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Tarot Talk

March, 2019

The
King of Pentacles

(The
King of Pentacles
card is from the
artist Ciro Marchetti http://www.ciromarchetti.com/)**

We
have one more King to talk about, the King of Pentacles. Let’s get
busy!

As
a reminder, the 78 cards of a Tarot deck consist of 22 Major Arcana
cards (dealing with broader and more far-reaching life experience
issues, and archetypes that are easy for us to identify with and
connect with at some point in our lives) and 56 Minor Arcana cards
(customarily grouped into four categories or suits that represent the
four elements and dealing with day-to-day issues).

The
Court Cards are a part of the Minor Arcana, acting as a
representation of the family unit (“families” of all kinds) and
individually representing particular personality traits of people,
places and events in our lives. These cards can also tell us about
our own personality and how it is perceived by others. Thinking of
Tarot cards as people, with each card having an individual
personality, is particularly appropriate for the Court Cards, as they
are the most human of all the cards in a Tarot deck. Even the
illustrations for the Court Cards show humans in the majority of
Tarot decks.

Instead
of numbers, Court Cards have rank. The lowest ranking Court Card is
usually called the Page, the messenger or intern or apprentice who is
still learning of life and living, but who is also good at dealing
with the unexpected. Next comes the Knight, the representation of
strong, focused and even excessive manifestations of his suit.

Both
the Queen and the King represent mature adults. The Queen manifests
her suit in a feminine or yin or inner way, and the King manifests
his suit in a masculine or yang or outer way. This manifestation does
not necessarily correspond to gender; a man can be represented by a
Tarot Queen if he has a strong inner focus, and a woman can be
represented by a Tarot King if she projects a strong sense of
authority. Some decks change the names around, but the meanings in
the hierarchy of the Tarot Court are pretty standard. Since we are
talking about the King of Pentacles today, we already know that our
King will manifest his suit in an outer yet mature manner. Our King
is concerned with results; he exhibits outer, public expertise in his
field, and he is an authority figure. In many ways, the Kings of the
Tarot Court can be seen as four facets of The Emperor of the Major
Arcana.

Our
King’s suit this month is Pentacles. The suit of Pentacles (or
Coins, Stones or Disks) corresponds with the element of Earth, and of
the physical body, physical manifestation, and wealth. Many Tarot
decks use images of pentagrams or coins or disks on their Minor
Arcana Pentacles cards as well as trees, flowers and green, verdant
growth, all of which will make it easy to connect with the symbolism
of this suit. A nice place to begin is with the element of Earth
itself.

In its natural state, Earth is cool and dry, and it binds or shapes the other elements. Earth is of the physical or physically formed or manifested world, and of nurturing, health, finances and security, and the wisdom associated with living simply and being well-grounded. Earth is the element of form and substance; it is connected to material world security (and even wealth), and to our physical bodies and physical senses, and the pleasures and pains they bring. Earth represents the nurturing and serene side of Nature, and it represents the tangible end result of our labors. Earth is about security and stillness, and knowing what to expect; it is about strength, discipline, and physical manifestation of all kinds, and about enjoying the fruits of our labors. Earthy energies are fertile, practical, and slow to change.

You
can see how easy it is to connect the element of Earth to our daily
lives, our physical bodies, our careers and our finances, our
families, and the natural world around us. These things are all the
main correspondences of the element of Earth, the suit of Pentacles,
and of course, are connected to the realm of our King of Pentacles.

In
the Tarot Court, the suit of the card has an elemental correspondence
(in this case, the element of Earth), and the rank of the card has an
elemental correspondence. Pages correspond with Earth, Knights
correspond with either Air or Fire (depending on the deck), Queens
correspond with Water, and Kings correspond with either Air or Fire
(depending on the deck). Since we are talking about a King today, we
are also talking about the element of Air, or the element of Fire,
depending on the deck. For our purposes today, we will see the King
of Pentacles as Air of Earth.

The
element of Air corresponds with truth, clarity, and our capacity to
analyze or apply logic. It is hot and wet, and separates and adapts.
Air also represents the intelligence that clears away the fog of
ignorance so we can clearly see and understand, and it supports
communications and sounds of all kinds. Air allows both expression
(out from within us) and hearing (in from outside of us) to happen.
If you see the rank of King as representing the element of Air, this
information applies to the Kings of your deck, including the King of
Pentacles. Elementally, the King of Pentacles would represent
resolute force, where intellect overrides the senses, and since Air
and Earth are unfriendly (they share no qualities), they weaken each
other.

Like
the other cards of the Tarot, Court Cards have astrological
correspondences. Our King of Wands corresponds with the cusp or
joining point of the signs of Aries and Taurus.

Aries
is a cardinal Fire sign that acts as a catalyst, a person that
inspires others by being totally committed to his or her own vision.
Aries is the first sign of the zodiac, the leader of the pack, first
in line to get things going. Those born under this sign prefer to
initiate, and they won’t shy away from anything new. Aries people
are action oriented, assertive, and competitive. Aries is ruled by
Mars, the god of war and passion, bold and aggressive, and able to
tap into the focus needed to take on any challenge. The symbol of
Aries is the Ram, blunt and to the point, and a sheer force of
nature. The great strength of those born under this sign is found in
their initiative, courage and determination.

Taurus,
the second sign of the zodiac, is all about reward. Physical
pleasures, material goods, and soothing surroundings are all
important to a Taurus. The good life in all its guises is heaven on
Earth to those born under this sign. Taurus is a fixed sign, and it
represents steady persistence sometimes seen as stubbornness. Taurus
is symbolized by the Bull, and Bulls are among the most practical and
reliable members of the zodiac, happy to plod along slowly but surely
toward a goal. Taurus is ruled by Venus, the Goddess of Love, Beauty
and Pleasure, which is why harmony and beauty are a huge part of this
sign’s personality. Taurus is a true-blue, loyal sign as well, and
slow to anger; like the element of Earth, Taurus is about strength of
body as well as strength of heart.

The
energies of Aries and Taurus together tend to mesh nicely because
what one sign is lacking, the other sign supplies. Aries keeps our
King from being boring, and Taurus keeps him from being too
independent. Aries is ruled by Mars and passion, and Taurus is ruled
by Venus and sensuality and love. Aries will push for growth,
progress and new developments, and Taurus will keep to the budget,
make sure the resources are in place, and keep everyone safe. While
there is always the danger of conflict within this King, he also has
the ability to lead and inspire all of his subjects, no matter who
they are.

Because
they are Minor Arcana cards, Court Cards also correspond with a
sephira on the Tree of Life. The Kings correspond with the sephira of
Chokmah, along with all of the Twos of the Minor Arcana and the
element of Fire. The Kings sit at the top of the Pillar of Force in
the sephira of Chokmah, representing the Sacred Masculine and the
Catalyst of Life. Chokmah is seen as dynamic thrust, the Ultimate
Positive, the Great Stimulator and the Great Fertilizer (one of the
symbols of Chokmah is the penis), and thus is connected to the Wheel
of the Year. The energies of this sephira represent dynamic male
energy and are the origin of vital force and polarity.

The
Shadowscapes Tarot King of Pentacles is shown as a strong tree laden
with ripe and juicy fruit. His roots grasp the earth with strength
as they reach and absorb the resources of the soil, allowing a
powerful trunk and wide-spreading branches to reach for the stars.
He holds a seed in the palm of one hand, and around the base of the
trunk a beautiful dragon is coiled, guarding all. This King is an
enterprising individual who has the Midas touch; he turns everything
he touches into brilliant success. His branches shield those around
him, his trunk offers sturdy support to lean upon, and his fruits are
shared with everyone. From the seed, new sprouts will grow,
spreading the wealth.

The
Tarot of Bones King of Pentacles is represented by a bison skull.
The bison was the ultimate provider for the natives living on the
American plains; from the bison they received meat for food, hides
for clothes, and bones and horns for art and tools. Non-humans
benefited from the bison as well, from wolves and other predators to
vultures and other scavengers, to insects and bacteria. The grazing
of the bison helped to keep the grasses in check, lessening the
impacts of wildfires, and their hooves churned and aerated the soil
and buried seeds, ensuring the continuation of the grasses in the
next season. This card reminds us to examine our resources and
prosperity, and to remember those upon whom we rely for sustenance
and well-being. It also reminds us that at times we must be the
backbone, and offer our own skills and resources to assist others.

The
Thoth Tarot Knight (King) of Disks stands next to his grazing horse,
gazing at the surrounding hills and fertile fields lit by the
afternoon sun. He seems to be contemplating a harvest rather than a
battle; he tends to keep his nose to the grindstone without indulging
in intellectual musings. He tells of being materially focused,
clever and patient regarding those material matters but can also be a
bit dull.

The
image on the Wild Unknown Tarot Father of Pentacles shows a Stag’s
head, regal and in his prime. The feeling evoked while looking at
the image on the Father of Pentacles is one of respect, honor, the
ability to protect, and prime masculine creativity. The Stag gets to
reach this stage of life because he is able to defeat all that
challenge him; he is in a sense the fittest of his species that has
survived to breed. This card is about having a mighty presence in
the physical world; it is about not only the thrill of competition,
but it is also about turning a win into both honor and status, and
the continuance of a fertile lineage, to the benefit of all.

The
Legacy of the Divine King of Coins stands on a richly appointed
balcony decorated with golden leafy vines, clothed in green and gold
robes and holding a large golden coin. He does not wear a crown,
showing his connection to the common man and indicating his purpose:
regulating the energies of heaven and earth and balancing the forces
of nature. He oversees growth, wealth and resources, and manages
them for the benefit of all.

The
King of Pentacles is the embodiment of his element. He is realistic,
dependable, values possessions and tangible things, and is a good
provider. He prefers steady progress and is loyal and honorable.
This King attracts opportunities and knows how to take advantage of
them. He is good at managing others because he inspires them to
succeed. He is a philanthropist who gives generously of his time and
attention because he knows that the more he gives, the more he
receives in return. Others rely on the King of Pentacles because he
is always there for them and he never fails to support them.

When
the King of Pentacles shows up, you can be confident that you have
the ability to recognize opportunities and the skill to take
advantage of them. He tells you that now is the time to manifest
your vision of success and translate your ideas into reality!

**
We Feature the art of Ciro
Marchetti 
as part of Tarot Talk. You can view his work and
Decks at http://www.ciromarchetti.com/.

The Gilded Tarot (Book and Tarot Deck Set) on Amazon

***

About
the Author:

Raushanna is a lifetime resident of New Jersey. As well as a professional Tarot Reader and Teacher, she is a practicing Wiccan (Third Degree, Sacred Mists Coven), a Usui Reiki Master/Teacher, a certified Vedic Thai-Yoga Massage Bodyworker, a 500-hr RYT Yoga Teacher specializing in chair assisted Yoga for movement disorders, and a Middle Eastern dance performer, choreographer and teacher.  Raushanna bought her first Tarot deck in 2005, and was instantly captivated by the images on the cards and the vast, deep and textured messages to be gleaned from their symbols. She loves reading about, writing about, and talking about the Tarot, and anything occult, mystical, or spiritual, as well as anything connected to the human subtle body. She has published a book, “The Emerald Tablet: My 24-Day Journal to Understanding,” and is currently working on a book about the Tarot, pathworking and the Tree of Life. Raushanna documents her experiences and her daily card throws in her blog, DancingSparkles.blogspot.com, which has been in existence since 2009. She and her husband, her son and step son, and her numerous friends and large extended family can often be found on the beaches, bike paths and hiking trails of the Cape May, NJ area.

The Emerald Tablet: My 24-Day Journal to Understanding on Amazon

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.

***

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

Notes from the Apothecary

January, 2019

Notes
from the Apothecary: Star Anise

Star
anise is a beautiful, fragrant spice from China and Vietnam often
used in cooking and medicine. The Latin name is illicium verum.
The fruits are green and resemble star-shaped flowers when first
picked. When they are dried, the fruits harden and turn a dark,
reddish brown and the star shape becomes more prominent. The ‘arms’
of the star pop open to revel smooth, shiny brown seeds.

The
whole fruit is used as a seasoning for many different types of
cuisine, most notably in the Chinese five spice mix which is widely
used in Oriental cooking. The star shape makes this fruit immediately
intriguing as a magical ingredient. The powerful, aniseed-like scent
speaks of mystery and wonder, whether it’s rising from a specially
seasoned morning coffee or some carefully crafted incense. Read on
for more information on how star anise is used in medicine and magic.

The Apothecary

The
first point in using star anise as a medicine is to ensure it is
never confused with Japanese star anise. Japanese star anise, or
illicium anisatum, is also known as the Sacred Tree and is
highly revered by Buddhists. The leaves are used as incense, but the
fruits and seeds are highly toxic. Unfortunately, it’s almost
impossible to tell the difference between dried Japanese and Chinese
star anise fruit. Because of this, it’s important to purchase your
star anise from a reputable and experienced supplier. Alternatively,
if you’re able to grow your own, this is the safest way forward. If
in doubt, do not consume, as the toxic substance anisatin causes
severe inflammation of the urinary and digestive tracts. Chinese star
anise is the only edible variety and the only variety that should be
used for medicinal purposes.

Now
that the dire warnings are out of the way, the good news is that
Chinese star anise is incredibly medicinally important. It’s one of
the primary source of shikimic acid which is used in anti-influenza
drugs. There are many sources of shikimic acid, but star anise is so
relied upon that when there is a serious flu outbreak, global
shortages of the spice tend to occur.

Web
MD states that star anise is also used for a range of ailments
including colic and other digestive issues, coughs, bronchitis and
congestion. It may be useful as a galactagogue; a substance that
promotes the flow of breast milk. However, it should be avoided
during pregnancy as can affect the uterus.

Mrs
Grieve states in her Modern Herbal that the oil from Chinese star
anise is identical to oil of anise, from the unrelated anise plant.
This is why the two plants have such a similar taste. Many animals
are highly attracted to anise oil. Hunt saboteurs have been known to
use it to throw hounds off the trail of a pursued fox or hare, and it
has historically been used in mouse traps as bait.

The Witch’s Kitchen

In
The Green Wiccan Herbal by Silja, star anise is one of the 52
herbs she focuses on as important tools of magic. The author states
that star anise is an herb of the element of air. This means it would
make a beautiful addition to the eastern point of an altar or sacred
space, and an ideal ingredient for any incense.

Star
anise is associated with the planet Jupiter, associated with
expansion and luck (Practical Planetary Magick, David Rankine and
Sorita d’Este)
. Jupiter has historically been known as
beneficent and positive, meaning plants associated with it, such as
star anise, can be used for magic with a positive leaning. Jupiter is
also associated with law and ethics, meaning it can be connected to
justice and doing the right thing. Use star anise to gain success in
business ventures or new projects.

Star anise is also linked to Apollo and Hermes, making it a tool of poetry, music, traveling and communication. Music and poetry can, of course, be tools for communication, which makes me wonder if this is one of star anise’s strongest traits. Perhaps a witch could use star anise to find different ways to deliver a difficult message, or to open up about something they’re having a hard time expressing.

Silja
links this plant to magic for consecration and purification, which
can be done via incense or scattering the seeds. The author also
states the spice can be used for breaking curses and removing
negativity, particularly when used in food.

Home and Hearth

Press
a whole star anise into a green or gold candle. Use a blob of melted
wax to stick it there, or ensure the candle is soft before you do
this. Any time you need to do something regarding prosperity or
wealth, light the candle and meditate on the flame for a moment. This
could be a visit to the bank, a job interview, a business meeting or
even a yard sale. The star anise combined with the coloured candle
magic will boost your chances at success and prosperity. (Paraphrased
from The Green Wiccan Herbal by Silja.)

Kitchen
witches should add star anise into their recipes for a boost of
humour and joviality in their lives. Indian cookery is great for
this. My favourite is a biryani; a fragrant rice dish with whole star
anise.

I
Never Knew…

The
Latin name for Chinese star anise, illicium verum, originates
from illicio which means ‘alluring’. This refers to the
irresistible scent of the fruit.

Image
credits: guangxi – star anise farm in china 2005 by fuzheado via
Wikimedia
Commons
, licensed under the Creative
Commons
Attribution-Share
Alike 2.0 Generic license
.

***

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
.

A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors on Amazon

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

Notes from the Apothecary

November, 2018

Notes from the Apothecary: Fenugreek

Hailing from Western Asia, Fenugreek is an odd tasting herb with some interesting history. Seeds have been found in archaeological digs dating back to 4000 BC and were even found in the tomb of Tutankhamun. Called Greek Hay, Bird’s Foot and Sickly Fruit, the herb is considered to be a bit of a panacea, being a tonic for everything from abscesses to kidney problems.

 

The Kitchen Garden

Fenugreek is an annual herb which means it grows, flowers and seeds all in the same year and does not return the following season. The plants can grow to two feet tall and has little white or yellow flowers. It’s a pretty but unassuming addition to any herb garden

You will find Fenugreek in Indian shops under the name Methi in either seed or leaf form. It’s widely used in cooking, particularly in Eastern dishes. By itself it has a bitter taste, particularly the seeds, but within a dish it adds levels of depth which can’t readily be described. The seeds are high in protein, calcium, fiber, iron and various other essential minerals so make a great addition to your diet. It is possible that if you have a nut allergy, you may also be allergic to fenugreek so approach with caution if that is the case.

The greens are highly nutritious and can be eaten fresh or used dried as an herb. The seeds can be sprouted in a little water and the sprouts are tasty and very good for you.

 

The Apothecary

One of the most common uses of fenugreek is as a galactagogue. This sci-fi sounding word means an herb that promotes and boosts breast milk production. When my own milk supply was depleting due to my youngest weaning, I took a couple of teaspoons of fenugreek seeds every day and it seemed to help. It’s most palatable to make a tea out of them, which you can sweeten or add other herbs into in order to make it taste a little better. I ate the seeds straight down and they are bitter!

Other modern-day uses for fenugreek include relief for digestive issues, increasing libido and even fighting baldness.

Recent research has shown that fenugreek may be useful in sufferers of diabetes, but this research is ongoing. It may also be useful for relieving menstrual cramps and the symptoms of menopause.

 

The Witch’s Kitchen

Cunningham tells us fenugreek is a masculine herb, but look at all the medical uses that relate specifically to women’s issues such as breastfeeding and the menopause. If the plant is indeed masculine, then it’s a great example of how men and women need to help each other out, rather than bemoaning our differences. This male plant is definitely a feminist!

The plant is associated with Mercury which links it to communication, and also wealth and commerce. Fenugreek is therefore useful when crafting spells to do with business, jobs and joint ventures.

In Judaism, fenugreek is eaten during Rosh Hashana and is associated with increase. This is more about increasing our own talents and skills rather than the increase of wealth, but they can be closely linked depending on how you look at it.

Fenugreek is known as a ‘lucky legume’, as it is a member of the bean family and provides protection and attracts luck.

 

Home and Hearth

Scatter fenugreek seeds around the threshold to your home to ensure any who enter can only speak the truth.

Carry a pouch of fenugreek seeds in your pocket when attending an interview or important meeting to ensure you speak your mind. Just be sure you have nothing to hide, as you may be compelled to be honest about things you didn’t want to reveal!

Steep Fenugreek seeds in boiling water then add this water to whatever you use to clean your house with. This will attract material wealth into your home.

Combine fenugreek with alfalfa to craft oil or powder which will attract money. Just be on the look out for mischief, as Mercury is known to play pranks and cause messages to be mixed or muddled.

 

I Never Knew…

In ancient Egypt, a paste made of fenugreek seeds was used in the embalming process of dead bodies.

 

Image credit: Fenugreek from the Vienna Dioscurides, public domain; Freshly Sprouted Qasuri Methi by Miansari66; Junge Pflanzen des Bockshornklees by Yak

***

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.

A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors on Amazon

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

Notes from the Apothecary

September, 2018

Notes from the Apothecary: Calendula

Calendula or marigold? Last month we explored the magic and mystical beauty of the true marigold and I mentioned in that article that marigolds are often confused with calendula. Botanically they are actually very different. Calendula are often called pot marigolds or common marigolds, but true marigolds are in the genus tagetes although both tagetes and calendula are in the Asteraceae family, along with sunflowers. Tagetes are native to North America, whereas calendula came to America from the Mediterranean. They have beautiful orange or yellow blooms, with an extremely long flowering season.

The Kitchen Garden

From Mrs Grieve’s Modern Herbal:

It was well known to the old herbalists as a garden-flower and for use in cookery and medicine. Dodoens-Lyte (A Niewe Herball, 1578) says:

‘It hath pleasant, bright and shining yellow flowers, the which do close at the setting downe of the sunne, and do spread and open againe at the sunne rising.’

She refers to calendula as the common marigold, and notes that it is easy to grow as long as the position is slightly sunny and the ground kept free of weeds. Calendula self-seed, and can spread quite easily although they are annuals so the new foliage replaces last year’s plants, rather than joining them. The seeds are curly little horns, perfectly beautiful and very decorative in their own way.

Calendula petals can be used as a substitute for saffron, but only for the yellow colour they impart, not the taste. The flowers make a tasty and beautiful garnish for salads and other foods, and can be mixed into butters and cheeses for colour and flavour. Even the peppery leaves can be eaten to add spice to a salad.

The Apothecary

Natural Herbal Living Magazine published a great feature on calendula and its many practical uses. The publisher, Amanda Klenner, notes that she uses the petals in skin lotions, body butters and salves. She also makes marigold tea which soothes irritated mucous membranes and internal tissues. She uses the tea for digestive health, and adds that the petals are used in some cold and flu remedies. She also believes it supports the lymphatic system, crucial for our immune systems.

In the same publication, Nina Katz states that the herb is, “Anti-microbial, anti-viral, anti-septic, vulnerary, cytotoxic, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulant, immunostimulant, cholagogue, heart tonic, hypotensive, lymphatic, respiratory tonic, emmenagogue, anti-spasmodic, astringent, aperient, diaphoretic…”

Many of these terms might be unfamiliar to you if you’re not an herbalist or phytologist. Vulnerary means healing of wounds or inflammation. Cholagogue means to stimulate the gall bladder to produce bile. Emmenagogue means to promote menstrual flow. This means it can be useful for period pain or delayed periods, as it stimulates the uterus. Pregnant women should not ingest calendula for this reason. Always check with a medical professional before changing or starting any type of medication.

The Witch’s Kitchen

Many believe that the term marigold comes from an association with the Virgin Mary. However, that supposition is a little backwards. The marigold (calendula) became associated with the Virgin Mary because the name sounded a little like Mary’s Gold, however the term ‘marigold’ was first coined by pre-Christian Anglo-Saxons, when referring to the marsh marigold, a plant related to neither calendula or tagetes (true marigolds). However, calendula has been used to honour Mary for so long that, if your path leans this way, it still makes a fantastic offering or altar decoration. It’s just good to know the origins and history so you can make your own mind up about what’s appropriate.

Cunningham tells us it is a masculine herb, which I presume is because of the plant’s association with the sun, and fire. I find it has a very feminine energy, but plants are complex and it’s often hard to pigeon-hole them. He advises picking calendula at noon in bright sunlight to ‘strengthen and comfort the heart’. He also states that calendula is used for protecting the home from evil, and scattered under the bed can give you prophetic dreams and ensure a safe night’s sleep. Calendula petals in the pocket will keep justice on your side if you need to attend court. His final and my favourite point about calendula magic is that, if a girl touches calendula petals with her bare feet, she will be able to speak to birds in their own language. How wonderful that would be!

Calendula has historically been used in divination, particularly relating to love and knowing who one’s true love may be. Rachel Patterson recommends the flower for spells or incense blends involved with psychic powers. She also writes that they promote happiness and uplifting energies, and can be used to make gossip about you cease.

Home and Hearth

As we move from summer into fall, calendula should still be flowering for some time yet. If you are lucky enough to have calendula in your garden, pick a few of the flower heads and separate the petals out. Create a circle of petals on a clean cloth or on your altar, one petal at a time. Have the base of each petal pointing toward the centre of the circle, so the end of the petal points outwards. As you lay each petal, think of something in your life you are happy about, or grateful for. You don’t need to write this down or prepare for it. It should be spontaneous and from the heart.

The bigger you make your circle, the longer it will take to complete, but you will think about more happy things! If you have been struggling with dark feelings or depression, it may be sensible to start with a small circle. This can prevent you feeling like you ‘should’ have more to be happy about, which can actually make you feel worse. Sometimes, we may only have a few bright sparks in our lives, and that’s okay. We can still celebrate that, and as we move into the darker months, focusing on the good things we have becomes even more vital and soul supportive.

I Never Knew…

A snuff of marigold leaves was sniffed up the nose, to encourage sneezing to rid the sinuses of excess mucous. Lovely!

Image credits: Flower of calendula by Wouter Hagens, public domain; Calendula officinalis, Seeds by H. Zell, copyright 2009 via Wikimedia Commons; Calendula officinalis – Botanischer Garten Mainz by Natalie Schmalz, copyright 2011, via Wikimedia Commons.

***

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.

A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors

 

Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways

Notes from the Apothecary

August, 2018

Notes from the Apothecary: Marigold

 

 

The marigold is a complicated puzzle to unfurl. True marigolds, tagetes, originated in North America and found their way back to Europe via Spanish and Portuguese explorers. Yet the plant we most often call marigold is actually calendula, which travelled the complete opposite way, arriving in America from the Mediterranean hundreds of years ago. The two types of plants are not botanically related, so calendula lovers, I’m sorry, but keep your eyes peeled next month. This month it’s the true marigold’s chance to shine.

 

The Kitchen Garden

Marigolds are striking and beautiful, with yellow and orange petals that come in a fascinating array of shapes. They bring a ray of sunshine to any kitchen plot, and help ward off many unwelcome visitors, including mosquitoes. They are particularly effective at ridding the soil of nematodes. They also do well in very dry conditions, particularly African marigolds, so are easy to care for.

The petals of marigolds are normally edible (as always, double check with an expert before you eat any wild flower) but they don’t all taste the same. Some are quite pungent, whereas others are citrusy and light. They make a wonderful, colourful addition to salads and cocktails, or as a garnish for just about anything you can think of.

 

The Apothecary

On the Modern Herbal site, Rita Jacinto has written a fascinating article about the marigold, including some interesting tidbits on their medical uses. She states that the marigold is an herb and that it contains lutein, which I know as a chemical which can help reduce eye damage, particularly that associated with aging. She also tells us that in India, marigold leaves are used for wounds, abrasions and even conjunctivitis. As always, consult a doctor before changing any medication.

 

The Witch’s Kitchen

Cunningham, in his Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, told us that a garland of marigolds over the door would prevent evil from entering the home. However, he also named ‘Marigold’ as calendula officinalis, so he wasn’t talking about our true marigolds, the tagetes. Finding lore about the true marigold can be tricky, as many writers confuse the two plants, but they are so different botanically that it’s really worth trying to ensure you have the right plant for the job at hand.

Marigolds were used by the Aztecs to decorate temples and other sacred spots, and they are still used to this day to decorate graves in Mexico, and during Day of the Dead festivities. Just like the bright orange monarch butterflies are said to represent the souls of the dead visiting us for a brief time, maybe the bright orange, yellow and red of the marigold petals represents reaching through the veil, into the beyond, to talk with our dearly departed. They represent pain, loss, and trauma, but also dealing with these things positively, facing your painful emotions and not hiding from them or repressing them. They remind us to never forget, and that the past, history, or those we love will never die while we remember.

The marigold is associated with the month of October, probably because it has such a long flowering season and can often still be found in full bloom even as the autumn evening start to draw in. If you manage to collect some flowers before Samhain, try hanging them to dry, and you’ll have delightful yellow and orange flowers to complement your sacred space over Samhain.

Marigolds also represent love, fierce loyalty and the contentment you feel when you are with someone you truly feel comfortable with. Meditate on the marigold to understand where your true feelings lie about someone, or a group of friends.

The Latin name tagetes comes from Tages, the Etruscan prophet who taught divination. So it makes sense that the marigold is associated with magic to induce visions, see the future, prophetic dreams and psychic abilities.

Marigolds are sometimes used in Hindu ritual and religious decoration, so if you are influenced by Hinduism marigolds may hold great significance for you.

 

Home and Hearth

If you’re a fan of home dyeing, marigold petals are known to give a gorgeous, yellow colour. This can also be used to colour foods such as desserts or cheeses, so they are really handy for the keen homesteader. Chickens who eat marigolds will have a richer colour to their egg yolks.

During Lughnasadh, or Lammas, use marigold blooms to represent the sun on your altar or sacred space. They represent the south, fire, and the endurance of the sun through the colder days that are coming after the harvest is done.

 

I Never Knew…

In parts of India, marigold flowers are given as offerings to the God Vishnu.

 

***

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.

 

 

Gael Song

June, 2018

Tree Magic

I wrote about the druid moons and the trees of the druid year in my third article quite a while ago, but this time, I just want to tell the story of my love affair with trees and how powerful they truly are. As I playfully experimented with reading the energy of life forms around me over twenty years ago, I gradually came to understand that all trees have a very specific energy, each tree family with a definite focus of help or healing. For instance, heart shaped leaves indicate that tree helps heal issues of emotion, the heart. Palmate leaves, like maples, help to heal issues of action. Leaves with a single straight vein up the middle, like Oaks, help the spine. And the parallel, fountain-like veins of Gingko leaves mean it will open up the root flow of the Goddess. My druid inner guides taught me that trees soak up the watery lessons of the Goddess every season, which flow up from the inner earth into the water tables of the planet. Then each tree breathes these out, specific truths, to all passers by. And I realized over many years, too, that the trees in my own back yard had been chosen very carefully by the universe. Sometimes I wondered if I was led to buy or rent certain homes for the trees in the garden! When you step into a forested space, the world becomes instantly peaceful, calming to the soul, and so very beautiful. And I always feel sheltered from the storms of life during my time there, as if trees hold the peace of heaven in their embrace.

But more than anything else, trees have been my solace along the difficult phases of my spiritual path. When I was in the midst of scary financial times (paying for my three daughter’s college educations over ten years) twenty years ago, a big old oak grew up against the balcony of my second story bedroom. And on evenings after particularly challenging days then, I’d sit beside the trunk of that strongest of trees and feel the love of Oghama (the name I use for the high God) flood down around me, His great warmth giving me support, plumping me up from the inside and instantly calming my anxieties. There was a circle of aspens in the woods nearby then, too, and because they are the tree that helps us get beyond our final hurdles into some new expansion of spirit, I’d sometimes go and stand within their circle. And always, I felt a grove of aspen elders awaken within those trunks, enfold me as their leaves sang so joyfully in the wind, and remove whole sheaths of darkness from my being. As magical as can be! But my favorite tree during those years was a young birch I discovered in the meadow on my woodsy wandering one day. It called to me, and I felt a surge of love surround me as I moved through scratchy underbrush to get close to it. This was just after the last of my daughters left home, and I’d closed my therapy practice to begin writing books, instead. But I was often lonely, getting used to solitude, and missed my family. And this little birch became such a friend to me! I went out to see it and share a hug nearly every day, and our spirits grew closer than close over the passing moons. One afternoon towards the end of my time in that home, I heard that birch spirit say quite clearly into my mind that in the spirit world, love is for always, that he would be my friend forever, that he’d send me love even after I moved away (a thousand-mile move!). And this touched me so very deeply, that sweet offering in the midst of my sorrows. I think of him still and send blessings on the wind, even now, fourteen years later. In the tiny cottage I live in now, I have a Rose of Sharon tree, the only one small enough to fit in my little yard. Rose of Sharon is the tree of the virgin goddess, Sìth, and she is regent of peace on earth. And it has been quite peaceful here beside the sea during the four years I’ve lived in this spot. There is whole language of trees most of us are completely unaware of! Take a moment then, will you? As you’re walking, feel the trees you pass by, notice the one that is calling you to come closer, and DO that. Open your heart. LISTEN. You’ll be glad you did, I promise.

I feel our tree friends waiting, always, in silent patience to be acknowledged, to connect with us, to speak into our minds and give wisdom or solace, especially during our tough times, to be our once and forever friends again. There is a longing in nature to hold us, guide us, and lead us all Home. Trees are living spirits whose consciousness is simple but profound, connected to angels, gods, goddesses, and guides in the Otherworld in every moment. They are FULL of gentle love, ancient wisdom, knowings that can assist and guide us all. Take their hands along the leaf strewn pathway of your life and let them befriend you.

But perhaps the most startling and life-changing tree moment of my life was when I first began to meditate about twenty-three years ago. I was working as a therapist then, in a marriage that was disappointing in the extreme, raising three girls largely by myself, and taking care of a big old house ever in need of repair. It took great effort to simply find ten minutes a day for my own thoughts! One extra busy morning, I was troubled by something or other and I decided to go outside for a bit of peace and quiet. And I sat under a large white pine beside that house and bent my head beneath it. And in one moment, I felt those branches above me turn into green feathers, the needles softening and wafting gently in the breeze. I could feel them brush my shoulders and greatly ease the burdens of the coming day. They are angels, I thought that morning in great surprise! Trees are angels in disguise! But it was the primordial LOVE that reached into my being in that soft moment which truly changed me, my sudden awareness of the immense and tender power of nature to nurture, hold, and guide, which shifted the very bedrock of my being. The white pine outside my bedroom window in that home was utterly ADORED from then on in return! And the tree sylphs I’d once recognized in childhood, and sadly forgotten in my growing years, opened instantly into my heart and mind again, the whole magical world of spirit ready to embrace me wherever I might need a bit of cheer. I bend the knee of my heart to the tree kingdom, always, a heart full of gratitude and the commitment to care for them tenderly wherever I find them.

***

About the Author:

Jill Rose Frew, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, energy healer, workshop leader, and author. She will be opening a school teaching light healing and the Celtic path of enlightenment in 2019. For information, please see www.CelticHeaven.com

She is author of Guardians of the Celtic Way: The Path to arthurian Fulfillment (her name was Jill Kelly then), and Alba RebornAlba Reborn, Book One, RevisedAlba Reborn, Book Two, and Alba Reborn, Book Three.

 

Notes from the Apothecary

June, 2018

Notes from the Apothecary: The Poppy

With colors ranging from a delicate, golden yellow to brash, bold scarlet, the poppy is a self-contained paradox. Powerful, yet delicate and short lived, this evocative flower has been associated with sleep, death and rebirth for many centuries. This connection comes from the fact that opium, a powerful drug used for inducing sleep and trance like states, is derived from the seed pods of one particular kind of poppy, papaver somniferum. It is possible that humans have been cultivating this poppy since 6000 BC.

Red poppies are also a symbol of remembrance, ever since the trench warfare that took place in World War One in the poppy fields of Flanders. They are used to remember those who fell in defense of other; soldiers and warriors, ancestors who died in battle and those who were affected by the horrors of war. In the UK especially, some people feel like the red poppy glorifies war, but they still wish to honor those who died, in which case they wear a white poppy. This signifies that they do not agree with war on principle, but that they respect and remember the sacrifice made by those who had no choice but to fight.

The Kitchen Garden

Poppies are classed as an herbaceous plant, and are grown mainly for their flowers and seeds. Many of the flowers are highly elaborate, having double or semi-double layers of petals. The red, multi-layered poppies always remind me of Spanish flamenco skirts.

As well as being a beautiful addition to any garden, poppies are very practical. The seeds are delicious, and are often used as decoration and flavor for breads, cakes, buns and muffins. As well as tasting great, like most seeds, they are a great source of protein. They are also high in calcium, so ideal for a dairy free diet.

The oil can be extracted from poppy seeds and used as a cooking oil, or for salad dressings and in baking.

The Apothecary

It should come as no surprise to learn that poppy seeds have been used throughout history as a painkiller, considering they contain the raw ingredients of morphine. They also contain tiny amounts of codeine. The Ancient Egyptians are known to have employed poppy seeds for this purpose, but they must have used them while very fresh as the opiate contents tends to fade quickly upon harvesting.

The Witch’s Herbal

The red poppy is a sacred symbol of Demeter, and as such is perfect for decorating any altar you may have to this Greek goddess of agriculture and law. The Minoans also evidently had a poppy goddess, as shown in the clay statuette found at Gazi. This ancient goddess with arms reaching to the sky has her headdress decorated with poppy seed capsules, showing that the cult that revered this goddess placed special, religious significance on the poppy. This may have been due to its narcotic properties, or the simple significance of the cycles of life, death and rebirth. Either way, it’s clear that poppies are a powerful symbol of at least two ancient cults. Using the poppy today can help us connect to these ancient goddesses.

Also within the Greek pantheon, we have Hypnos and Thanatos, the gods of sleep and death, respectively. These twin gods were both depicted with crowns of poppies, once again reinforcing the association between poppies and sleep and death. Death is a kind of sleep that never ends, and being asleep is so close to death in many ways. The poppy reminds us that just because something looks like one thing, it may actually be something completely different. We should examine and reexamine, and be sure of what we are seeing before jumping to conclusions. It reminds us to be less judgmental, more open-minded, and to appreciate the benefits of sleep and dreams.

Dreams are a doorway into our subconscious. And, while our subconscious kicks out some weird stuff most of the time, it can also send us important messages, including messages from our gods and ancestors.

Home and Hearth

Try keeping a dream journal. This can be a hard habit to get into, as you have to remember to write your dreams down the moment you awake from them. If not, you tend to lose details and the whole dream may even fade within a few minutes.

Before sleeping, meditate on an image of a poppy. A red poppy is the one most associated with sleep and dreams, but if a different color has more meaning for you, that’s fine too. Breathe, relax and imagine each petal of the poppy as a layer of your subconscious. Imagine you will be allowed to explore each layer, just as you can clearly see each beautiful petal of the poppy. Immerse yourself in the sense that your subconscious will open for you, blooming like a great flower, with answers and insight.

Keep a notepad and pen next to your bed. That way, even if you wake up at 3am, you can scribble down the contents of your dreams. Don’t worry if you can’t always remember them. The human mind is complex and temperamental! Write what you can and use it to look for patterns, imagery and symbolism.

I Never Knew…

The pain-killing drug morphine, derived from poppy opium, takes its name from Morpheus, the Ancient Greek god of dreams and sleep.

*Image credit: Welsh Poppies in Post Hill Woods, copyright Mabh Savage 2018; the Poppy Goddess at Heraklion Archaeological Museum via Wikipedia; poppies on Lake Geneva via Wikipedia.

***

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.

 

Follow Mabh on TwitterFacebook and her blog.

 

Notes from the Apothecary

April, 2017

Notes from the Apothecary: Crocus

 

Apothecary1

 

As we move further into spring in the Northern Hemisphere, a wealth of flowers is bursting from the warming soil. Some of this treasure appears in royal gold and imperial purple, and occasionally even snow white, like a throwback to winter. These are the crocuses, a tiny, beautiful flower named for the Sanskrit word for saffron, the expensive spice made from its stigmas and styles.

The first crocuses of the year always fill me with excitement. They show that winter is truly ending, and that the wheel is turning towards warmer days, woodland walks and those magic mornings of wind and sunshine. Crocuses aren’t as early as snowdrops, which can burst right through the frost, and they aren’t as widespread as daffodils, cultivated as a kind of badge of spring. They come before tulips, and are the first splash of really rich colour; the first hint of the promise of far-off summer.

The Kitchen Garden

The main reason humans cultivate crocuses is for saffron, which is a reddish-orange looking spice that appears to be made of tiny threads. These threads are, of course, the stigmas of the crocus flower, usually a sexual organ used for reproduction, however the saffron crocus is unable to reproduce in this way and must rely on its corms, or bulbs (the tuberous part underground) splitting and multiplying in order to make more of itself. As only this tiny, thread like part of the plant is used in saffron production, it takes up to 75000 individual flowers to produce 1lb of the spice. So, if you are thinking that you could cultivate your own saffron, it’s only worth a go if you have a few acres of land to spare!

The spice is used in a variety of cuisines, including Indian, Arab and Turkish food to name but a few. Saffron is used for its unusual, slightly sweet flavour, and its strong colour which is reminiscent of turmeric yellow. Spanish paella often incorporates saffron, and this can be what gives the rice its glorious golden colour.

The Apothecary

A 2014 study showed that saffron improved symptoms in patients who suffered from major depressive disorders, and could be seen as a useful supplement for those suffering with mild to moderate depression.

This harks back to the Persians who believed that saffron could cure bouts of melancholy. I always find it fascinating when science catches up with magic!

Saffron has been used throughout the ages as a cure for gastrointestinal problems. An ancient Egyptian recipe actually called for crocus seeds, rather than the stigmas, to be mixed with beef fat and other spices as a cure for stomach pain.

Mrs Grieve’s Modern herbal is a fascinating resource for anecdotal accounts of the use of traditional medicine. She notes that in 1921, a medical witness gave evidence of saffron being used in a tea made with brandy to cure measles. She also notes that the spice is useful in the relief of flatulence, to induce sweating, and to stimulate menstrual flow.

In 1347, the Black Death, an horrific plague which swept across Europe, caused a sudden and incredibly high demand for saffron. It was believed that it held medicinal properties key in combatting the plague, yet many of the farmers had succumbed to the ravages of the disease, so supply was not meeting demand. This led to theft and piracy, including a fourteen-week ‘Saffron War’ over a stolen load of 800lb of the spice.

Other Uses

 

Apothecary2

 

Some Therav?da Buddhist monks wear robes dyed with vegetables and spices, including saffron, which gives the cloth an orange-yellow tone. The robes were originally made from ‘pure’ cloth; fabric that was unwanted or had been discarded. The rags were boiled, dyed and stitched together into a suitable robe for the holy person.

Saffron has also been found in paints and pigments dating back thousands of years. Medieval manuscripts were often illuminated using the pigment provided by saffron, to give tones of yellow and orange.

The Witch’s Kitchen

The use of saffron by humans can be traced back 50000 years, although the mass cultivation of the crocus is much more recent. Saffron was used as a magical spice by the Sumerians, the ancient Egyptians, Indians, Romans and many more.

One of the primary uses of saffron is as an aphrodisiac. In India, a potion of milk and saffron is brought to the bedchamber of newlyweds on their wedding night. In ancient Egypt, Cleopatra is said to have dropped saffron into her baths prior to making love, to heighten the pleasure. Greek courtesans known as hetaerae used the spice as a perfume.

For those following a Minoan path of spirituality, it is interesting to note that the first image depicting saffron was found in a Minoan fresco. Although it is not clear what the Minoans used the plant for, it is clear it had some special significance for them.

The ancient Greeks have two legends about Crocus, a young man. In one, he is accidentally fatally injured by the god Mercury, during a game of discus. As he dies, three drops of his blood fall into a flower, thus creating the red stigma of the crocus. The alternative and more commonly accepted legend is that Crocus is chasing the nymph, Smilax. She grows tired of his advances and when he won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, turns him into a flower. Take note: No means No!

From these legends, we can make some assumptions about the associations of the plant itself, including the links to the God Mercury and therefore money, luck, communication and because of the nature of the legend, friendship, regret and transformation. We can also see the crocus flower as a symbol to not cross boundaries that are made by others without permissions; to be courteous and listen to others. If someone is not listening to you, or is harassing you, the crocus could be your point of focus in a spell to get them to back off.

Cunningham tells us that the plant is associated with Venus and water, and has a feminine aspect. This is interesting, as biologically the male part of the plant is sterile, so in reproductive terms the plant truly is feminine.

Home and Hearth

Plant crocuses in borders or pots in your garden to delineate the boundaries of your home. If you don’t have an outdoor space, a potted crocus on a windowsill is just as good.

Don’t pick wild crocuses; always grow your own, as there is a European superstition that picking the plant will sap your strength. Anyway, it’s simple courtesy to leave beautiful flowers where everyone can enjoy them!

I Never Knew…

If you have been robbed, burning a little bit of crocus or saffron may allow you to have a vision of the thief.

Image credits: Crocus autranii by rainbirder via Wikimedia; Iran saffron from Khorasan by Alphaomega1010 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.

Notes from the Apothecary

February, 2017

Notes from the Apothecary: Snowdrop

 

snowdrop

 

 

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!

 

 

snowdrop2

 

 

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.

***

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

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