Stuff of Life

Healing takes on a lot of forms, as does self love.
When I need to take care of myself, I look towards the myths and lore of spice and incense making.  I pour over my literature on the history of cosmetics in glamour, in ensnarement, in beautification and allure.  I start making powders and philters, sands and spices, things that make mouth water and the skin crawl.  It smells like opium and orris. It feels like oil and candle wax.  It sounds like Brown Sugar by D'Angelo when the cinnamon and clove hits the tongue, Brubeck Take Five when the oil gets sizzling, and something Fragile, Nine Inch Nails when the senses get drugged by the combination of mind-altering blends warming over coals.  
Inhale here, and there, and it's inside of you crawling.  Everything is heavy and everything is calm.  Focus is eerie and the breath gets shallow.  You're not alone in the kitchen or the house.  There's some sort of manic party, frenetic dancers, static all around the periphery and noise and sensation.  But there's always that focus.  The eye goes narrow and that's where the power of creation lies.
It's an assault on the senses when you do it right, that's what a teacher once taught me. We should relish the excess and revel in all that tactile tangibility, the stuff of life.

We all cope in our own ways.  I prefer my own brand of medicine; art and spirituality
Gifts for my friends: Herbal mint-family tea, iced
hibiscus tea, milk and dry honey baths with roses.

The Hermit

I don't believe in mass curses, but this year felt cursed.  I don't know what it was about this year, about who we are and what we've done, but this year proved to be difficult and full of grief for a lot of people.  All around me there is suffering.  In a way, it gets easier over time to deal with loss and fear and grief.  But at the same time, it wears you down sometimes, makes you tired in a way that runs deeper than the bones.  It's a sickness that settles in the soul.  It's a rot in the stomach, a palpitation in the heart.  It's called susto in Southwest practice, and it affects the spirit when a person is given shocking news.  There's a few ways to exorcise oneself of the sickness caused by grief, my method is busying the hands with stocking my pantry for winter.  This year was hard and full of illness and grief.  This year was the year that I learned that I know nothing at all. 

Rose, honey and amber based incense
Here, there and all around me is immediate suffering, and I've been worn down and aged by it.  I'm worn out from the loss of loved ones, I'm tired of grief.  It has taken everything in me to smile.  But it takes nothing to create, so that's what I focus on when I cant focus on anything else.

tincture for exorcism of mal de ojo, opens the doors for ancestors
The dog and pony show:  It's a type of glamour: first you summon a face that is pleasant and unreadable, and then cultivate an affectation of docility and gentleness, and invoke your innermost actress until you've fooled the senses of those around you into thinking you're okay.  It shimmers and shines on a face like mine.  But that glamour slips eventually, and you can hear the years of whiskey and chain-smoking and pain dripping from my voice.  Every charm needs upkeep, it needs to be fed... mine has limits too.

Beyond here lies nothing.  There's that tiny, dark place that's so easy to crawl into. It fits comfortably around us, securing us in the knowledge that our fears and insecurities and isolation is real, and tangible and will protect us from some greater pain.  We crawl into those dark grottos and soak in those shallow pools of feeling. In those dark places, you're supposed to learn, to meditate, like The Hermit.  You're supposed to sit in the stillness and quiet your mind. Enjoy the silence.  But the silence can scream and become this crushing thing all around us. And then you are trapped there. It's important to busy the hands and busy the mind with the wheel of the year.  Something about focusing on the turn of life and earth, the ever steady rhythm of the world around us as it does it's constant dance... it makes me feel small, and that insignificance makes me feel safer, less pressured. You've got to be the hermit sometimes, and time your life by the turning of the green world around you, not the clock on your cell phone.

teas for anxiety and fear; orange osmanthus, chamomile, licorice root, kava kava, melissa, etc.
People; we're all subtle nuances and deep layers.  I busy my hands with work fit for me- smokes, spices, sands, teas, baths, books, oils, balms, anathema and apotropaic talismans- anything I can create that brings comfort to others gives me a sense of a purpose. And I need a sense of purpose right now.  I don't bother reaching out, and I don't bother speaking up.  I just put my head down and get to work.
Northwest Incense: wildcrafted poplar, cedar branch, decayed cedar powdered, cinnamon, conifer resin, tincture of amber, olibanum

Incense of Poppy: poppy, datura, rose, orris, opium oil
In some new age religions, they talk about grounding- the need to settle the energy around you or within you to the ground by steadying your breath, thoughts and soul.  I'm working on grounding myself every time I get worked up.  Usually I just crawl off into the smoke and drink of the spirit world, but there are times when I feel like dancing too closely with the dead might make me want to stay at their party.  Sometimes the party looks fun.  But I'm not too keen on joining just yet, I think I'd like to just sit here and enjoy the silence for a moment.  In that silence, I am alone, I am The Hermit.  I'll be okay.

Bee Incense with blonde amber, honey amber, sunflower pollen, blonde sandalwood, honey comb, orange osmanthus, orange bergamot, bee propolis, orris powder
Finished Bee Incense

Saturn's Day

saturn's day, dark moon, hunter's moon, hour of mercury

The Hag. The Hunter.

Hunter, I name thee Bone Man of the Crossroads

Divine archetypes that reflect the animistic nature even of seasons and worldly phenomena are common and far reaching.

Among the most common is the personification of winterstide and the darkyear as an old woman of snow hares and owls, of bones and storm winds, and she is personified by many names, The Hags of Winter, and a skeletal king of wood and beast and branch and seed known as the lord of silence, the Hunter, the bone father, king of the host. 

They are not exactly the gods- they are the force of the season personified, they are the mask worn by gods so old their names are ancient sounds, hard to pronounce and too numerous to recount.  They are the old gods of the winter bones that are sacrificed to in the harvest time to appease their hungers. She the owl, he the wolf, they the frost and ice and cold.  She the hammer, he the silence. 

Not all witches personify the seasons.  Not all pagans do or did.  Some of us were influenced by Graves and Frazer and Leland as well as the rituals found cross culturally between our European ancestors' land veneration and seasonal animistic rites, and those of our Native and African ancestors who also marked the wheel of the year, the turn of the land's fertility and the rise and gods of the different spirits of the seasons.  In some lore, they say the faeries of the dark court of the green mantle reign supreme for now until the spring.  In some lore, this is the time when snailwoman and owl women steal children and Stormwind battles Northwind.  In other lore, this is the time for An Cailleach and all those other old women of winter, and those bone gods of silence.What seems common is the theme of sacrifice, the essence of survival and the steady retreat of warmth.

Come spring, they pass into the land and emerge again personified in the vernal renewal as a Green Man and Virid Virgin, deep in her subterranian nursery, pushing up seeds and shoots through the frost-bitten earth. Whatever names are remembered of the old gods of the winter, they're here, hail to them.

Hag of winter, I name thee Queen of Witches

Rhizotomoi: Oxalis

And whispering say: Here 'neath the leafy mold
The wild oxalis hides her glistening gold,
till coined by the magic touch of Spring
To lure the butterfly's inconstant wing;
-Samuel Minturn Peck from, Rhymes and Roses

I don't know if I believe any rhizome can act in the way an alraun acts.  Not just because traditional lore is so specific, but through personal experience with some plants, I feel their nature as individuals do not always prefer the somewhat lonely life and death and afterlife of a magic root.   Where I'm from, rootbabies and alrauns are a tad rare to see- closer to the Spanish end of magic than the indigenous one.  In Southwest witchery, lodestones take the place of alrauns and are fed and kept similarly as a root- except rather than being fed particular organics, the lodestone is typically fed iron shavings and metal filings, nails, studs, thorns, and the like in addition to blood. For my part, I prefer to put my roots to work IN something- to be part of a greater mechanism, rather than keeping the root as a fetch in a sacred box.  I'm not against such a thing, it's just that the kinds of roots that I work with are usually Venusian roots who do not prefer solitude, so instead I work roots into other charms such as poppets, rather than the traditional alraun magic associated with say, the mandrake, which does not grow in my region and is not part of my pharmacopoeia. 

I adore rootmagic in history, especially Theophrastus' tales of the Greek root venders and their relation to pharmacobotony and pharmakaeia... after all, I am particularly fond of love magic; philia and eros alike.   All we know of the medical attributes of roots and plants derived from earlier pseudo-scientists and witch-doctors who, though scarcely educated in the true nature of these plants, none the less had at least some occult literacy on the folk uses of seeds, bulbs and roots.  Dioscorides, like Culpepper, may not be trustworthy sources for the medicinal nature of roots, but they are invaluable when it comes to gaining perspective on how our Western ancestors viewed botany.   I'm also pretty fond of Southern hoodoo which implements regionally specific roots in charms, no doubt a contribution from the indigenous people who had far better knowledge of Southern plant life than the slaves and settlers.  I've only ever seen the roots worked in that manner as suffumigation; like osha and cohosh, or as food additives; wild carrot and burdock.  In this art, I am working mostly from literature and intuition, since there aren't any rootworkers to learn from around here.  So here I go, wielding my UPG like a sonofawitch.

My familiarity with root magic is almost exclusively medicinal and talismanic, so when I found the oxalis (false shamrock) in my garden had grown plump and green, fed on my love, blood and power, I immediately decided the little bulb was ready for use in a lucky love poppet, one who will draw healthy, lucky relationships to the keeper while turning away those who would cast the evil eye.  I don't think I'll get any salt of lemon out of this baby, heh, so I'm skipping any attempt at outright alchemy and going straight for the "low magic" of it.  I don't know how other witches work their rootbabies, but mine and I have to develop a relationship first; they are fed on a strict diet and worked with for the appropriate cycle.

For example; oxalis is harvested from my own money-garden, on a Sunday, hour of Venus, when fully opened and blooming.  Helleborus niger roots have a far more difficult harvest preparation which requires gloves, some serious charms of protection and a moonless Saturday night.  Dandelion roots are harvested on a Thursday in high summer, new moon, hour of mercury by hand or by bronze- they're actually pretty friendly spirits and their song is a veritable prayer to Hekate.  Orris roots are harvested from my mother's garden on Fridays, during the full moon, hour of Venus, in the sunlight, wrapped in white linen and dried carefully after their funeral songs are sang.  The overwhelming majority of plants I use in practice dwell in the Garden of Venus, and so their harvest songs include lamentations of love, like the Portuguese Fado, or, sweet little love songs, like the rhymes of Mother Goose.  It depends on the nature of the plant, what song to sing to it to wake it up, and what song to sing when you take its life.

You've got to sing a death song for a root- that's the heart of some plants and their seat of power, and to rip it from the earth is to end its existence in that form.  I'm compelled to ethically harvest my portions and part of that practice is to speak the verbis viridi, the green language of the plants I'm harvesting for occult work, and that can mean anything from the lengthy presentation of the plant's "true name" before harvesting, or a rite of sacrifice followed by funereal services and the leaving of healing offerings in the place of the root.  Roots can be sorcerers, and they hold grudges.  Even sweet, kind Orris will haunt a witch if improperly pulled.

So I sang the song oxalis wanted to hear.  A sweet song about love and kindness and healing the heart.  As I prepared the soil for pulling, I sang Buffalo Springfield's "Kind Woman" to her, but when the time came to take her from the ground and lay her in the salt box for purification, I sang a song in the green language; both wordless and lyrically rich, both a hum and a keen, but sweet and delicate and short, just like the nature of oxalis.  The song encompasses all that the plant is; where it was born, who raised it, what it ate, how I love it, what it has done, what it will go on to do in death, how it turns to the sun and fades in the shade, how it covers the earth in spring and wilts in winter, how the nature of its life is a cycle of death and rebirth.  The song is about the eternal life of the green, the steady decay of time and at last, the rebirth into a new purpose.

Into the salt box, for purification.  I've done this twice before with similar species of root with good results; the root doesn't rot in the heart of the doll once it's been dried and the salt from the bedding absorbs both the chemical and mystical properties of the plant and is used in charms of home consecration and to expel bitter hearts.  The smell of the salt is a tad tart and a tad bitter after a while, I kind of like it. This dolly wont be placed under the bed or in the eaves; it is meant to be kept beside you as you rest from one Friday night to the next, and then buried.

A lot goes into dollies; acorn of intellect, strewing herbs like hempseed, elder flower, yarrow, tansey and meadowsweet along with fresh poplar cotton for wholeness and health, rabbit bone for swift action and fertility, a heart of oxalis for luck, skin of plant-dyed cotton for balance, other things for other reasons.  I love poppets and dolly making.  In summer I make corn husk dollies during the fire festivals and burn them all by the Fall Equinox as a sacrifice to the Old Woman.  In winter I make twig dollies from the brittle holly branches that fall and bind them in red thread and burn them on the evergreen pile by Midwinter, to honor the coming of the Green Woman.

I make poppets of cotton, linen, leaves and wool, of moleskin and wood and clay.  Dollies are as much a tool of comfort as they are a sympathetic fetish; their preparation alone is a ritual and can take you from the profane to the sacred just through the nature of assembly.  With some intent, faith and stony Will, the dolly becomes more than the focus of one's desires- it becomes a symbol of where one is at spiritually, mentally and emotionally, it can be a map of one's own self and reflect that which needs tending, filling, stitching-up.  It can act as the vessel of the divine, housing multiple spirits in it's simple folds, becoming more than the sum of its parts.  Sacred vessels are an art form unto themselves. I'm so excited to have added oxalis to my collection of doll parts.

Further Reading...

Rhymes and Roses by Samuel Minturn Peck
Goddesses, Elixirs, and Witches: Plants and Sexuality throughout Human History by J. Riddle
Pharmakon: Plato, Drug Culture, and Identity in Ancient Athens by Michael A. Rinella
The Green Mantle by Michael Jordan
Witchcraf Medicine by Claudia Müller-Ebeling and Christian Rätsch
Kremers and Urdang's History of Pharmacy by Edward Kremers and Glenn Sonnedecker
Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs

The Garden of Greenhands

 There aren't a lot of practitioners in Riverton anymore, but we all seem to dwell in the same woods and rivers and roads.  Me and my old woodsister like to pay homage to the old grounds when we go circling or wandering, the watering hole near the heart of the wood stands in a ring of trees, at the end of the ivy field, in the shadow of a great lighting struck bonewood tree.
If you want simples, the woods edge is where they grow best.  In spring, the meadows are ripe with wildflowers; bluebells, butterfly bush, hyacinth, skunk cabbage, bramble, hellebore, herb robert and more.
the goddesses garden is never picked from, only prayed in
and we who walk the hillside ripping roots know when to just appreciate the virid virgin's green hand.

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