Gifts from Pine
Pine is often used in protective wreaths during the holiday season. Pine replaced the dead black chicken which was once hung on doors to discourage witches from entering. They were honor bound to count every feather before they could go inside. Thankfully, pine needles replaced the feathers, undoubtedly more fragrant than rotting poultry!
Witches have very active minds and often get distracted and lose count, so instead of starting over, they will probably go next door. (You may want to advise your neighbors to get a pine wreath.)
I, on the other hand, like witches - the term comes from Wicca meaning "wise one' - so I don't bother with pine on the door. It is handy inside however, as the fragrance purifies and refreshes the air and discourages illness. The evergreen needles are said to ensure continual joy! You may want to consider incense, instead of, or in addition to, the fresh pine boughs!
Amber -Pine's Gift of Golden Sunshine Energy
Wheat and roses are also associated with St. Barbara.
"Barbara, the Saint, was elected of God,
She gave her bread to the poor,
Her miserly father rebuked her
And threatened her with his sword.
When he caught her with bread in her lap
She cried unto God in her fear,
God turned the sword in his hand
Into a crochet needle.
When here father demanded to see
What she concealed in her lap,
She cried unto God for help
And the bread in her lap turned to roses."
~ Translation from The Syrian
The crusaders are credited with bringing gingerbread to England in the Middle Ages. The first recorded recipe is dated 1390, with instructions to soak ginger, honey and breadcrumbs to produce a 'bread'.
Queen Elizabeth 1 was the first to shape them into the image of 'gingerbread men' to please her court and dignitaries. They were often elaborate with intricate design and gold leaf.
Their popularity grew and the were sold at fairs throughout the mid 17th century. A gingerbread seller is featured in Ben Johnson's play, St. Bartholomew's Fair.
The Gingerbread Boy was immortalized in St. Nicholas Magazine in May, 1875 when a childless woman baked a gingerbread boy for her husband, but he runs away saying,
"Run, run, as fast as you can.
You can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man."
Gingerbread men are still popular today and the dough has been used to bake almost everything imaginable, with a few examples below.
"Light cannot be seen without shade.
Shade cannot be seen without light."
By moonlight, we see in black and white. We cannot see colors. There is something fascinating and valuable about seeing the world that way. We see only what is essential.
We see form emerging from a sea of blackness. . . . We can look at the world so familiar by daylight and see it anew in the black and white of moonlight.
You see yin and yang. . . The day warms, the night cools.
The sun moves over a hill, changing the face from brightness to shadow.
Stand in the middle of a forest and watch all the shadows and sunlight shift second by second. You see yin and yang.
- Deng Ming-Dao, The Lunar Tao (edited)
Jimsonweed - Dratura Strimonium
Today's herb is Jimsonweed, also called devil's trumpet, Hell's bells, thorn apple and moon flower, from the genus Datura. It belongs to the Solanacease (nightshade) family. Its toxic ingredients include tropane alkaloids, including atropine, hyoscyamine and scopolamine, and it is particularly dangerous because the amount needed for a high is nearly the same as the lethal over dose which greatly increases the chance of accidental fatal overdose.
There are times I simply must pause when I do herbal research. These are the kinds of things that have guided me to avoid deadly herbs for so long. I've been sharing information on haunting herbs for years and it has all been in fun, using only herbs found in the gardens of the white witches. But there can be a dark and serious side to herbal use. The lists of illness and most often death associated with this herb are readily available on the internet so I won't list them here.
That being said, I have been in awe of the gorgeous Jimsonweed for years and would not be anymore inclined to eat it than I would poison ivy. I can enjoy it at a distance and as with all the deadly herbs, I strongly advise you look but don't touch!
Bliss, M. (2001), Datura Plant Poisoning, Clinical Toxicology Review
~ Erica Jong
of the poisonous flowers--
even your smallest buds
are said to cause
madness, sleep & death,
but your spiny ″apples,″
prickly & stiff as porcupines,
are the real villains,
& were much beloved
by Kali’s worshipers,
(O kill, kill
in a goddess’ name!)
for arrow tips
& sacrificial victims’ hearts--
you were also used
in love philters!
The cynic laughs,
knowing that love
is the first poison--
that takes the soul,
& all the organs
(O kill, kill
in a goddess’ name!)
Venus, Kali, the Great Mother
the God of the Witches--
what does it matter?
Love potion or poison,
it is the same drink
that brings oblivion
in the end.
Love-will, Sorcerer’s herb,
you were used by brothel keepers
to seduce the innocent,
& witches brewed you
for their flying ointments.
The soldiers of Jamestown
made merry with your juice.
It was a new country
but the herbs were old.
The poisons link us
the poisons & the love philters.
Down through the Ages
we are joined by vines;
we wear garlands
of poisonous berries
Green as innocence,
green as love of death,
we bud, we flower, we fall--
& ancient herbs
out of our blind
Henbane - Hyoscyamus niger
© Mikell Y Worley, Henbane, Watercolor, Pen and Ink 5" x 7"
"Henbane is poisonous in all its parts and neither drying or boiling destroys the toxic principle."
~ Mrs. Grieve, London Pharmacopoeia
With the current misogyny in the U.S., it seems some men don't need any herbal assistance. Fortunately in my recent travels, this hasn't been a concern but I have no plans to move to D.C. or Hollywood so maybe my geographical location has spared me. Ha!
Henbane is not used often because it is so highly poisonous. As with some of the other members of the Solanaceae family, it contains the propane alkaloids and it best left alone..
(Note: Non-poisonous tomatoes and potatoes are in the Solanaceae family.)
Simply smelling the herb can have derogatory effects. Legend states the dead who wander along the banks of the river Styx wear wreathes of henbane flowers to prevent them from remembering their previous lives, according to Greek mythology.
Scott Cunningham, herbalist extraordinaire, noted
due to its toxicity, is still sometimes utilized as a love bringing herb in the following
manner: to bring love, a man should gather henbane, naked, early in the morning
while standing on one foot. Worn, it will bring love."
Cunningham also notes the herb can be burned to attract rain and this should be best done outdoors - they need to tell people this? - as the fumes are poisonous. He then notes that fern can be used as a substitute. Hopefully the fern cam be used in the love spell as well!
Once again I got sidetracked - easy to do with the versatile and many faceted herbs! In reference to Halloween, witches rubbed an ointment which included henbane and other herbs on the handles of their broom sticks to enable them to fly. And allegedly, there were evil witches - most aren't, you know - who used the herb to inflict convulsions, delirium and even death on their victims.
Henbane should best be avoided unless under the supervision of a well trained herbalist, Witches, Henbane and Brooms,
It has inspired American poet and novelist Erica Jong, probably best known for her 1973 novel Fear of Flying. This poem is from her book Witches.
~ Erica Jong
The Delphic Priestesses’
is it you
with your jagged leaves
& sickly flowers
who turn men
is it you
who pluck the prophecies
above the great Omphalos
in the gorge?
Common as the lowly potato,
but with the power
to bring oblivion or death,
to your spell,
while that mild witch, Circe,
upon her magic loom
where the fabric
beneath her shuttlecock,
the wolves & lions loll
like aging dogs;
the witch tickles
Half girl, half goddess,
Circe dreams of her Odysseus,
with bright thoughts,
& honeyed wine.
Was it you, Henbane,
turning beastly men
to loving beasts--
is that why Circe
loved you so?
with his broadsword,
the master mariner,
the son of gods
to taming women to his will.
He took the witch
not out of lust
for Hermes himself had ordered it--
(& Odysseus always
had a god at hand).
Was it Henbane
before they went to bed?
Was it Henbane
that let their loving slip
from one slim night
into a whole fat year?
She sent him home
the long way
from her famous
bed of love,
Through Death’s cold vastnesses,
& pale Persephone’s glacial halls.
Was it you
who made the journey slow--
or was it Circe,
half girl, half goddess,
harmonizing on her lovely loom
while men lolled at her feet
like sleepy beasts…
a thing or two!
Jong, Erica (1997), Witches, Abradale Press
From the top down -
The lesson from this is that it is critical to know the latin name when studying herbs. For that reason I'll list the latin name first, with the paintings, and additional folk names below. Also, please beware of what you find on the internet. I've seen sketches with black berries on the bittersweet night shade and I have never seen the plant or a photo of the plant with black berries. They can be green, yellow, orange or red, but I've never seen black.
Both of the herbs are poisonous and all parts should be avoided.. They have both been attributed to enabling witches to fly. "Bella Donna" means beautiful lady in Italian and at one time women were rumored to use the herb to enlarge their pupils so they would look more desirable. Sadly as with many herbs, the amount needed was almost the same as the lethal dose so there were accidental deaths as a result. I'll stick with eyeliner and mascara for my eye make up. If that's not good enough, the guy can take a hike!
Atropa belladona (Poison)
Solanum dulcamara (Poison)
open their lids
for their lovers;
Maenads fall upon men
dripping with dreams;
& children die
from the sweetest
of inky fruits.
wine of the Bacchanals,
you are indeed the witch’s berry,
I look into your open eye & see
women in love with death,
dying with the widest
& brightest of eyes.
Have you no shame at all
The other herbs
pretend to be angelic,
but you freely play
the Devil’s part.
Dwaleberry, Sorcerer’s cherry,
your sweetness bursts
on the tongue,
the lungs relax,
& death comes
Mandragora - Mandragora officinarum
© Mikell Y Worley, Mandrake, Watercolor and Pen and Ink, 5" x 7'
This year I'm featuring the Deadly Herbs of Halloween and Friday the 13th seems the ideal time to post. We'll begin with Mandrake, the root of Mandragora. Legend states that the plant sprung from the dripping blood and semen of men who were hanged at the gallows.
Mandrake, translated as the dragon resembling man, (Atropa mandragora, Mandragora officinale) is one of the most powerful of the Halloween Herbs. The root, said to resemble the form of a human body, can grow to a length of three or four feet. It is most often associated with males (Man-drake, Mandragan, Mandragor, Mannkin), but other names include a feminine reference (Ladykins and Womandrake). And there are other folk names including Brain Thief, Wild Lemon, and Raccoon Berry. Do you see why I love herbs?
Another name is Herb of Circe, as it is thought to be the herb used in the brew made by the sorceress Circe (Kirke) to turn Odysseus's trespassing men into swine. Wow!
If that weren't enough, there are additional benefits! It can protect your home and assure affluence and abundance. Silver coins placed next to this handy root will double in amount over night. Even those who aren't known for our mathematical expertise can see the benefit!
Mandrake can be used to attract love if you hang the root on the headboard of your bed. Keep in mind, this is a three to four foot long hairy root that looks something like a person. I'm just wondering how I'd react if I woke up in the middle of the night and . . . .oh, never mind. Once true love is guaranteed it will ensure fertility and the scent ensures a peaceful night's sleep - at least until the baby arrives!
But there is a problem. Mandrake roots are rare and expensive, and, well they should be, considering the challenges involved with obtaining one. To ensure that the magic is intact, there are certain procedures that must be followed. You don't just go out with a shovel to your nearest mandrake patch and start digging.The root must be obtained on a moonless night, ideally yanked out just at the stroke of midnight.
There is another problem. The mandrake does not want to be removed from the ground. It shrieks in protest. The shrill screams seem to have a derogatory effect on all that hear them and drive them to insanity. So as you can imagine, people aren't lining up to be harvesters of the mandrake root.
There is a solution but Zippy, my Puggle, and I don't like it. "The safest way to secure a mandrake was to tie a dog to the plant on a moonless night. Plugging one's ears with beeswax and blowing a horn to drown out the shrieks, the dog was whipped at the stroke of midnight and the jumping animal pulled the screeching root from the ground and died."
Died. A dog, at least one or we know they wouldn't have given this example, died so that someone could tie a hairy root to their bedpost.
One more thing to keep in mind when considering the use of mandrake is that is is poisonous. It is a member of the Solanaceae family and the berries and roots contain anticholinergic alkaloids such as hyoscyamine and scopolamine.
There is good news though! If you're looking for a substitute for your spell this Halloween, you can use the root of an ash, which might be even more difficult to dig up than the Mandrake. It is a tree, after all. The root of betony or may apples have also proved to be worthy alternatives. For an even more easily obtainable solution, apples are said to work just as well.
In addition to it's many attributes, Mandrake inspired poetry from the hauntingly talented Erica Jong. Enjoy. I'm on my way to tie an apple to my bedpost.
Lehner, Ernst and Johanna (1960), Folklore and Symbolism of Flowers, Plants and Trees, Tudor Publishing Company
Stories from my grandmother
~ Erica Jong
little man dancing
with your great tap root,
small song-&-dance man
cloven-hoofed as the Devil--
no wonder you make such noise!
putting out fine root hairs…
Pythagoras & Theophrastus
sang your praises--
blessed you as aphrodisiac
blasted your resemblance
Like man you are tricky, devious,
like man you curse & bless.
Like man you are a poisoner
& a love-bringer;
like man you take
what you can.
bringer of fruitfulness & potency,
lamp in the darkness,
killer of starving dogs,
shrieker, gallowsman, dragon-doll--
you were once thought beneficent
in Biblical times,
but gradually the Devil claimed you.
You grew at the foot
of the gallows,
lapping up dead men’s sperm,
giving birth only to death.
& yet we all give birth
to only death,
& your other attributes--
O bringer of treasure, sensuality, love,
success in battle--
also lead to death.
So dance little Mandrake
in your doubleness.
Rejoice at the gallows’ foot.
You are indeed a dress rehearsal for man,
& we shall join you underground
© Erica Jong, Witches (1981)
Jong, Erica, (1997) Witches, Abradale Press
"My mission is
to help others see and cherish the beauty,
romance and treasures within and around them
that are often dismissed or completely overlooked."
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Mikell is a writer, artist and professional treasure hunter, finding the greatest treasures in the wonderful people who enter her life!