist.

I looked in the library in Port Clinton, OH where I was working at the time and found a book, the name of which I have long ago forgotten. It claimed to be about witchcraft, but with instructions to self initiate that included saying the Lord’s Prayer backwards three times at midnight and making a wand stuffed with a blood soaked cotton ball, it sounded weird even in my naiveté. Fortunately it disappeared never to return before I could check it out. Perhaps someone was keeping me from starting out with misinformation.

Eventually I found a few useful accurate books at the library and bought some at a bookstore in another town. But I yearned for contact with a like minded person, someone I could learn from, ask questions, and gain understanding. There was a woman on my mail route I wanted to talk with as she received metaphysical catalogs, had a stained glass pentacle on her door, stickers on her truck reading “witches heal” and “born again pagan” and had a banner in her window wishing “Blessed Samhain.” One day she was sweeping her sidewalk, so I stuck up a conversation, complimenting her on her Halloween decorations. She replied that it was important to her as she was a Witch. I replied that I was a newbie Wiccan and she offered to be of help.

I learned so much from Soraya. She explained the difference between Witch and Wiccan and elaborated on her path of Hedgewitchery. She was the first other Pagan I had met in person, so being a newbie, I tended at first to hang on her every word, something she discouraged. Instead, she encouraged me to listen to different views, try different things and see what worked for me. There was an author whom I idolized at the time, but my mentor had a rather negative opinion of her. I was able to step back and be objective about that author as well as any other. We were comfortable disagreeing agreeably and I never felt pressure to agree with or imitate her. I was a fan of the TV show Charmed and she thought it was stupid. She thought the movie The Craft insulted our religion but I could watch it over and over although I understood how those not familiar with our ways could get the wrong idea. Practical Magic was a movie we both enjoyed.

Soraya encouraged me to interact with other Pagans. She started a local meet and greet called Pagans in the Pub and invited me to come. I was too reluctant to do so and unfortunately after two meetings, it stopped due to lack of interest. She was a member of a Cleveland, OH based group and drove to their monthly meetings. We talked about me riding with her sometime but again I was reluctant. Considering the problems I have now finding the time to participate in Pagan groups, I wish I would have went.

I did manage to find other Pagans online and she pointed the way. She recommended the Witch’s Voice and a few other quality sites as well as setting up her own Pagan message board, Soraya’s Witch’s Tavern. I was one of the first members at her invitation and as I sat at the library internet computer pondering a user name, it came to me, Postalpagan, a name I still use 12 years later. It amused me when she said that some of the other members asked her if it was a reference to the term “going postal”, and she replied that I was her mail carrier. When someone asked her how she changed her hair color like one of the girls in The Craft did, she replied that she started by going to the drug store and buying a box of hair color. One Imbolic morning I knocked on her door because I had been feeling like I had way too much coffee since an early morning ritual. She went through a checklist of the steps of ritual and when she got to grounding and centering at the end, I realized my omission. Once I followed her advice to perform the missing step, I felt myself calm down. One thing she would not do was let me join her in ritual as she said she was strictly a solitary.

Her proudest moment during the time I knew her was the front page story on her in the local newspaper. She had called them about ten days earlier to point out the error in a Halloween article that claimed the Celtic god of the dead was Sam Hain and Samhain was named after him. After she replied yes to a newspaper staffer’s question if she was Pagan, she agreed to an interview at home. The article with a photo of her on her porch swing was published October 23, 1999 in the Port Clinton News Herald. It was spot on both in regards to her personally and our religion. Only one of my coworkers at the Post Office criticized her as eccentric and I defended her even though I was still in the broom closet. In spite of her fears, she did not receive any threatening phone calls or hate mail. I walked into the newspaper office to praise both the article and their willingness to be open minded. Sadly, I found out a few years later from another newspaper staffer, who was Pagan, that they received so many complaints that the editor decided that they would never run another piece on anything Pagan.

A little over two years later, I transferred to Clyde, OH and said goodbye to Soraya thanking her for her help which had meant so much. She encouraged me to keep learning and practicing as well as remaining active at the Tavern. But she soon closed the message board and I heard she moved to North Carolina. I saw her on the membership listing of Witchvox under that state for a while, then she disappeared and repeated web searches have found nothing. If perchance she is reading this, I would like to give her a big thank you for being my mentor and my dream is that someday I could be as helpful to a new Witch somewhere.

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  1. […] an herb or plant that has particular links to the season. Last year I explored the magic of the pumpkin, an obvious choice for the Halloween season. This year I wanted to dive deeper into folklore and […]

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