Apple

Old apple tree, I wassail thee,

And hoping thou will bear

For the lady knows where we shall be

Till apples come next year.

For to bear well and to bloom well

So merry let us be,

Let every man take off his hat

And shout to the old apple tree.

Hats full, caps full, three bushel bags full,

And a gurt heap under the stairs.

Hurray!

The Apple tree Man 1

History of Apples

One of the most common and easily accessible fruits on Earth, apples have a long history in both the magick and mundane world. Although these unassuming sweet fruits are often overlooked due to their availability, their contribution to mythology, legend, and cultural symbolism is unrivaled. Today we will explore the apple’s appearance in history and literature, and delve into its magickal properties associated with love, emotion, and the otherworldly realms.

Origins of the Apple

Apples are old. Really old. It seems that they have been around since the dawn of human history, originating in the Tien Shan mountains in Kazakhstan. Our modern apple is the amalgamation of four different strains of wild apples, which existed more than 10,000 years ago. It is believed that “ancient megafauna” (large land mammals, usually weighing over 100 or 1000lbs) first spread the seeds of the wild apple, followed by an even larger spreading through process of trading on the Silk Road. This later process resulted in hybrid apples, which eventually produced a ‘modern’ apple.

One interesting fact about the ancient apple is that before the last Ice Age, apples had evolved to attract these ancient megafauna – this is how apples were propagated and reproduced several million years ago (before humans). However, once these larger land mammals died out, apple trees became isolated. It wasn’t until trading on the Silk Road and human migration that the fruit began to develop and spread again. According to the Max Planck Society, “the apple in your kitchen appears to owe its existence to extinct megafaunal browsers and Silk Road merchants”. Interestingly, the wild ancestor of our modern ‘domestic apple’ can still be found in the Tien Shan mountains.

The Word “Apple”

The word “apple” derives from Old English “æppel”. This comes from a Proto-Germanic word “app(a)laz”. The confusing part about this is that originally, this word simply referred to any kind of fruit or fruit in general. There were many related words such as Old Norse “eple’, Old Saxon “appel”, and Old High German “apful”, all of which just meant fruit. In fact, up until the 17th Century, an apple referred to any fruit or nut, excluding berries. The online etymology site gives the example of “appel of paradis” (banana) or “fingeræppla” (finger-apples = dates).

All of this becomes important when you start to consider some of the most famous and influential associations with apples, and how those ‘apples’ may have actually been other fruits. It’s quite unfair actually, as the scientific name for the apple tree is Malus domestica. Any words beginning with the prefix “mal” are considered ‘bad/evil’, therefore this (possibly false) association with evil in, for example The Bible, actually had an impact on the apple’s scientific name!

In addition to this, Latin borrowed the word ‘melon’ (fruit) from Greek, turning it into mālum, which was extremely close to  mălum, which meant evil, and was used in the Vulgate translation of the Bible. You can easily see how these translation errors (or possibly intentional puns) led to this association as well.

The Forbidden Fruit?

One of the most recognizable and influential roles apples play in cultural symbolism and mythology is that of the forbidden fruit. The apple as a symbol of temptation, evil, and sin has permeated much of western culture due to the fact that the King James Bible (1611) was the most widely published works in human history. The scene in which Eve eats the “the fruit of the tree” (Gen 3:3) reads, “she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat” (Gen 3:6). Because in this time period apple = fruit, and because the word apple started to refer to what we think of as an apple, the image of an apple became the fruit in the garden.

But it isn’t just the story of Adam and Eve’s fall that is associated with the apple. In the Greek myth The Garden of Hesperides, an orchard of golden apples came be associated with temptation, argument, and knowledge. The Apple of Discord, which started the Trojan War, supposedly came from this orchard, furthering the idea of humanity ‘falling’ or destroying itself.

Continuing this theme are fairytales, such as Snow White, which features the same apple motif. In this story the apple is seductive enough to tempt Snow White despite the dwarves’ warnings, and also carries the poison meant to get rid of her.

Love, Sensuality, and the Otherworld

Despite the apple’s association with ‘evil’, it has also been connected to energies of love and sensuality. Sacred to the Greek goddess Aphrodite, apples were tied to love. If you wanted to declare your love, you could throw an apple at them, and if they caught it, it was assumed they liked you back.

Aphrodite makes an appearance with her apples in the myth of Atalanta and Hippomenes. In this tale, Atalanta challenged all of her suitors to a race because she knew she could outrun them all. Hippomenes is gifted three golden apples from Aphrodite and uses them to distract and slow down Atalanta during a race. He ends up winning her hand because of this tactic.

In the Bible, the sensuous Song of Solomon uses apples to, uhhh, refer to some sexual happenings between the king and his new bride. Of course we know that the original Hebrew or Aramaic may have referred to another ‘fruit’, but apple was used in the KJV. Check out this line: “As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste” (SOS 2:3) and “I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit. May your breasts be like clusters of grapes on the vine, the fragrance of your breath like apples…” (SOS 7:8). Bow-chicka-bow-wow.

In the Prose Edda, a 13th Century Norse poem, apples are connected to eternal youthful beauty and immortality, and in other Norse mythologies apples connect to fertility, with one story resulting in a six-year pregnancy after eating an apple (yeesh). In addition, archeological finds dealing with ancient German pagan cultures have found evidence that nuts and apple seeds have a connection with fertility and the dead.

The apple has also been associated with the magic, mystical, and otherworldly realms. Much of this is seen in Celtic cultures from the British Isles. In the Arthurian legends, Avalon, the mysterious island of the fairies means something similar to “the isle of fruit/apple trees”, and Merlin often worked in a grove of apple trees, whose fruit gave him prophetic powers.

In Celtic lore, apples were tied to the concept of rebirth. In fact, the 10th letter of the Ogham alphabet is ‘ceirt‘, which seems to be associated apples and rebirth, healing, and youthfulness. In Ireland, apples were made into wine, cider, and juice, and used as an important source of food. They were known as one of the seven “Nobles of the Wood“. The apple tree itself was symbolic of creativity, purity, and motherhood, and the wood from its branches was sometimes burned during fertility festivals. One Irish myth is that of Connla and the Fairy Maiden, which features an apple that replenishes itself, obsessive love, and a land of the ‘Ever Lasting’. Another is The Silver Branch, which features a silver apple branch that transports a character to an otherworldly realm.

Random Apple Facts and Idioms

There are so many fascinating facts and pieces of folklore surrounding apples that it’s hard to decide which to include in this post. Below are some short pieces of info about apples that you may find interesting.

Apple Cider w/cinnamon
  • The genome of the Golden Delicious apple has about 57,000 genes, about 27,000 more than the human genome
  • Apples are associated with Autumn and the fall harvest celebrations (Samhain and Allantide to name two)
  • Wassailing is a practice done in southern England where cider is poured on the roots of an apple tree to bless the new year
  • Apples were brought to North America in 1607 in order for the colonists to make cider
  • Thomas Jefferson cultivated the ‘Ralls Genet’ apple, which was eventually crossed with the Red Delicious = Fuji Apple
  • Johnny Appleseed was a real man – John Chapman who traveled throughout Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois for 40 years planting apple tress
  • There are approx. 8000 varieties of apples
  • Early N. American orchards didn’t produce fruit because there were no bees – bees were shipped to the new colonies in 1622 and were called “the white man’s flies”.
  • Court records from 1640 noted for rent to be paid in “two bushels of apples every yeare…the same to bee of the best apples there growing…”
  • “Comparing apples to oranges”
  • “How do you like them apples”
  • “She’ll be apples”
  • “Apple of my eye”
  • “One bad apple spoils the whole bunch”
  • Adam’s apple
  • The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree
  • Don’t upset the apple cart
  • The Big apple
  • An apple a day keeps the doctor away

Candy Apples, usually made around Halloween

In Magickal Workings

We’ve finally arrived to the magickal energies of the apple. As we have seen, apples are most often associated with the following kinds of magick:

  • Love, beauty, romance, fertility work
  • Fairy magick
  • Magick relating to otherworldly realms or experiences
  • Magick to invoke wisdom, truth, or illumination
  • Spells or rituals for Mabon/Autumn Equinox and Samhain

Have fun with apples and use them in the ‘traditional’ ways during fall – make apple cider, visit an apple orchard, or even bob for apples. You can eat an apple on Samhain and look into the mirror to get a glimpse of your true love. Leave apples as an offering to fairies or otherworldy elements, or use apples in Mabon and Samhain rituals. If you can get a hold of apple blossoms, you can use them in charm bags to attract love. Share an apple (infused with your intention) with a loved one to ensure happiness in the relationship. Cut an apple in half and meditate on the image of the pentacle you will see therein- visualize yourself in an apple orchard and connect to the mystical and magickal energies that apples have held for thousands of years.

You can also try my Mabon Blend enchanted herbal tea, made with dried apples as a tasty replacement for apple cider and to connect to these fall, apple energies.

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Apple Recipe

Right, so apples are kind of used all the time in the kitchen. What’s a better way of getting in tune with the apple than picking it up and eating it whole? But of course, I’d like to share a recipe here that is a little different and a little fun, so I’m going with the following recipe to help you tune into the abundance, sensuousness, and beauty exhibited by this extraordinary fruit.

Apple Crescent Dumplings


1The Apple Tree Man. Botanical Folk Tales of Britain and Ireland. Lisa Schneidau. The History Press. 2018.

Cinnamon

The Grocers’. oh the Grocers’. nearly closed, with perhaps two shutters down, or one; but through those gaps such glimpses. It was not alone that the scales descending on the counter made a merry sound, or that the twine and roller parted company so briskly, or that the canisters were rattled up and down like juggling tricks, or even that the blended scents of tea and coffee were so grateful to the nose, or even that the raisins were so plentiful and rare, the almonds so extremely white, the sticks of cinnamon so long and straight, the other spices so delicious, the candied fruits so caked and spotted with molten sugar as to make the coldest lookers-on feel faint and subsequently bilious. 

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

History of Cinnamon

Coming from the dried bark of Cinnamomum trees, cinnamon is an herb with quite the background and has always been an herb of great value. Beginning with its mythical origins in the East, to its involvement in trade wars in the 1600s, cinnamon was fought over and sought after for centuries. Used in teas, desserts, and savory seasonings alike, cinnamon is a familiar and widely used spice. Considering its background, it’s no surprise that cinnamon is often associated with wealth, money, and passion in magickal workings. Let’s take a closer look at the energizing story of cinnamon.

What is Cinnamon?

It might sound basic, but many of us may not know that cinnamon isn’t a ‘plant’ per say, but rather the dried bark of various species of Cinnamomum trees. Cinnamomum verum or Ceylon Cinnamon is “true” cinnamon, hailing from the island of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), while Cinnamomum cassia, usually cultivated in China, Indonesia, or Vietnam, is the most widely produced and what we most likely have in our spice cabinets.

As far back as 2800 BCE, “kwai” was referenced in writings from China. Because the spice was traded throughout the East and Middle East for centuries, the name cinnamon comes from these origins. The word “cinnamon” comes from the Greek kinnámōmon, which was borrowed from the Hebrew qinnāmōn. Another source, stated that the Arabic and Hebraic word “amomon”, meaning fragrant spice plant, is also a source of origin. Cassia, the related term, comes from the Hebrew qātsaʿ (to strip off bark), which evolved into the Latin cannella, which means “little tube”, referring to the way the cinnamon bark dries in little tubes.

Historical References and Uses

Like many herbs, cinnamon is referenced in the Bible. One of the more interesting passages is Proverbs 7:7, which reads: “I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon”. This line is spoken by the equivalent of a prostitute, trying to entice a young man off the streets and into her bed. (There is a deeper metaphor within here, but that’s another story).

In many ancient cultures, cinnamon was highly regarded, and often given a gift or an offering to deities. It was used by the Ancient Egyptians in their embalming process and perfumes. In Ancient Rome, there is a story about Emperor Nero, who murdered his wife. As a show of remorse, he burnt a year’s worth of cinnamon. This would have been a major demonstration of remorse, because according to Pliny the Elder, in the ancient world, 350 g (about 12 oz.) of cinnamon was worth more than 5 kilograms (11 lbs.) of silver.

In Medieval Europe, cinnamon was often used to treat throat issues such as coughing and sore throats. It was also used to help preserve meat. Some of its chemical ingredients actually did hinder bacterial growth, and its scent hid some of the less pleasant smells from this somewhat spoiled food. Because it could only be purchased by the most wealthy, cinnamon was a sign of wealth and riches. Hosts would ‘flex’ at dinner parties by bringing out trays laden with ‘exotic’ spices to show how well off they were.

A Closely Guarded Secret

Cinnamon, like other aromatic herbs such as cloves, ginger, turmeric, and cardamom, was a major player in the spice trade throughout history. Cinnamon from Sri Lanka and China was carried over several trade routes to the Middle East, Ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece. Arab traders took dangerous and “cumbersome” routes, which meant a limited supply of cinnamon, and more money for them. Eventually the Italian city of Venice became the port which held control of the spice trade for all of Europe.

Until fairly late in the game, the origins of cinnamon were a mystery to western cultures. Amazing mythical stories were told by spice merchants in an effort to keep the trade secrets secret so that they could continue to have a monopoly over the trade. This allowed them to charge exorbitant amounts for these spices.

One of the most popular of these origin myths has to do with the Cinnamologus, or “Cinnamon Bird”. Circulated well into the 14th century, stories of this creature circulated across the world. According to Birds in the Ancient World by W. Geoffrey Arnott:

 …this large bird brings cinnamon quills from some unknown place and uses them to build their nests on inaccessible precipices or in high trees. The local inhabitants then cut up their own dead animals and leave large chunks on the ground near the nests. The birds fly down and carry the carrion to their nests, which collapse under the weight, allowing the natives to pick up the cinnamon quills and export them. Alternatively the natives weight their arrows with lead and so shoot down the nests high in the trees .

Pg. 145
https://www.deviantart.com/silvervalravn/art/Cinnamologus-734724284

This wonderful myth kept the secret of cinnamon’s origins for a long time, but eventually Portuguese traders braved the Horn of Africa in search of the land from which cinnamon came. They took control of the cinnamon trade in the 14th century (angering Venice, who no longer had the monopoly), but in the 16th century, the Spanish found a different form of cinnamon from the Philippines, which interfered with the Portuguese traders’ monopoly.

Dutch traders came into the picture next. By the mid 17th century, The Dutch East India Company had removed the Portuguese from Sri Lanka, and changed the entire cultivation and harvesting process, from one which was set by castes of natives of Sri Lanka and done in a traditional manner, to a more commercialized and capitalistic method (Read more here). They bribed and threatened a nearby ruler to destroy his cinnamon crops, and in general were pretty cutthroat about the whole thing. One Dutch captain remarked, “The shores of the island are full of it,” a Dutch captain reported, “and it is the best in all the Orient. When one is downwind of the island, one can still smell cinnamon eight leagues out to sea.”

In 1796, due to other victories, the British East India Company took over Ceylon from the Dutch, but by the 1830s the cinnamon trade had other competitors and methods of transportation, which meant the time of the cinnamon monopoly was over.

Culinary Uses of Cinnamon

Because cinnamon is such a universal and widely known cooking ingredient, I’ll only mention it here. Cinnamon is used in many types of cooking, from savory to sweet. Cinnamon rolls, churros, arroz con leche, apple pie, cinnamon toast, cinnamon butter, pumpkin spice… the list is virtually endless. All are delicious and show off cinnamon in all its glory.

In Magickal Workings

The magickal properties of cinnamon directly relate to its association with wealth, money, and high status as a sacred spice. Cinnamon is often used in the following types of magick:

  • Anointing or consecrating magickal tools
  • In incense
  • Love, Lust, Passion spells
  • Money, wealth, prosperity spells
  • To speed up any kind of magick
  • Success and victory spellwork
  • Spells or rituals for Mabon/Autumn Equinox, Samhain, and Yule

Some practical magickal ideas to put these into practice are to…put cinnamon or cinnamon essential oil into a carrier oil for anointing and consecrating. Rub powdered cinnamon onto a dollar (or a representative) to attract money. Burn cinnamon incense during love spells (or actual love making!) to increase the energy and passion involved. Carry or display cinnamon sticks for any of the above reasons. Keep a cinnamon roll with your tarot cards or runes to cleanse and imbue them with cinnamon’s energies. Drink cinnamon tea! (Try my Mabon Blend enchanted herbal tea). Meditate on its energies and set an intention when cooking with cinnamon. Cinnamon has such a strong energy, its fun to play around with, not to mention wonderful to smell!

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Cinnamon Recipe

Wow, this week was hard to pick. There are SO many things to do with cinnamon in the culinary world, but ultimately I picked a simple slow cooker dish that puts together two ingredients that usher in feelings of fall and comfort. The taste and aroma are quite on point with this time of year, and I feel bring in those rich, spicy, comforting energies of cinnamon.

Crockpot Cinnamon Apples

Basil

And she forgot the stars, the moon, and sun,

And she forgot the blue above the trees,

And she forgot the dells where waters run,

And she forgot the chilly autumn breeze;

She had no knowledge when the day was done,

And the new morn she saw not: but in peace

Hung over her sweet Basil evermore,

And moisten’d it with tears unto the core.

John Keats, “Isabella; Or, The Pot Of Basil: A Story From Boccaccio


History of Basil

Basil is an herb that has a long, somewhat confusing history. Over its more than 5000 year history as a cultivated herb, basil seems to have been both revered and reviled, symbolizing love and peace in some cultures, but hate and mental illness others. Used for its magickal properties of protection, love, and money, as well as its use in pestos, pastas, and pizzas, basil is a unique herb that has a long and storied history that spans the globe.

Soooo Much Basil

Like its cousin mint, basil is a plant that crossbreeds easily. There are many different types of basil that one can cultivate. These include the most widely known, sweet basil, but also anise basil, Cinnamon basil, Purple basil, and Thai basil. Holy basil is another well known species of basil. For our purposes here, basil is basil. Wherever possible I will specify if a myth or folklore belief is aligned with a specific kind of basil, but overall the energies that I’ll be discussing are much the same.

The Kingly Plant

Basil’s official name is Ocimum basilicum. The first half of the scientific name comes from a Greek myth about a man named Ocimus. He is said to have organized combats in honor of a visiting dignitary. When Ocimus was slain by a gladiator during one of these combats, basil where he fell. The word ocimum means “to be fragrant”.

The second half of the name, basilicum, comes from a story about Empress Helene in 326 AD. The legend states that St. Helene went in search of the cross that Jesus was crucified on. She apparently found it, and noticed that underneath it, basil grew in the shape of a cross. She named the plant ‘vasiliki’, meaning “kingly/of the king/royal”. This of morphed into basilicum (very similar to basilica – as in the big religious buildings – St. Peter’s Basilica).

In Latin the plant was called basilicum. Beside the legend above, basil may have been named as such because of its association with being used in making royal perfume. One word that was often confused with basilicum, especially in the middle ages, was basiliscus. For you Harry Potter fans, this word is Latin for basilisk, the legendary serpent who could kill with a single glance. This word meant “little king“, because the basilisk was said to have a marking on its head that resembled a crown. This confusion comes into play later on in some folklore beliefs, but other than the similar nod to ‘king’ or ‘royal’, the plant basil is not associated with the basilisk.

History of Basil

Basil has been around for a long time. It is thought to have originated in India or China over 5000 years ago. It migrated or was intentionally carried west and like most of the other herbs I’ve explored so far, was widely used by the Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks.

It is thought that the Egyptians used basil in their embalming procedures, while the Greeks associated it with mourning. Basil was brought to the British Isles relatively late in the game. It wasn’t until the 16th century that it was introduced to the region, and shortly after was introduced to North America by way of the British colonists of who settled in present-day Massachusetts.

Basil in Literature

The quote which opened this post is from John Keats’ poem, Isabella, or the Pot of Basil (1820). His work is based on an even older work, The Decameron (completed 1353) by Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio. The tale is morbid and bittersweet. It has the same tone as other works about dead lovers, such as Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare), A Rose for Miss Emily (William Faulkner), and Annabel Lee (Edgar Allen Poe). Let’s just say that in this tale, first comes love, then comes murder, then comes dismemberment…and finally basil! Being watered by tears…then more death. If you’re into this kind of story (which I totally am), you can read the full text by clicking on the title. The point here is that this story shows the many contradictory associates carried with basil. We have undying love and devotion, obsession, but also a lot of sorrow, madness, and death.

 Isabella and the Pot of Basil by William Holman Hunt (1868)

Folk Beliefs about Basil

Folklore surrounding basil is where things get complicated. There are many directly contradictory ideas and associations, making it hard to sort out where or why one belief originated.

First we have the Greeks. Because of basil’s association with the cross of Jesus, Orthodox Greek culture generally frowned upon eating the herb. They do however, view basil as a symbol of fertility and prosperity.

As previously mentioned, basil was erroneously tied to myths about the basilisk. This lead to basil being both carried to ward off basilisk attacks and as an antidote against its venom. This association carried forward in the belief that basil helped with stings or bites from insects/animals.

In Ancient Rome, it was thought that scorpions grew near pots of basil. Somehow this association led to several European herbalists to assert that smelling too much basil would “breed scorpions in the brain”. In Africa however, basil was though to protect against scorpions.

Also in Ancient Rome, basil was sometimes associated with bad luck, poverty, and hate. This is because it was believed that basil would only grow if the person planting the seeds cursed the ground. This practice actually resulted in a French saying “semer le basilic” (to sow the basil), which colloquially means to ‘rant and rave’.

The following are additional folk beliefs and traditions surrounding basil:

  • In Jewish folklore, basil is though to bring strength to those who are fasting.
  • To ward off curses/hexes and keep bugs away
  • To protect the poor
  • To identify chastity (if it withered in a woman’s hands, she was not chaste)
  • Holy Basil (also know as the Tulsi plant) in India is sacred to Hindus and is associated with protection, the goddess Lakshmi, and forgiveness
  • Considered a love token
  • Thought to change into wild thyme when exposed to too much sun
  • Considered poisonous (possibly due to the basilisk association or the observation that it wouldn’t grow next to rue)
  • Used to prepare holy water and placed near altars in some orthodox churches
  • Rumored to have been used in flying ointment for ‘witches’ and therefore astral projection
  • Basil seeds were believed to be aphrodisiacs, and fed to livestock to increase reproduction

Culinary Uses of Basil

I won’t spend too much time here, as basil is widely used and recognizable in cuisine. It is most well known for its addition in sauces, especially tomato based, in pestos, and in salad dressings. Caprese salad is a lovely summer dish that often features raw bail leaves atop fresh mozzarella, tomato slices, and balsamic vinegar.

In Magickal Workings

The magickal properties of basil are many and varied. Here are a few:

  • For love (and eternal love) and fidelity
  • To induce mental clarity and drive away ‘madness’
  • In money workings
  • For astral projection or luck in physical travel
  • To perform aspersion (sprinkle holy water) over a space
  • For protection
  • For peace and harmony

To implement these energies you can do several things in your practice. Follow the old tradition and give miniature pots of basil to important guests to encourage safe travel, or use the herb in a tea for your own attempts at astral travel. Carry a basil leaf (or place one near your ‘cashbox’) to attract money. Use basil in any love spells. You can try it in a tea (here is my Love Blend). You may even wish to plant a basil seed and nurture it as a representation of love growing with a certain person or just in your life in general. Sprinkle basil water around your sacred space or doorways to cleanse and protect. You can always cook a meal with basil and infuse it with your specific intentions. So many uses, so much magickal basil!

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Basil Recipe

What else could this week’s recipe be for other than….basil pesto! Yes, I love Caprese Salad and you should try it, but pesto is the quinissential basil dish. Made with a few other ingredients, this pesto is full of basily goodness and will help you connect to the slightly spicy, aromatic, sort-of-sweet energies of the magnificent herb basil.

The Very Best Basil Pesto

Chamomile

If you pronounce it Chamomile

That will your Yankiness reveal

For Brits assume it more worthwhile

To render it as Chamomile

So wear a wreath of Chamomile

To make your beauty sweeter still,

Then pour some tea with Chamomile

To have your lunch in British style

Chamomile and Chamomile, Artyom Timeyev

History of Chamomile

However you pronounce it, the chamomile herb has been a staple of the herbal scene for centuries. From its revered status as a sacred herb in both Ancient Egyptian and Anglo-Saxon cultures, to the millions of cups of chamomile tea that are brewed each year, chamomile is a gentle, sunny herb which is known for its soothing and calming properties.

Roman vs. German Chamomile

First things first. In the discussion about chamomile one thing is sure to pop up, and that is that there are two main types of chamomile flowers. One is Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile L.) and the other is German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita L.). The major differences between these two herbs (at least for those of us who only need a surface understanding) have to do with how the plants grow, where they originated, and the differences in the essential oils they yield (German Chamomile’s essential oil is blue!). Mostly though, these two plants are very similar and are used for similar purposes. They look almost identical and both have a sweet, fruity scent, so although it’s nice to know there is a difference, it doesn’t really affect their magickal uses very much.

“Earth Apples”

Chamomile gets its name from the Greek words “khamai” and “melon”, together khamaimelon or chamaimelon, meaning earth apple. The Greek writer Pliny the Elder described the plant’s sweet scent as smelling like apples, but because they grew near the ground, there were called earth apples. In Latin the name is chamomilla, which was eventually spelled chamomile in English. In Spain, chamomile is given the name “manzanilla”, meaning little apple.

A Sacred Herb

Chamomile held a special place in ancient Egyptian culture. Chamomile was a sacred herb, thought to be given as a gift from Ra, the Sun God. Crushed petals were used on wealthy women’s skin as a cosmetic treatment, and the herb was also used in the embalming oil in the mummification process. According to this source, during the 70 day mummification process, the body cavities of the mummy were lined with several materials including “spices such as cinnamon, chamomile, cassia, anise, marjoram, and cumin”. They also treated many illnesses with chamomile, such as fevers and malaria.

The Anglo-Saxon culture also revered chamomile. In the Lacnunga ( “Remedies”), an 11th century Anglo-Saxon medical text/prayer/herbal remedy book, chamomile is mentioned in the Nine Herbs Prayer.

Remember, Maythen (Chamomile), what you made known,

What you accomplished at Alorford,

That never a man should lose his life from infection

After Maythen was prepared for his food

The Song of the Nine Sacred Herbs, The Lacnunga

In other cultures, the chamomile, although not worshiped, is treated with the utmost respect. In Slovakia, for example, folklore says it is customary to bow when you come across chamomile to show respect for its healing powers, and in Germany, it is sometimes called alles zutraut, meaning “capable of anything”.

History of Chamomile

The research shows that the cultivation of chamomile began between 9000 and 7000 BCE, in the Neolithic period, but the recorded history begins with the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. German chamomile originated from Europe and Asia, while Roman chamomile came from Western Europe and North Africa. Interestingly, Roman chamomile was named as such not because it was cultivated in Rome, but because an English botanist found it growing wild in the Coliseum. He brought it back to England and it is now one of the most popular types of chamomile.

The herb grew in popularity in the middle ages. Many of the herbalist writers of this time mention chamomile. It is found in the Illustrated Herbal (11th century), and in The Complete Herbal (17th century) by Culpepper. The entry states: “Garden Chamomel, is hot and dry in the first degree, and as gallant a medicine against the stone in the bladder as grows upon the earth, you may take it inwardly, I mean the decoction of it, being boiled in white wine, or inject the juice of it into the bladder with a syringe. It expels wind, helps belchings, and potently provokes the menses: used in baths, it helps pains in the sides, gripings and gnawings in the belly.”

Like the dandelion and marigold, chamomile was brought to North America by English colonists in the 17th century. It is rumored that doctors in the colony would carry chamomile in their bags because it was so often used to treat conditions.

Uses & Folklore of Chamomile

Chamomile has several medicinal uses. As a tea it is used to calm, relax, detoxify the body, and promote sleep. In oil form chamomile has been used to treat fungus infections and aid in muscle relaxation, as well as in cosmetics. As a compress it can help treat burns, diaper rash, eye infections, and cracked nipples. It has also been used to treat “hay fever, inflammation, muscle spasms, menstrual disorders,  insomnia, ulcers, wounds, gastrointestinal disorders, rheumatic pain, and hemorrhoids”. German chamomile’s latin name Matricaria, refers to the word for ‘womb’, because chamomile was often used to help women with menstrual and birthing pains. And in fact, chamomile heralds the nickname “plant’s physician” because it is known to keep other plants in the garden healthy.

Chamomile was also used during the Civil War to help soldiers deal with diarrhea and stomach issues, and on the Santa Fe Trail for headaches and flatulence.

Chamomile has been used in wine and other beverages. Manzanilla is the name of a Spanish sherry flavored with chamomile. However chamomile is most often consumed in tea form, with an estimated one million cups being consumed every day. Because of its reputation for being a gentle relaxation agent, it is one herb which is often given to children to help them relax into a peaceful sleep.

The herb is often used in cosmetics and lotions. In the past it was used by Norsemen to lighten and shine braided hair. Chamomile water was used to ritually bath newborns (a type of baptism) and the flower water was used for other types of blessing ceremonies.

In Magickal Workings

In magickal spells and rituals chamomile is most often used for the following:

  • Cultivating positivity (transforming negative energy into positive, not simply repelling it)
  • Sun magick
  • Attracting wealth
  • Bringing luck and success
  • Cleansing the throat chakra
  • Attracting peace, love, pure intentions, and restfulness
  • Bringing strength, lightness, and confidence into your life

A few ways to use chamomile in your magickal workings are to simply grow it to attract positivity and/or wealth. Make pouches filled with chamomile and other herbs to attract positivity, love, money, or strength. Lay chamomile petals at your doorstep to invite in positivity, or spray or diffuse chamomile essential oil for any of the above properties. Take a chamomile bath to cleanse and happify yourself. You can also drink straight chamomile tea to relax and comfort your mind, or drink chamomile in a tea mix to attract other properties (Check out my Prosperity Blend, Love Blend, & Happiness Blend which feature chamomile). With its sweet smell and gentle nature, chamomile is a versatile, beautiful, and gentle herb to incorporate into your magickal life!

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Chamomile Recipe

This week’s recipe is for sweet, delicious Chamomile Honey Pancakes! They capture the gentle sweetness of the herb and its sunny and bright energies. (Bonus recipe for chamomile honey in case you want to double up the chamomileness).

Chamomile Honey Pancakes
Chamomile Honey

I am sorry to say that Peter was not very well during the evening. His mother put him to bed, and made some camomile tea; and she gave a dose of it to Peter!

‘One table-spoonful to be taken at bed-time.’

But Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail had bread and milk and blackberries for supper.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter

What to Expect When You Get a Tarot Reading

When I went to get my first tarot reading I had major expectations. Just like many of us, I only knew what I had seen in the movies. As I parked my car and walked into the little metaphysical store in my hometown, I was nervous. What was she going to tell me? Did she hold the keys to my future? I wanted to know about my new business. I wanted to know about my love life. I wanted to know everything. As I walked inside, I pictured their little back room, dimly lit and filled with smoky incense, with a mysterious looking woman sitting at a table with a crystal ball and her tarot cards. I thought it would be just like in the movies and I would walk away knowing the secrets of my future.

The reality was much different. I was led to a somewhat open room filled with sunlight, where a woman with long, dark grey hair sat. She didn’t have a crystal ball (although their were a few small crystals on the table), and the air was stale but not smoky. I sat down across from my tarot reader, still unsure of what to say or do. When she asked if I had any questions, my inner cynic kicked in. Why would she need to know my questions? I thought she’d just ‘know’ the secrets of my life and that once I sat down all would be clear to her and she’d tell me the things I needed to know.

Unfortunately, this expectation led me to be completely closed off and judgmental during my reading. I listened, but barely engaged with what she was saying to me. I looked for any reason to discredit her impressions, and didn’t ask any clarification questions or even try to look at the cards for any personal connections. I left feeling underwhelmed and annoyed at the money I’d spent, and completely let down from my earlier expectations.

So here’s the thing. It wasn’t this tarot reader’s fault. I think she did her job well, but there was one thing she could have done differently that might have changed the reading from what I assume was an uncomfortable experience for her and disappointing one for me, to a more uplifting and beneficial reading for both of us.

That is what my goal is with the rest of this post. I’m going to tell you a few things I wish someone would have told me before my first reading. If you’ve never had one, then this article is a must for you, but even if you’ve gotten several readings you may find this post helpful in assessing whether you’ve gotten all you can out of your readings. Perhaps if she’d asked if I’d ever had a reading before and talked to me about what I could expect, I wouldn’t have been so wrapped up in my ideas and been able to listen and work with the messages she communicated.

So without further ado, here are 5 things to expect when you get a tarot reading:

  1. Expect possibilities rather than prophecies: This is a big one. As I said, many of us expect the tarot reader (or the cards) to tell us what IS GOING TO HAPPEN. I’m sure I’ll go more in-depth on this one in another post, but here I’ll just say that you shouldn’t go into a reading expecting this. First of all, all tarot readers aren’t psychics. Most tarot readers only make generalized statements about the way current dynamics in your life are being portrayed in the cards. They can show you possible outcomes, not absolutes. They can help you explore options, but they won’t (and shouldn’t) tell you something about your future is set in stone. The future is malleable and can easily shift from one outcome to another based on many factors. Therefore, try not to go in expecting to KNOW your future, but maybe to explore paths your future might take.
  2. Expect to interact with the reader: Right, so if you’re like me, you might go in expecting the reader to “see” everything in the cards. I think this is a mistake and a hindrance to a fulfilling reading. Everyone has a different reading style, but if your tarot reader asks if you resonate with a certain word, symbol, phrase, or message, try to be open in your answer. Readings are all about connection and the more open your energy and willingness to connect with both the cards and the reader, the more you’ll get out of it. Of course a tarot reader isn’t your therapist, nor are they your “friend”, so feel out how much to share and discuss, but some openness and interaction is helpful.
  3. Expect to do some reflection on your reading: During a reading, your tarot reader is deciphering messages they see in the cards. Some of these messages are going to sound confusing or you may have trouble relating to them, others will feel important, but you may still be unable to connect them to your specific question or situation. It’s okay to ask for clarification or context from the reader. It is also ok to sit with these messages during and after the reading to flesh them out and make them make sense. Again, readings aren’t absolute, nor to they tell the future, so many times it takes reflection on the images or messages for them to hit the spot. This can be fairly soon after, or sometimes even months when something will hit you.
  4. Expect different set-ups/reading styles: There are tarot readers who love all of the bells and whistles associated with tarot. There are readers who prefer to read in a very ‘professional’ or business-like environment. There are readers who want a lot of context for your question, and those who don’t even want you to ask a question. Some readers only do in-person readings, others prefer videos online, while others only work by digital/email means. Every reader is different. Try not to have expectations on this front. Tarot readers all look different, read different, prepare differently, cut their decks differently, etc. You may have to try a few before you find one you really resonate with. Just don’t discount anyone based on your preconceived notions of what a tarot reader and their set-up should look like.
  5. Expect the unexpected: Tarot readings are full of surprises. You can ask about career and get several messages about love. You can be in a troubled relationship and get a reading that says everything will work out, while you could also be starting a new hopeful relationship and get a reading which says run for the hills. The beauty of tarot is that with these unexpected twists of energies and messages, we become aware of parts of our lives, patterns, and behaviors that we may be ignoring or focusing on too much. On another note, if you go into a tarot reading expecting a specific outcome or message, you run the risk of being hurt or disappointed if the cards say something different. Try to go into the reading with no expectations about what the cards will say, and be open minded about the messages you receive.

I hope this post helped you in having realistic expectations for the tarot readings you receive. I think when you remove previous and potentially biased ideas and expectations, your reading will be much more fruitful and worthwhile. You’ll get more out of them and be able to interact with the reading in a more helpful way.

I plan on writing a follow-up to this post about what NOT to expect during a tarot reading, so come back to check it out!

If you’d like to check out my reading style visit my YouTube channel:

If you’d like a personal reading: https://www.etsy.com/shop/LavenderMoonTeaTarot

Mint

For she had said that she was nobler of form and more excellent in beauty than dark-eyed Persephone and she boasted that Aidoneus would return to her and banish the other from his halls : such infatuation leapt upon her tongue. And from the earth spray the weak herb that bears her name.

Oppian, Halieutica

History of the Mint Plant

From its mythological origins to its ubiquitous use in everything from cocktails, to toothpastes, to desserts, the menthe plant has been used by people for centuries. Easy to grow, sometimes invasive, but always fragrant, mint is the jack-of-all-trades of the magickal herb world.

Mythological Origins

Mint has a really cool origin story. According to Greek mythology, there lived a Naiad, a type of water nymph, who was the daughter of Cocytus the river god. This nymph’s name was, Minthe, and she was extremely beautiful. She resided near the river that flowed through the underworld and at some point caught Hades’ (the god of the underworld) eye.

One version of the story says that Minthe and Hades became lovers and when Persephone found out her husband had a relationship with Minthe, she turned the nymph into a mint plant. Another version states that Persephone caught Minthe trying to seduce Hades, and turned her into mint before he could be unfaithful. Either way, the beautiful naiad was turned into a mint plant, growing fragrant and beautiful near the river.

Historical Origins

Factually, it is believed that mint originated from the Mediterranean region and was brought to England by the Romans. In a work published in 1440 by John Gardiner (a pseudonym) called Feate of Gardening, mint was referred to as ‘myntys‘. It is believed to have been brought to North America by the Puritans settlers in New England and was recorded as one of the plants in the colony in the 17th century.

In the Bible, mint is mentioned as one of the herbs and spices used to pay tithes by the Pharisees. In Matthew 23:23 Jesus tells them, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters…”. This tells us that mint (in this case probably horse mint) was an herb of value in ancient Jerusalem.1

Different Varieties of Mint

Mint is an extremely varied herb. There are apparently over 600 crossbreeds of the menthe plant. The two most popular are Mentha piperita and Menthe spicata, peppermint and spearmint. There are also popular varieties such as apple mint, pineapple mint, chocolate mint, and even licorice mint. There are other less known mints, such as horse mint, and other plants such as pennyroyal, are actually members of the mint family.

Historical Uses for Mint

Mint’s most famous medicinal use centers around digestion and stomach issues, but it was used to help with many other issues. English herbalist John Gerard wrote that “it is good against watering eyes and all manner of breakouts on the head and sores”, as well as wasp and bee stings. He is also quoted as saying that mint’s aroma “rejoice the heart of man”. It was used in herbal baths to “comfort and strengthen the nerves and sinews”, and it was also used to treat hiccups and flatulence.

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It seems that mint has been used as a tooth whitening and mouth freshening herb for centuries. As early as the 13th century, written records of toothpaste recipes have been found, although the practice is most definitely much older. Plucking a mint leaf off the plant and chewing it was an ancient method of achieving fresh breath.

Ancient Romans used mint to scent their arms and garnish their table settings, and the Greeks (to tie into the Minthe & Persephone myth) used mint during funeral rites to mask the scents associated with death. It was also an ingredient in kykeon, a drink associated with the Eleusinian Mysteries, a ritual of death and rebirth experienced by initiates in ancient Greece.

According to this source there is another myth regarding mint:

Two strangers were visiting a village but were greeted with serious attitude. The villagers didn’t welcome them or offer them food or a place to stay. Finally, an old couple in the village invited the strangers in. Philemon and Baucus offered to feed the strangers. Before the meal, the couple rubbed down their table with mint to give it a clean and fresh scent. After receiving such hospitality, the strangers revealed themselves to be Zeus and Hermes. Zeus and Hermes turned the couple’s home into a temple and mint became a symbol of hospitality as a result.

Natural Society.com, The Mythology of Mint: A Healing Herb

Interesting to think about how most hotels offer “hospitality mints”!

In the culinary world, mint is just as versatile. Romans flavored sauces, wines, and meats with mint. Spearmint was added to milk to lengthen the shelf-life before refrigeration. Mint is used to make jellies and sauces (usually spearmint), and during the American Revolution spearmint is said to have been an important crop, as it was untaxed and used by colonists to make tea.2

Peppermint is more often used to flavor teas, candies, and desserts. Mint and chocolate are often combined, and popular candies, like candy canes, are known for their strong peppermint flavor. Peppermint tea is commonly used to help in digestion, but also as a pick-me-up sort of tea.

Magickal Properties of Mint

As I mentioned, mint is a jack-of-all-trades kind of herb. Taking into consideration its many uses and correspondences, it can be used in several different types of magick, such as:

  • bringing a ‘fresh’ approach or attitude
  • attracting money (although the etymology is different, ‘mint’ is closely associated with mints where money is produced)
  • Prophetic dreams
  • Heighten awareness and mental clarity
  • Success and luck
  • Personal strength
  • Cleans and purify
  • Verbal communication (presentations, discussions, performances)
  • Love
  • Ancestor/work relating to the underworld/death

Taking these properties into account, you can do almost any kind of spellwork with mint. Mint serves to strengthen, heighten, and clarify intentions. You can carry fresh mint leaves to attract prosperity, drink peppermint tea to awaken and clarify your mind, and keep it around your house for protection. Use peppermint essential oil (with a carrier oil) on your temples to enhance awareness and physic energies, or use it in a diffuser to cleanse a space. With its bright leaves, distinctive aroma, easily attainable status, mint is an essential in the herbal witch’s cabinet.

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Mint Recipe

The easiest way to connect with the energetic properties of mint is to brew a cup of peppermint tea, however I feel as thought that would be cheating…so I’ve provided a really nice recipe that should help you experience how mint can mix with other unexpected flavors to bring out unique tastes.

Strawberry Cucumber Mint Salad

References

1https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/encyclopedia-of-the-bible/Mint

2https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spearmint

Calendula

This Riddle, Cuddy, if thou can’st, explain,

This wily Riddle puzzles ev’ry Swain.

What Flower is that which bears the Virgin’s Name,

The richest Metal joined with the same?

John Gay

History of Calendula

Known by its more famous name, Marigold, this versatile and celebrated herb has long been tied to various religions and religious ceremonies throughout the world. Common to many gardens, the Marigold blooms well into the colder months of the year, and is tied to the magick of the sun. The calendula’s history is as rich and deep as the gold color of its petals.

So Calendula v. Marigold?

One of the first things to consider about this herb is to understand the difference between the marigolds that go by the name calendula versus other kinds of marigolds.

Our focus here is the Calendula officianalis. Often this type of marigold is called a “pot marigold”, “common marigold”, “ruddles” or “Scotch marigold”. It belongs to the Calendula genus and is thought to be native to Europe. These are the typical marigold, with flat leaves and often a yellow or gold coloring.

Other marigolds are from the Tagetes genus. They are different in shape and are often called French Marigolds. These flowers are the type used in religious ceremonies in India and most famously, on offrendas and decorations for Día de Los Muertos in Mexico. This flower is more round and ‘frilly’ than the calendula variety.

Although I am focusing on the calendula variety today, separating the many, many, different types of marigolds is almost impossible. When I refer to ‘marigold’ in this post, I am referring to calendula, unless otherwise specified =).

What’s In a Name?

Tracing down the origins of how the calendula got its name is quite an adventure. Because calendula is also known as marigold, both name origins must be traced. Luckily, both are filled with interesting folklore and etymological evolutions. Both of these names also helps us understand this herb and it’s energetic properties.

Calendula

The name calendula comes from the Latin term “kalendae”, which refers to the first day of the new moon, which in the Roman calendar was the first day of the month. The calendula is a plant which flowers constantly, and it got its name from the fact that it would flower and bloom almost every day of the month – hence the named “the calendar flower”1.

Like the dandelion, calendula is a sun flower. It opens its flower in the morning, turns its head and follows the sun all day, and closes its petals in the late afternoon.

Marigold

Because the common name of calendula is marigold, the history of how it came to be is more, shall we say…entangled.

The old Anglo-Saxon word merso-meargealla, meaning “Marsh Gold”, refers to a type of marigolds that grow near wet, boggy marshes. The meargealla part of the name was taken and used to refer to marigolds that grew in different conditions. There was also an Anglo Saxon word ymbglidegold, which referred to the same flower because it was “that which moved round with the sun”. To make matters more confusing (or interesting!), an ancient Latin word (solsequium – the sun follower) changed into the Old French soulsi, which changed to sponsa solis (bride of the sun), to Mariée (bride) solis = Mariée-gold (bride of the sun).

In English, marigold was sometimes spelled “Marygold” or “Mary Gowle”. These names especially refer to the flower’s associated with the Virgin Mary in Christianity. One association is that the Mary part of the word refers to the mother of Jesus, while the gold portion refers to Christ himself (i.e. Christ is Mary’s gold, golden child, etc.). It is also observed that the arrangement of the petals appear like rays of light emanating like a halo from Mary’s head, a symbol of her sacrifice for God and his benevolence upon her. One of the most fun ties to Mary however, is the story involving her new family (baby Jesus and hubby Joseph) on the run to Egypt. As they fled in the night from Herod’s wrath, robbers attacked. They grabbed Mary’s (ancient equivalent to a purse) but instead of finding riches inside, they found calendula flowers – Mary’s Gold.

Medicinal and Culinary Uses

Calendula was quite the popular herb when it came to cooking. Known as the “herb-general of all pottage“, calendula was often thrown in pots on the fire to add taste, color, and texture to meals. Marigolds were used to flavor and color cheese, and as ingredients in herbal butters.

Because of their pungent smell, especially the Targetes genus, marigolds are often kep in gardens to keep pests away. The use of calendula infused oils and balms make great lip ointments and bug bite creams. Calendula is known to help heal and sooth minor cuts and abrasions, and calendula salves are especially effective for cracked, dry skin. In the past, Romans used it to treat scorpion bites and Egyptians used it to moisten and rejuvenate their skin.

In Folklore

In A Winter’s Tale Shakespeare writes, “…the Marigold that goes to bed with the sun, and rises with him weeping”. Indeed, the marigold sometimes ‘woke’ in the morning with dew on their petals and when it dripped off it looked if they’d been crying. In German folklore marigolds were said to predict rain if they stayed closed past 7 a.m.

Calendula was used as a protective herb, and was used to keep out disease, robbers, and evil spirits. It was also thought to help in prophetic dreaming. By taking a bath in calendula flowers, it was thought that the bright petals would bring you wealth and admiration from others. Nicholas Culpepper described calendula as “comforter of the heart and spirits.”

In Indian Culture

Calendula, both in ancient times and the present, is used in India as part of many celebrations such as weddings, festivals, funerals, and other religious rituals. The flowers are made into garlands and placed around holy statues as offerings and adornments. Representing peace, beauty, and serenity, the calendula is a revered herb in the culture.

In Mexican Culture

In Mexico, the marigold (in this case the Tagetes genus) is more closely associated with death. One myth says that the flower grew from the blood that was spilt by Spanish invaders in the 1600s. It was used extensively and in magickal workings by the Aztecs and is now synonymos with Dia de los Muertos, where it is used to decorate offrendas, to make offereings to ancestors, in hair and clothing, and on special breads and cakes made for the day. It is actually refered to as “Flor de Muerto” (flower of the dead).

In Magickal Workings

For modern witches, calendula has many uses, both in spellcraft and ritual. In fact, its magickal properties are as varied as the plant itself. Calendula can be used for:

  • Sun magick
  • Legal issues
  • protection
  • consecration
  • Psychic powers
  • Longevity
  • Love
  • Positivity
  • Admiration
  • Wealth
  • Opportunity
  • Friendship

You might buy/harvest calendula flowers to place in a vase to bring peace and harmony to a workspace, or grow them around your house for protection and positivity. Place some calendula under your pillow for prophetic dreams, or better yet, drink a calendula infused tea to really get that psychic energy flowing. Use calendula in prosperity work, in love work, and in sun magick. Make a charm bag with calendula to carry with you if you’re headed to court for extra luck. The possibilities with calendula are endless!

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Calendula Recipes

This week’s recipies include one food and one body balm. Both of them are easy to make and will help you connect to the sunny, healing, and rich energy of calendula.

Easy Calendula Salve

Calendula & Marjoram Herb Butter

To prepare 1/2 cup of herb butter, soften 1 stick of unsalted butter. Finely chop the calendula petals and marjoram leaves, about 2 to 3 tablespoons of flowers and herbs to 1/2 cup butter is a good ratio. Blend the herbs with the butter. I like to add 1 tablespoon of olive oil; it gives the butter a more spreadable texture and a good flavor. You may want to add a bit of salt or pepper, lemon juice, or even minced garlic or shallots, depending on how you are going to use the butter. Pack into a small crock and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.

–Susan Belsinger (found on pg. 34 of “CALENDULA
An Herb Society of America Guide
” 2007

The Wheel of the Year Series: Lughnasadh

Hoof and horn, hoof and horn,

All that dies shall be reborn.

Corn and grain, corn and grain,

All that falls shall rise again.

-Ian Corrigan, “Hoof and Horn”

It’s the first of August. The sun beats down its golden light on the earth, bringing into fullness all the crops of the summer. Wheat, blackberries, corn, mushrooms, flowers, and plants are all in their full ripeness, ready to be harvested. This magickal time of year is the winding down of summer into what will become fall. It is a time to continue enjoying the bright sunshine and warm weather, but to begin gathering crops for the long cold months ahead.

The first harvest celebration on the Wheel of the Year is Lughnasadh (or Lammas). It is an almost overlooked celebration in modern times, but I find that each year, this is the Sabbat which renews my energies and brings me closer to the earth and nature. It’s always held some kind of special magick for me, and I hope to impart some of that to you in this post. I’ll be talking about the differences between the two names for this celebration, the symbols, themes, and correspondences, as well as ways that you can celebrate Lughnasadh at home.

History of Lughnasadh

Lughnasadh is an ancient Gaelic festival which celebrates the first harvest of the season. The festival is named after the Celtic god, Lugh, who was honored at this time. Although Lugh was long considered a sun god, the emerging belief is that he was more likely a storm/lightening god, a god of skills, and a warrior. In Irish mythology, Lugh instituted the “Assembly of Talti”, a kind of olympic games on August 1st, in honor of his foster mother Tailtiu who died tending to all the crops of the land. Some stories tell of an epic battle between Lugh and the spirits who wanted to keep the harvest for themselves. During this battle, Lugh uses his spear (which could turn into lightening) to defeat these evil spirits and thus winning the harvest for mankind. This celebratory festival is what we now know as Lughnasadha. The ancient celts came together on or around August 1st to participate in games and contests, trading, matchmaking, and feasting. They would also climb the highest hill in the area to be as close to the sun as possible, and pay tribute to Lugh who saved the crops.

History of Lammas

Lammas is an Anglo-Saxon festival that was probably influenced by the Lughnasadh celebration. The term Lammas is a derivative of “loaf mass”, referring to Loaf Mass Day, an Anglo Saxon practice during which the first wheat from the harvest was baked into a loaf of bread, carried into a mass ceremony, blessed, and shared among the townspeople. They also used the blessed bread protect the stored grain by placing four pieces of it in four corners of a barn or storehouse. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle referred to this celebration as “the feast of the first fruits”, and although it was a religious day, the practice probably predates Christianity. The figure of John Barleycorn is closely associated with this celebration, and his dying and returning mimics the dying and returning of Lugh in Irish mythology.

Themes of Lughnasadh

If we think about the mythology and festivities of Lughnasadh, we can come up with some of the themes for this Sabbat. It is helpful to meditate on these themes in your own life, and in the cycle of the Earth.

  • Harvesting
  • Bountifulness
  • Abundance and prosperity
  • Change and transformation (a seasonal change is coming)
  • Manifestation
  • Hard work paying off
  • Gathering

Symbols of Lughnasadh

  • Corn and corn dollies
  • Wheat
  • Grain
  • Barley
  • Cornucopias
  • Sunflowers
  • Harvesting tools (scythes, hoes, baskets)
  • Cauldrons
  • Bread
  • Berries (especially later summer berries like blackberries)

Correspondences of Lughnasadh

Some of the correspondences for Lughnasadah & Lammas are as follow:

Stones: citrine, carnelian, tiger’s eye, lodestones, obsidian, amber, adventurine

Colors: Golds, golden yellows, ambers, shimmering bronzes, tanned browns, deep greens

Herbs: Basil, calendula, rosehips, blackthorn, cornflower, poppy, sunflower, vervain, blackberry, yarrow, heather, goldenrod

Foods & Drinks: honey, jams, grapes, hearty cut of beef, beer, mead, wine, pies and cobblers, ciders, ales, berries, nuts, grains, breads, onions, garlic, mushrooms, potatoes

Magick: Rituals to honor Lugh, rituals to honor the sacrifice the Earth is making, spells that have to do with manifesting, harvesting different aspects of your life, reinforcing long-term spell work, getting spiritually ready for the darker months to come, recognizing your skills, or gathering/reaping from the works you’ve already done

Ways to Celebrate Lughnasadh

As modern witches and pagans, we have to find new ways to celebrate the Sabbats. Surprisingly, it is really fun and easy to come up with ways to celebrate that honor the original festival but fit into our busy lives. As with all magickal practices it is the intention that counts. If you are able to center in on the energies of Lughnasadh, by meditating on its themes, colors, stones, and other correspondences, you don’t need a flashy ritual (although there’s nothing wrong with it if you want to do one!) to celebrate.

Here are some celebration ideas. I’ve made them as simple as possible, so you can add on your own touches as your practice allows.

  • Light yellow, green, or brown candles on an altar. Meditate on one of the themes.
  • Buy sunflowers, marigolds, or wheat and keep the arrangement on a table or altar.
  • Read a mythological story about Lugh
  • Listen to a song that talks about harvesting (this post has a wonderful list of songs)
  • Read the story of John Barleycorn
  • Make corn dollies (keep these until Samhain and bury or burn)
  • Have a feast to celebrate with some of the foods
  • Drink Lughnasadh Tea
  • Pick berries (or buy some if you don’t have access in the wild)
  • Bake Bread (my rosemary bread recipe is below)
  • Climb a hill
  • Have a mini festival at your home (play yard games, give metals, etc.)
  • Drink wine, mead, beer
  • Perform a spell or ritual related to Lughnasadh themes
  • Recognize your skills and set intentions for new skills you’d like to learn

Rosemary Bread Recipe

1 1/4 ounces active dry yeast

2 tsp sugar

2 1/2 cups flour

2 tbsp rosemary

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 tbsp olive oil

1 cup warm water

Gently mix yeast, sugar, 1/4 cup of the water. Let sit until foamy.

Add in the olive oil, flour, 1 1/2 tbsp rosemary, salt, and rest of water and stir until dough comes together.

Knead the dough for 10 minutes Cover with a cloth and let rise for 2 hours.

Form it into desired shape, then let it sit another two hours covered.

Bake at 400 degrees until done, which should be about one hour. Brush top with a little oil (or melted butter) and sprinkle remaining rosemary on top.

Let cool and enjoy!


References

https://mythopedia.com/celtic-mythology/gods/lugh/

Witch’s Wheel of the Year: Rituals for Circles, Solitaries & Covens. Jason Mankey. Llewellen Publications. 2019.

Dandelion

Bright little Dandelion

Lights up the meads,

Swings on her slender foot,

Telleth her beads,

Lists to the robin’s note

Poured from above;

Wise little Dandelion

Asks not for love.

Cold lie the daisy banks

Clothed but in green,

Where, in the days agone,

Bright hues were seen.

Wild pinks are slumbering,

Violets delay;

True little Dandelion

Greeteth the May.

Brave little Dandelion!

Fast falls the snow,

Bending the daffodil’s

Haughty head low.

Under that fleecy tent,

Careless of cold,

Blithe little Dandelion

Counteth her gold.

Meek little Dandelion

Groweth more fair,

Till dies the amber dew

Out from her hair.

High rides the thirsty sun,

Fiercely and high;

Faint little Dandelion

Closeth her eye.

Pale little Dandelion,

In her white shroud,

Heareth the angel-breeze

Call from the cloud;

Tiny plumes fluttering

Make no delay;

Little winged Dandelion

Soareth away.

“Little Dandelion” by Helen Barron Bostwick

History of Dandelions

Although they have a reputation as dastardly weeds, dandelions have a long and fascinating history of medicinal and magickal uses. From Chinese Traditional Medicine, to the Arabic physician Ibn Sina in the 10th century, to the Puritans of New England, dandelions were used extensively to aid in digestion and liver issues, as a source of vitamins and nutrients, and in various forms of divination. Without further ado, let’s explore the vibrant and sunny history of the dandelion.

A Plant of Many Names

The dandelion is such a widespread and ‘common’ plant that it should come as no surprise that it goes by many names. In fact, there have been approximately 500 names associated with the taraxacum officionale, some of them poetic, some…errrr, not. The name dandelion comes from the French “dent de lion” (tooth of the lion), referring to either the color and shape of the yellow flowering portion of the plant or the jagged edges of the leaves. This French phrase probably comes from the Latin “dens leonis” or Greek “leontodon”, both of which bring up images of strength, power, and majesty. Less dignified however, is another French name that dandelions go by, which is “pissenlit” (bed wetter), whose British equivalent is somehow even less appealing – pissabed. The plant got these names because it was a commonly used diuretic.

In the middle ages, dandelions were sometimes called “Priests Crown”, because after they had seeded and many seeds had blown away, the remaining portion of the flower resembled the bald heads of monastic priests.

One of the most magickal names that the dandelion has been called is the “Shepherd’s Clock”, or better yet, “Fairy Clock” . This name was given because the dandelion naturally opens its flower in the early morning, just after sunrise, and closes it again at dusk. Dandelions also close in preparation for inclement weather and open again once it has passed. If watched closely, it is said that dandelions also track the sun, turning themselves to face the golden orb throughout the day.

Medicinal & Culinary Uses

The dandelion has been used for medicinal and culinary uses since before recorded history. Fossil records of the plant show that it has been Europe to “glacial and interglacial” periods, and was used in Chinese Traditional Medicine and the Ayurvedic system for thousands of years. They used it to treat several disorders, including cancers, snakebites, and fevers. Most overwhelmingly though, the dandelion was used to treat problems in the liver and digestive issues. In the 10th century, Arabic scholar and physician Ibn Sina dedicated an entire chapter in one of his works to the “bitter herb” and its various medicinal uses, and the Romans and Greeks, included it in their herbal remedies as well. In the European Middle Ages and onward, it was used to treat fevers, boils, diarrhea, fluid retention, heartburn, and skin issues.

The dandelion has also long been used as a source of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Wines, jellies, salads, teas, and even ‘coffee’ are derived from the plant. All parts are edible, and since it is so common and easily grown, it provided an easy form of sustenance for people who needed it. Although there is some disagreement, it is thought that the Puritans purposefully brought the dandelion over when they came on the Mayflower, but it could have easily been brought by the Vikings in 1000AD or even earlier on the Bering land bridge. What we do know is that both the English settlers and the Native Americans in New England used the plant for food and medicine. Dandelions also provided food to animals in North America and Europe, and are a great source of nectar for bees.

Magick and Folklore

The dandelion has been associated with many different types of magick and divination. I’m sure most of us picked up a dandelion as a child and made a wish as we blew the seeds. It was believed that if we were able to remove all of them in one breath, our wish would come true. Releasing our intentions into the air (wish paper or dandelion seeds), is most definitely a simple spell, and has been tied to the dandelion for centuries.

These little seeds were also know to be used to determine the number of years a person would live. Ask the question, blow them off, and the remaining seeds equal the number of years. Dandelion flowers were used to tell if a person would be rich, or whether or not they were happy. They would simply hold the yellow flower up to their cheek or chin, and if their skin turned yellow, they would indeed become rich or were happy (maybe they were happy because they were to be rich!?)

We may not put too much stock in these childhood games, but they do tells us what kind of magickal energies dandelion brings to spell and ritual work. Dandelions are tenacious and strong, they are adaptive and can grow all over the world. They are also among the first plants to flower in the spring, promising the light and warmth of the months ahead. They reach out to the sun and protect themselves from the rain. These properties manifest in the magick we do with dandelions.

In ritual or spellwork, use dandelions for:

  • sun magick
  • new beginnings or new hope
  • for moving on and letting go (the mature, ‘grey’ phase of the dandelion)
  • for bravery or courage
  • for adaptation or strength to change/withstand change

Additionally, dandelions are used for psychic abilities (roots), divination, prophetic dreaming, and calling spirits. You can drink dandelion tea, place dandelions around your altar or home to bring in sunshine and happiness, or to meditate on the way it calls us to hold on, be brave and strong, and let go when the time is right so that we may float somewhere and start anew.

Back to Herbal Encyclopedia

Dandelion Recipes

Below are links to some wonderful recipes that you can make to get more connected with the energies of the dandelion.

Dandelion Jelly

Dandelion Root Coffee

Dandelion Wine


References

https://wordhistories.net/2016/07/21/dandelion-pissenlit/

https://natrem.wordpress.com/2017/01/20/dandelions-in-the-middle-east/

https://www.rjwhelan.co.nz/herbs%20A-Z/dandelion.html#:~:text=Dandelion%20root%20and%20its%20greens%20%28the%20whole%20plant,of%20the%20liver%20and%20enlargement%20of%20the%20liver.

The Magick of Herbs

Many of us aren’t raised with intimate knowledge of plantlife. Unless we grow up in an environment which embraces herbalism or a pagan path, we likely relied on these herbs as sources of food; a way to season soups and meat, or as ingredients in cookies or other desserts. If you were like me, you didn’t even know that these herbs and spices were plants at all. They were just little plastic bottles filled with colorful powders, that sometimes smelled nice, which were used once every few months when a recipe called for it. But despite this rather dull and mundane view of herbs that many of us had, their magick still came through. Their vitality and energy brought life into these dishes, creating delicious entrees, and even more delicious desserts, which pepper the memories of our childhoods. Even those who don’t practice magick recognize the way that smells of certain herbs conjure emotions and recollections that carry them back into the past.

This is just one magickal aspect of herbs. As a witch you are probably aware that herbs, plants, flowers, seeds, and spices can be used for so much more than cooking. Craft books often give the correspondences of each plant and its magickal properties, and most of the spell workings you’ve considered (or performed) called for a handful of different herbs or spices to heighten the spell’s intensity and draw in certain energies. If you’re a Wiccan, Kitchen, Natural, or Green Witch, you’ve probably always inherently felt the power of these herbs and spices in your daily life. You’ve sensed their power, you know they hold magickal energy, but you may not be sure why.

The rest of this post is going to explore the magickal history of herbs to try and help us figure out why, in our modern world, we still trust in the magick power of herbs. .

Herbs in the Ancient World

a blue cornflower

According to The Green Wiccan Herbal1 a prehistoric burial site in Northern Iraq contained the remains of a Neanderthal man who was buried with yarrow, cornflowers, hyacinths, and thistle, which indicated shamanistic beliefs in the healing and ritual powers of plants. There is some dispute to this theory (but of course there always is); however it is compelling to meditate on the idea that a Neanderthal man who lived 50,000 years ago recognized the magickal importance of witching herbs such yarrow and cornflower.

Ancient Egyptians also placed very high importance on herbs, not just on their practical healing uses, but also for their religious significance. The Ebers Papyrus2 is one of the oldest medical documents archeologists have found, dating to around 1500 BCE, with some of its sources from as early as 3400 BCE. What’s interesting about this document is how we can see the confluence of medicine and religion (which included spirituality and magic). The record “contains over 700 remedies and magical formulas” and promoted “the use of magic, incantations, amulets, aromas, offerings, tattoos, and statues” as methods of treatment. This sounds very similar to many witchcraft practices.

The ancient Greeks contributed more directly to our knowledge of herbs and plants. Particularly interesting to witches is the work Hippocrates did with herbs and the phases of the moon. The Greeks also developed different folklore beliefs3 surrounding herbs such as using oregano to ward off evil spirits, wearing wreaths of rosemary to help students with their memory, or placing thyme underneath pillows to stave off nightmares. There were a number of written works done by the ancient Greeks, such as the Enquiry into Plants, On the Causes of Plants, and the De Materia Medica, all of which contributed to the knowledge of different species of plants and their uses.

In the British Isles, the ancient Celts (and specifically druids) revered herbs and trees and used them extensively as medical and magickal elements. Bilberry was tied to the celebration of the harvest festival Lughnasadh, and nettle4 was believed to indicate a place where fairies dwelled, as well as protect one from evil spells and magic.

Herbs in the Middle Ages

From the Middle Ages through the Enlightenment, herbal beliefs and practices were carried forward by way of folklore and midwives, as well as learned men like Nicholas Culpepper (who was responsible for aligning herbs with planetary elements). This period saw a melting pot of classically educated men who attempted to categorize and organize centuries of herbal knowledge and belief, and common people (especially midwives) who just knew the different uses of plants in their gardens because the knowledge had been passed down to them for generations. The aforementioned Culpepper actually authored a guide specifically for midwives, entitled Culpeper’s directory for midwives: or, A guide for women, showing that even those who were considered learned and intellectual recognized the incredible power of herbs and women.

Unfortunately, during this time there was a plethora of misinformation and superstition surrounding those who used herbs as part of their spiritual practice. Most of us have read about the persecution of women who were believed to be witches (again, mostly midwives). This went on from the 1400s through the mid 1700s in Europe, and in the late 1600s with the Salem Witch Trials in New England.

One fallout from this centuries long persecution of ‘witches’, was a moving away from the use of herbal folklore. This combined with a burgeoning scientific medical community that wished to separate itself from what they viewed as, at worse superstitious and at best unregulated, medicinal treatments provided by herbal treatments passed down in folklore. Instead of seeking out a wise man or woman (a shaman figure in eastern culture) or a midwife, people began to call on doctors who had been trained at universities to heal them. Herbal remedies still persisted, but they were relegated to more “backwoods” populations.

Cue the 20th century. As pharmaceutical companies began to chemically prepare medicines and sell them for high profits5, herbal medicine was pushed even further to the sidelines. Today, although herbalism has made somewhat of a revival thanks to a surge in interest in homesteading and homeopathic remedies, it is still thought of as a fringe belief.

Attuning to Herbs in the Modern Day

For those of us in the craft, this is nothing new. However this prevailing belief has made it more difficult for us in developing a background knowledge of why we use certain herbs to draw certain energies towards us. Again, we feel the energies of the herbs, but many of us lack knowledge about the herbs themselves, aside from what we read in witchcraft or Wicca books. To use herbs to their full power in spell and ritual work, we need to do more than just be told to use an herb for money or protection. We need to attune to the magickal energies within the herb. There are many ways to do this, but they do take some dedication and time. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Grow what you can! Pick one or two herbs that are good for multiple intentions, like mint or basil, and grow them. You can absolutely do this in a windowsill, pots, or garden if you have space. Take time to sit with your plants, smell them, talk to them, feel their energy. This will make your spells and rituals have even more depth and purpose.
  2. Spend time in nature. Try going on a walk and choosing a few plants to research. Many ‘weeds’ on the roadside are used in spells for important purposes. Clover, plantain, mugwort, and so many others can easily be found in most neighborhoods. (you probably don’t want to go picking these unless you’re sure they haen’t been sprayed with chemicals).
  3. Try different recipes for the Sabbats. View these as more than just food – view them as a way to get in tune with the season and the plants that are available at that time. This will help you develop a spiritual connection to the celebration and the herbs involved.
  4. Try herbal tea. Using specific herbs in tea will also help you develop a connection to their energies. You can make the preparation of the tea a ritual, or use the tea during your spellwork. Focus on tasting the different herbs and feeling the energies that come from different tea blends.
  5. Learn about the herbs before using them. If you want to work a spell that calls for mint, cinnamon, and lavender , research those herbs first. By learning their histories and uses, you will be more connected during your workings. Eventually, you’ll feel more comfortable picking your own herbs to use because you will have become attuned to which ones will help you manifest what your trying to achieve.

Even though we may not have been raised with gardens, herbal remedies, or any knowledge of herbal folklore, we are drawn towards the energy that is inherent in them. This is the pull of the magick. This is the part of us, the universal consciousness, that was apparent even in prehistoric eras. The part of us that feels at one as a creation of the universe. The one that recognizes how much power flows through the life force of plants, flowers, and herbs. Yes, we may use them for medicine, but even more than that, we know that they have their own distinct energies that help us align our intentions and manifest realities in our lives. Just as our ancestors did, we know that these aren’t just little meaningless weeds; they are living parts of this earth that hold magick much more ancient that we can conceive.

References

The Green Wiccan Herbal: 52 magical herbs, plus spells and witchy rituals1

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/3236332

https://greekerthanthegreeks.com/2016/09/12-important-aromatic-herbs-of-ancient.html3

https://remedygrove.com/supplements/Healing-Herbs-of-the-Ancient-Celts4

https://pharmaphorum.com/articles/a_history_of_the_pharmaceutical_industry/

Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs (Cunningham’s Encyclopedia Series Book 1)