My book is available for pre-order!

The Witching Herbs by Harold Roth“The Witching Herbs: 13 Essential Plants and Herbs for Your Magical Garden,” the book I spent years working on is available for pre-order on Amazon. It will be printed by Weiser in late February, and at that time I’ll be selling signed copies off Alchemy Works (and I hope here as well).  I am so happy that this work is finally going to be out in the world. The chapters cover poppy, clary sage, yarrow, hyssop, thornapple, mandrake, belladonna, henbane, wild tobacco, rue, vervain, mugwort, and wormwood. I did the illustrations of the plants inside the book as well as writing the text.

Vervain & Flying

vervain

Vervain in my garden last year

Last July I made a tincture of fresh vervain (Verbena officinalis) I grew in my garden. I intended to combine it with essential oils to make a kind of incense helper, but I never got around to it. Meanwhile, the tincture sat on my work table.

A couple months ago I was working with some good smelling tinctures (like vanilla) and decided to see if the vervain had any particular smell. I didn’t remember it having much of a scent. I dipped a finger in the tincture and rubbed it on my hands. It dried quickly because the tincture was made with 95% alcohol. I could smell a very faint funkiness, but that was it. I didn’t think about it any further, and shortly after, I went to bed.

vervain_flowerAnd did I ever dream. Normally, my dreams don’t involve a lot of characters. Usually only a few other people or animals are there. Once in a while I will dream of being in a large city, but I don’t usually interact with many people in those dreams.

That night was different. I dreamed all night, a very intricate dream with very many people in it, most of whom I interacted with. One of them was my Spirit Teacher in crone form. My dreams of this individual are not frequent, so I treasure them. In the past, though, it has always been just me and the Spirit. If other individuals are there, they typically do not see us. But in this one, we all knew each other. It felt like the dream went from the time I fell asleep until I woke up and lasted at least several days in dream time.

I was almost sorry to wake up in the morning, because the dream was so satisfying. I wondered what had brought on such a dream. I couldn’t think of anything I had done differently the night before, anything odd I’d eaten or taken. It wasn’t until that afternoon that I remembered the vervain.

I know from my reading that the Druids supposedly smeared their bodies with the “juice” of vervain. I suspected that it had psychoactive properties–and perhaps these might be best explored through the skin rather than a drink. It’s become clear to me since that vervain does have sabbatic properties and can work easily through the skin. It doesn’t need to be smeared all over the body, either; I just rubbed it into the back of my hands to get it to evaporate so I could smell it, but that was enough to cause the intensification of dream–and to seemingly ease the connection in dream between myself and my spirits.

verbena_plantSince then, I’ve noticed two other things about the vervain tincture. One is that when I tried it again two nights later, all it did was create an effect similar to how mugwort works for me–a lot of busy dreams with a lot of characters but not a lot of content or significance. Also like mugwort, use of the herb seemingly needs to be spaced a bit apart, like a week, for it to be truly effective.

The other thing is that since I did the vervain tincture, my dreams have changed a great deal. They often involve many characters and large venues. It’s been a while, and this effect continues.

I strongly suggest that people with a garden try growing vervain and making their own tincture from fresh. I sell the seeds, which are not difficult to germinate. The plant is easy to grow and is very handsome with its shiny, sort of oak-type leaves. I also sell the dried herb, but the latter does not seem to have the same effect. Plant material goes through a lot of chemical, much less spiritual, changes when it is processed to be sold as a dried herb. Chopping produces chemical changes and allows a lot of goodies to escape, and drying causes further morphing and destruction. I discuss how to deal with some of these issues in The Witching Herbs, my book, which is allegedly coming out from Weiser in early 2017. Meanwhile, I highly suggest working with this herb. The tincture I made was a “folk” tincture, which means the fresh herb foliage and flowers are put into a jar, gently pressed down, and covered with menstruum (in this case, Everclear: 95% grain alcohol, available from the liquor store if it’s permitted in your state) up to a finger’s-width above the top of the herb. Then shake it periodically until the goodies are extracted and the herb material gets a bit crisp. With Everclear, because it’s such high alcohol content, it is extremely drying and will extract all the water-borne components from the herb very rapidly, like a couple hours. This is the advantage of Everclear over vodka, rum, brandy, or whatever. The tincture will change color as the chlorophyll is destroyed. Btw, do not drink Everclear; it can ulcerate the esophagus. It has to be diluted quite a good deal to be drinkable. You could try making the tincture and then adding a few drops to a small glass of wine before bed.

Changes

I haven’t been posting about my progress with Azoetia because I haven’t been making any progress with it. Not because it’s difficult, which it is, but because I have been so absorbed with other things.

For the first time in many years, I didn’t start a garden this year. In the past few years, I’ve really cut down on my gardening. I’ve been gardening since the mid eighties, and I got to the point where it was a LOT of work and expense. I enjoyed it for the most part and learned a lot about plant spirits, but I began to spend more and more time painting instead of weeding and checking for Colorado potato beetles. And I wanted to spend my money on art supplies instead of flats and peat pellets. My art has improved with practice, and I expect it to continue to do so, but more, it has become more and more the focus of my spiritual work.

spiritual in art bookI was surprised to learn that I’m in good company in terms of combining the art and the spiritual. I’m not talking about artists who painted pictures of Christian saints or whatnot either. Lots of the founders of Abstract art were trying to combine painting and the spiritual–their own version of spirituality, not that of a religion. There’s a pretty good book about it, although it’s heavy duty in terms of the writing: The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985. The dates aren’t quite right. Most of the paintings are from before WWII. But it was surprising to me to read how many Abstract painters were into things like theosophy.

innesThen I stumbled across an American landscape painter, George Innes, whose late paintings I really love. He could make his landscapes really glow, which is what attracted me to his paintings in the first place. Plus his best works are not about any famous, “big” places like Niagara Falls or the Rocky Mountains, but instead about the area around his home in New Jersey. I read about him and once again was surprised to learn how he combined his interest in spirituality with his painting. He was influenced by Swedenborg and tried to illustrate the Swedenborgian idea of the influx of the divine into mundane things. In his later paintings, nothing is ever very clear, and it is as if what he is painting is not the thing itself but its spiritual form.

These artists gave me encouragement to try the same in my own art, and since then, art has become more and more the focus of my spirituality and my magic. I’ve been working on combining my interests in abstract and landscape painting also. I want my painting to help people recognize the mysterious in the mundane, the living web that connects all. You can see my progress at my art website. Right now I’m doing a lot of work on images of water and clouds.

I’ll still be writing here about my work with plants, including my book. I’m in the middle of working on the recommended edits for that this week and creating an illustration of a cimaruta for the chapter on rue. The book will be published by Weiser in the first half of 2017. I’m looking forward to getting all the edits done and having my part of it finished.