My eyes sure hurt
Last week I spent three days working 10-12 hours a day finishing up the illustrations for my book, The Witching Herbs, which is supposed to come out from Weiser this year. I was pleased with the way these line drawings turned out, although as is often the case for me, I felt I had to do some of them over (and over) to get them looking more or less the way I wanted them to. This meant I ended up with a very bad case of eye strain that affected me for about a week.
One thing I learned from this (again): I do not have anywhere near the stamina I did when I was younger. I just can’t work as fast or as long as I once took for granted. At 62, I do not feel old exactly, but I am more and more often faced with limitations on my energy. It always surprises me. And yet, as is characteristic of me, I am always coming up with new projects so that the list of what I need to get done becomes longer and longer and more unmanageable.
One of those new projects is expanding herbalwitchcraft.com, which is where you’re at right now. I’ve had this on my list of things to do for years now, but last weekend I began to work on it by moving the site to a new webhost. Just like I have always grown things from seed instead of buying transplants–until last year–I always kept my sites on a very dependable but user-unfriendly webhost. That unfriendliness was sort of a problem with Alchemy Works, but it was a huge problem with herbalwitchcraft. In the end, I knew that if I did not shift this site to a server that’s a bit more friendly to those of us who are not sysadmins, I would probably never end up adding to it. So I shifted it to a webhost that specializes in just WordPress sites. And it has been much easier for me to handle issues that this site has had all along (although it still took me two hours to add a “follow me on FB” button to it, lol!).
Looking up stuff in old books
Thanks to the new webhost, I was able to add a plugin that allows me to create a structure for additional, non-blog pages, which is what I want to add. These new pages will contain formulas for everything under the witch’s sun–powders, waters, scents, oils, incense, ointments, etc. I have so many formulas that I will never have the time to make or that are simply not practical as retail products but would be great as personal one-offs (especially more edgy stuff). I’ve also learned a LOT of “secrets of the apothecary’s art” for making things in the 16 years I’ve been running a witchcraft shop, and I want to share that with people. I would hate for this information to just get lost after I spent so much time collecting and sorting and refining and writing it.
I envision each group of formulas as a separate “book” on the site. Doing it this way instead of publishing it as physical books or even ebooks means I can continuously add to and modify the formulas and hyperlink between different pages for additional info and related items.
It also means that ads will supporting the site (and me) instead of charging for a book. This way no one will have to pay to get access to the information. I’d like to deal with ads by linking to good sources for the various raw materials and packaging involved in making witch stuff. There are so many great resources out there, whether for individuals who want to make things for their own use or who want to create products to sell. And new ones are coming into being all the time. Such a project also gives me a great excuse to play with creating more stuff and researching more formulas from old books, which I very much enjoy. I also see this as the sort of work I should be able to do far into my old age. And I do have to keep ageing in mind. My Social Security benefits will in no way be enough to support me.
So that’s my latest project, in addition to this blog, painting, my new art print shop, my art blog, my forthcoming book, and of course, Alchemy Works. And folks wonder why I get behind!
But there’s yet another project that will be added to the list at the end of this month: Azoetia is finally supposed to be mailed out beginning January 29th. From what I heard, it was actually printed at one point, but something was wrong, and it had to be redone. I enjoy working on all my projects, but Azoetia is one I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.
Typical evil witch doing evil witch things
Recently I heard someone say that witches are people who do evil magic, work with the dead, and that in most if not all cultures, a witch is someone who does bad things. This was not said as a way of insulting witches. No, it was intended to make witches seem like badasses, and to say that we had better own up to our badassery if we want to use that word to describe ourselves–if we are not badasses, then we had better not call ourselves witches. It reminded me of this piece of crap art I saw once where a sheep’s face turned into a wolf’s. The basis for this definition of witchcraft: “Just look in the dictionary.”
First, let’s deal with the dictionary issue. A dictionary is created by very fallible human beings to help the user understand what might be meant by the use of a word in a particular context. It is not meant to be a book of truths or of absolutes. It’s about defining words in a particular situation, a moment in time, a social context. It doesn’t define practices, people, ideas, etc. It is just about helping us understand how a word is being used, nothing more. A dictionary is descriptive, not prescriptive.
The dictionary does not define social groups and is not used as a reference book by any of them. People who call themselves Christians, for instance, do not look up the dictionary definition of the word “Christian” to get a good idea of who they are or how they should act. If they did, they would find definitions that might well have little to do with their practice of Christianity. And bluntly, there is no reason why they should look up the definition of “Christian” in the dictionary because they define what a Christian is through their lived life. Their action in community defines “Christian,” not a dictionary.
This is why it is not a good idea to rely on a dictionary definition to support any argument whatsoever, and certainly not an argument that a “witch” is a badass who does bad things.
But okay, let’s set the dictionary issue aside and look at how “witch” supposedly pretty much the world over means someone who does things like make a cow’s milk dry up or menfolk become impotent or cast the evil eye or makes a field barren or any number of other shitty things because they are badasses. “The world” think of witches this way.
Evil Jews doing evil things. Henry Ford said it; it must be true.
I can speak from my own experience on the question of how “the world” defines a particular group. “The world” thinks Jews are money-grubbers, that we secretly run the US government, we run the banking system, we control the media, we make the US work with Israel, we imake countries go to war so we can profit off it, we incite black people against white people just for the hell of it, I guess, we are an unspoken part of the alleged war on Xmas, and on and on and on. But “the world” does not get to define what a Jew is or does. Only Jews get to define that.
The same thing holds with witches. Witches get to define what a witch is, not “the world.”
Let’s look at the practice.
How many of the witches you know fit this definition? Pretty much none, I’ll wager. And having run an occult supply shop for 16 years, I have met a lot of people who call themselves witches. The few who have defined themselves a badasses who do bad things typically have a website where you can buy a candle for $1000 to put a curse on your ex. Ya know? IOW, they are more like shysters or con artists than witches. Maybe they got their definition of a witch from the dictionary; who knows.
Evil witches roasting a baby, because that is the real badassery
To me, this badass witch thing is reminiscent of deriding people for being fluff bunnies or Wiccans. Like if you do not have a huge bone collection and regularly pal around with the Almighty Dead, you have no right to use the word “witch” in reference to yourself. You are a pussy and need to stay on the porch because you can’t run with the big dogs.
Bah fucking humbug, kids. Just as a dictionary does not define the practice of witchcraft, neither does a single individual. We have no pope, dogma, or orthodoxy.
One concept of traditional witchcraft that I really like is that of the Crooked Path. The way I understand this idea, the witch’s path goes now to the left, now to the right, now to the dark, now to the light. I could add other aspects to that, like that for me, the Crooked Path is about the moment, not the goal, that it’s not in a rush, that it’s a slow, sensual experience, that it’s solitary but might have a history (others have walked that path before), that it reveals the hidden and the unexpected, and more. But I will stick to the idea that it veers now to the Left Hand Path and now to the Right Hand Path. There is no room for badasses on such a path. A witch on that path might curse or cure.
Personally, I would much rather hear about someone else’s practice and what works for them than to hear them talk about how others are not real witches. I’m sick of that shit. And I bet most of you are too.
Just to bring this entry full circle, let’s go back to the dictionary definition of “witch.” You know what the 4th meaning of “witch” is in the Merriam-Webster dictionary? It’s not evil-doer, badass, bone collector, pal of the dead, eater of poisons, or any of that. It’s “a practitioner of Wicca.”
So let’s spend our energy on creating new and powerful practices instead of ranking other witches.
Herbs gathered Midsummer and Midsummer Eve
I hope you had a great Midsummer! I celebrated with some sweet white wine infused with lemon balm–very tasty.
I had a note in my Black Book to harvest waybread (aka plantain) on Midsummer Eve for particular potency, and for once I actually remembered to harvest an herb at the right time. I got a lot of good-sized leaves. It grows in one section of my garden that has the right combination of partial sun and a bit compacted soil, which it seems to like (which makes me wonder if that is not part of what contributed to the Natives’ name for it, Englishman’s footprint.
Fresh valerian root tincture
On Midsummer itself, I harvested and dried catnip, spearmint, cinquefoil (that volunteered in a pot from last year), tansy, a tiny bit of feverfew, and some fleabane. Last year I had tons of feverfew; this year, one plant. go figure. Viridarium Umbris says that fleabane smells bad, but I think it smells really good. It dried very nicely too.
These jars, by the way, are from Weck. I bought them for canning, which I don’t have much time for nowadays. I love their shape, so I thought I might as well use them for ritual stuff. They aren’t cheap, but they sure are nice, and I find they can well also.
Speaking of smells, I worked with some fresh valerian root today because my neighbor’s dog jumped over my fence and trashed some it. So I dug up the broken one and harvested the root. It’s best to harvest roots in the fall, when the plant is dying back, because that’s when it has stored the most energy and goodies, but the plant was damaged and would not have done well.
I had a note to harvest valerian as well and decoct the fresh as opposed to the usual dried root according to VU for use in clairvoyance and prophecy. That makes me think it would go well with a tincture of clary sage. I planted a number of clary sages last year, but it looks like only one of them made it through our very cold winter, and that one is pathetic looking. I have been meaning to buy some plants to make up for it but haven’t gotten around to it. Mountain Valley Growers has them (they also have dittany of Crete); although their shipping is really expensive, their plants are fine quality. At any rate, I decided to take advantage of the busted valerian and decocted part and tinctured part in 95% grain alcohol.
The decoction took place in my new small cauldron, which I got off rubylane.com I’ve found some good stuff on there and some junk.The first cauldron I bought off there cracked as soon as I put it on the burner. The second had a couple tiny scratches in the porcelain which exposed the steel, and that would have contaminated all my work with Mars energy, which I didn’t want, so that’s a soup pot now. Then I saw this, which is not your typical cauldron, but then, I am not your typical witch. I like flowers and plants, and I like German stuff, and this has both. Plus I liked the shape. It’s porcelain coated steel, so it’s energetically neutral. I also ordered a much larger pot new which is porcelain-coated cast iron; it’s green, which to me suits a green witch. It will be handy for making ablutions.
The grapevine wands are drying nicely. They’ve got a few nubbins from where tendrils came out. I’m thinking of hollowing those out and putting small cabuchons in them. Not sure which stone.
Meanwhile, waiting on Azoetia and hoping it comes out in the next week or so.
My Black Book, showing one of my own recipes (Heart of Saturn) and a couple by Daniel Schulke from either Ars Philtron or Viridarium Umbris.
I’ve been so jazzed about gettting started with Azoetia that I couldn’t wait to start working, so I created something to do in the meanwhile. I have Viridarium Umbris and Ars Philtron, both of which contain various recipes that I’ve been meaning to try. I decided to go through both books and choose which recipes I know I would like to do relatively soon and transfer the info to my Black Book (which is not black). I have stuff of my own in my Book, but it’s been my habit to do most of my recipe-making for the shop, so I don’t have a lot of things of my own in there (I have other books for the shop recipes). It was nice to choose recipes for things that I would like to try but that I know I could never make for the shop because of perhaps dangerous or rare ingredients or just the amount of labor involved. It will be great to make stuff just for me. I feel a bit spoiled already.
The first one I’ve chosen to make is Tears of the Dragon, an incense. It’s a simple recipe of dragonsblood resin, dammar, and iron powder and is focused on working with Draco. I decided to use red iron oxide instead of iron powder because I like the idea that it is basically rust. I’ve always been fond of the iron oxides in painting, so it seemed a natural choice for that reason as well. I found a beautiful one at naturalpigments.com.
I usually use quart canning jars or tea tins to store incense in that I make for the shop, but I am not going to need anywhere near such large containers for my own work and Daniel Schulke very much encourages getting special containers for the Work. Do I need an invitation to get such things? Hardly. For this project, I chose this neat red and blue (the two colors of blood) jar. This guy makes various vessels that would be wonderful for the Work, and I love that I am getting something made by a self-employed artisan.
I have not had much use for blades in magic I’ve done, and I’ve never needed the regulation white-hilted knife and a black-hilted knife, but they are mentioned in VU (and I think AP as well). The white-handled knife is used for harvesting herbs for magical work. In the past I have just used my pruners, which are steel, of course. Schulke mentions various metals for the blade of the white knife but also considers a ceramic blade fine. I like the ceramic bladed knife I use in the kitchen a lot. It’s wonderfully sharp and light. I tested its usability for harvesting herbs, and it’s good for cutting various types of stems and easy to manipulate, so I bought one with a white handle to use just for magic. This is a Kyocera kitchen knife, pretty inexpensive. I really like that it is energetically neutral but still quite usable. I don’t know yet if anything’s to be written on the hilt or not.
I found a wonderful cauldron tor making ritual infusions on rubylane.com, an antiques site where the sellers are a bit more professional than ebay generally. I looked through tons of different types of neutral pots made of glass, enameled steel, and porcelain-coated cast iron. I really wanted some vintage Granite Ware, which is the speckled stuff people still use for camping. There’s an old glaze that is mottled gray that I really love, but I could not find anything that did not have some rust on the inside, and that would have meant contaminating the work with Mars energy. Although I was looking at Granite Ware, I ended up with a white enameled steel soup pot with brass fittings. I knew as soon as I saw it that it was the right one for me. which is weird, because I have nothing white that I use for rituals at all. Enamel is fused glass, so it too is neutral. I’ll snap a photo when it arrives.
Spirits of Mandrakes: Spring by Harold Roth
This spring has been so busy with orders for seeds through my shop, writing an article, preparing a manuscript for submission to a publisher, working on an art site, and painting painting painting, that I’ve had no time or inclination to post. And my garden this year is much smaller than it has been in the past, so I have not had a lot of gardening to post about. There are major changes afoot in my life.
But I’ve decided henceforth to use this blog for a different purpose: to describe the beginning of my formal work in Sabbatic witchcraft step by step.
I’m waiting on my copy of the new edition of Azoetia, the first of the three grimoires written by Andrew Chumbley of the Cultus Sabbati. I’ve really liked a lot of the stuff I have seen come out of that group, esp. Viridarium Umbris, which I refer to a great deal and which I consider to be one of the very few worthwhile herbal magic books out there–one based on real-life working with plant spirits. I’ve read some of Chumbley’s essays and have v. 1 of his collected essays and I like the way he thinks and goes about magic. I’ve wanted one of his grimoires, but the resale prices have not been what I can afford and I don’t believe in piracy. So I’ve just waited, feeling that sooner or later, something would turn up.
And it has. Xoanon is republishing Azoetia, and it should be out at the end of June. The price was reasonable as these things go. I bought a copy and am just waiting for it to arrive. (Btw, if you are interested in acquiring such books, you need to send a snailmail request to Xoanon and/or Three Hands to be notified of new publications.)
I’ve never worked a grimoire from soup to nuts or joined any magical group and instead have cobbled together a magical path from this and that. I have almost no magical tools whatsoever. For instance, I used a root I found on the ground in the woods for a long time for a wand. But now that I am heading to semi-retirement, I feel I will have the time I believe necessary to devote to really working a grimoire and a specific path, and since I like Chumbley and the Cultus Sabbati’s stuff I’ve seen, I’m going with that. The Azoetia does begin with tool-making. I am so looking forward to that.
One thing I have noticed–although there is lots of talk about Azoetia on the internet and people torrenting the thing and jabbering about whether it is worth it or not, it is clear to me that pretty much nobody has worked it. I am sure it is a very demanding work. Even his writing style is demanding, requiring at least a very good vocabulary and a well-rounded education. But the book was put out there for people to read and work, so the material is in there. It is simply that the potatoes have to be dug up before they can be cooked and eaten.
I’ve got my pitchfork ready.
Some people might say, “NO! Don’t post about it! Because teh SEEKRITS!!!” IMO, secrets are overrated, especially secret knowledge. I see it more the way some general described how worrisome it isn’t for people to post plans online for making a nuclear bomb. The gist of it was that it doesn’t matter, because so much skill is involved in making them that almost no one can do it even with the most detailed directions. This is how I feel about the secrets of magic. IOW, magic to me is not about the power of a bunch of words or of an object. It’s a skill developed through actual working with energies and spirits.
The other reason why I intend to write about it is that I learn something better and in greater depth when I write about it and in particular, when I write not just for myself but for others and must express myself without any personal shorthand. That sort of writing clarifies concepts and experiences for me and almost always reveals unexpected connections and profitable rabbit holes to fall down. So it is a great benefit for me to write about my practice.
So if you are interested in this path, stick around.
I started a whole flat of wolfsbane seeds this week. This is Aconitum anthora, a dwarf wolfsbane often known as “healing wolfsbane” because it is used medicinally (!) where it is native. You can see that the flowers are yellow, like regular wolfsbane, but the helmets are much fatter and stubby, not elongated. The plants are shorter than regular wolfsbane also. I decided to give them a try because I could get prepped seeds of this species. I hope it does well in my garden. If so, I will have some wolfsbane foliage for sale. The leaves are beautifully dissected. These were the first seeds I started this year.
I prepped two flats of Jiffy pellets to ready them for planting wild white petunia, pokeweed, radicchio, candytuft, and stocks. Yep, this year I am growing a bunch of fragrant, old-fashioned flowers to grow in pots on my patio. I love to sit out there in good weather, and I have so enjoyed having that area full of flowers in pots. Last year I had mostly zinnias and some of the white marigolds, which have a wonderful scent, unlike regular marigolds. Zinnias are pretty, and I will grow some again this year–red, scarlet, and wine-colored. I’ve always loved them, so easy to grow and so cheerful, but I wanted to grow a lot more good smellers both for me and for the bees. I’ll be growing a couple squash plants and cukes and would to see more pollination, and I hope more fragrant and more violet flowers (violet seems to be bees’ favorite color) will attract more bees. Both the stocks and candytuft are open-pollinated, so there should be a lot of variety with them. As for the radicchio, I love that stuff but can hardly ever find it organic. For a couple of years I’ve intended to grow it and haven’t gotten around to it. This year I will give it a try.
Remember the white henbane plants I found putting on tiny leaves in some dried-up pots in my basement? Here’s what one of them looks like now. I forgot how well henbane does under lights. I really love white henbane. The fuzz is very cute, and it prevents aphids. I think that might be one of the reasons why it was traditionally grown for medicinal purposes instead of black henbane. I have sure noticed that black henbane is a bug magnet. I can hardly imagine how they managed to grow fields of it in the old days. But white henbane I can see thriving in that type of situation. White henbane is not as strong as black in terms of alkaloids. Most health practitioners recommended against using black henbane on account of its greater strength. I think that might be precisely why it was relegated to witchcraft. I never feel completely sure that when we are told by historical sources that a plant was used in witchcraft that it actually was. And as for oral tradition, anyone who has ever played telephone knows how dependable that kind of transmission can be. I think the best thing is the witch’s informed practice.
Today I’ll also start soaking belladonna seeds so I can get them started in two weeks. I’m intending to grow many more this year in pots, where they have done so much better than in the ground. I should have a bunch of foliage and roots in the fall.
With regard to that plant, I wanted to mention something I noticed last fall, when I was handling the plant a lot. Even though I was touching the plant only briefly, for instance, quickly turning over some foliage in the dehydrator, or even packing dried plant material into glassine baggies or handling roots that were completely dried, I noticed profound effects. In terms of physical effects, I noticed my face got red, which is a side-effect of its alkaloids. I was surprised that even such brief touches (and I would wash my hands afterwards) would have such an effect. But there was more.
I noticed that after a day or two when I handled the plant materials that beings that normally I have not seen, at least, not in that form, became visible to me. I posted on FB, for instance, about seeing a shadow figure run across the sidewalk in front of me when I was going for a walk one evening. This figure did turn to look at me. It was a transparent grey. I noticed similar figures after handling the plant on other occasions. It is not that I have not ever seen spirits before, but generally those have been in dreams and visions, not when I am just going about my business in the mundane world. So that is something to consider if you are working with belladonna. I am not sure if this would happen with anyone. I have been growing this plant for years, always fascinated by it, and in that way I have opened myself to contact with its spirit. But I have always been very very wary of it, since it is highly tricksy, much more so than any of the other traditional European nighthades. Simply touching the plant and washing one’s hands afterwards seems like a pretty innocuous way to experiment with this plant, IMO. It does seem to be a powerful door-opener. Something to consider.
Last week, the attorney general of the state of NY (whom I voted for) sent cease-and-desist letters out to Walmart, Walgreen’s, GNC, and Target because their herbal supplements mostly don’t contain the herb(s) listed on the bottle. Instead, those little gelcaps are full of stuff like flour, rice, and weeds. Not the good kind of weeds either.
I’ve always felt oogy about herbs in gelcaps for a number of reasons. For one thing, I don’t think it’s good to approach herbs the same way we do allopathic medicines. For me, the very idea of something being in a pill, something that was once alive and the size of an herb, just reeks of destruction of the herb’s medicinal properties through grinding and drying and sifting and storing. I think of what Isaak Hollandus, a medieval alchemist who wrote more about the Plant Stone than most, had to say about processing plants alchemically. He said the more you ground the herb, the more you killed it. That if it releases its smell while grinding, that’s its soul going out. You can imagine what he would have to say about how herbs are dried, ground, and sifted in the supplement industry.
Then there’s the question of adulteration. One of the reasons why I have avoided offering powdered herbs for sale in my shop is because of the propensity of herbal suppliers to adulterate their products. Why would they do this? Because for one, it’s not against the law. Having no regulation of herbs has its good side–we are able to purchase a wide variety of herbs in the US, many of which are regulated in other countries (and it’s true, in some states of the US). Selling belladonna or monkshood is not illegal or even regulated. That’s good, because we get to use those herbs in magic without having to grow them ourselves.
But the down side is that it is perfectly legal for a supplier to sell anything at all as an herb, regardless of what it is. I had this experience up close and personal when I first moved up to upstate NY about 10 years ago.
Henbane in my herb dryer
At that time I stumbled upon a supplier of Ayurvedic herbs that catered to practitioners. They sold henbane, and I thought it must be good quality since they were providing to healthcare. Let me tell you, this was a pretty exciting find. Henbane just is not found in commerce anymore. So I bought a pound, glad to pay the inflated price because it was something I could not get anywhere else and it was an item my customers asked for regularly. I did notice right off that they shorted me. But okay.
It was in the form of a dark brown powder. It did have a pungent smell, although I would not identify it with henbane.
Then one day someone complained about the potency of the henbane. The customer didn’t think there was any actual henbane in this powder. I thought that was a pretty off-base claim, but I wondered how I could test its potency without actually ingesting it. I decided to put some on a piece of tin foil and heat it and see what it smelled like. Before it began to combust, it should give off the scent of dried henbane. (Most witches know that if you combust various herbs, they smell like burning garbage, but if you simply heat them, they will give off their unique smells.)
Adulteration is an old problem. Here’s a 1906 vendor selling garbage churned up and dyed as “sweet scented farm creamery butter.”
Well, the heated henbane powder smelled just like toast. I knew that meant it was primarily made out of flour. I knew the company hadn’t broken any laws. They lied, but lying about the content of that powder was and is not illegal. Unethical, but not against any law. And I am sure those weasels were very well aware of that.
I quit selling it then. But I thought heck, if a company is providing medical practitioners is selling flour instead of the herb, then no powder from any company will tend to be trustworthy. This is especially true after the revelations that have occurred since my experience with the powdered henbane ten years ago–things like Chinese manufacturers adding melamine to baby formula and pet food. The only alternative is to purchase herbs in at most chopped form, so that the pieces are identifiable as the herb. Since that time, that’s what I’ve done wherever possible. Not all Chinese herbal products are crap, either. I have found Plum Flower Brand to be okay, especially if you buy the whole single herbs. They have, for instance, whole ginseng, whole reishi mushrooms, etc. Expensive, but you can actually see what you are getting and know it is real.
I myself generally quit using any herbal powders in gelcaps for medicinal purposes. I’ll try to use a tincture if I have one or can buy one, or a tea made from the chopped herb instead.
Some people have seen the actions of the the NY state attorney general as an attack on herbal supplements or herbal medicine and consider that the guy is a tool of Big Pharma. I don’t think so. He attacked these sellers not on the basis that the herbs don’t work but on the basis of purity–that the herbs weren’t even there. This is traditional Muckraking and a good thing. Big Pharma has found other ways to attack herbal medicine–by, for instance, “patenting” plants used for medicinal purposes. Right now, they are focusing on patenting various marijuana strains.
Anyway, just thought I’d weigh in on this issue with a different perspective. If you want to use herbs medicinally–and I do–try to grow them yourself. Most people don’t need access to a large variety of herbs for medicinal purposes. Research which herbs would help whatever conditions you have and focus on say five of them. This is good work from the perspective of witchcraft as well. There is nothing like growing a plant to get to know its spirit.
Winter decided to come early for us in upstate NY this year–probably in a lot of other places too. Part of me is still not ready to accept it. I haven’t even turned on the furnace yet, just been using space heaters. But today I will finally fire up on the old gas monster; there’s just no way around it anymore.
Every year, I actually look forward to winter. I like snow; it changes the way we see our surroundings and it usually makes things quieter. I like winter activities–no, not skiing or sledding, but reading and watching old movies and my favorite, planning out the garden for the following season. People have told me they don’t like winter because things are dead, but most things aren’t dead–they’re just waiting: seeds deeply asleep in the soil, roots of perennials resting from the work of storing food all summer, little critters hibernating in their burrows, all waiting for the return of the Sun. When I look out at a “dead” landscape, this is what I see: life abiding. It makes me feel hopeful.
This winter I’ve got a bunch of mandrakes growing under lights in the basement. I’ve done this a few times in the past but never have had this many. I like going down there every morning wth my cat Blackie. I check on the plants, clean and groom their leaves, water, fertilize, adjust the lights. There’s a silence around them while Blackie does his own work, checking his perimeter to ensure that no other cats have managed to slither through the tiny hole in the door, sniffing around for field mice invading from the yard, and then rolling in the dust on the concrete floor for the sheer pleasure of it. I’ve got three large plants that I hope will flower in spring if they do well over the winter. For the past several years, I’ve focused on harvesting the roots of these plants instead of encouraging them to flower and perhaps produce fruit. Now I want to do both.
Meanwhile, I’ve already purchased all the seeds I will need for next season’s garden. One of the most pleasant things for me in the winter is plotting out the garden. I use GIMP, an open-source image manipulation program (free but hard to learn, IMO), to make a grid of my yard and have labeled squares for all the different sized plants. I like doing this at the end of December best, when there is a kind of lull after Yule and you can almost feel the Earth tipping towards the Sun again. I’ve been having such success growing plants in large pots in my yard that I will greatly expand this way of growing next year. I love my yard full of trees and shade, but the soil here, already problematic because it is so full of rocks it does not even qualify as topsoil according to the Cooperative Extension, is absolutely full of tree roots. Even my belladonnas were losing the battle with them, especially compared to the belladonnas I grew in pots. This year I dug them up and will grow belladonna in pots from now on.
As my own personal winter approaches (or I guess I have already entered it at 61), I prepare for a different way of working, one that will allow a lot more leeway for creaky joints and the health issues of getting old. I’m going to be focusing more on providing baneful herbs, especially to shops. This is a good niche for me, I think. I love growing belladonna, henbane, and mandrake anyhow, and growing them to harvest and dry for sale should allow me a small income to supplement Social Security down the line. It also encourages me to get off my butt and get outside in the garden. I’m not going to be closing Alchemy Works any time soon, so don’t be concerned about that. I’ll keep it open for at least several more years. I hope I will be writing a bit more, stuff that is less challenging than the herb book I am trying to finish now–books composed of the recipes I have developed over the years for oils, incense, and other witchy stuff. But I would like a bit more focus on things I grow myself instead of items I must purchase from far away, for one, and for another, these plants give me strength. They build in me the sense of wonder and amazement at the natural world. I think we all need those senses to have a good and happy life.
And the other thing that gives me strength? My art. I haven’t been blogging, but I have been painting, as you can see. These are for the book–henbane flower and henbane pods in moonlight.
I had a dream this week about wild lettuce. I do not normally dream about plants. In fact, I rarely do. Even when I have had visions about plant spirits (as opposed to the individual plants themselves), it has been when I napped, a time that I am apparently especially open to spirit contact, and the plant spirit is not identical to the plant form. This was just plain sleeping, and I saw the rosette of wild lettuce repeatedly, as if I were in my own garden looking at the material plant.
But there were other aspects of this dream that were unusual. For one, it was a series of dreams. I’d dream about wild lettuce, I’d wake up, and then I would fall back to sleep to have another dream about wild lettuce. This happened about five times, so I knew it must be important. All the dreams had the same message–that wild lettuce in the rosette stage was stupefying. All I can say is I’m glad I’m a witch, because otherwise, I might be deemed nutz.
Wild lettuce is a biennial (takes two years to come to fruition–to produce seeds). In the first year of its growth, it forms a rosette, as it is called. This means that the leaves grow out from a central crown and do not form a stalk or flowers (see photo of wild lettuce rosettes in my garden a couple years ago). Other plants form rosettes too. Some people, like the anthroposophists, have said that the rosette form of plants has a Sun aspect to it on account of the shape. Makes sense to me. I think of the rosette as a period in which the plant forms a sort of solar collector that will funnel energy down into the roots so that the plant has enough oomph to make it through the winter.
Some plant information on medicinal herbs is refined enough to note the differences in the power of alkaloids between first-year and second-year growth, like with belladonna. But not so with this plant.
In the past, wild lettuce was in the British Formulary and was a part of American botanical medicine before the domination of chemical medicine in the 1930s. In the old days, the stems of wild lettuce plants that were in the flowering stage (second-year plants) were slit and the milky juice, bitter with alkaloids, was gathered and turned into lactucarium, a sort of poor-man’s opium. The highest alkaloids were gathered right as the plant was first blooming in the second year. The alkaloid in question is hyoscyamine, which linguistically inclined folk might recognize as being an alkaloid present in henbane (Hyoscyamus species). Kind of interesting connections between wild lettuce and henbane, the quintessential witching plant (IMO).
But there is no mention of gathering the sap in the previous, first year of growth. However, from what I know about plants’ use of alkaloids, they specifically concentrate alkaloids in parts of the plant that are most precious to the plant’s survival at any point in time. So for instance in the fall, there will be a high concentration of alkaloids in roots in order that the plant be protected from predation (because bitter = yucky to most animals, including most bugs) just prior to it falling under the spell of winter. Likewise, in the spring, when the plant is putting on new growth, the highest alkaloids will be found in the new leaves, and in the seed-forming stage, in the unripe seeds. So the rosette stage of wild lettuce should not have especially large amounts of alkaloids in it, certainly not enough to stupefy anyone. For that matter, we can hardly use “stupefaction” and “wild lettuce” in the same sentence. This is a mildly sedating herb, even when gathered at the most appropriate time (of highest alkaloid content). In fact, some sources question whether there is any alkaloid in the dried sap harvested from flowering stalks. This might be evidence of simply adulterated product, however.
I think these dreams are in fact a message from the spirit of the plant of wild lettuce, a plant that I have grown in the past in order to gather seeds, as they are quite expensive in commerce and because the plant produces jillions of seeds. They are a PIA to gether on account of the sticky sap, but their numbers and expense makes it wortwhile. In fact, I still have wild lettuce “volunteers,” as they are called, appearing in my garden from plants I grew a couple years ago. The seeds have parachutes and so go everywhere; once you grow this plant from seed, you will never have to plant it again. Right now I have several rosettes of wild lettuce in its first year in my garden, and this is after I religiously weeded them out in spring in order to prepare the ground for planting foxglove, clary sage, wild daisy, and hollyhock.
As I got this message–repeatedly–about wild lettuce being useful for stupefaction, I also got the image of a Haitian sort of zombification: that is, not the perhaps entertaining movie-type zombie that is the result of some creepy virus and that is actually dead, but the Haitian Ton Ton Macoute version of the individual drugged and made into a spiritless slave who will do the bidding of its master. Talk about a metaphor for a subdued populace, eh? So wild lettuce is calling out to be used to shut people up, to make them pliable, malleable. But only in its rosette stage. It was very specific about that. You can bet that I am going to be harvesting some–about half–of the leaves of the wild lettuce plants in my garden this fall. Because you never know when you might need to stupefy someone.
However, I also saw an image together with this information from the dream. It showed people walking along a midnight dirt road outside a town. The head of each individual–and they had lost much of their distinction as individuals–was swaddled in bandages represnting the stupefaction of wild lettuce in the rosette stage. They were zombies of the old school–biddable slaves, stupid and not on the level of “dumb” animals.
Anyway, a word to the wise. If you have need of such a powerful type of binding, grow some wild lettuce and harvest the leaves in the first year. Dry them carefully and save them for the day when they are needed.
Because of this dream, I’ve decided to swap out wild tobacco for wild lettuce in my book, which I hope and pray will be done by the end of October, with the help of the gods.
I forgot to say–wild lettuce is a Saturnian herb, and if Saturnian herbs are not good for binding, I do not know what is.
A bit ago I began a project to put a fence up on the east side of my back yard because my neighbor’s dog(s) kept getting out and smashing my plants. That side of my yard has a lot of old, dead lilacs that come out like rotten teeth, with a bit of wrenching, leaving a satisfying hole. But the rotten lilacs have been further kicked to the curb by Norway maple saplings. I don’t know if you have Norway maples where you are, but here they are basically the plant world’s version of young punks with their underpants hanging out listening to obnoxious music real loud (and what music is NOT obnoxious if it is loud enough?). One of these trees is trying to remove the power line from my house, for instance. I enjoy lopping them. But they are not the issue. The issue is that Saturnian place–the border–and Saturnian values like definitions and limits.
Bones of the Dead
Lately, I’ve been feeling like my borders with some of the rest of occulture are getting schmutzed up with the grime of Drama Poisoning. I’m talking about out-of-control wackos putting death curses on some twerp for stealing their content, loons attacking the death curse person and seeing conspiracies everywhere, buffoons who set fire to chickens on one side, just plain lying, cheating frauds on the other, and this latest where some eyeliner-wearing jackanapes told someone she should get raped and call his name in the process. Feh.
There will always be nasty, self-dramatizing jackasses, or so I have been telling myself, but lately I have felt very much like I do not want to participate in the world of occulture on account of them. It feels like a pool of piss posing as a bowl of chicken soup. These people have their shops, their lessons, their schools, their titles like Doctor Bullshit Bone or Mambo Insert-Bogus-Name-Here or Whorelock Darker-Than-Thou or the High Grand Mage of Malarkey and Spin. I am starting to feel like I am seeing occulture from the perspective of the Bunko Squad, ya know? These are not honest people. They are, at best, loons, at worst, lying cheats and bullies.
Every single log had someone’s name on it
So what to do? Today I got out in the garden and ripped out dead lilacs. It helped. I try to ignore these people, but sometimes I am pulled in by my own anger at what they do and sometimes they drag me into their stupid, overheated world. It’s just getting tiresome. Real tiresome.
So you say, well, go live in a Kaczynski cabin off the grid and have done with it. But I enjoy the internet. Without it, my life would be diminished. I’ve met interesting people here for the past 20 years, had a couple of very enjoyable businesses, learned about all kinds of things, laughed a lot at the innocent antics of humans and, of course, cats. But it also is an opportunity for bullies and frauds to ply their trade, and the occult world is no exception. Maybe it’s just the times. I had to quit reading a large gardening forum a few years ago because every single thread would be hijacked by some cranky teabagger with a gun. The last straw was when we were talking happily about compost and some loose cannon started yapping about how he was going to shoot the census taker if s/he dared to come onto his property. I had been a subscriber to that forum for 11 years and spent plenty of ad money on it, but that was it for me. No more. Life is too short to be rolled around in someone else’s murderous dogshit. CONSTANTLY.
I’m starting to feel the same way about occulture. I made the decision a while ago not to participate in any occult forums or lists because there were just too many ignorant donkeys out there. You know: the Kabbalah was invented in Atlantis, Elijah saw a flying saucer, you can change lead into gold in a pipe bomb, “now that I’m an Ipssissimus, I am looking for new challenges,” “my family trad goes back to the Druids” and other such halfwitlessness. It was a good choice for me. I did not feel so much disdain for my fellow occultist because I was not exposed to so much stupidity. But it seems to be almost inescapable now. And the stupidity is more like the rabid teabagger shit from the gardening forum than the stupid plainly uninformed boasts–death curses for trivial offenses, telling someone to their internet face they should be raped, and so forth. Oh, and the ever popular Jewish reptilian meme.
I don’t know what to do about it. So I’ve been wrenching out rotted logs and lopping Norway maple limbs to redefine and re-emphasize my borders, my beyond which no one has my permission to go. That’s in my yard. On the internet, I have been trying something new for me–what I call Happy Posts. These are things about my garden, cooking, my experiences in magic, just stuff that I hope show another aspect of life, a non-grimey, non-skeevy, non-fraudulent side–a real side of a real person, not someone who is wearing eye makeup or putting death curses on twerps or giving myself a bogus title. Just stuff: the innocent antics of a fellow human. I will try my best to stick to that, although I do slip and say mean and nasty things sometimes. Yep. I sure do. I’m no saint. Not spiritually elevated in any way. Not a mage or a high priest or a grand sorcerer or anything. Just a person and a plain witch doing the best I can, but someone who has limits and who is taking the time now to redefine those limits, to redelineate my borders.
Because I really am a Saturn kind of guy.