A journey through the hands of a maker of magical items, discovering not only the secrets of Sacred art, but also the history and preservation of disappearing forms of Artisan work.
The Craft Of Herbalism - Part I
Herb Robert - Geranium Robertianum, Homegrown.
Working with herbs has been one of the most magical and rewarding experiences in my growth as a Witch. Not only plants heal our spirit and body – they are teachers, they empower us and they reveal the paths to spiritual realms as guardians and shamans.
I have always felt a natural connection to them – when I started practising Witchcraft at the tender age of thirteen, my first spells were almost entirely made from flowers I used to collect and dry. By then I didn’t know anything about them and worked in a very intuitive way, but soon the “herbal bug” poisoned me with the need to know more – and I have to say that poison is still working, as I never grow tired of reading herbal guides, collecting seeds and herbs and experimenting with them in my work.
I know many Witches that do not work with herbs – and I think that is perfectly ok. Herbs are just one way to create magic and there are many other completely legit ways to achieve the same results: gemstones, oils, energy techniques, etc. I do not agree with those who say that a Witch is not a Witch without an extent herbal lore, but I do think that you have to try at least once in your magical learning until you decide if herbalism is in your path or not.
Before I started growing and wildharvesting my own herbs, I worked for many years with dry herbs from our local farmers' market, since I lived with my parents in a flat that was not suitable for growing plants. Every time my mother went to the farmers' market to purchase groceries, I used to made a quick stop at the herb seller and bought small amounts of herbs with the very little money I had made reading Tarot. Soon I was purchasing incense resins, charcoal tablets, oils… one bit at a time, I created my first “witchcraft chest” and started making amulet bags for my Tarot customers and my friends. That was more than twenty years ago. That poor woman probably still has a headache after all the asking I made her suffer.
Right now, I still don't have a proper garden, but my house has a huge terrace where I grow over 50 different magical and medicinal herbs in pots and containers, and of course I do a lot of wildharvesting around the whole island. Besides wildharvesting, my husband and I are involved in replanting endemic species on the areas where we gather herbs, and in urban guerrilla gardening (that will be covered in full in a future post of this series).
Flowering Sage - Salvia Officinalis, Homegrown.
First Steps Into Magical Herbalism
If you want to start learning about herbs, start slow, and stay slow. You cannot learn the properties and Latin names of a hundred herbs in one day. Here are some points that may make your herb learning easier:
- First and most important advice: RESEARCH. Do not work intuitively, specially if you are making herbal teas or any product that it is in contact with your body, internally or externally. Learn the Latin name of herbs – it is much more useful than it seems (for example, for online researching).
- Learn first about your local herbs – they are easier to find, easier to grow and easier to identify if you go wildharvesting. Look for local farmers and gardeners and don’t be afraid to ask questions! Remember that we all love to talk about our field of expertise.
- Keep a separate notebook, or a section of your Book Of Shadows, only for herbal lore – a regular ring binder is perfect, as you can add and reorganize as you go along.
- If you can’t have the live plant for whatever reason, start buying a small amount of dry herb and, before you make any use of it, place the herb in a bowl/plate and place your hands over it. Welcome its spirit into your life and knowledge and try your best to transmit your thankfulness and welcoming – then relax and let the herb speak. Note down everything you have felt, heard or seen.
- You can do exactly the same with live herbs, in containers or in your garden. Not only the plant will give you its knowledge, they will let you know if they need more/less water, more/less sun, etc. This method also works in reverse; we apply regular meditation sessions to our plants to stimulate their growth and properties, and have got astounding results. Herbs can give you a lot, chemically and spiritually, but you can give them back too; plants that are happy, growing with a devoted Garden Witch, grow better, are more resistant to bugs and produce more leaves and seeds for your work.
- Keep your herbs in glass/ceramic jars, away from light and strong smells, tagged with the name of the herb (common and Latin), and the day you purchased/harvested it. Try to use them as fresh a possible – storing herbs forever only makes them less and less powerful.
- The Fairies/Elementals are there to help you. Search for their advice as protectors of Nature by creating an altar to them in your garden or near your herb stash. Make a fairy pond, leave offerings for them and acknowledge their presence; there are no gardening helpers like Fairies and Gnomes!
In the next post, I will be giving advice on how to harvest and store your herbs for magical and medicinal use. Until then, why don't you learn about a new herb today?
Flowering Rue - Ruta Graveolens, homegrown.
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