A Method of Dream Discernment

Here, gentle reader, I continue the theme from our last post–Dreaming. As I said last time, the importance of prophetic or true dreams, dream congress with spirits, and dream travel in this world or the other is emphasized in many traditions of modern witchcraft, including our own. Many Appalachian families were (and are) known to have the ability to Dream True (a term that both encompasses prophetic dreaming as well as getting information like the location of lost objects), while some have the ability to meet with the spirits of the dead in Dreams. Many magical practitioners who lack these abilities still get deep insights into their lives and inspiration through the rich symbolism of their Dreams.

The magical application of different types of dreams have been utilized for a very long time. The Ancient Greeks and Romans practiced dream incubation, often in a healing context. They differentiated between true and false dreams, which were said to come from different gates in the underworld, made of horn and ivory respectively.

“Two gates the silent house of Sleep adorn;
Of polish’d ivory this, that of transparent horn:
True visions thro’ transparent horn arise;
Thro’ polish’d ivory pass deluding lies.”
~Virgil, The Aeneid: Book 6 [John Dryden translation]

Symbolic dream interpretation is utilized in the Bible (notably by Joseph of Technicolor Dreamcoat fame), hence its persistence in folk magic of all kinds. A root of early modern witchcraft, the Witches’ Sabbat, is grounded in dream flight and sorcery. And all that still persists into modern practice.

I personally conceptualize dreams as 5 different types (though one dream can have elements of more than one type):

  • Prophetic Dreams (Dreams of things that Shall Come to Pass)
  • Symbolic Dreams (Communication using the language of symbolism, either personal or universal, to impart information)
  • Dream Travel (Faring forth in Dreams, either in this world or the other)
  • Dream Congress (meeting and interacting with spirits and/or other practitioners in Dreams)
  • just dreams (your brain processes a lot of information and does some pretty cool biochemistry at night, sometimes dreams are just the result of this–note the lowercase, these are not magically significant)

But how does one discern between something significant and magical and something that’s merely what we do when we sleep? Many Dreamers will tell you that there’s a different quality to a Dream, a difference in the light. Some will say that they just know, and there’s a certainty that it means something. Those are both well and good, but magicians of old also developed another method–divination through geomancy.

I love geomancy, and we’ve written about the use of geomantic figures in our magic before. It’s also one of the methods we utilize in readings and consultations for clients. As a divination system, it’s elegant, simple, and practical. And it’s useful for determining whether a dream is a Dream or not (for which Renaissance magicians employed it). [If you too want to delve into your own love affair with geomancy I recommend John Michael Greer’s excellent book on the subject. Also check out Dr Al Cummins who also loves geomancy and gives lectures and workshops on the subject.]

So on to the method, which briefly is: Ask if the dream in question is significant. Cast a geomantic chart. Look at the figure in the
9th house, which rules dreams. If the geomantic figure there is one of the stable figures (Acquisitio, Albus, Caput Draconis, Carcer, Fortuna Major, Populus, Puella, or Tristitia) then the dream is significant, and you can rely on the information gained, start delving into the symbols, or work on developing or furthering a relationship with the spirit you’ve encountered.

The Vision of Endymion (1902) by E. J. Poynter; (c) Manchester City Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Night’s Garden Tea

Andrew Chumbley, in his essay ‘Provenance, Dream, and Magistry‘, discusses the importance of Dreaming in the Craft as he knew it. “An important dimension of magical and folk religiosity was the oneiric or dream realm.” In dream, one may attend the Dream Sabbat, a “convocation of magical ritualist’s souls, animal selves and a vast array of spirits, faeries and Otherworldly beings. It is considered that the location of the Sabbath is at the crossroads of waking, sleeping and dreaming, that is the state of True Dreaming – the realm in which the Lady Moon, the nocturnal sun, illumines a world beyond the reach of the uninitiated.”

This emphasis on dream travel and congress with spirits in the dream realm (along with seeking prophetic or true dreams) is encountered in many different traditions of witchcraft, including our own. As magical herbalists, Tom and I have studied and experimented with herbal allies that assist with Dreaming. About a decade ago we started offering a workshop dealing with this aspect of magical herbalism which was, at that time, not often discussed–covering herbs which facilitate trance, dreaming, and spirit contact.

Night’s Garden Tea arises from some of that work and is designed to aid the Dreamer in their explorations. While every witch’s physium and subtle body is different, and many factors including sleeping habits, stress levels, and various spirituous criteria affect the efficacy of certain herbs to the work, this blend includes nervines (which calm the mind and relax the body making one receptive to dream and trance states), oneirogens (which enhance the dreaming state) and herbs which are used to strengthen the subtle body which fares forth in the dream realm. Though herbs are never a substitute for natural talent and hard work, they can be powerful allies to the witch.

To that end, we spent the summer growing and wild harvesting ingredients for this tea, following ritual protocol for harvesting and making due sacrifice to the plants themselves. They were subsequently dried, processed, and blended into this tisane in a magical setting.

Jasmine and rose (being flowers– the portion of the plant most aligned to the Dream) are included to strengthen the dreaming body. In addition summer roses lend their power to the other oneirogens, while jasmine, allied to the moon and the night, blesses the wings of dream flight. The powers of mugwort, vervain and passionflower (all potent magical plants) have been covered previously on this blog. The mugwort in this blend, being a witch-grown, local variety, is less bitter than the cut-and-sifted mugwort that one often acquires from herb suppliers and is a particularly powerful dreaming and trance ally.

An additional ingredient is lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). Writing in 1589’s Magia Naturalis, Giambattista Della Porta recommends this herb “to cause merry dreams. When you go to bed, to eat Balm, and you cannot desire more pleasant sights then will appear to you, fields, gardens, trees, flowers, meadows, and all the ground a pleasant green, and covered with shady bowers. Wheresoever you cast your eyes, the whole world will appear pleasant and green.” In the practice of the spagyric alchemists, lemon balm is made into preparations that provide renewal and and strengthen the brain and memory. Lemon balm helps one relax, improves dream recall, and as Porta states, brings a vivid quality to dreams.

The seventh and final ingredient in the tisane is peony flowers. Esteemed in China as a refreshing tea which spread in popularity throughout the middle ages, this ingredient is added at the suggestion of one of our teaching spirits. The plant does have some dreaming lore about it; the roots and seeds of peony have been used in protective magic against nightmares, night terrors, and predatory night spirits for centuries. Again, the subtle nature, scent, and taste of flowers lend themselves well to the subtle arts of Dreaming.

Though we do not offer medical herbal advice as a rule, in general with lunar potions such as this one, women are advised caution. The same plants which ally the subtle body to the rhythms of the night and moon and effect the body of the dreamer are often those which cause changes to women’s cycles and flow.

A Ghostly Ballad

Tonight is Martinmas eve, associated in old ballads and poetry with the growing dark and the returning dead (as in The Wife of Usher’s Well). As such, I thought it an appropriate time to share this old verse written by Reinelm and published in 1841. The themes in it have commonalities with the Child Ballads and those collected from Appalachia. Interestingly, it also features the burial of the unquiet dead at a crossed roads, which is one of the reasons witches are thought to work there.

THE OLD SMITHY
(a farm house tale)

“The snow is drifting on the ground,
   And loud the east wind roars;
Come, men and maidens, hie you in;
   Kate, bar those creaking doors.

Call in the dogs, rouse up the fire;
   And, mistress do you hear?
Heat us a jug of elder wine,
   For the night is chill and drear.”

The good old dame, with clanking keys,
   Hung by her apron side,
Throws back the carved oak cupboard door,
   With hospitable pride.

There, tall-stalked glasses, flagons, flasks,
   And horns with silver rim,
Old china beakers, cups, and bowls,
   With claws and frosted brim.

Spice-bread and nuts for winter cheer,
   And saffron cakes are stored,
Tea, sugar, coffee, jars of sweets,
   And rum a liberal hoard.

They hob and nob, the old house clock
   Hath barely stricken seven,
But wine and warmth have made them yawn,
   As though it were eleven.

The fire-light flickers broad on racks,
   On tins and homely delf,
Long guns are resting on the wall,
   Above the chimney shelf.

The dogs lie slumbering on the hearth,
   And loud the kitten purrs,–
Says one, “Twill be an awful night,
   God help all travelers.”

“Amen!” replied the good old dame—
   “Amen! “the farmer cried—
“That minds me of a darksome tale
   Of the Black Common side.

‘Twas at the time of Martinmas,
   As near as near could be,
That a horseman stood by the four cross-roads,
   Under the Blasted Tree.

The wind blew wildly from the moor,
   The red fern whistled shrill;
And his good steed had cast his shoe,
   Upon the weary hill.

The traveler held his gallant grey,
   With his hand upon the mane.
‘Twas dark with sweat, and red with mire,
   Foam fleck’d the bridle rein.

When, hark! –chink chink –‘twas the hammer’s clink,
   And he wildered looked around,
And he joyful heard, a bow-shot off,
   An anvil’s welcome sound.

Drear was the night, the way was lone,
   When gladly did he mark
A cottage built by a clump of firs,
   And a smithy’s ruddy spark.

The smith that wrought that midnight forge,
   Was tall and giant limb’d
And he seized the rein with a rude, rough grasp
   And a hand with soot begrimm’d.

‘Now ply the hammer, farrier,
   I pray thee make good speed,
For we’ve many a weary mile to go,
   I and my gallant steed.’

He loos’d the girths from the panting horse,
   The saddle-bags hung low.
And the farrier heard the chink of gold,
   As they swayed to and fro.

A thought shot through his burning brain,
   ‘Twas in an evil hour,
The night was dark the road was lone,
   The traveler in his power.

He raised an iron bar on high,
   The stranger gave not heed—
He fell’d him dead with a single stroke
   At the feet of the startled steed.

He buried him deep on the dismal heath,
   As I’ve heard my father tell.
And he cut the throat of the noble horse,
   And buried him as well.

The raven croak’d from the Blasted Tree,
   As from the heath he ran,
And the wind sighed low in the quaking fern,
   Like the moan of a murder d man.

Years pass’d away—the smith had wed
   And a thrifty wife had he—
None knew nor guessed of the blood-bought gold,
   For he spent it warily.

And he lived in the cot by the clump of firs,
   As though his soul were cleared
Of the dark red stain, or his harden’d heart,
   By an iron brand was sear’d.

‘Twas in the time of Martinmas,
   When the ways were drear and lone,
There ran by the smithy a long, lean hound
   And he dropp’d a fleshless bone.

A bone, ’twas a human skull!
   All grinning, bleach’d and bare,
With its eyeless sockets upwards turned,
   With a grim and ghastly stare.

The farrier started from the forge,
   A conscience stricken man,
And he hang’d himself on the Blasted Tree,
   Just where the cross roads ran.

They buried him deep at the dead of night,
   Where suicides must rest.
No coffin closed his guilty head,
   No shroud enwrapp’d his breast.

But there by the tree in that dread spot
   Where the four cross roads do meet
A stake was driven through his heart,
   A stone weighed down his feet.

His wife grew sick of a broken heart,
   She pine’d away and died,
And none have lived since in the ruined cot,
   By the Black Common side.

And such as dare to pass that way,
   When Martinmas comes ‘round,
Have heard the midnight hammer’s din,
   And the ghostly anvil’s sound.

And then comes the tramp of a weary steed
   When the road is drear and lone,
And the wind sighs low in the ragged fern,
   Like to a dying moan.”

In a graveyard at the dark of the moon

“I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger…”

In our last post, I mentioned that I planned to blog more about cemetery work and ancestor veneration. Cemeteries are one of the working sites important to our craft and the location to perform many traditional Appalachian spells. We prefer those that are somewhat secluded and yet “awakened”– that is, they possess a ineffable presence, something lying under the feeling of peacefulness, a sense of being observed.

If you’re going to undertake magical work in graveyards and churchyards, it’s important to develop a relationship with these places. Walk around in the day and try to get a feel for those whose bones lie in the land, whose hearts and minds are tied to it. Do some research into who they were. In the old days you’d know the dead and their stories, because they’d be your kith and kin, your family and extended community. Though we’ve had the good fortune to work in many mountain family plots, it’s common nowadays to end up living rather far from your ancestors’ resting place. In our experience, all awakened cemeteries may be used as a liminal point of contact between the worlds of the living and the dead. And so, at this powerful place on this past dark moon, we set out to do some Work.

The blessing of myrrh to strengthen its necromantic virtue:

On the night of the dark moon, Tom and I made our way to one of our local working sites, a cemetery, for the interment of myrrh to be used in necromancy, ancestor veneration, and contact with the spirits of the dead.

In the dead of the night, anointed with wormwood and cypress and carrying offerings, a jar of myrrh, and trowels, we make our way to the Northern Gate. We hold our breath, bow our head, stamp 3 times with our left heel and enter, the familiar motions of entering the hallowed burial ground helping us begin our descent into trance.

Once inside the cemetery bounds, we seek out the Guardian. In Appalachian lore, this is generally thought of as the spirit of the first person interred in the graveyard, and it may have it’s origins in the Brythonic spirit known as the Ankow (also spelled Ankou or Anghau). Many urban legends repeated by spook huntin’ teenagers report seeing hooded or cowled figures or large black dogs (perhaps a continuation of the British folklore) at night in certain cemeteries; this is the Guardian– a sort of genius loci of the burial ground, linked to the stones and the trees and the dead. We get a sense of his attention, an unnerving feeling of intense focus upon us, and we state aloud why we have come. We give him offerings of incense and Tennessee whiskey and the unnerving feeling abates. We ask to be hidden from the eyes of the curious and to perform our night’s work in peace.

Continuing, we wander a bit in our trance state and find grave beneath a large black walnut tree that “feels right”. Just then, the churchbells chime, tolling the lateness of the hour as we lie on our backs on the cold grave. We petition the spirit whose body lies 6 feet below us and offer an ancient compact: in exchange for disturbing the peace of her grave and using it as a portal to the Great Below, we will offer prayers on her behalf. She assents, and the night wind stills as we sit up and begin to dig. Digging down deep, removing dirt to be replaced later, we bury a large mason jar full of high quality tears of myrrh to be blessed with the power of this liminal place, a key to the realm of the dead. We light a vigil candle on top of the freshly packed earth, and begin to sing.

Grave Vigil,

Three nights, with prayers and candlelight offered each night, the myrrh laid interred in the darkness of its grave as the moon passed into the sign of sign of Scorpio. Upon being dug up, it was placed in the depths of our working cauldron on our hearth to leaven and has not been exposed to daylight since. We offer it in our shop, and will also use it in incense preparations for our own work with the dead through the growing dark of the year.

To Our Lady of the Churchyards

We’ve been quiet here for the last couple of weeks, but we’ve been fairly busy.

We celebrated Lammastide by feasting on fresh produce from the garden and performing our traditional rites of purification and transformation. We bid farewell to the Red King (Le roi est mort, vive le roi!), and drank good Kentucky bourbon in his honor. And, as always in this red season, when summer hasn’t lost its heat yet the knife-edge of autumn begins to be noticeable in the early morning, our thoughts become somewhat darker.

We ponder graveyard work to be done in the coming months, and begin crafting products to assist with communication with the dead. And we and a number of our friends are wrestling with fresh loss and grief. And so it goes.

Part of our regular practice includes tending an ancestral shrine and offerings to the spirits of the dead. I’ll blog more about that in the coming weeks leading up to Hallows, but for now, I’ll offer this simple prayer to Our Lady of the Underground written by an anonymous author. For those of you looking to start working with the spirits of the dead, or for those of you who have recent losses, it’s a fine place to start.

“Lady of the oldest churchyards,
Lady of moss-covered stone,
Lady of the land where row upon row
Of crosses stand, hold out your hand
And soothe the souls that come your way.
Show them through the shining door,
Rock them gently in your arms
To slumber in more peace and calm
Than they ever found in life.
Lady of the quiet slant of sunlight
On the crumbling words of grief,
Wash the sorrow from our eyes
As from the souls of the fearful dead,
And help us come to peace as well
With all the mournful losses of the world.”

Our Lady Underground

On Lavender

“But there are some things I know for certain: always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder, keep rosemary by your garden gate, plant lavender for luck, and fall in love whenever you can.”~ Sally Owens in Practical Magic

The scent of lavender is one of the more powerful sensory experiences of the summer herb garden. This sweet, green floral aroma with notes of camphor has the magical ability to conjure a drowsy nostalgia and memories of the past. The complex fragrance of lavender is created by the merging of roughly 180 chemicals which evolved to lure bees and other pollinators in the summer heat to the purple flowers. Indeed the plant–with its flowers (which are not quite blue, gray, lilac, or purple), its very strong fragrance, and its fine leaves and feathery growth form– is perhaps the quintessential plant of Mercury and elemental Air.

There are currently about 39 recognized species in the genus Lavandula (which is part of the mint family), all of which are native to the Old World. These species include the common Old English lavender, French lavender and Spanish lavender. Lavender grows readily in the hotter drier climates of the Mediterranean and flourishes best in dry, well-drained soil in full sun. It is also cultivated in temperate gardens all over the world, but the plant can be susceptible to root rot in areas with high humidity or saturated soil. It blooms throughout the summer, and the scent is carried in the foliage as well as the flowers.

Lavender has been consistently used since ancient times. Its names, both common (lavender) and scientific (Lavandula), come from the latin verb for washing, lavare. Many of it’s usages throughout history have been related to cleanliness. It has been an additive to bathing water through ancient Rome, medieval Europe, to the Victorian Era and on into the present day. Likewise, and still tied to the notion of cleanliness, lavender was used to scent linens and to keep moths and insects from clothing through all of those periods. Additionally, because the plant produces a large amount of essential oil which is easily extracted with steam distillation, lavender has long been an ingredient in the art of perfumery. In fact, it’s one of the ingredients in the popular Victorian Eau de Cologne Florida Water, which also has ties to cleanliness. In hot summers, where Victorian fashion dictated that one wore a great deal of clothing, Florida water provided a bit of cooling relief as the alcohol evaporated, and helped mask the odor of sweat. Today, Florida water continues to be popular with magicians and occultists for all manner of psychic cleansing.

In addition to its cleansing properties lavender is also a useful healing herb, and healing uses were first described by the Roman physician Dioscorides in the 1st century CE. Lavender was quite popular in the medieval materia medica; the medieval herbalist and botanist Saint Hildegard of Bingen perscribed it for a number of maladies. Our old friend Nicholas Culpeper (the 17th century English herbalist) says of lavender: “Mercury owns the herb; and it carries his effects very potently”. By this he means it is an airy, balancing herb and very efficacious against the maladies of Jupiter. The diseases governed by Jupiter include apoplexy, pleurisy, diseases of the liver, piles, colds and influenza, and, in the mental sphere, restlessness and overheating of the mind. Throughout the centuries Lavender has also been prescribed for headaches, faintness, hysteric fits, panic attacks, heartaches and grief. Modernly, lavender is showing promise as an aerosolized antiviral and calming agent in some hospitals and clinics, hinting that the knowledge of physickers may not be that far off the map. It’s also being explored as an effective topical treatment for wounds and burns with anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properies.

Given these associations, lavender is a lovely ingredient in many different kinds of healing spells. It is an appropriate addition to healing baths especially ones to treat fatigue and the effects of anxiety and stress. It can be added to magical ointments, poultices and potions applied externally to wounds, burns and sprains. It’s an easy herb to incorporate into healing candle spells and can be used to stuff healing poppets.

Many modern sources cite lavender as an ingredient in love spells, but its inclusion in modern love spells is curious. During the middle ages, lavender was thought to cool the fires of ardour and preserve chastity. In Freeman’s Herbs for the Medieval Household, she quotes a fifteenth century German manuscript called the Hortus Sanitatis (or Garden of Health): “The Mother of God had great love of this herb for the reason that it preserves chastity…If the head is sprinkled with lavender water it will make that person chaste as long as he bears it upon him.” On the other hand, it is related that Napoleon Bonaparte’s mistress Josephine made an aphrodisiac potion by steeping lavender in milk and using it to make hot chocolate. It may be that she was, in fact, subtly trying to ensure fidelity in her partner. 19th century folklorists relate that unmarried women drink a potion of lavender on St. Lukes eve (October 17th) to dream of their future husbands. Given it’s homemaking applications (especially in scenting the marriage bed) and medieval use in ensuring chastity, I’d suggest that lavender is appropriate for certain types of love spells promoting pair bonding and fidelity.

On the same lines, in modern times lavender has developed an association with modern gay love magic. This probably dates back the 1920’s when the lavender plant and its scent had become linked with effeminate men, possibly through its association with the aesthetic movement of the late-Victorian and pre-war Edwardian periods. Phrases like “streak of lavender” were being used in popular culture to refer to non-masculine men (and sometimes slyly suggesting that they preferred their own gender), like in this 1929 song by Cole Porter “I’m A Gigolo” :

“I should like you all to know,
I’m a famous gigolo,
And of lavender, my nature’s got just a dash of it.
As I’m slightly undersexed
You will always find me next
To some dowager who’s wealthy rather than passionate”.

This association carried through into the gay rights movement of the 1970s and the occult practitioners who were a part of it (like Herman Slater, owner of NYC’s Magical Childe) from whence it spread into popular usage.

These uses aside, our personal view of the Nature of lavender is one of ease and succor and the comfort of home. We have a number of uses for it. We have added it to purification and cleansing baths, particularly those with a goal of soothing anxiety and calming frazzled nerves. We often burn lavender with frankincense as an incense to create a calm and serene atmosphere. We use it in a number of healing blends and spells, particularly our witches’ friend ointment. We spray linens with the essential oil to provide a calm, restful sleep; my grandmother used to do this, and fresh, clean, lavender-scented sheets never fail to remind me of staying at her house. Lastly, though lavender can sometimes be overwhelming in tea blends, it does have a number of culinary applications like infused honeys and cookies and cakes. These are nice to give to friends and neighbors going through a rough time and to provide comfort which is so part of lavender’s nature. All in all, lavender is a lovely and highly practical addition to any witch’s herb cupboard.

Old English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Old English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Shop Update

If you’ve been paying close attention, you’ll notice that things have a fresh look here at Otherworld Apothecary. We’ve been busy taking new photos, updating product descriptions, and re-working our website design. We’ve also started blogging with more regularity about magical herbalism, traditional witchcraft, and our personal practice; we’re aiming to have new posts on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Our blog updates are posted at our facebook page as well– feel free to comment over there or here. If you have topics you’d like to see covered, let us know.

We have a number of new products planned, including the rose tincture, dreaming tea, our personal purification incense, and a few limited release products and tools, so stay tuned for those.

We’ve also decided to offer $5 shipping on all orders!

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Purification

One of the important parts of our personal practice is the regular undertaking of a rite of purification. Public discussion of modern witchcraft tends to avoid the whys and hows of the regular performance of purification rites. This is possibly because so many of us reject the notions of moral purity common to many forms of Christianity and its attendant teachings on sin and penance. I certainly do; I’m more inclined to agree with Mary Oliver in her poem “Wild Geese”:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

But sin and moral impurity are not the kind of pollution that I’m addressing here, where failure to abide by a list of rules makes one unclean. Instead, spiritual pollution is a consequence of living; psychic or energetic pollution would also be appropriate terms. Just as the physical body gets dust and dirt on it from going about the world, so too does the energetic body. Purification, then, as a remedy, cleanses, provides expiation, and re-sets boundaries and order. I tend to refer to spiritual pollution as miasma–up until the turn of the 20th century, miasma referred to contaminated or unhealthy air thought to bring disease and was the precursor to germ theory. It comes from the Greek word for spiritual pollution which had to be removed through purification rites before contact with the gods was made. In our practice and experience, energetic or spiritual pollution is a dark, sticky fog that impairs the aetheric body of the witch and comes from a number of sources.

Sources of Spiritual Pollution
Graduate school taught Tom and Kate and I a lot about the importance of regular ritual purification, mostly because it was a high-stress environment. We were surrounded by people in agitated emotional states coping (or not coping) with large amounts of anxiety, and being immersed in such an atmosphere built up pollution. Our covenmate Kate describes this source of pollution as “emotional detritus”. This unpleasant atmosphere slowly clouds and clings to the aetheric body and eventually clogs energetic centers. People often experience this source of pollution in emotionally charged situations like funerals.

In addition to this sort of passive contamination, modern life affords us the opportunity to come into contact with and be affected by toxic people and people who are jealous of us. It’s a basic tenet of magic that thoughts are things, that deeds and words carry spiritual weight. Appalachian lore tells us about the power of focused jealousy, envy and anger to hex and harm and befoul. One doesn’t need to be in graduate school to experience this; stress from a competitive work environment can be just as bad.

Related to the negativity clinging to ourselves accumulated directly or indirectly from others is that from spiritual sources. Like attracts like, after all; this is the cornerstone of sympathetic magic. One of my favorite terms for spiritual pollution is flocculum abominii— little clouds of negativity that drift about and attach themselves to people and places. Those of an animist or spiritist bent may think of this clinging pollution as attracting little imps that feed on or delight in such energy. And then, there are other more directed spiritual sources of pollution: inherited ancestral baggage, angry ghosts haunting you, offended landwights, the evil eye, and maleficia.

But it doesn’t really have to be anything so dramatic as all that. Spiritual pollution accumulates from living. Life contains hard and terrible things after all. The ancients held that exposure to such things– death, sickness and disease, war, violence, bloodshed, and chaos– caused miasma. Modern life is in no way removed from these, making regular and consistent ritual purification not only a good idea, but also rather necessary. As Ian Corrigan succintly put it: “If it makes you feel fucked-up, it’s pollution. It is the psychic or spiritual or magical residue of those encounters, those feelings, those small, biting imps, which we mean to wash away with ritual purification.”

It should be obvious, then, that one further source of potential pollution comes from ourselves and our personal failures both in word and in deed. Jesse Hathaway Diaz in his blog post recently on the power and place of St Peter within Iberian witchcraft states rather poignantly:

“It is in the small betrayals, not the treason planned and strategized, but in the tiny broken promises of our failed resolve that we find sympathy with Peter. Well-intentioned promises that when put to the test fail, even beyond our wish to keep them. What makes us fail? Were we wrong about ourselves? What we desired? If we hold the straw-man of our idealized self to the flame, will it survive? The cock crows either way. We strive to keep our word… But when we fail, do we become failure instead? How do we react to this failure?”

Though Diaz wasn’t addressing purification, I found his words resonant with this source of potential pollution I believe many people encounter. One of the basic powers of the witch, the sorcerer, and the alchemist is that of transformation. We may take this failure to live up to our own ideals, the self-pollution of disappointment in not being who we would like, and the guilt we may inflict upon ourselves for wrongs caused and transform it. We can strive to make amends and do better. Magicians may destroy who we were, and direct the fire of that destruction toward becoming who we envision. Truthfully, such magical acts go beyond undertaking simple rites of regular purification, but it is a necessary first step on the path.

Purification

Having covered potential sources of miasma and spiritual pollution, what should one expect to gain by getting rid of it? The most basic reason for doing regular purification rites is to feel better. The effects of spiritual pollution are decidedly unpleasant and we are better off without them. For witches and sorcerers, an added benefit to doing these rites are better and more beneficial relationships with spirits and more pleasant journeys into the otherworld. Not carrying a bunch of energetic pollution with us into the otherworld means we’re less likely to attract nasty or dangerous spirits through the principle of sympathy. When the aethric body is free of clinging clouds of negative energies, it becomes easier to send that body forth in dream and trance. Lastly, regular purification offers us a better relationship with luck. A proper discussion of luck is a topic for a whole other post sometime, but the important thing to note is that luck is a thing which can be lost or gained, stolen or accumulated. Cleansing spiritual pollution affords us a better channel for luck to work within our lives.

This brings us to the practical discussion of how one performs ritual purification. Many magical groups have a similar process, and it at its base consists of 3 parts: Ablution, Fumigation and Earthing.

Ablution
The first step involves cleansing with water to dissolve and wash away. Bathing in the sea is traditional, as is standing under a waterfall. You may take a ritual bath of mixed sea salts. Lavender, as its Latin name lavandula (to wash) suggests, is an appropriate additive to ritual purification baths, as is vervain. You may also decide to bless holy water and cleanse the body with it. Please note, this should be more than token sprinkling with an apserger. There are many sources of water that can be used in ablution–water from the sea, waterfalls, sacred springs, holy wells, violent thunderstorms, but in general the water should be from a moving source as this helps to break up and disperse energetic pollution.

Fumigation
This is accomplished through the use of incense to cleanse and restore order to the aetheric body and energetic centers. Fumigation has been performed in both the new and old world throughout history, from the smudging practices of first nations peoples, to old anglosaxon and celtic practices of fumigation and recaning. Many plants and resins can be useful in this sort of work; our own blend uses juniper, rosemary and frankincense. Creating thick white smoke that you can brush with a bird wing or feather fan is particularly effective.

Earthing
Earthing is the same concept as grounding energy promoted by most eclectic modern pagans; the point is that the spiritual gunk you clean off is put somewhere so it doesn’t get on someone else and it can go on to wherever such things go. This step is implied in ocean cleansing, you’re in a very large body of water with a lot of dissolved minerals. This part of the purification rite may also be effected by standing on iron, or in a ring of chalk, bone ash or eggshell, or upon stones at a holy site.

Try to perform ritual purification at least once a month for 6 months or so. If you do, you’ll start to get a sense of when you need to perform it, timed to your own lifestyle and practice.

Waterfall

Hagstones

We went to the beach last week and have now listed a number of hagstones in the shop. Hagstones, also called hex stones or holey stones, are stones with naturally occurring holes all the way through them. They are often found in streams and rivers, in the shingle at the seashore, or even in caves where they are formed by the flow of water.

hagstones
In the worldview of Appalachian folk magic, the otherworld is all around us; we exist in a world inhabited by The Good Neighbors and wee folk, ghosts, demons, angels and all manner of spirits. Following in the footsteps of our old world ancestors, Appalachian folk magic practitioners regard boundary sites like caves, lakes, graveyards, and mountain tops to be places where one can come into contact with the world of spirits. Natural openings or doorways are all believed to form the portals between the worlds–of this and the other. This then, is the general magical essence of a hagstone– a door, shaped by the hand of nature, leading to the otherworld. As such, hagstones are used in all manner of charms and magical operations, of which the following are a few examples.

Holy water
Many practitioners utilize hagstones for the blessing of holy water. Because the stones are created when water wears a hole through the stone’s surface over long periods of time, they become infused with the power of water to change and transform. Holed stones are also reflective of the caves and openings in the earth leading to subterranean waters and the deep waters of the underworld. In areas lacking holy wells, water infused with such potency and blessed by the practitioner may be used to great effect in purification and healing spells. Even in Britain where holy wells are present, the taking of holy waters for healing was often coupled with the afflicted person passing through large holed stones or fissures in rock which were located nearby, suggesting a complimentary relationship between the water and the stone.

Protection and Warding Charms
Traditionally, hag stones were hung in stables over the heads of horses as a charm against the horses being ridden by faeries, witches or hags (hence the name hagstone). Horses thus tormented were found sweating in their stalls with their manes tangled and were supposed to be cured by the application of this charm. The stones are hung with iron, essentially locking the gateway to the otherworld and providing protection from malicious spirits.

Hagstones were further employed in Dorset and Devon as protection charms on fishing boats against being “witched”, or plagued by evil spirits (who may or may not be under the direction of a witch). This condition would manifest as bad luck, accidents and the inability to catch fish. The protective holey stones were tied either to the start rope, or to nails driven in the bow next to the gunwale, and this practice is documented as occurring well into the mid-1800’s.

One final traditional protection charm, this time for the home, consisted of hanging a hagstone from the house key, a practice which again combined the otherworldly gateway (the stone) and the potency of iron (keys were once made of iron), effectively sealing out the interference of malevolent or troublesome spirits. This charm was common throughout Britain and they can still be observed hanging in homes in Appalachia.

hagstone and key
Seeing Stones
A famous 17th century Scottish seer, Coinneach Odhar, was said to have gotten the second sight with the help of a holed stone. This may be the origin of the faery lore which says that one may peer through such a stone to see spirits. A number of fairy stories mention seeing fairies in a hole under a stone and folklorists often grouped them with stories about seeing fairies in a world down a well (also an old technique to gain psychic visions). Using the holed stone to see the otherworld is also attested in Italian folk magical practices; Charles Leland in Etruscan Roman Remains provides a spell employing a holey stone to see spirits in a churchyard. The user once in the churchyard blesses the stone with the following charm:

“In the name of great Saint Peter
And for Saint Blasius’ sake,
By this stone I fain would see,
What form the spirits take”

The stone is then held up to the eye and peered through. Leland suggests that the stone may help to focus the psychic eye as a spyglass does to the physical ones.

Dreams
Because of their use as protection charms against nightmares and charms to allow one to see into the otherworld, holey stones have come to be especially associated with magical dreaming. For example, the following spell utilizing a holey stone to attain dream travel to the sabbat of the witches was given by Andrew Chumbley in his essay “What is Traditional Craft” published in The Cauldron (No. 81, Lammas 1996):

“For this deed of Arte a leather thread and a hagstone are required; the latter being a stone through which there is a hole naturally worn through: a gateway graven by the hands of the earth and charmed to open by the tongues of the river. Taking the hagstone in one’s grasp, one should contemplate its opening and entreat it to be a doorway for your going forth in dreams. One should then take leathern thread and, holding it in one’s hands, should phantasise about the ways of the magical night-procession. Consider the spirits. Think of She who flies forth out of the body and into the freedom of the darksome midnight. Ascend with the spirits through the openings of the flesh; take leave of your mortal abode and roam abroad with the unseen companie of the aire. Step upon the wind and lay yourself into the arms of the sky…. With each poignant atmosphere of phantasie, knot the thread and thus create a rosary of dreaming potentials. When the thread has seven knots, pass it through the mouth of the hagstone and tie to form a loop through which one’s hand may be placed. The stone and thread should be entreated with a final prayer for the spell to work. Then at the end of one’s waking day the stone should be held in one’s hand (generally the one most seldom used) and the cord wrapped around the wrist. The stone should rest within the hand like a child in its crib. Then I bid you forget about it ’til morning. Perchance in dreaming your spirit shall pass through the stone-mouth and wander abroad in the night-walkers’ procession, flying freely to the place that some have called ‘Sabbat’. Where-ever the dreaming takes you, the thread of knots shall guide and bring you home, once more to waken at the edge of day.”

On Angelica

Angelica is a tall, aromatic, perennial herb with a thick, fleshy taproot and hollow stems. The bright green leaves are divided into leaflets, and large flat heads (umbels) of flowers bloom in mid to late summer. The plant is in the Apiaceae–the carrot family–along with fennel, parsley, anise, caraway, coriander, chervil, carrots, parsnips, queen anne’s lace , cowbane, and poison hemlock, though it’s scent is completely different from all those cousins. The scent of angelica could be described as rich, earthy, and musky. The species people are generally referring to when they say angelica (Angelica archangelica) is native to northern Europe (Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway etc), Russia, and the mountainous regions of Germany, Poland and Romania–basically the cold steeps. Interestingly, there’s even an endemic species in the high elevation mountains of the southern Appalachians–filmy angelica (A. triquinata).

If you’ve ever seen angelica blooming in the summer, you know that it’s highly intoxicating to insects; the flower heads are usually covered in a bunch of yellow jackets and native bees. Perhaps seeing it covered in stinging insects is what prompted it to be named Angelica archangelica, after the Archangel Michael of the flaming sword, who in angelic lore is seen as a protector and the leader of the army of God against the forces of evil. The association between Michael and the plant supposedly goes back to the 14th century, when angelica was pointed out to the physician Mattheus Sylvaticus by the archangel as a medicinal plant which could combat the plague. The Archangel Michael is often portrayed fighting Satan or slaying a dragon, representing the victory of light in overcoming darkness, and in Madeline Montalban’s Order of the Morning Star, Michael is viewed as the planetary regent of the sun.

This is a fitting correspondence for the Nature of the plant, for the Elizabethan physician and herbalist Nicholas Culpeper calls angelica an “herb of the Sun in Leo” and recommends that it be gathered when the sun in in this sign (late July into early August), with the moon positively aspected, during the hour of Jupiter or the Sun. If you want to harvest it yourself and follow his suggestions, you can check the farmers almanac or lunarium, just make sure you’re not harvesting it’s similar looking extremely poisonous cousins, the hemlocks (the genuses Cicuta and Conium).

The sun in Leo tells a good deal about the Nature of angelica and it’s magical and medicinal action. Leo rules the heart, and through this association angelica is thought to strengthen the heart. This is the original purpose of the alcoholic potions called cordials, and indeed angelica is an ingredient in a number of medicinal liquors–Benedictine, Chartreuse, and Dubonnet among others. As one would expect from solar herbs, these tonics are warming to the body and help digestion.

Herbs of the sun are used to counteract maladies of the great malefic Saturn: melancholy, lethargy, poison, and maleficia. Key actions for these type of herbs are that they’re warming and restorative to the vital forces. In the past, they were also thought to allow a person to resist poison. In keeping with this, angelica is used in works of ritual purification and removing maleficia (also called uncrossing).

Through it’s association with another Archangel, Gabriel, angelica also gets an entirely different set of magical associations in hoodoo. Gabriel is the archangel who announced Mary’s divine pregnancy, and angelica’s use in hoodoo to increase female power in the home and in magics for the protection of women and blessing of children is reflective of this relationship. Interestingly enough, the chinese angelica (Angelica sinensis) also called dong quai has been used in Eastern medicine since about 2000BC and has shown to affect estrogen levels and other hormones; many people today use it to control menstrual pain and premenstrual and menopausal symptoms.

Because the dried root is rather large and hard, angelica is a good plant for the creation of carved fetishes, especially those that are to house helpful or protective spirits. The root may either be dug up, gently carved, and replanted to grow into it’s new form (much like a mandrake) or simply dried and carved after harvesting. These fetishes, once enlivened and enspirited, are used to bless and protect, and these products of the witches art are suitable gifts given to bless and protect new homes and new babies.

I offer one final note on the magical use of angelica. In Viridarium Umbris, Daniel Schulke also mentions that angelica is a plant that is powerful in summoning spirits. He recommends using the smoldering root as an offering to attract and add force to works that summon spirits, especially those of a celestial or angelic nature. Because one of the inspiring currents of Cultus Sabbati is the Society of the Horseman’s word, I have a guess that the source of this lore may be due to Angelica’s power to draw and calm horses in addition to the more widely known angelic lore.

angelica