Sunday, 6 November 2011


This year's All Souls or Hallowmas took on a rather different shape to previous years. It was influenced partly by the presence of Santa Muerte in our proceedings. As a result our celebrations, deliberations and contemplations, which extended over a one week period, involved a lot of studying and work for us to try and understand how, where and if this apparition would fit into 1734. We decided that La Santissima had come to stay in some way, and that she was a different version of our Pale-faced Goddess, a very concentrated Death aspect, but that, as Santa Muerte, she needed to be honoured separately once this season had finished.

Thursday, 3 November 2011


My own little calamus plant is too small to grace these pages with an image, yet it happily grows stronger, gracing the boggy area of my little pond. So I thought a few words in its honour would be fitting. Acorus Calamus, commonly known in these parts as sweet sedge, has many uses. A vigorous reed-like plant, happy with its feet soaked in water, can be found, if one is lucky, in shallow edges of ponds, lakes and stream edges, wet ditches and marshy places, closely associated with reeds and bulrushes. In fact, according to Mrs Grieve, the Greek name calamos means 'a reed'. And very reed-like it is. Mrs Grieve goes onto explain that 'The generic name, Acorus, is from Acoron, the Greek name of the plant used by Dioscorides and said to be derived from Coreon (the pupil of the eye), diseases of which the ancients used this plant to cure.' It is not to be confused with the Calamus Draco, a slender palm of the East Indies which provides the marvellous resin Dragon's Blood.

Although its leaves resemble those of the 'Yellow Flag' and therefore answers to the name 'Sweet Flag' it is not related to the iris, but rather to the Arum family. Culpeper, according to Mrs Grieve, names it the 'Bastard Flag'. It is said to be a feminine plant of the moon and water, enlisting powers of healing and protection, and to aid one in acquiring luck and money. Cunningham indicates that calamus 'brings good luck to the gardener' and can be used to 'strengthen and bind spells.'

Due to its pleasant odour, it was used as a strewing herb, covering the floor of churches and houses in place of rushes. However the sweet sedge didn't grow near London, and needed to be carried from as far as Suffolk and Norfolk for strewing, so was therefore considered rather extravagant. It was once a native of the marshes and mountains of India, yet now common throughout Europe. However it appears that the rhizomes grown in India are of a stronger, and more agreeable odour than those found here, therefore the calamus bought here in the UK, is not grown on these shores, but imported.

According to Wikipedia 'The calamus has long been a symbol of love. The name is associated with a Greek myth, Kalamos, son of the river-god Maeander, who loved the youth Karpos son of Zephyrus, (the West Wind) and Chloris (Spring). When Karpos drowned in a swimming race, Kalamos also drowned and was transformed into a reed, whose rustling in the wind was interpreted as a sign of lamentation.' It also appears that Walt Whitman uses calamus as a symbol for 'love and affection' in his Leaves of Grass (1860). The same Wikipedia article claims calamus has aphrodisiac qualities. This virtue, along with its association with unrequited love, could be one of the reasons it is a vital ingredient of follow-me-boy oil recipes compounded by its valuable attributes of strengthening and binding spells. Cat Yronwode indicates that 'calamus root controls people, breaks jinxes, and is lucky'. She indicates that if one wanted to control someone you could 'Mix CALAMUS and LICORICE with Commanding Powder, where you plan to meet someone you wish to control.'

Calamus is also mentioned in the Bible book of Exodus where it says: "Moreover The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Take thou also unto thee principle spices, of pure myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty shekels, and of sweet calamus two hundred and fifty shekels, And of cassia five hundred shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, and of olive oil a hin: And thou shalt make it an oil of holy ointment, an ointment compound after the art of the apothecary: it shall be a holy anointing oil." Exodus 30: 22-25) Interesting isn't it, that this 'holy anointing oil' would hold, as we have seen, powers of controlling, but controlling who, and by whom, m'thinks. (You might recognise the recipe as that for Abra-melin Oil).

I will certainly tend and protect my very young calamus, yet another very useful aid to be on the right side of.


Sunday, 9 October 2011


The water mint, (mentha aquatica) is the mint that one is most likely to stumble upon here in the wilds of London and the Southern counties of England in which I frequently roam.  An aromatic perennial reaching a height of up to 80cms, roughly 32 inches tall, its fragrance recognised easily by most, and to stumble upon it, although it is very familiar, can be a pleasing surprise, especially here in London. The flowers of the water mint are somewhat spherical in shape as opposed to the spikes, or spear shaped flowers of the other wild mint variety, which logically is named spearmint. Water mint, of course, loves damp places, wet meadows, pond edges and boggy areas of woodlands and forests, and joyfully for me it abounds pleasingly  along the banks of the river Quaggy here in South East London
   Water mint can be used in the same way as peppermint, (mentha pipereta), which as I understand it is a hybrid of water mint and spearmint.   It has been said that the best time to pick the mint is in the morning when the dew is still on it, that may be so, but if you want to dry it, later in the day may be better, and possibly earlier in the year, as the scent changes slightly by the autumn, it becomes slightly bitterer.  There appears to be a suggestion that harvesting for  storage should be carried out  when the moon is waning, as at this time that it is considered less likely to spoil in storage. However I would still rather be prompted by the full moon, and would collect just after the full moon, and when the dew has just lifted and not still heavily upon it. If collecting wood for the fire, a waning moon would make more sense, not perhaps so pertinent for plentiful plant material. 
 Mint is said to be governed by Gemini which should make it good for communication, and as it reduces wind, that sounds about right to me.
  Mint; according to The Language of Flowers, stands for virtue.  A Literary Herbal shares the tale of the origin of the name;   a ‘nymph of Cocytus named Minthé’   was ‘loved by the god Hades, or Pluto, whose jealous wife Persephone turned her into a plant,’ this little book goes onto suggest that perhaps as the plant stands for virtue, the nymphs transformation was a way for Minthé   to hold onto hers.
 It appears that mint was highly favoured by the Greeks and Romans, who were said to have brought it with then to the UK. They, as far as we know, used it as a general tonic, and to perfume the bath water. ‘Virgil says that wounded deer sought out mint to heal themselves when they had been hunted and, according to Ovid, it was much used in love potions.’(ibid)  A Literary Herbal has an amusing little picture of a deer with arrows in his neck, chomping merrily on some mint.
   According to An Ancient Egyptian Herbal by Lise Manniche, ‘mint was used in Ancient Egypt’ Mint has been identified as included in a bouquet found in a tomb dating  from the Late Period.  Dioscorides, according to Manniche, mentions the Egyptian name for mint which has been identified as ‘Mentha sativa’ which it appears was an ingredient of kyphi or a substance to be burnt.  In my experience mint makes a very pleasing addition to incense, good for clearing, or as seen earlier communication. Cunningham adds mint as an ingredient for a incense to   Hecate. Drugs of the Dreaming suggest that mint can be used for adding ‘clarity, colour, and vivid images to dreams.’ Peppermint can be ‘Burned before bed for prophetic dreams, it stimulates daydreaming and probably also night dreaming.’    
  Mint, according to  Catherine Yronwode, is said to ‘breaks jinxes’,  it also ‘purifies people, and protects money’ She also suggests  that mint can be used for psychic abilities and to keep off unwanted spirits, ’blend mint with frankincense and burn on charcoal,’ if its use is to get rid of unwanted spirits, ‘mix with camphor and burn for nine nights.’
    Mint is also mentioned in the bible at Mathew 23 v 23 where it says;
‘Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees. Hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not leave the other undone.’

  Michael Howard, in Traditional Folk Remedies   mentions that ‘Wealthy Roman noblewomen chewed peppermint leaves to stop bad breath.’ I have always chosen parsley for this, but I can see how mint would work. It is a well known ingredient in mouthwash and toothpaste due for its breath freshening properties.
Howard also states that ‘The leaves were also strewn in granaries in the ancient world, to keep away mice and rats.’  It does appear that mice are deterred by peppermint oil,  so a rodent deterrent of mint is worth exploring, not that I have a barn full of grain to experiment with.
  I found whilst checking the planetary rularship of mint that all mint varieties, according to Junius  are ruled by Venus, and understandably so I feel. However he places peppermint under Venus and Jupiter, King of the gods and teacher, so that gives it a slightly different perspective. This aids one, I feel, in identifying what one could use it for.
Culpeper indicates rulership by Venus, so does Donald Law, however Cunningham appears to disagree; he states Mercury; which also could seem logical, thinking along the lines of communication. He also places it as mint as a masculine plant, not sure I agree with that at all.    Agrippa places plants of great fragrance, under Venus, but mint he places under Jupiter, along with things which have ‘a sweet and pleasant taste’; so now we can see how we get both Jupiter and Venus. Not Mercury it seems, as Mercury, according to Agrippa, governs short plants, which mint is definitely not. .
  Culpeper calls the ‘mint that ‘grows in  ditches’ the ‘Wild or Horse mint’ ‘serviceable to dissolve wind in the stomach’ And this, is one remedy that has found its way into the 21st century, and I am sure it will journey on for as long as the plant survives.
  Mrs   Grieve quotes Dononæus whom a lot of people appear to quote, without any information as to who he was, so I will have to do likewise. All I seem to be able to find was that he was pre John Gerard 1545-1611 as he appears to be one of the sources used by Gerard. If anyone does know, please share this information with me.  So here is the well repeated quote;
“The savour of scent of Mynte rejoiceth man, wherefore they sow and strow the wild Mynthe in this countrie in places where feasts are kept, as in Churches. The juice of Mynte mingled with honied water cureth the payne of the ears when dropped theirin, and taketh away asperite and roughness of the tongue when it is rubbed or washed therewith.’
What a lovely way to spell mint, however I wonder what the difference is between Mynte and the wild Mynthe. Gerard agrees with the above quote as he sayeth ‘The savor or smell of the water Mint rejoyceth the heart of man, for which cause they use to strew in chambers and places or recreation, pleasure and repose, and where feasts and banquets are made.’ Isn’t it wonderful to think how man, or woman, in times past, derived such joy from the aroma of plants, I find this easy to forget in this age of ready to smell, in the bottle aromas. But what a joy it must have been to stumble across a patch of water mint, which in my experience can be detected by the nose from some yards away. And how the heart would ‘rejoyceth’ in what could be a rather stinky world.
  Now Michael Howard in his book Traditional Folk Remedies  has only one mint entry, this being the peppermint, of which he states. ‘Despite its long history, the use of peppermint in England is not recorded until the end of the seventeenth century, when a botanist saw it growing in a field in Hertfordshire and gave it the name by which is internationally known.’ Although he is directly referring to peppermint, and not the many other mints varieties, it does appear a rather misleading statement, especially in the light of Gerard’s previous declaration. So on closer examination we find regarding peppermint that ‘It was only recognised here as a distinct species late in the seventeenth century, when the great botanist Ray, published it in the second edition of his Synopsis stirpium britannicorum, 1696.’ (Mrs Grieve) So that makes it a bit clearer. So far we have discovered that the Romans would have brought mint to these shores, as they did with many of our now rather common plants and trees. However peppermint as a species  does not appear to have been identified until the late seventeenth century, water mint and spearmint were enjoyed on these shores previously.
  From a rather more culinary perspective I pulled down the River Cottage Handbook No 7, from the shelf, for those like myself who love foraging in the wild, Water mint Sorbet sounds rather yummy. The author, John Wight adds an interesting footnote to his Water mint entry, where he says;
‘Culpeper has to be quarantined as a p.s for his comments on mint. Among the many recommendations he for it is a “remedy for those that have venereal dreams pollutions in the night, being outwardly applied”, How you ‘outwardly apply’ it he doesn’t say. I have given the matter considerable thought and suggest stuffing the leaves in your Y-fronts.’
I am so glad I am not the only one who finds Culpeper rather amusing.
  Culpeper again finds the water mint as a remedy against ‘the kings evil’ which we have stumbled across before. This, it appears is scrofula, which was a swelling of the lymph node in the neck caused by tuberculosis, said to be cured by the touch from  royalty.
So we have gleaned many uses for the humble mint, apart from just mint sauce. However I would like to give Culpeper the final words as amongst all his recommendations he adds a warning; of the water mint he states;
'They  are extremely bad for wounded people, and they say that if a wounded man eats mint his wounds will never be healed, and never is a long day.' Yep; I wholeheartedly agree, never is a very very very long day!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Sacred Space Part One

Guarding the entrance to our sacred woodland are two sentinel trees, one an oak and the other, as in the photo, a rather old lady hornbeam. She stands upon three legs, each leg points to one of the three ways. On one side the entrance, so the past is behind you when  standing before her, and then two other paths. You are faced with a choice, which way should I go? 
  Such a wonderful specimen deserves a little deeper exploration. She is, as I have said, a hornbeam, so I thought I would spend a little time considering this tree, which in comparison with the oak, holly and yew, birch and beech, so little is written.
  Hornbeams (carpinus) according to Fred Hageneder in The Living Wisdom of Trees are ‘happy on clay or chalky soil’ and are ‘medium-to large-sized trees’ found ‘widely distributed in northern temperate regions.’Although it does appear a lot more frequently in the London area than elsewhere.  The hornbeam, in my opinion, closely resembles the beech tree, both by its smooth grey/green looking bark and its oval serrated ribbed leaves, and thin pointed buds. Although the beech leaf is less jagged in appearance, it is not until later in the year when the difference becomes completely apparent. The beech carries a fruit which reveals a nut or to be precise, mast, whereas the fruit of the hornbeams appears as a lantern, holding many keys, each key holds a nut or seed. The hornbeam, despite its appearance, is not related to the beech tree at all, but the hazel and the birch.
 Yvonne Aburrow in the book The Enchanted Forest places the carpinus betulus or common hornbeam, as a feminine tree, which I would wholeheartedly agree with, of the element air, which its air-borne seeds/nuts appear to support.  She places it under the dominion of the  planet Venus, whereas Hageneder on the other hand states ‘Saturn.’ So if we pause a moment here and consider this from a very superficial aspect for the sake of this piece of writing, Venus rules things hidden and Saturn, is the ‘guardian of the threshold of the supernatural,’ (Manfred M, Junius) so both in my opinion, can apply here.
   The wood of the hornbeam is extremely hard, the clue is there in the name (horn-hard, beam-wood). According to Hageneder it is so hard that it ‘quickly blunts carpenters’ tools hence its other name-“ironwood”. It is said to be used for butcher’s blocks, which to me is not a good idea if it is going to blunt the knife or chopper. However it was use extensively in charcoal burners as it burns very well. And  because of its hardness it was used by the Romans to build their chariots.
   In the Bach flower remedies the hornbeam is used in the treatment of those who ‘feel that they have insufficient mental or physical strength to cope with life.’ (Aburrow) or.  according to Hageneder; it can be used to clear ‘blocked or stagnant energies.’ A tonic of hornbeam is said to relive tiredness; and the leaves can be used to stop bleeding. Minor wounds I should imagine not decapitated heads.
   Hageneder also relates that the ‘ancient Germanic name, hagebuche, is derived from hagal,’ and to me, a link between hagal as the’ mother rune’ motherly care and protection. It’s Latin name carpinus, is said by Hageneder to come from the Celtic ‘ carr (wood), which as he states, ‘takes us back to Car, Q’er and Carya, the ancient eastern Mediterranean goddess of wisdom.
   He goes onto say that ‘The hornbeam guarded the sanctity of the sacred grove, and in this humble service it is akin to Heimdall, the mythical guardian of the rainbow bridge in Norse myth.’. So according to Hageneder the hornbeam symbolises guardianship, and what a fitting guardian she is, of this section of our sacred landscape.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

The Lily

  The inspiration for this piece of writing is not the plant itself, I do not grow lilies, hence no photo. The lack of the lily in the garden is not because I don’t love them, on the contrary I can think of little that delights the eyes more; however the battle with the slugs and snails is not one I have ever won. Therefore I need to explain my motivation; it shoots out from this extract I stumbled upon from Bartholomæus Anglicus (1260) reprinted in The Old English Herbals (1922) by Eleanour Sinclair Rohode, which reads;

“The Lely is an herbe with a whyte floure. And though the levys of the floure be whyte; yet wythin shyneth the lykenesse of golde.”

As the lily is such a beauty I thought it would be nice to pause a moment and contemplate.

    So what do we know of the lily? The genus lilium includes many species, around about 110 to be precise. The best known are the tiger lily, calla lily and day lily, however, out of the many species of lily, only the white ones are scented, with the tiger lily as the exception. The white lily is said to stand for purity, the day lily coquetry and the tiger lily wealth and majesty. I should imagine the lily mentioned in the early herbal would be the highly scented Madonna Lily, whose virtue is carried by both gold and scent when approached. Both highly valued.
 According to Mrs Grieve ‘This white Lily was a popular favourite with the ancient Greeks and Romans. In the early days of Christianity it was dedicated by the Church to the Madonna.’ It is said that it is due to its whiteness that the lily is seen as a symbol of purity, and hence the link with the Virgin Mary.
   However, according to Donald Law the lily was said to have 'grown from the tears of Eve when she was driven out of the Garden of Eden.’ Nothing very pure there I would have thought. Law also states that ‘It is supposedly under the Moon. It has been held as the symbol of Juno, of motherhood and of marriage, in its time. Somewhere in the history of the Christian Church the lily was adopted as the symbol of the Virgin Mary, and is also associated with innocence, chastity, pure motherhood and all feminine virtues.’ Not sure I would have put Eve in that basket, unless the tears were of remorse.
   Cunningham indicates that the lily belongs to Juno, also Venus, Nephthys and Kwan Yin, its magical use is for ‘protection,’ by planting in the garden to keep out ghosts, and ‘to protect against the evil eye.’ Also it appears to have a use in ‘breaking love spells’ that have been ‘cast involving a specific person, he says this is done by wearing the lily round the neck. I suppose as a symbol of chastity, this could make sense under some circumstances.
  It seems that it was Gerard who pointed to the fact that‘Our English lilie groweth in most gardens of England.’ It would be nice if that was so. Maybe the cottage gardens were hosts to less snails and slugs than today, their increase possibly due to decline in the hedgehog numbers. And where one does see the lily, this is possibly where some have resorted to slug pellets. ‘Bring back the hedgehog’ I cry.
  The old herbals claimed that the bulbs could be used in the treatment of some forms of venereal disease as well as ulcers and external inflammations and tumours. A salve made from the bulb is also said to remove corns and take away the pain of burns. However I am very unclear as to how it can do both without the addition of another ingredient.
   Back to words of gold; according to William Blake
The modest Rose puts forth a thorn,
The humble sheep a threat’ning horn
While the Lily white shall in Love delight,
Not a thorn nor threat stain her beauty bright.
And then Jesus encouraged one to;
'Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not,
neither do they spin:
even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."
~ Matthew 6:28-29
  Although the flowers referred to here were probably not the Madonna lily but a blanket term for uncultivated wild flowers. As Jesus was said to be standing on a mount at the time, it may have posed a problem in exact identification. He was after all a the son of a carpenter and not a botanist. Still the lily; without any assistance from man, is surely a wonder to the senses. And it is just rather nice, to think for a while about all the wild beauty that we can still witness, even in our present techno manipulated polluted existence.

Saturday, 27 August 2011


Vervain or verbena officinalis  is a medium sized perennial, it’s very dainty purple flower spikes   shoot  up to a height of around 18inches, 80cm during the summer months.  A native to most of Europe, Southern England and Wales, it can, it is said, be found on waste areas and roadside verges,(although I have never done so, but would be overjoyed if I did) however I have spotted it, although rather stunted, growing amongst the rocks of a disused quarry in Somerset.  Yet, as you may have guessed, it can be found growing happily in my garden.  The idea that vervain needs a well drained rich soil, as many books indicate, appears disproved by my experience. It grows very well in a slightly shaded border, and a rather waterlogged tub whose lack of drainage was an oversight on my part. So it may be that vervain prefers a well drained rich soil, yet will happily push forth its purple spires more or less anywhere, providing it has sufficient sunlight.
   The classical world knew it as verbena, and English herbals tended to call it vervain and strangely both names appear to have welded themselves into common usage. Mrs Grieve states that ‘The name Vervain is derived from the Celtic ferfaen, from fer (to drive away) and faen (a stone), as the plant was much used for the affections of the bladder, especially calculus.’ (in medicine a stone or concretion, especially one in the kidney, gall bladder, or urinary bladder) She continues by pointing to another title, Herba veneris due to its suggested aphrodisiac potencies.
   A rather better known crown that it has been awarded is   Herba Sacra;  the herb, according to Mrs Grieve,  used during the sacrificial act. However she does add  that the name Verbena is said to have been the classical Roman name for ‘altar-plants’ in general. Yet there does appear to be a distinction as   Pliny referred to verbenae in the plural, referring to sacred plants, whereas  the   hiera botane or ‘sacred plant’ of the Romans was the verbenaca singular. (
  Donald Law indicates that the flower festivals held by the Romans were called ‘verbanalia.’ Law also indicates that its status of herba sacra was due to its virtue as ‘one which older writers considered a panacea, you name the illness, they said Verbena will heal it.’  It is also said that Roman soldiers were said to have carried verbena as an amulet in their packs for protection. Law also states that
‘Pliny says that it was used to tell fortunes, but doesn’t say how’. Law adds that ‘Beasts for sacrifice in Ancient Rome, were decorated with verbena.’ and therefore ‘Was it a coincidence that they greeted foreign embassies with verbena also?’
   It’s flowers, it is said are ‘formed from the tears of Juno.’ (Law)   Cunningham also gives ‘Juno’s Tears’ as one of its folk names.  
  Thomas Firminger Thistleton Dyer (1889) in The Folk-Lore of Plants mentions  ‘Gerarde’ who when, describing the vervain, points to ‘its manifold mystic virtues,’ as ‘ “the devil did reveal it as a secret and divine medicine”.’
  Mrs Grieve states  that ‘the druids included it in their lustral water, and was second in import, following the mistletoe; adding that ‘magicians and sorcerers employed it largely’.  Donald Law states that ‘The Druids are known to have used it to ward off evil.’ However, as Cunningham puts it anything ‘ ”Druidic” has to be looked upon as poetic, rather than historic fact.’
             A plant of the planet Venus; and all sources appear to be in agreement on this,   a feminine plant,  of the element earth, said by Cunningham to be an aid in invoking ‘Love, Protection, Purification, Peace, Money, Youth, Chastity, Sleep, Healing’; According to Cunningham it is ‘Traditionally gathered at Midsummer, or at the rising of the Dog Star when neither sun nor moon is out, but this is not necessary.’ He adds that it is ‘a common ingredient in love mixtures and protective spells.’ Adding that ‘A crown of vervain on the head protects the magician whilst invoking spirits.’ plus ‘The infusion sprinkled around the premises chases off evil spirits and malignant forces.’ 
              Having just read these words my ears pricked up at Saturdays ‘Summer of Love’ when I heard Peter Grey mention vervain in his talk entitled ‘In the skin of the beast’ so decided I needed to find a book that would tell me more, and happened upon Crossed Keys by Michael Cecchetelli. (Scarlet Imprint 2011) I was here returned to Pliny; who was also mentioned by Peter Grey;   and thereby encouraged to reconsider the aforementioned gathering instructions which Cunningham dismisses. Cecchetelli states; ‘Pliny, the Naturalist, says that magicians claim this herb must be picked towards the beginning of the Dog Days, without the action being seen by the sun or the moon, having beforehand made atonement to the earth with a buried offering of honeycomb and honey; after, a circle must be drawn with iron around the plant, then it should be pulled up with the left hand and not allowed to touch the earth. The leaves, stem and root must be dried separately in the shade.’ So it appears that if vervain is to be used for magical purposes, it may be wise to follow recommendations, unless one is sufficiently knowledgeable to have found a better way.  A sunny period during the Dog Days here in the UK seems to be a lot harder to find than a copy of Pliny’s Historia Naturalis.
  Vervain, according to Cunningham, is also ‘added to exorcism incenses and sprinkling mixtures.’ He adds that ‘It is a common ingredient in purification bath sachets.’
  As a ‘peace-bringer’, it can ‘calm the emotions’ allowing a peaceful night’s sleep if drunk before one retires.
It seems that Vervain is also used in money and prosperity spells, ‘if the plant is buried in the garden or placed in the house, wealth will flow and plants will thrive.’(Cunningham) He adds that ‘The undiluted juice of the juice of the vervain, smeared on the body cures diseases and guards against future health problems.’ Hmm, I may dig out my juice extractor from the murky depths of the kitchen cupboard and give it a go.
  Hopman states that ‘Wearing or bathing in Vervain places one under the influence of Diana.’ She goes on to say ‘After washing your hands in the infusion, it will be possible to engender love in the one you touch.’  She adds, amongst other suggestions ‘Vervain is worn to recover stolen articles. Cunningham agrees with this; however it appears you need to know the person has taken the article in the first place.
  Both Hopman and Cunningham share that ‘Tucked into a child’s cradle, the plant brings joy and lively intellect.’ or words to that effect.
  Catherine Yronwode gives verbena many uses including love, protection and un-jinxing. She includes it in a nine-herb blend to use against evil, which includes ‘Verbena, Yarrow, Wood Betony, Elecampane, Rue, Mugwort, Celandine, Nettle and White Clover.’ Which she indicates is a ‘European-style protective tea used as a shielding bath against witches.’ She adds that to ‘Help School Children’ one should bathe the child in verbena tea, and ‘dress their heads with King Solomon Wisdom Oil.’
Then we have the Reverent John White’s view;
Hallowed be thou, Vervein, as thou growest on the ground,
For in the mount of Calvery there was thou found.
Thou healedst our Saviour Jesus Christ, and stanchedst his bleeding wound;
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the holy Ghost, I take thee from the ground.
(John White, The Way of The True Church, 1608)

 Vervain’s principle constituents are Glycosides, tannins, essential oils, saponins, organic acid, mineral compounds, and castine. So medicinally it is said be useful as a  sedative, anti-spasmodic and can, it is said,  be useful in the treatment of nervous exhaustion and depression. Adding to this list its use in   the treatment of tension headaches and migraine;  plus a mouthwash for infected gums. Is the list ever going to end? However as it may also promote menstruation, it obviously shouldn’t be taken internally during pregnancy It is recommended in the herbals, that the flower tips should be collected before they open. In the same way as you would lavender; I should imagine,
  Let me in conclusion give the last words to Cunningham. ‘The Juice of vervain, smeared on the body, will allow the person to see the future, have every wish fulfilled, turn enemies into friends, attract lovers, and be protect against all enchantments.’ (Not to forget attracting everything including money. What more could one want?)

Monday, 22 August 2011

Scarlet Imprint's Summer of Love

On Saturday 20th August we attended the Summer of Love organised by Scarlet Imprint. ( In my opinion it was an unusually successful day in which all the talks had a lot to offer and some were really marvellous. The venue, the Brighton Unitarian Church, proved to be a surprisingly comfortable and adaptable place, albeit with limits. The day began with Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold talking on Pomba Gira and following up with a brief rite in her honour. The talk was hugely interesting, although occasionally difficult to hear properly, even though Nicholaj is a good speaker and the rite was difficult to see, as it was held at the side of the building in what was really a short alley. But what we glimpsed was interesting and there was the tiny shrine to her at the end of it with roses and cigarettes and wine.
This was followed by Jake Stratton Kent's "Familiar and Unfamiliar Spirits". Jake is a lively and engaging speaker who obviously has a good grasp of his subject as he led us through a reconceptualisation of the Goetia, not as evil demons, but as spirits, some friendly and sympathetic, some difficult or even dangerous, but who can be approached and engaged with in a very different way to the traditional magician in his circle, calling up goetic spirits into a triangle. Clearly one still needs safeguards, but one need not make a prisoner of them.
Between them these first two talks set up the themes and the mood for much of what followed, Stephen Grasso's talk "Smoke and Mirrors" was really a reading of an intense prose-poem of urban magics, good, but it would have been nice to have more of Stephen talking to us directly, discussing, engaging. Peter Grey followed on with a talk considering notions of sacrifice in the grimoires with a definite Luciferan angle and a very natty line in green frilly shirts! This was followed in turn by a talk by Alkistis Dimeche on Butoh and ritual. I have to say that for me it was fascinating, but it was a little unformed, she seemed to veer from being really utterly in command of her material to getting a little lost in it. A bit more focus and maybe some trimming down and finishing with some discussion would have made it a masterly talk.
Nothing prepared us for Ulysses Black's talk though, which gave a brief history of his involvement with both performance art and magic, the use of black mirrors and trance and which culminated in him pouring a large jar of honey over himself. The talk was funny and relevant and believe it or not, so was the honey-pouring.
The evening gave us dancing from Michael Azzato and Alkistis and at the end Stephen Grasso was spinning some vinyl, but really we were flagging by then and in need of food and drink.
Quite apart from the actual events it was wonderful to meet friends such as Shani Oates and make new friends, meeting Nicholaj, Mogg Morgan and many others. When you are not a fixture on the occult social scene, socialising with the occultists can be a terrible chore sometimes, but here it wasn't. people had  a good and friendly attitude, and "attitude" was not a problem, that grisly egotism of trying to be cooler than thou. Well, I suppose it is always present, and nobody is immune, certainly not me, but it didn't get in the way of interesting and friendly discourse. So, all-in-all  Scarlet Imprint are to be congratulated on a well-organised event that was friendly, intelligent and focused. Many thanks and I hope they stage another event before too long.

Monday, 25 July 2011


Valerian (Valeriana officinalis, Valerianaceæ ) is  a  herbaceous perennial native to northern Asia and Europe, it loves damp meadows, stream edges and ditches, however it does grow happily in my flower bed alongside its rather more poisonous brothers and sisters. The white to  purple umbels push skyward in the summer months, attaining a height of about three feet, and will happily stand on their own, gently towering over the mass of leaves gathering below.     
 According to Mrs Grieve; ‘The derivation of the name of this genus of plants is differently given. It is said by some authors to have been named after Valerius, who first used it in medicine; while others derive the name from the Latin word valere (to be in health), on account of its medicinal qualities.’
  It is understood to be a useful sedative, antispasmodic and carminative, and  it is said, rather contradictorily, to wake those suffering from fatigue. No doubt this is true; one sniff of the dried root could certainly wake me from slumber. I say this about very few plants, but the valerian root is rather stinky.  I sat on a bus once with some of the dried root in a brown paper bag, and the scent was so malodorous and strong that I felt compelled to remove myself and my shopping bag contents from the bus, after trying to ignore the pong to no avail. The aroma is rather similar to stale body odour, and of course, the finger could have been pointed at me and not the contents of my bag. It is probably the only plant root that I would recommend placing  in a plastic bag above a paper one, and sealing it very tightly in transit.
  It is alleged that ‘during the sixteenth century the essential oil was a popular perfume.’ (Chrissie Wildwood The Encyclopedia of Healing Plants,) It appears that the oil is extracted from the root, and so, I am presuming this has been the case throughout history; the mind just boggles at the thought. I just can’t imagine roaming the streets of London smelling of a perfume made from valerian root. Having said that, travelling on the tubes in the metropolis, on a hot steamy summer’s day,  does sometimes hold a scent as if many people have taken to this suggestion. I would encourage you to seek out some dried root and sniff; and see what I mean. No; that is rather cruel of me, please don’t.
   On a more serious note, it is also indicated to be useful in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, period pains, rheumatic pains and migraine, palpitations and reducing the effects caused by high blood pressure.
   Catherine Yronwode names the plant ‘Vandal Root’ and indicates that it has a ‘dual reputation for evil and protection.’ It can be used ‘to stop unwanted visitors: sprinkle VANDAL ROOT across your front steps, calling the person’s name, and commanding that he or she be unable to cross over. To make this spell stronger, add BLACK PEPPER and SALT to the mix.’ (Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic) Yep, I think if I got to some ones front door and it smelt of valerian root, I may hesitate to enter.
   A plant of the planet Mercury according to Manfred M. Junius and Ellen Evert Hoppman, yet Agrippa places valerian as under the influence of Venus, along with vervain. He states of valerian, it is that ‘which by the Arabians is called phu!’ This, according to Mrs Grieve, is ‘an expression of aversion from its offensive odour.’ Yes pooh is what I say when I open the valerian root jar. All the plants of Venus are said to be sweet scented, which may be why it has been placed under the influence of Mercury, according to more recent penmanship.
  However I find Culpeper places valerian under Mercury and Cunningham places it under Venus: so I see that theory flying out of the door along with the unwanted visitors. And then to add further confusion to my already befuddled grey matter, Donald Law places it under Uranus, and states that ‘it has been a standing ingredient of countless aphrodisiacs and love potions.’ Well I never! Not sure I see the link between love potions and Uranus though. Seeing that Uranus wasn’t identified in Culpeper’s time, it is possible that Culpeper may have agreed with Law.
   Cunningham places it as   feminine and of the element Water: with powers over love, and sleep, and also as an aid in purification and protection. He states ‘The rather ill smelling root, powdered, is used in protective sachets, hung in the home to protect against lightning, and placed in pillows to aid falling asleep’.  I could think of much nicer  aids to sleep; lavender being one of them. He goes onto say ‘A sprig of the plant pinned to a woman’s clothing will cause men to “follow her like children.” Shall I try that suggestion? I think I will give it a miss.
I do feel one of the problems  with Mr Cunningham’s suggestions  is that it can become rather confusing. He has placed a comment concerning a sprig, in the middle of those for the use of the root. The flowers of valerian have a relatively pleasant scent, and the leaves appear to be odourless. However he does follow the preceding comment with; ‘Valerian root  is also added to love sachets. If a couple are quarrelling introduce some of this herb to the area and all will soon be calm.’ Ok I can see that working, as the cause of  the argument is likely to be overshadowed by trying to seek out the source of the stench.  He adds that ‘The Greeks hung a sprig of valerian under a window to charm away evil.’ Now are we talking root or plant as in flower and leaf here?
 Cunningham finishes with ‘Valerian root, powdered, is sometimes used as “graveyard dust.”’ Ooh, how can that work then?   Ellen Evert Hopman clarifies this point for me by stating that ‘It has been used as a substitute for graveyard dust to repel unwanted presences.’ Now that sounds better, doesn’t it?
  Professor Henslow gives a curious recipe, quoted in Mrs Grieve, a translation of which runs as follows: 'Men who begin to fight and when you wish to stop them, give to them the juice of Amantilla id est Valeriana and peace will be made immediately.' This sounds like a probable origin for Cunningham suggestion for calming a quarrelling couple. However it is the juice that is administered in this case.
   Mrs. Grieve caused me to stagger with amazement when she states  ‘In the Middle ages, the root was not only used as a medicine, but also as a spice, and even as a perfume.’ and then I find “Take valerian in your mouth and kiss she who you desire, and she will be yours in love right away.” (Beuchert, 1995: 31in Witchcraft Medicine) Oh yuk; do hope they mean the leaf or flower, however the previous quote does go to show how appreciation of different scents has changed over the years.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Greater Celandine

Greater Celandine, (Chelidonium majus) loves to grow near people, yet not quite so happily these days.  A member of the poppy family it can be found gaily roaming the hedge near farmland, not may I say, common in the vicinity of my London flat.
The greater celandine is a herbaceous perennial which  can grow to a height of between one to three feet.  Many slightly hairy branches spring from a thick and fleshy root, and shoot upwards, scrambling amongst its other hedgerow brothers and sisters. The whole plant contains a bright orange-coloured juice which is said to be a powerful irritant, and which allegedly can be used to cure warts, ringworm and corns.
    According to Mrs Grieve its appearance is of the Cruciferæ order rather than the poppy family papaveraceæ, (sounds like a load of journalists) as its four petals are arranged in the shape of a cross.  This is the true celandine, and has no relationship whatsoever with its name sake the lesser celandine, except of course ,  they both have yellow flowers. According to Mrs Grieve ‘It was a drug plant in the Middle Ages and is mentioned by Pliny, to whom we owe the tradition that is called Chelidonium from the Greek chelidon (a swallow) as  it appears that it comes into flower when the swallows arrive, and fades at their departure.’ She adds that the ‘English word Celandine is merely a corruption of the Greek word.’ (Chelidonium) She also suggests ‘Its acrid juice has been employed successfully in removing films from the cornea of the eye; a property which Pliny tells us was discovered by swallows.’(another swallow link) It appears that  that swallows were seen to pluck off celandine leaves and then rub them upon the unopened eyes of their young.  Gerard says that ‘the juice of the herbe is good to sharpen the sight, for it cleanseth and consumeth away slimie things that cleave about the ball of the eye and hinder the sight and especially being boiled with honey in a brazen vessel, as Dioscorides teacheth.’  Me thinketh, the learn-ed gentlemen copiest each other, without testing this out. I still don’t fancy putting something in my eye at the same time as I am employing this very same juice to remove warts and corns.
   Culpeper argues in support of this use of the celandine, quite emphatically, submitting that if  ‘you make celandine into an oil or an ointment,’ ‘it is one of the best cure for the eyes’ he later posits; ‘I can prove it doth both by my own experience,  and the experience of those to whom I have taught it, that most desperate sore eyes have been cured by this only medicine;’ he continues ‘I pray, is this not a far better than endangering the eyes by the art of the needle?’ Don’t like the sound of either personally! 
  So here we see (sorry for the pun) the link between the eye and the swallow. The swallow is guilty of opening the eyes of their young with celandine, therefore it must be ok. It is rather interesting to find that in many cases these suggestions stem from notes being taken from the animal and bird kingdom. However I do suggest due caution if trying a remedy just because the birds do it, after all our feathered friends happily feed on yew berries, not something that I would recommend copying.

   It is, according to Mrs G, one of the ‘twenty-four herbs mentioned in Mercer’s Herbal’ a fourteenth century work I have no idea what this is, and can find no record of it apart from this inclusion.
   Celandine is said to be good for the blood, with the old herbalists pointing to its yellow juice, and suggesting its use as a cure for jaundice; as the doctrine of signatures points to plants with yellow sap as a remedy for jaundice and liver complaints. It is found, in present days, growing in hedgerows here in the U.K,  and in Culpeper’s time it appears that it’s habitat was not dissimilar. He states ‘They grow in many places by old walls, hedges and waysides in untilled places; and being once planted in a garden, especially some shady places, it will remain there.’

   It is interesting that the above photo was taken in a hedge very near to Lullingstone Roman Villa in Kent, so the following piece of information became most fascinating to me, as evidently ‘This Eurasian herb has followed civilisation, with numerous folklore stories surrounding its uses. It was a popular herb at the height of the RomanEmpire,’   So I can playfully imagine the above specimen being a direct descendent of a Roman ancestor.

   Culpeper says of  celandine, ‘this  is an herb of the Sun’ (understandably.) He goes onto place it ‘under the Celestial Lion, and is one of the best cures for the eyes; for all that know anything in astrology, know that the eyes are subject to the luminaries; let it then be gathered when the Sun is in Leo and the Moon in Aries.’ Manfred M Junius places it under the rulership of both the Sun and Jupiter, which appears, according to Agrippa to include all things that ‘increase nourishment, and vegetation of the life.’ Although he does say ‘Amongst tastes, such as are sweat and pleasant’ Hmm, not too sure about that one. However it is probably best implied by the statement ‘all such things whose sweetness is manifest and subtle, partaking  somewhat of an astringent and sharp taste, as are nuts, almonds, pine-apples, filberts, pistachio nuts, roots of peony, myrobalan, rhubarb, and manna; Orpheus adds storax.’ however according to Junius, ‘Jovian diseases are all diseases due to immoderation in eating and drinking, bad digestion, too much congestion and impure blood.’ Back to the yellow blood again, thereby the link becomes clearer.
  Cunningham suggests this plant as poisonous, yet implies that celandine ‘imparts good spirits and joy if worn’ he adds the suggestion that one should wear it ‘to court to win favour of the judge or jury, or as a protective herb.’ He gives its magical uses as ‘aids in escaping unwarranted imprisonment and entrapments of every kind.’ Catherine Yronwode also places celandine as protective and indicates that it is ‘said to keep off both witches and law officers.’ Donald Law mentions that ‘The gypsies used to put the herb in their shoe and keep it there when they walked, they claimed it kept their feet fresh’ however I’ m wondering if it has anything to do with the previous suggestions; or maybe both. 

Tuesday, 12 July 2011


The blackberry or bramble is a very common lady here in the South East of England, as I am sure it is in other parts of the U.K, in fact there are very few places where you can wander a little from the pavement, and not become tangled in a bramble, or perhaps the bramble may become entangled in you. Very quick to try and colonise any waste ground, its tenacious branches root easily wherever they can manage to find a piece of spare earth. Straddling great heights and then diving head first towards the earth in search of fresh ground on which to take root, the blackberry often manages to construct a natural arch with many uses only limited by the imagination. In its second year of growth this cane produces lateral shoots and begins to focus on flowering and producing berries. It can do this in sun or shade, come rain or shine, on rich or very poor stony soils, but appears, as with most, to be happier with adequate supplies of sun and water, and in these conditions produce the choicest berries. Its tolerance of most conditions means that once established the bramble becomes very difficult to remove.  And in this image below is very happily growing inside this vehicle.
   A member of the rose family, all parts of the plant, root leaves, flowers and berries can be made use of, and if you would like to use the rather prickly twigs; make yourself a ‘Witches Wisk.’ (Gemma Gary, Traditional Witchcraft, A Cornish Book Of Ways, 2008)  ‘purely used to exorcise evil  and negative influences.’ Gather ‘thirteen dried blackberry twigs’ bind them together at one end 'to form a handle'. ‘The ends of the twigs are set alight in a blessed fire and the smoking whisk is waved around the place with vigorous gestures to ward off all evil and harmful influences.’ I have tried to make one, but the lacerated arms I received in the process became rather a deterrent. I will  try again and do the logical thing of donning a pair of gardening gloves, (not something I do very often) and will cover my arms; not with a favorite cardy, I hasten to add .
  The blackberry has graced these shores with her presence for many-a year. Donald Law (1973) says of the names etymology: ‘The Anglo-Saxon word was Bremel, and most of the older herbals speak of the bramble.’  He indicates that when the Latin tongue began to influence the language of England, that ‘nothing Saxon was good enough.’ so the name was changed.  Mrs Grieve on the other hand indicates that ‘the name of the bush is derived from brambel, or brymbyl, signifying prickly.’
    The blackberry is said to be a plant of  the planet Venus;    the morning and evening star,  a herald of the morning, and a bringer of light, its surface hidden in a blanket of thick cloud which provides the planet with the status of ‘ruler of occult intelligence’ and is said to be ‘strongly related to alchemy.’ (Manfred M.Junius) Junius goes onto say of Venus that ‘The planet rules the arts, harmony, proportion, affection, and the ability to integrate separate things into a whole and to mediate between opposites,’ he also points out interestingly that ‘Venus    rules over the metamorphosis of the cells,’ As an extra point of interest, it appears that Venus is the only planet to turn clockwise, all others turn anti-clockwise, not sure that that is particularly relevant here, but just thought it rather interesting.
   Culpeper suggests that the blackberry  lies under the dominion of ‘Venus in Aries’ and goes onto prompt the question; ‘If any ask the reason why Venus is so prickly? Tell them it is because she is in the house of Mars.’  Donald Law makes this a bit clearer by suggesting that ‘The plant is under the sign of Aries but held to be subject to influence by Venus.’      According to Michael Jordan (Plants of Mystery and Magic) the ‘bramble has been associated with virtue, which again, in my opinion links it with Venus.  
   Associated folklore couples the blackberry with Michaelmas, a festival celebrated somewhere between 29th of September and October the 10th, around this date it is said that the Devil was expelled from heaven by the Archangel Michael. Revelation 12 v7 relates how war broke out in Heaven between Michael, his angels, and the dragon and his angels; v 9 states that the dragon was ‘that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan.’ This Devil was said to be angry about being chucked out of heaven, and v 12 goes onto state, ‘Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, and to the sea! for the devil is come down to unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth he hath but a short period of time.’ (K.J.V)  It appears that not only was he angry at being chucked out of heaven, but he also landed on a bramble bush, and was caused some considerable discomfort. He thereby cursed the berries, spat on them, and deemed any fruit picked after this date as inedible, which of course it is as it starts to become covered in grey powdered mould. I have always found that after the autumn equinox, it is best to leave the blackberries to the birds, those that may not be mouldy, are no longer juicy but shrivelled and full of pips. According to Jordan, the reason the devil dislikes the bramble so much is due to its ‘virtuous nature’ and perhaps because  it is said to have formed ‘the crown of thorns.’
  So sticking my big toe in the sea of controversy, to me, the wrath of the devil appears as darkness, and rules on earth, from the autumn equinox, until the rebirth of the sun/son, (a short period of time) whereas the light of Michael who after all is said to be the Arch Angel of light, illuminates only the heaven at this time. The child of light is born again as with the sun and grows in strength until the vernal equinox, when once again the sceptre is handed back to the light. But as usual, I have begun to roam from the thorns; but maybe a topic to return to at a later date. Although it is  interesting to consider the sheer amount of folklore here in the U.K relating to the Devil and his antics on the mortal plain or as Pepper and Wilcock suggests ‘His Satanic Majesty must have spent a  good deal of time in the English countryside.’ (Magical and Mystical Sites, 1977)
   Back to the Blackberry; Cunningham places it as feminine and sacred to Brigit; and it is said to aid in the attraction of wealth or healing. And according to Ellen Evert Hopman in A Druid’s Herbal  the roots can be used as a ‘remedy for  diarrhea’ and the ‘leaves and berries to attract wealth or healing.’ Herbs and Healing Plants places the blackberry as used for ‘diarrhoea’ (sorry about the shift of spelling, just quoting my sources) ‘Also skin rashes, eczema and mouth and throat infections.’ Its active ingredients include ‘Tannins, flavones, organic acids, vitamin C.’ And I have forgot to add,  they taste rather lovely, makes excellent Jam, and of course, mustn’t forget, a flavoursome wine, and its leaves added to an incense blend add an invigorating fruity aroma, so in my opinion,  a jolly useful lady, apart from the fact she likes to attack me on my walks, she is still a very nice friend to get to know.
   Graves places the bramble as being sacred to the White Goddess, along with other plants that possess ‘five-pointed leaves’ such as ‘vine, bramble, fig, plane and the ivy.’ If one looks closely, one can find ivy and bramble leaves with five points, but this is the exception rather than the rule, and does need a bit of searching out.  However he does indicate   that ‘the bramble is both sacred to the Pentad and triad of seasonal Goddesses, the number on a single stalk varying between three and five.’  Graves; in The White Goddess gives a charm against a scald, ‘One dips nine bramble in spring water and then applies them to the scald;’ chanting the charm below three times. He states that ‘In this charm the Goddesses are clearly seasonal, the Goddesses of Summer bringing fire, her sisters bringing frost.’
Three Ladies came from the East,
One with fire and two with frost.
Out with thee fire, and in with thee, frost.
He then adds, ‘a sop to the clergy’,
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
   Catherine Yronwode recommends the use of the bramble to ‘return evil to enemies’ she gives instructions which include red cloth, blackberry leaves, black salt, and either a black human-figure shaped candle or  black china-ware 
    Culpeper, states that the leaves and the berries make an ‘exceeding good’ lotion for ‘sores in the mouth, or secret parts.’  He also submits that ‘The leaves boiled in lye, and the head washed therewith, heals the itch and running sores thereof, and makes the hair black.’  Law suggests that ‘Some legends say that witches feared the brambles but the reason for this is not clear.’  He adds that ‘the unripe berries were said to be a witch cure against snake bite.’ Which may be what Culpeper means when he states ‘’the berries of the flowers are a powerful remedy against the poison of the most venomous serpents:’ And who can live without Gerard’s recommendation (quoted in Mr Grieves) as the   ‘leaves heal the eies that hang out,’ hmm, this suggestion causeth the mind, or should I say the eyes, to boggle.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Some thoughts on 1734 and tradition.

     Joe Wilson frequently spoke of 1734 as a method or a system rather than a tradition. He pointed out that it is the nature of a tradition to be handed down or passed on, so in truth one can't start or invent a tradition straight away, one can only build a system  and then pass it on to another, and when they have passed it on in turn, then it truly becomes a tradition. In this sense, as I start to teach 1734, and do indeed pass it on to others, then it becomes a tradition in our hands. 1734 teachings were given to me by Joe, I develop them and pass them on. If you are unlucky enough to be taught by me, we make it  a tradition.
     It is fair to say, from this perspective, that there are a number of 1734 traditions, groups that have passed on 1734 teachings through several generations. Many of these are not well known to me, I can't validate or authenticate them, nor, for that matter, can I invalidate them, coerce or dominate them, and thank goodness for that. When, at the very end of his life Joe decided to appoint three guardians of 1734, he did not hand the reins of power over to us, giving us full authority over all 1734 groups, it is not a position of power, but responsibility. We are honour bound to represent 1734 honestly, clearly and fairly, and this means not only expounding the basic teachings, but recognising an element of variability among the groups and traditions that emanate from Joe, the Wilsonian stream.
     There is something very important here, we obviously have to acknowledge the very powerful influence of "Robert Cochrane" and the debt to the material in his letters to Joe, but we are not exactly "cochranian" witches, we are Wilsonian. We are happy to recognise the Clan of Tubal Cain as both kith and kin - and as much loved friends, but we are also distinct from them. This has been recognised on both sides, so while, for instance, Shani Oates has been generous with information and advice, it has never been forced upon us and always with the proviso that it might not be entirely suited to our stream, we have to decide.
     Nevertheless, it is certainly true that much of the material available about the Clan of Tubal Cain is entirely relevant to us. What it does need, however, is to be recast in our image, it requires a transformation into something new by our understanding of an idea rather than simply copying what has been done before by others. It is frequently this that distinguishes Traditional Witchcraft, the protean transformation of what is given, endlessly making new what is old and what is passed on by others.

Thursday, 30 June 2011


    Aconite; also known as Wolfsbane or Monkshood is one of the most deadly occupants of the plant kingdom. The name aconite is the English form of its Latin name Aconitum.  Mrs Grieve indicates that Aconitum originates from akontiom ‘a dart, because it was used by barbarous races to poison their arrows’, or perhaps  from akone, ‘cliff or rocky’ because the species grows in rocky glens. However it does appear that aconite requires soil that has water retaining properties. And luckily for me, is very happy in the shade.
 The name Wolfsbane is said to originate from the wolf hunting expeditions of Anglo Saxons, of whom it was said  dipped their arrowheads in the juice of the aconite, in which case   akontiom appears the more logical of the two. Its name at that time, according to Mrs Grieve was ‘thung,’ which seems to be a general name placed upon all poisonous plants by the Anglo Saxons.   Rather makes one think of how we are prone generalise with the word thing, however a ‘thing’does not usually kill..... I hope!
   The title Monkshood appears to have been donned because in the Middle Ages the flower heads were said to resemble the drooping hood of a monk’s habit, nothing to do with death wielding monks of course. It has also been suggested that it has the appearance of a helmet; not such an evocative image in my opinion. However my recent exploration of the aconite has prompted the buds to gain the appearance (in my mind) of  the Angel of Death, slowly waking from slumber; a warning of what lies in store for those foolish enough to mistake it for something friendly.
  Yet another member of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceæ) the aconite as I have indicated is one of the most poisonous plants in the UK, the smallest amount is likely to kill. Although aconite is said to have been introduced into the U.K. in the distant past, it can no longer, as far as I am aware, be found in the wilds here.
  Michael Jordan states that when rubbed on the skin, ‘the juice provides a sensation of tingling and then numbness, for which reason Aconite was considered a standard ingredient of witches “flying ointment”. He also suggests that ‘When combined with other narcotic ingredients it may have given the mental sensation of levitation’. According to Donald Law there is no known antidote to the poison, and a safe dose is impossible to prescribe, what is safe for one, may kill another, and hallucinations occur prior to the heart collapsing. He adds a message to any ‘would-be warlocks’ ‘Why go to all the trouble when airline tickets are so cheap?’ (Law 1973) Missing the point I know.  Law also pushes his reader to consider the possibility that   some of the suggested enigmas produced by   the plant are the result of   an ancient form of drug addiction.
 Nicholaj de Mattos Frisovold makes a very interesting point on his book Craft of The Untamed which I would heartily recommend, he states ‘Monkshood is a frequent ingredient in flying ointments, but can be a poison capable of paralysing the lungs, so its use is not advocated. Belladonna is its antidote. This explains why most ointments using Monkshood also use Belladonna.’ (p93) interesting thought m’thinks. However it does appear that ‘Aconite causes irregular action of the heart, and Belladonna produces delirium.’ (footnote Mrs G p9)
  However many different views there are; one thing is certain, aconite is a very deadly plant and should be treated with respect and due caution. Not wanting to dwell  on its death dealing properties for too long, although I find its powers to kill rather worryingly fascinating,  it is said that ‘One-fiftieth grain of Aconite can kill a sparrow in  a few seconds; one-tenth grain a rabbit in five minutes. It is more powerful than prussic acid and acts with tremendous rapidity.’ (Mrs Grieve) She goes onto warn that ‘so acrid is the poison, that the juice applied to a wounded finger affects the whole system, not only causing pains in the limbs, but a sense of suffocation and syncope.’
 Mrs Grieve, describes the root of the aconite as ‘spindle–shaped,’ what a lovely evocative image this creates, of spinning wheels, pricking of the finger and sleeping for a thousand years (or longer) as the greatest amount of toxins are found in the roots.
  According to Robert Graves, the ‘witch-flower aconite’ sprang from the saliva of Cerberus; a ‘poison, a paralysant and febrifuge.’ Or as Mrs Grieve indicates, it is ‘the invention of Hecate from the foams of Cerberus’ According to Mrs Grieve ‘Aconite is also supposed to have been the poison that formed the cup which  Medea prepared for Theseus.’ (p9 1988 edition) (only quoting folks, please don’t stone me for that one)
 Again according to Mrs Grieve; ‘In 1524 and 1526 it is recorded that two criminals, to whom the root was given as an experiment, quickly died.’ So that’s how they tested such things, one thing is for sure; I will admire from a distance.
   It appears that the ‘older herbalists described it as venomous and deadly.’  I found no mention of it amongst Culpepper’s words of wisdom; however Mrs Grieves indicates that he suggests that ‘the herb was used in his time, but not often.’
   The suggestion that the plant can be used as a remedy against other poisons has been laid to rest in recent times and the ancient recommendations of its use as any form of remedy should be ignored. Gerard states that its powers are “So forcible that the herb was only thrown before the scorpion or any other venomous beast, causeth them to be without force or strength to hurt, inasmuch that they cannot move or stirre until the herb is taken away.”  
   Mrs Grieve adds to this; ‘Field-mice are well aware of its evil nature, and in hard times, when they will attack any other plant that offers them food, they leave this severely alone.’ So it may just stop scorpions in their tracks, however I feel that if ever confronted with a scorpion, and finding aconite growing by my side, I may just chuck it at the creature, but then not hang around to examine the results.
  Linnæus it appears, to have reported that aconite proved to be fatal to cattle and goats when eaten fresh; however when dried it does no harm to horses; a peculiarity in common with the buttercups, to which the Aconites are related.’ (Mrs Grieve)
  No surprises that this plant is said to come under the dominium   of Saturn along with the other plants, which according to Agrippa are ‘deadly and dedicated to Pluto.’ So all in all, best to admire and be amazed by, but then to leave well alone.

Just a quick end note; although the winter aconite (Æranthis hyemalis)  also a member of the buttercup family, is not a true aconite.