Thursday, March 28, 2013

Digitalis purpurea

Common Name: Foxglove

Family: N.O. Scrophulariaceae; Biennial

Appearance:  Spikes of tubular flowers with speckled throats. Blossoms colors include pink, red, purple, white, and yellow

Growing Season: Midsummer.

Location: Partial Shade. Moist well-drained soil.  Avoid drought conditions.

Appearance: Foxglove's low-growing foliage is topped by 2- to 5-foot-tall flower spikes, depending on the variety. A biennials or short-lived perennial. Self-seeding.

Active Ingredient: digitalis, a potent heart medicine, and considered poisonous.

Latin: Digitalis makes the same connection: digitalis means “finger”.

 The alternate names for Foxglove give a glimpse into how embedded this plant is in Faerie and magic folklore.  The following titles are delightful descriptions of how our ancestors and many people today refer to this herb still today: Fairy Petticoats, Fairy Thimbles, Fairy Fingers, Fairy Weed, Fox Mittens, Witches Bells, Witches Thimbles, Folks Gloves, and Fox Bells are the most famous evocative descriptions.

The glove of the 'good folk' or faeries is the most well-know due to its favorite haunts being deep hollows and woody dells where the Foxglove delights to grow.  Legends in the north tell how bad faeries, don't you love them, gave these blossoms to the cunning fox that he might put them on his toes to soften his tread when he prowled among the roosts of chickens in the farmer's yard. The earliest known form of the word is the Anglo-Saxon 'foxes glofa' (the glove of the fox) from which it gets it's folk name

In Wales, the foxglove is called Goblin's Gloves.  Many practitioners still use foxglove in this way to attract hobgoblins, who wear the long bells on their fingers as gloves in order to impart magical properties of blessing and cursing as needed by their benefactor. 

Faerie activity can be easily seen by the mottling of the inside of the blossoms where faeries have placed their fingers. One legend explains how these marks foretold of the baneful juices secreted by the plant, which in Ireland gain it the popular name of 'Dead Man's Thimbles.'  

Magic and the Underworld

I am a devotee of Hekate.  In one of the gardens of my last home I planted foxglove along the outside wall of our bedroom for protection due to the long-held fact that Foxglove protects the occupants of the home from evil influences.

Care should be taken when picking foxglove for indoor use or arrangement.   It has been long believed to anger the Faeries much like taking hawthorn branches when they flower into your home.  Yet, there are those who believe that witches can handle both within their dwelling without retribution.

A chthonic herb, its guiding influences comes from both the planet Saturn and Venus; In some forms of Italian magic, foxglove grants the user a strong sexual urge and attraction.  Used in fertility spells due to its abundance of seeds, packets were carried or placed under the mattress to induce pregnancy.

Yet, foxglove is a baneful herb.

Used as a charm or talisman, you can carry a piece of the foxglove flower for protection.  I like to use it in ritual to commune with the underworld energies by placing it on my altar.  However, be forewarned, the bare touch of the juice or the inhalation of the smoke ca be poisonous.  

Again, foxglove used in medicine is still considered poisonous. The leaves of  plant contain cardiac stimulants, the most important of which bears the name of the plant: digitalis.
It is interesting to note that it is thought that the Picts may have been some of the original carriers of the knowledge of foxglove’s healing powers, that knowledge may go even further back than we realize.

Used as a bruised herb or expressed juice was helpful for scrofulous swellings when applied outwardly in the form of an ointment, and the bruised leaves were once used for the cleansing for old sores and ulcers.

Rembert Dodoens, born in Mechelen in 1530, began his studies in medicine, cosmography and geography at the University of Leuven, where he graduated in 1535 .  In 1554 he would  prescribe foxglove boiled in wine and used as an expectorant.  However, there are no records of toxic reaction or premature death so we cannot be certain how well it worked.

Dr. William Withering ,17 March 1741 – 6 October 1799, is the famous English botanist, geologist, chemist, physician and the discoverer of the active ingredient digitalis. His work is the foundation of the use of digitalis today. He became known as “The Flower of Physics” and a foxglove is carved on his tombstone.

Other Uses
Foxglove was used in general throughout North Wales to darken the lines engraved on the stone floors which were fashionable at the time, giving them a mosaic appearance. Darkening crosses carved in the floor for protection by housewives was a common practice to keep the devil away.

In closing, I highly recommend growing Foxglove, it brings bees to your garden, protection to your home and faeries to world.

 "Mourn, little harebells, o'er the lea; Ye stately foxgloves fair to see! Ye woodbines, hanging bonnilie In scented bowers! Ye roses on your thorny tree The first o' flow'rs." Robert Burns January 25, 1759 - July 21, 1796.

Maude Grieve, A Modern Herbal, Harcourt, Brace, & Co., 1931; Dover edition, 1971

Sybil Leek, Herbs, Medicine, and Mysticism, Henry Regnery Co., 1975, pg. 142-143

Richard Le Strange, A History of Herbal Plants, Arco Publishing Company, Inc., 1977

Magic and Medicine of Plants, ed. Inge N. Dobelis, Reader’s Digest Association, Inc. 1986

Joseph E. Meyer, The Herbalist,  Meyerbooks, 1960, 1976

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

In the Matter of Cursing

Contrary to popular belief the old adage 'A witch who cannot hex cannot heal'  or 'cannot blight cannot bless' is nonsense. All power contains both the bitter and the sweet.  One needs to understand working in both arenas concerning healing and cursing; the inner strength and knowledge it takes to do one is also required for the other.  We don't exist in a vacuum.  Magic is not 'white or black', whatever people like to believe.  If I have to attach a color to the practice, I will say that it is grey. An example: the neutrality of power might be compared to electricity which can be used to sustain life or destroy it, it is not benevolent or maleficent. Power, magical or mundane, simply is. 

Individuals who claim to never curse are being dishonest.  Whenever we speak out in anger at a fellow motorist while driving , engage in gossip, spread slander, judge others, or soapbox our self-righteousness, we are, in fact,  cursing.  That ability has been with us since we stood upright in dim-lit caves.  To believe otherwise is foolish.  Cursing exists.  Let me add: a person  does not need to be a witch to engage in the practice of cursing.

One of the most used books for cursing can be found in many homes, hotel room night tables and in the hands of snake charmers.  You can go into any bookstore today and find a copy in different translations.  Yes, I'm referring to the bible.  For centuries the psalms, used for healing, vengeance and retribution, have been read in secret by candlelight.  Many a cunning man or woman have incorporated these poetic verses to bring about healing or damning results. 

In Roman Catholicism, a ceremony formerly used in pronouncing the 'major excommunication' or 'anathema' is a form of a curse.  Dating back to 9th century, the bell represented the public character of the act, the book the authority of the words spoken by the presiding bishop and the candle was believed to symbolize the possibility that the ban might be lifted by the repentance and amendment of its victim. Performed in some conspicuous place, a bishop with 12 priests, all holding lighted candles were part of a ritual malefic, the formula was then recited: “We separate him, together with his accomplices and abettors, from the precious body and blood of the Lord and from the society of all Christians; we exclude him from our holy mother the church in heaven and on earth; we declare him excommunicate and anathema; we judge him damned, with the devil and his angels and all the reprobate, to eternal fire until he shall recover himself from the toils of the devil and return to amendment and to penitence.” “So be it!” would follow in unison. The bell was rung, the bible closed and the candles extinguished. 

Within any tradition of magical practice around the globe, past or present, words coupled with emotion have been raised like a gathering storm and released with force to shower the target or 'receiver'. Performed in combination with ingredients worked through confident hands, all represented essential properties related to the victim and chosen for specific means.  

Not uncommon in small villages the wisewoman was retained by many villagers  to heal livestock, brew a healing salve, create a love philter or deal up some righteous retribution.  An interesting note: it was not unusual for a wisewoman to answer her backdoor sometime later to find a client's victim pleading for aid to remove a curse.  Although there is no written Rede of 'harm none' within traditional witchcraft, the universal thread of 'action equals reaction' is understood and respected. A binding, owl blinking or bottling can be reversed or removed, but curses are permanent and they leave an indelible mark on both parties. There are however, some practitioners, I've heard, of Hoodoo who state 'disbelief' in karma or action causing reaction.

As we well know, especially when it comes to the laws of nature, more times than not  'the wind comes 'round full force from a direction unexpected'.  No witch is immune no matter how they might tout their abilities. 

Throughout history, most curses bring about the worst nature and misfortune has to offer. Usually based on jealousy, greed or hatred, all self-generated emotions, the person who instigates the need to place a curse feels themselves slighted or oppressed. Some who require aid due to a 'feeling' of having been cursed, are, more times than not, imaging it.  What they are feeling or experiencing could have rational answers, but their apprehension has fueled their own self-doubt.  But there are exceptions to the rule.

The use of self-protective charms are best utilized when the fear of the malevolent intentions of another are present.  Safeguards can and should be placed by the  individual over their belongings, loved ones and dwelling place.  A Witches Bottle is a prime example.  One created containing protective ingredients would be buried near their home, usually beside the path or threshold.  If the intruder, whether in the flesh or in spirit-form, tries to 'cross' the boundary where the charms are active, the 'protective wards' would hold.  The harm intended for the victim would attach itself to the one committing the breech; even resulting in a curse. 

Although I have had my share of interactions with those 'in the trade', most often the exchange has been peaceful and rewarding.  However I have been attacked on a couple of occasions and my motto has been and continues to be...'slap me once I'll let it go.  Slap me twice and I'll slap you back'.

'Do what is necessary' is the adage I live by and practice.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Between the Worlds

While traveling through Scotland last autumn, I came upon this in the wall of headstones.  As  I photographed the surroundings I was reminded of the following poem from Shakespeare, the whole atmosphere was very evocative of Hekate.  Granted, she does not hail from this part of the world, but graveyards have no real geographical location especially when we stand between the worlds.

Now it is the time of night
That the graves all gaping wide,
Every one lets forth his sprite,
In the church-way paths to glide:
And we fairies, that do run
By the triple Hecate's team,
From the presence of the sun,
Following darkness like a dream,
Now are frolic: not a mouse
Shall disturb this hallow'd house:
I am sent with broom before,
To sweep the dust behind the door. (V.i)

A Midsummer's Night Dream

                                                      Greyfriars Kirkyard Edinburgh Scotland

Friday, March 15, 2013

Atropa mandragora

Common Name: Mandrake
Family: N.O. Solanaceae
Synonyms---Mandragora. Satan's Apple

Part Used---Root

Mandrake, a  member of the nightshade family which includes Datura, Mandragora, Atropa belladonna, Lycium barbarum, Physalis philadelphica, Physalis peruviana, Capsicum, Solanum (potato, tomato, eggplant), Nicotiana and Petunia, is a powerful herb with a checkered past.

Appearing in shape like a parsnip it was cultivated as early as 1652 in England and is grown easily in southern European countries. According to legend, when the root is dug up, it screams, killing all within earshot.  However, early literature includes complex directions for harvesting a mandrake root in relative safety.

Plant Characteristics:
The mandrake root is large and brown, growing three and four feet deep with groups of two or three branches. The root's crown has deep green leaves which stand erect, and can, when fully formed, hang all over the surface of the ground. 

The propensity to split into branching parts gives it's human characteristic. Small wonder that it has a long history of metaphysical properties. 

The flowers form each on their own stalks ranging between three and four inches and are similar to primroses. Fruit bearing, their approx size and shape resembles a dwarf apple.  Being a fan of the herb I would dearly love to grow mandrake in my garden, however, it grows more comfortably in zones 6-9 and I reside in zone 5.

 Legendary Harvest Requirements:

At the hour of midnight, with winds from the desired direction, one should draw with their working knife or willow wand three consecutive circles around the crown's exposed green foliage. Then, digging around the root itself, care should be taken not to touch the root itself until it is separated from the ground. There needs to be enough room to tie a thick string or rope around the foliage.

In the past, given the shrill, ear-piecing scream that is said to come from uprooting this plant, executing this task required the partnership of a white dog.  The  collar was tied to the rope while the root was still held fast to the ground.  Then, baited by a flung piece of meat, the poor animal would pull against it's restraint to reach the bribe, only to drop dead from the cries of the mandrake that broke the silence of the night.  Stuffing one's ears with wax was a good idea.

Care and Feeding 
There are, to this day, requirements for the care of the mandrake root that must be strictly adhered to in order to avoid disaster. Once unearthed, the root should be wrapped in a white or red cloth and placed into a basket as contact with the ground through the cloth could result in the power of the mandrake returning the the earth leaving behind a withered and empty root.

Taken home one's new charge should be spoken to with the utmost respect; bathed in spirits or milk on a weekly basis and fed milk sweetened with honey daily. Even a bit of its owner's blood added to the meal on an occasional basis is said to strengthen the bond. Tucking the little fellow in every night is part of the chores that must be performed, the bed should have a lid and resemble a coffin.

Consulted on all matters of health, love, protection, household wishes and matters of prosperity the new resident should be placed on the mantle daily in order to thwart misfortune and evil as the ruler of all it observes.

Never to be given away to another person, it was and is the owners' responsibility to pass the mandrake down through the family, or sold for a reasonable price, to someone who agreed to the details of it's continued care.  

However, if this working partnership goes astray, for any reason,  the mandrake will withhold all duties, curse the family and its descendants, blighting hearth and home.  

Given that bit of information procure your charge with care and consideration.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

I Intone

'This is the spell that I intone
Flesh to flesh and bone to bone
Sinew to sinew and vein to vein
And each one shall be whole again"
(repeated 3x)

"I chant the spell
So mote it be
I chant the spell
So mote it be
I chant the spell
It is!'
Healing spells have been practiced hand in hand with traditional herbal and allopathic medicine over mankind’s' evolution;  many cultures around the world still ask medicine men, shamans, herbalists and practitioners of the healing arts to supplement magickal practice into everyday health care for patients.  Herbs play a role in many healing modalities used around the world in the form of washes, poultices, decoctions for internal and external aid.

Braziers smolder with planetary concoctions filling the air with their healing scent.  In conjunction with practical healing remedies herbs can restore the person to physical and spiritual health.

One should not practice magick on someone without their permission; children can be an exception to this rule but listen to your ‘inner bell.’  Once permission is granted it is important to have an good understanding of anatomy which enables the ‘target’ to be effected by the power raised and sent.

Never presume to know what is best for another person; only they can walk the path they were given in their present incarnation. We each have a path to trod.  Respect, even when we 'think' we know what is best for another.  What we believe may in fact be contrary to the individual's needs. 

Reference: Charm Source: Vivianne Crowley

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Hekate's Hounds

Hekate, a 'Chthonic' Goddess, meaning "in, under, or beneath the earth" and her hounds are creatures of the Underworld.  Associated with spirits, ghosts and the crossroads, they roam the countryside bathed in starlight, shrouded from the moon.

History tells us that women were the first to domesticate dogs.  Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that many Gods and Goddesses of various cultures have canines as their beloved, devoted, companions.

Although invisible to humans, all mortal dogs see these night-dwellers without fail.  The keen eyes of her hounds never miss a trick, their sense of smell is without measure.

The three-headed dog Cerberus guards the gates to the Underworld, the other canines run beside her over lonely landscape and along forgotten shores.  Like Cerberus, they see in all directions, eyes luminous, rarely blinking, keen and darting or fixed as needed.

Sacrifices of hounds were made to Hekate in ancient Greece on the last day of the month at the dark of the moon occurred in Athens, Thrace, Samothrace and Colophon.

Today, cakes, honey and eggs are left at crossroads and lonely tracks of land by the cover of night.  Having given the offering freely, one always departs such places without looking back for that is the promise we make and the oath we are bound to of our own freewill.

I have often been summoned by the howl of a dog in the dead of night.  Being a devotee I venture out, shawled and bearing my offering of a fresh egg still in the shell drizzled with honey and whispered prayers.  The morning light bears witness to canine prints in the snow or softened ground and the stillness of air, earth and longing.