All posts by Jack

Midsummer Night’s Dream Incense

Continuing the Midsummer thoughts, today I’m sharing a self-burning incense recipe we formulated several years ago for a workshop we offered at Pagan Spirit Gathering.

This blend is useful when practicing any kind of dream magic especially when you seek answers for a question or prophetic dreams. The formula contains herbs that help open the gates of dream as well as those that have sedative properties, so we call it Midsummer Nights Dream.

2 Tbsp White Sandalwood
2 tsp Lavender
2 tsp Mugwort
2 tsp Chamomile
1 tsp Thyme
1 tsp Benzoin
pinch Dittany of Crete
pinch Yarrow
1/8 tsp Guar Gum

Finely powder all ingredients, and then add just enough warm water to give the blend a consistency similar to modeling clay. Form into tall thin cones, the diameter of which should be no bigger than a pencil at the widest point. Tightly pack the cone to avoid cracks; these cracks will get bigger as the cone dries and prevent the finished cone from burning. Allow them to dry in a cool, dry environment.

Solomon’s Seal

Yesterday, with the moon waning in Aries, we harvested a large quantity of whole Solomon’s Seal roots which we’ll be adding to the shop. Solomon’s seal, Polygonatum biflorum, is a beautiful plant native to the shady woodlands of the Appalachian mountains. It gets its name from the round scars on the roots left by old stalks that look somewhat like a royal seal.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Cunningham lists its magical properties as being those of protection and exorcism, which is likely due to the plant’s association with the seal of Solomon used to bind and control demons. Roots are either placed at the corners of a building to “seal” the place from malign spirits or made into an infusion which is then asperged around the place. I have found it particularly effective as a protection against night hags. Additionally, because of the association with Solomon, the roots are used in modern magic to increase wisdom (to make one wise like Solomon) as well as to attract helpful spirits; Solomon was a sorcerer after all and lore associates him with the grimoires.

Medicinally the roots were once used in Appalachia as a tonic or added to mustard plasters as a treatment for gout and rheumatism. British herbalists John Gerard and Nicholas Culpeper (as well as many subsequent herbals) recommend Solomon’s seal root be made into ointments to help close or “seal up” green wounds and dry old ones, and decocted in wine and administered to help wounded joints through healing torn ligaments and loose or inflamed tendons. I personally have used it in a healing spell for a torn ligament.

Solomon's seal

Herbs of Midsummer

Summer has well and truly started here in Eastern Tennessee, and today my thoughts are on Midsummer which is now just a few short weeks away. Traditionally, certain magical and medicinal herbs like mugwort, saint john’s wort, and yarrow are thought to be especially powerful when gathered on this day, possibly because the solar power has waxed to its fullest. Being magical herbalists, one of our particular traditions for Saint Johns Eve is the harvesting of a number of these herbs of power, some of which are then worked into charms and blessed by the midsummer fire. Some of these herbs also find their way into potions and preparations which we use and offer through the apothecary.

If you’re interested in herbal lore, here is an excellent article about some of the herbs associated with Saint John’s Eve entitled “The Herbs of Good St. John” written by Maud Sargent and published in 1907 in The Gentleman’s Magazine.

The Herbs of Good St. John

Tonics–Spring Cleaning for the Blood

Perennial roots, tall leaves, O the winter shall not freeze you delicate leaves,
Every year shall you bloom again, out from where you retired you shall emerge again; O I do not know whether many passing by will discover you or inhale your faint odor, but I believe a few will; O slender leaves! O blossoms of my blood!
~Walt Whitman, Scented Herbage of my Breast

Sanguinaria canadensis

The bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), an early spring ephemeral wildflower native to the woodlands of Eastern North America, is blooming in our woodland garden which means spring has officially sprung. The blooming of this dainty white flower (named for it’s fleshy root whose sap runs thick and red like blood) signals that the Virtue of the Land is rising from its winter sleep. This also means it’s the proper time to prepare and take our annual spring tonic.

What follows is a repost of an article we wrote a few years back on the old Appalachian theory behind the use of blood tonics. Continue reading Tonics–Spring Cleaning for the Blood

Reformulating Shapeshifting Oil

“Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers by night
May still become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms
And the autumn moon is bright.”

Almost a decade ago, inspired by tales of werewolf cults, we formulated our Shapeshifting Oil to evoke an earthy and primal energy. It was sharp and ferocious and somewhat overpowered, and for the last few years we’ve been unhappy with it.

“I shall go into a hare,
With sorrow and sych and meickle care;
And I shall go in the Devil’s name,
Ay while I come home again.”

We wanted to create a more subtle blend, of moonlight on a mist shrouded meadow, at once both eldritch and mercurial. We wanted a blend evoking the hare-witches of Isobel Gowdie and the night roaming witch-cats of southern Appalachia. The process of refining and changing formula takes time, so we’ve been reworking and reformulating the blend over the last several months. We finished it up over the latest full moon, which the farmers almanac, oddly enough, names the Wolf Moon. We are excited with the result and can’t wait to use it in our own work this coming spring.

Planting by the Signs

Blessed Plow Monday everyone! Now that midwinter has passed and the light has started growing, my mind is turning toward the coming of spring and this years garden. We’ve a ton of seeds (mostly nightshades and daturas and fragrant woodland tobacco) that we’re going to start soon, so I’m checking the lunar calendar.

Planting by the signs of the moon is one of those old mountain customs still practiced by some individuals in Appalachia and the Ozarks. Many years ago when I was learning about it, I asked my grandparents if they planted by the signs. They said they just planted when the weather was right, but they knew plenty of old people who did. My grandfather told me it was attested in the bible, right in the beginning of Genesis: “And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.” This rural lore was widely practiced in regard to both planting and harvesting.

The basics are that, in addition to their traditional elemental association, each of the signs of the zodiac are described as fruitful or barren, and moist, watery, dry, earthy, fiery, hot, or airy. Planting is always done in one of the fruitful signs, and in general the best signs for planting are the water or earth signs. Planting should not be done in one of the barren signs; they are only good for pruning, killing, and weeding.

The fertile water signs are Cancer, Pisces, and Scorpio and are best for most plants. Taurus is also moist and productive and good for planting, especially plants grown for their roots. Libra, though an air sign, is a moist, fruitful sign and good for flowers. Lastly, Capricorn is fertile but dry, so while not ideal, may be good for certain root crops and careful planting.

The signs are traditionally assigned to parts of the human body. You’ll most often hear them discussed this way in Appalachia: “The signs are in the feet today, I’m gonna plant my blue lakes, so that they’ll start running.” [Pisces is productive and moist and good for irrigation and root growth] and “Never transplant in the head or the heart, you’ll kill your plants.” [Aries and Leo are both barren, dry signs].

There are about 14 fruitful days every month. Looking at the moon sign, as well as moon phase, and planetary days for the next 3 months, leads me to the following good days for starting seeds or transplanting plants in January, February and March:
January 13, 18, 21 and 22
February 10, 13, 17, and 18
March 11, 12, 16, 17, and 23

The Origins of the Feast of Hecate

Hecate Altar
This year, the Feast of Hecate, which we’ve adopted into our own craft, falls on the Dark Moon and the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. Several years ago, we published an article on Hecate and the origin of her festival on August 13. In the early 2000’s this festival was commonly ascribed to an aspect of Hecate known as the Lady of Storms with some notion that part of the reason for the festival was to propitiate Her to protect the harvest. Our work and experiences with Our Lady of Night have changed and evolved since that time, and as the feast date continues to grow in popularity, we thought we’d revisit the article.

Back in 2007 we wrote:

There’s not much in the classical literature about [Hecate] being associated with storms, beyond that Zeus ‘gave’ her power over all realms. Her dominion here instead seems to grow out of the “dark and stormy night” image that she developed during the middle ages. There is, however, widespread belief among modern worshipers that she has a feast day on August 13 to protect the crops from violent storms.

Wikipedia is perpetuating this belief, citing Leo Ruickbie’s “Witchcraft out of the Shadows” (2004). In a side-box he claims that the ancient Greeks observed a feast day on August 13 in which Hecate was propitiated to not send storms to destroy the growing crops. Ruikbie, in turn, cites his source as Diane Stein’s “The Goddess Book of Days” (Llewellyn, 1997). Her original calendar was published in 1988 and does not give a primary source.

Various Internet sites claim that this occurred in the House of Storms and Fertility, that it was a Festival to Hecate of the Moon, or that it was part of the Festival of Hecate and Artemis. Mikalson, in The Sacred and Civil Calendar of the Athenian Year lists for Metageitnion 16 that “the sacrifical calendar of the deme Erkhia prescribes sacrifices on this day to Kourotrophos and Artemis Hekate.” Metageitnion is the Attic lunar month that lines up with late July/August. The 16th would be two days after the full moon (July 31, this year). Unfortunately, I cannot find what occurred during the rite (if anything specific at all). Still, this doesn’t explain why August 13 was chosen, fixed as it is to the Roman solar year instead of the lunar calendar used by the ancient Greeks.

Also, there is never any mention as to why Hecate would be called to protect crops (as opposed to children and mothers-to-be). According to Brumfield in his book The Attic festivals of Demeter and their Relation to the Agricultural Year (1976), during the time of the year we call August, the grain harvest had been completed and the grape harvest would not have begun until September. August was a lull in the agricultural year and nothing needed to be protected from violent storms.

A few clues come to light when we stop looking for ancient Greek sources. In Rome, The Festival of Torches was held on August 13, called the Nemoralia. In it, woman would walk from the city of Rome carrying torches to a lake sacred to Diana where they would offer their petitions. There was a strong conflation between Artemis and Hecate in Greece, with Hecate taking on a number of Artemis’ roles. Diana and Hecate were also conflated some, but typically maintained separate spheres of influence. Still, this seems to be a likely source for fixing the ritual on that particular date.

Additionally, in 1986 a ritual performed on August 14, 1985, was published in Circle Network News which invoked Hecate Chthonia and incorporated a Hecate Supper. A web page by that author claims that a similar ritual incorporating much of the same text was performed at the MoonStone Circle of the Aquarian Tabernacle and published in Panegyria on August 13, 1988. The original date it was performed, August 14, 1985, was a dark moon, which has been a sacred time for Hecate since classical times. The other date, though, perhaps inspired by Stein’s recently published Goddess Book of Days, was a waxing gibbous.

None of this explains a connection with storms or harvests, however. This strikes me as a purely Neopagan phenomenon rising out of widespread observance of harvest-type rituals during early August, the most common being the Celtic feast of Lughnasadh.

Eight years later, we still suspect the modern Feast of Hecate held on August 13 comes from the Nemoralia, the festival of Diana held in the groves at Nemi. This cult has a long association with modern paganism, being the inspiration and central study in Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough which, in turn, formed a pillar of the neo-pagan movement.

The goddess Diana as she was worshiped in the groves as Nemi possessed a triple form, not unlike the triform figure of Hekate that is familiar to many modern witches. One of the three was known classically as Hecate or Proserpina, something which has troubled me. Why is a Latin Goddess being called by the name of a different Greek goddess? Is it syncretism, like the conflation of Artemis and Hecate, and Artemis and Diana. CMC Green in Roman Religion and the Cult of Diana at Aricia offers this plausible explanation: “The identification of Diana with Hecate (a Greek name) has been made unnecessarily complicated. Diana the Huntress was identified with the moon, as Apollo was with the sun. As the moon grows dark once a month it is inevitable that a moon-goddess will have some part of her identity located in the underworld. Hecate is simply the Greek name for that part of her identity.” The names Hecate and Proserpina were also likely considered safe substitutes for the true name of the Underworld Moon.

There are numerous classical references to this association. One of Horace’s Odes mentions Diva Triformis, and Virgils Dido calls on “tergeminanque hecaten, tria virginis ora Dianae.” Isodore of Seville writing in the first century explains: “Concerning which Virgil writes..the three faces of the virgin Diana, because the same goddess is called Luna, Diana, and Proserpina”. This tripartate Diana persisted through the centuries, showing up in triple form in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and John Skelton’s Garland of Laurels in 1523 (“Diana in the leaves green, Luna that so bright doth sheen, Persephone in hell”). As mentioned previously, her cult instigated James Frazer’s life work The Golden Bough and influenced Robert Graves’ The White Goddess, through which the concept of the triple goddess was introduced to modern Wicca.

To return to the August festival which honored the three-fold goddess, Green’s translation of one of the poems composed by the Latin poet Statius in the 1st century CE is appropriate:

It is the season when the most scorching region of the heavens takes over the land and the keen dog-star Sirius, so often struck by Hyperion’s sun, burns the gasping fields. Now is the day when Trivia’s Arician grove, convenient for fugitive kings, grows smoky, and the lake, having guilty knowledge of Hyppolytus, glitters with the reflection of the multitude of torches; Diana herself garlands the deserving hunting dogs and polishes the arrowheads and allows the wild animals to go in safety, and at virtuous hearths all Italy celebrates the Hecatean Ides.

Finally, Green (really, just go pick up her book) suggests that the festival lasted 3 days, starting with her decent to the underworld on the Ides (August 13th) where she would be known as Hecate, and culminating on the 15th of August when she ascended as the Queen of Heaven, the full moon. Incidentally the 15th is celebrated as the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, Queen of Heaven, in the Christian church, who may have adopted this (non-infernal) part of the festival.

Today, the August 13 Feast of Hecate has grown immensely in popularity among modern pagans, and includes many individual observances as well as larger public rites such as Hecate’s Feast hosted by the Temple of Witchcraft. We conclude that the Hecate honored at these rites isn’t necessarily the Greek goddess of boundaries or Lady of Storms, but they are an indirect continuation of rites to the dread face of Diva Triformis as goddess of night, the queen of the dark moon roaming the underworld. This year, in addition to feasting on delicious Mediterranean food and wine, we’ll celebrate by giving offerings at the crossroads under the shower of falling stars and ritually blending an offertory incense for use in the coming year, Hecate the Saffron Clad. From the classical torch-lit rites within the grove at Nemi to modern observances by pagans and witches, August 13 brings together all those who form the conclave of the goddess of night. May she bless you all.

A Solution for Mercury Retrograde

Because of the motion of earth in its orbit around the sun, sometimes the other planets appear to be traveling backward through the zodiac (from our vantage point). This illusion is called retrograde motion. In the case of the planet Mercury, retrograde motion occurs three times a year for a period of about three weeks. Because the planetary force of Mercury is associated with travel, contracts, and communications, this time was traditionally associated with confusion, miscommunication, delays, and frustration. Mercury’s retrograde periods are often blamed for plans going awry, lost emails, technology breakdowns, and other issues of modern life.

Recently I made the following suggestion to a friend of mine who was having a particularly rough time during a Mercury retrograde event. He’s since contacted me to let me know how well it worked and that he’s spreading this bit of tech like a prophet among his friends and peers. To my surprise, his post on facebook about it garnered a lot of attention; I thought this was a fairly common working in planetary magic. Thus, I’ve decided to share this trick for relatively smooth sailing through Mercury retrograde.

When Mercury goes retrograde, on a Wednesday during the hour of Mercury (you can find particular planetary hours for your location at Lunarium) write out the kamea (magic square) of Mercury.
Kamea of Mercury
and then draw the seal of Mercury on top of it
Seal of Mercury
such that they match up exactly and every number has a line going through it. You can burn a Mercury incense or mastic resin and orange candles while creating the talisman to give it a little umph.

Planetary kameas are used to bring and magnify planetary energies and the seal is a graphical representation of this numeric grid. Somewhere many years ago, I learned that placing the seal on top of the kamea blocks a particular planetary energy, in effect “sealing” the focal lens. I would cite a source, but I have no idea where I got this, and at any rate magic should sometimes be about experimenting and experience. In our experience and those we’ve shared it with, this conjoined figure blocks the energy of Mercury. You can put the square on your desk, by your phone, write it on a post it note and stick it to the side of your computer, take a picture with your cell phone camera and make it your background. There are a number of ways it could be employed to help smooth things over for you. In doing this, you will of course be blocking both the negative and positive effects of the planet, so expect divination to not be easy while this talisman is around. Remember to destroy the talisman or delete the image when the planet goes direct again.

The temporary fix may also be used to limit the effect of the malefic planets Saturn and Mars. For instance, another friend has trouble with seasonal affective disorder and I made a charm containing the conjoined Kamea and Seal of Saturn and Hellebore to minimize winter melancholy. Again, I emphasize that this is a short-term talisman. The friend in question had surgery and found that her stitches weren’t properly healing. As Saturn controls bindings and boundaries and is associated with the skin, this makes sense; the sealed kamea was destroyed and the complications abated.

There may additionally be darker applications for this particular trick, say binding the planetary energies of Venus in the life of your enemies, but we’ve not tried it yet.

On Sacred Places

I’ve been reading Geosophia by Jake Stratton Kent over the last few weeks and came across this passage. It is, I think, a really well written piece about working with your regional locality as an expression of your mythic landscape. We’ve been covering this in workshops and training sessions for years, so this passage jumped out of the chapter at me, and I thought I’d share it here.

It is only if we permit it that the secularized landscape of the modern world is emptied of myth and magic. After all, this is not the inevitable impinging of the supposedly real world on our fantasy life; on the contrary, an irreparable separation of the inner and outer worlds is both unreal and undesired. Mountains, burial mounds, crossroads, monuments, graves, trees, streams, and rivers were ancient locations of the numinous. They are no less full of power today, if we but reclaim them. If communities and individuals have lost the sense of power attached to places- a very real loss- nevertheless the magician’s work requires them: this crossroads for offerings to Hecate or the spirits of the Underworld, this hollow tree to hide and isolate the image of a foe, this mountain, cave, or lake to court the favor of the Otherworld. More routine tasks too, disposal of ritual by-products and remnants, cutting of herbs and gathering water at auspicious places, or rods at suitable ruins, cemeteries &c. This extends even to suitable stores for obtaining mace, olive oil and other sundries, not to mention the gathering of dirt or clay from banks, police-stations, prisons &c. Employ mythic thinking to invest the mundane with the magical.

The magician looks about them and sees the magical potential in all things. Has this river no nymph, this mound no hero, this mountain no god? Perhaps under no name known today, but the magician is- like a second Adam- replete with the Power of Naming. Many locations have magical uses or associations, awaiting our use of mythic language. If, say, a prehistoric burial mound is associated with no name known now, then ask your spirits which of them or their companions and allies dwells there. What matter if no-one called the resident by this name before? Names change, but the ancient magic continues regardless. This extends to new places as much as old or rural ones; to any place with meaning for you. Reclaim the landscape, reinvest it with power and significance; be aware of the innate power and significance inherent in every place.

A spell for healing on Holy Saturday

Herba Sacra
Extended from the mighty hand of Jove
I call on your power
to expel and make hale

Fruit of the Sun
Plucked from the fiery heart of Primum Regum
I call on your power
to expel and make hale

Thymus vulgaris
Exhaled from the sweet breath of Venus
I call on your power
to expel and make hale

Mel from the singing sisters
Distilled from the mountain of youth
I call on your power
to bind and preserve

As the Christos arises from the grave on the morn,
Thou shalt arise, refreshed, renewed, and made hale.
So be it.