Mandrake Oil

This past full moon I decided to try out a mandrake oil that I started brewing under the full moon (and lunar eclipse) in Libra this spring. To make it, I censed a bottle with frankincense and put pieces of Mandragora officinarum in it with sweet almond oil. Round about midnight, I gently warmed the oil over a candle flame in a triangle of mountain ash wood (chosen for its quickening properties), and sang incantations while the root danced within the oil. I repeated this quickening rite a couple of times over the past few months, but otherwise, the oil has been biding it’s time and maturing in the darkness of the witchcraft cabinet.

Brewing Mandrake Oil

The oil has a potent charge to it that I felt when applying it– an electric tingle of magic that buzzed on my skin. The effects were different from what I expected; they were definitely quite embodied. The world took on a dreamlike, otherworldly quality, but the experience was still quite physical. The oil would probably good for ecstatic trance-work like masking or sex magic, or rites dealing with The Good Neighbors and Elphame. Because of the embodied nature of the effects, it will be less useful for spirit flight. Mandrake however may be helpful in a smaller proportion in a blend for transvection to the Sabbat. “Witchcraft Medicine” by Müller-Ebeling, Rätsch and Storl seems to back up my experiences. It refers to Mandragora officinarum as the mandrake of Aphrodite, growing in the garden of Venusberg.

A Spell to Return a Lover

We get a lot of requests for love magic here at the apothecary; people need help finding a new lover or reconciling with one from the past. Here is an old spell from the turn of the twentieth century using dragon’s blood to fetch the love partner from a distance when you are separated.

“To fetch a lover from a distance, get a pennyworth of ” dragon’s blood ” from the chemist. Cut a piece of red flannel into the shape of a heart, and stick three pins in it for Cupid’s darts. The three points of the pins must point to the centre. Sprinkle the dragon’s blood on the flannel. At midnight, burn it on a gleedy fire [a fire of hot, glowing embers] just as the clock strikes twelve, and, as it is burning, repeat these words :

‘Tis not this blood I wish to burn,
But ‘s heart I wish to turn.
May he neither rest nor sleep
Till he returns to me to me to speak.

“It should be done on a Friday night ; on the first Friday in the month it is supposed to work the best. Friday is always the most witching night, and you must be alone. K. H., of Burton-on- Trent, who is now about twenty-seven, tried this, and fetched her present husband by train from a distance. They had had a quarrel, ” Why, whatever has brought you ? ” she said, when he arrived. ” I couldn’t rest,” he said, ” I felt as if I must come. I thought something must be wrong with you. Something told me I must come.” K. H. tried to persuade another girl to try it only last summer. (A. O., 1902. )”

This spell, published in Folk-lore : A Quarterly Review, Volume 20 in 1909, continues an old tradition of love spells that border on cursing. Christopher Farone’s “Ancient Greek Love Magic” contains many fascinating examples of this type of spell from the ancient world. The directive to neither rest nor sleep means the target of the spell will not be able to get you out of their mind, going over the argument you may have had, longing to clear the air and make things right.

The spell is performed on a Friday night, the day of Venus, mistress of the matters of the heart. I suspect the mention of the first friday of the month does not refer to the calendar month, but instead the lunar month, in which case the moon is waxing. As the moon swells and grows, so will your lover’s thoughts of you, until the pull of your spell, like the moon on the tides of the ocean, cannot be resisted.

We sell two different kinds of dragon’s blood at the apothecary. One is the glassy dark red resin from the fruit of a palm (mostly growing in Indonesia) which smells sharp, piney, and slightly acrid, much like frankincense. The other is the dried sap of a tropical tree and looks like a dull, dark red myrrh. When burned, its scent is woody and spicy and kind of metallic. We have no idea which resin you would have gotten from a chemist in Britain in 1909, but for the purposes of this spell, we’d recommend using the former Indonesian Dragon’s Blood.

To Our Lady

Our Lady of Night
“Honour to the crescent and the waning
and She who walketh in brightness,
The Mother of Enchantments.
Be good fortune in Thy waxing,
merriment at Thy full
and evils be banished in Thy decrease.”
~~Jack Brakespear and Doreen Valiente

Wealth and Riches

“The fourth pentacle of Jupiter. It serveth to acquire riches and honor, and to possess much wealth. Its angel is Bariel. It should be engraved upon silver in the day and hour of Jupiter when he is in the sign Cancer. ”

4th pentacle of Jupiter

The above image is the face and reverse of a paten created for the purposes of drawing wealth and riches to the bearer. Because it’s hard to come by a piece of silver large enough to burn candles on, I made these from pine, a tree which the Renaissance astrologer William Lilly assigned to the planet Jupiter, with silver leaf around the edges. The face is woodburned with the 4th pentacle of Jupiter, with the names of the angels in Agrippa’s malachim script and the versicle from the Psalm 112:3 in Latin. Translated it means: “Wealth and riches are in his house.” The square of Jupiter is burned into the reverse. These were made on the day and hour of Jupiter, with Jupiter in Cancer as prescribed in the Key of Solomon (the planet moves into Leo in July 2014).

***
To Jupiter
the fumigation from storax

O Jove, much-honour’d, Jove supremely great,
To thee our holy rites we consecrate,
Our pray’rs and expiations, king divine,
For all things to produce with ease thro’ mind is thine.
Hence mother Earth and mountains swelling high
Proceed from thee, the deep and all within the sky.
Saturnian king, descending from above,
Magnanimous, commanding, sceptred Jove;
All-parent, principle and end of all,
Whose pow’r almighty shakes this earthly ball;
Ev’n Nature trembles at thy mighty nod,
Loud-sounding, arm’d with light’ning, thund’ring God.
Source of abundance, purifying king,
O various-form’d, from whom all natures spring;
Propitious hear my pray’r, give blameless health,
With peace divine, and necessary wealth.

(This translation of the Orphic Hymn is the most well-known, written by the British classicist Thomas Taylor in 1792. His work was a significant influence on the Golden Dawn.)

Up the chimney!

1910 Witches Sabbat Postcard

We spent this past dark moon making flying ointment with our friend Charles, who was visiting from out of town.

In celebration, we wanted to share this awesome vintage postcard of witches flying to the Sabbat (it’s part of a set of 6 images) produced in Paris in about 1910. I particularly love the older woman smearing the younger ones down as they start their flight!

Serpent Songs from Scarlet Imprint

I recently finished the Bibliotheque Rouge Digital edition of Serpent Songs from Scarlet Imprint, edited by Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold.

The book is a collection of 15 essays on various themes having to do with what the author terms Traditional Craft.  This is not a book specifically on one theme.  Not specifically about witchcraft, or even limited to the practice of traditional magic, the collection includes some works of theory, polemics, and academic arguments, as well as a few essays which are more practical in scope.  As such, the book didn’t feel like a proper anthology which generally has a unifying theme or order, but more like a collection of disparate elements. Not that several of those elements weren’t amazing, but just that they all felt discrete.  It was similar in style to rambling through and reading different blogs linked to from each other.

All in all, I think it was rather a mixed bag, as such collections often are.  Not every subject covered or writing style will appeal to everyone. Though Scarlet Imprint does publish some very beautiful hand-bound hardbacks, I’m glad I have the kindle edition; I don’t think “Serpent Songs” will be something that I’m going to read multiple times. I took notes on a few of the essays, and a few of them made excellent bedtime reading.

I can’t really predict what other people are going to find inspiring and useful in the work, but my personal highlights were as follows:

Gemma Gary : “The Witches Cross”-  Gary’s essay on the Spirits of the night and of the liminal place of the witch mirrored many of my own thoughts and developments of our working group.  It contains an example of a working to attain congress with the spirits.  Gary’s writing is both clear and evocative.

Stuart Inman and Jane Sparkes: “A Gathering of Light and Shadows” – Some good thoughts on the egregore of craft traditions, genius loci and lining up the mythic landscape with the actual one are to be found here.  The style of both voices writing the essay could be distracting, but is quite natural, and the work is peppered through with personal stories and notes from their workings. In addition, Inman had this to say about the modern Hoodoo revival: “It became obvious that Hoodoo is not the rather pleasant new-age herbal magic portrayed in Stephanie Rose Bird’s Sticks, Stones, Roots and Bones, but a weapon, the only weapon of the unarmed and helpless, in a war fought over centuries.  To be more precise, it is many things, but if you ignore this aspect of Hoodoo, its use to dominate, jinx, hex or curse, you deliver an emasculated version of it that is reduced to the same new-age eclectic mess that every other magical system seems to end up as.”

Xabier Bakaikoa Urbeltz: “But the House of my Father will Stand” – Urbeltz’s offering on the House in Basque tradition was, I think, quite stellar.  While it offers a fascinating look at the little known (to outsiders) practices of the Basques, it got me to think about and examine my practice and beliefs from a wholly new and different perspective.  I’m still thinking about the people who owned and loved our house before us and the role of hospitality and the hearth in Appalachia.

Richard Parkinson: “Exorcists, Conjurors and Cunning Men in Post-Reformation England”- I quite enjoyed this work on the links between clerical Catholic magic and the cunning folk of the early modern period.  The supposition that clerical exorcists became professional ghost layers, spirit trappers and protective magicians after they were removed from the church is fascinating.  It also provides a possible avenue of continuity of practice through time, and leads more credence to the idea that the church has a prominent place in our history as people reclaiming and inspired by the magic of the past.

Jesse Hathaway Diaz: “Passersby: Potential, Crossroads & Wayfaring on the Serpent’s Road” – Dealing with the practicalities of dual faith observance, Diaz’s essay provided new and fresh ideas for continuing our work with the Saints and their Reflections, or as he calls it the work of the Right and Left hand.  After so many years of practice and work and reading, it’s nice to come across a new voice.  I’ll be looking for more of Diaz’s work in the future.

The Tinners Rabbits

tinners rabbits

The above symbol, known as the Tinners’ Rabbits or the Three Hares, is the one we adopted for our personal working group. This symbol is associated with the British west country, particularly in churches in the regions of Dartmoor and Devonshire, but also found in other areas in Europe and as far away as China. It was once adopted as a mark for tin mined in Devonshire. We have a special affinity for the magic and folklore of the West Country of Britain, particularly Somerset and Devon, so this symbol seems fitting.

Though hares are not native to the eastern United States, they have a close cousin in the eastern cottontail rabbit. When Tom and I began working traditional witchcraft, we saw rabbits everywhere; we surprised them when skulking out to working sites and had dreams and visions of white hares running through moonlit meadows.  Male rabbits are known as “bucks”, while male hares are called “jacks”— names which (at least poetically) have a long association with the nameless art.  In addition a “malkin”  (as in Greymalkin from Macbeth) could refer to either a cat or a hare.

Indeed the lagomorph (the scientific term for a rabbit or hare) has an ancient history with witches. In 1662, Isobel Gowdie, a young housewife from the highlands of Scotland, confessed that her coven possessed the ability to transform into hares by repeating the following charm three times:

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

To return to their human form they said,

Hare, hare, God send thee care.
I am in a hare’s likeness just now,
But I shall be in a woman’s likeness even now.

The belief in the power of witches to change their shape into hares and go roaming about at night dates from much earlier. In fact, Giraldus Cambrensis, writing almost 500 years earlier in the Topography of Ireland reported “It has also been a frequent complaint, from old times as well as in the present, that certain hags in Wales, as well as in Ireland and Scotland, changed themselves into the shape of hares…” Remnants of this belief can still be found in the numerous folk stories about hares that were shot at night to find a local woman with a shoulder wound the next morning or parsons surprising a coven of witches and finding hares in their place the next instant.

In addition with being associated with witches, hares and rabbits are associated with the lunar cycle, fertility, longevity, and rebirth. They’re seen as moving easily between this world and the other (think of the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland). We associate the rabbit or hare with the eastern road of earth and the tides of spring and dawn and the bright queen of Faerie. In addition, the ears of the creatures in the Tinners’ Rabbits form the triangle of manifestation within the ring of art, which gives form to force.

Lastly, Marc Michael Epstein writing in “Dreams of Subversion in Medieval Jewish Art and Literature” has this to say about the medieval image of the hare: “The beastiarists deemed the hare’s sex to be ambiguous, and its mode of reproduction strange. They included the hare in a group of several beasts that they asserted had been declared unclean in the Mosaic law because of their alleged sexual deviance . . . Moses Azikri (1533-1600) wrote that one who is involved in homosexual relations is reincarnated as a hare.”

(“Personally I think it makes a very lovely transmutation.” )

As queers, people of the earth, and moon-mad witches, “we shall go into a hare”….

Fern Seed on Saint John’s Eve

“We have the receipt of fern seed, we walk invisible.” ~Henry IV, Part I (II, i)

Since reading James Frazer’s The Golden Bough in college, I’ve always been fascinated by fern-seed.  Though as a scientist I know that ferns do not produce seeds but reproduce by spores, in folklore fern seed is a mysterious and magical curiosity that confers invisibility, divinatory powers, and/or access to Faery.   These seeds can only be collected at midnight on Saint John’s Eve.  After our bonfire died down that night, I made my way into the moonlight with bread and honey, elderflower liquor, a hazel branch, and a handkerchief.

I left my offerings in a patch of wood fern, watching fireflies dance through the trees.  Lore attests that the arrival of the fern seed is accompanied by a golden light and other portents, so I waited patiently for the signs at the appointed hour and collected a measure of the spores when they occurred.  On the way back home I wondered how many other witches were skulking about in the night collecting fern seed, and if we should happen to meet, if we’d see one another or if they were already invisible.