As I write these words the autumn equinox has just passed, it is Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year), and here in the northeastern U.S. the leaves are falling off the trees, many without having turned brilliant colors, due to our drought conditions, which followed multiple deluges here earlier in the growing season. The earth’s natural patterns have been disrupted and thrown askew by human abuse of the gifts that mother nature generously provides to us.
Last night I attended a progressive Rosh Hashanah service at the 92nd Street Y in NY City and the rabbi questioned the current cultural emphasis on individual accomplishment as a source of fulfillment and lamented the inherent loneliness of that approach. He asked, “To whom do you belong? This is an excellent question. He also asked the people attending to consider “What makes life worth living?” People were invited to stand and share their answers to that question. As life simply is, I think a more relevant question is, “What gives your life meaning?”
I noticed that there was an overarching anthropocentric emphasis throughout the evening. It was as if there are people, and God, and that’s it. As if the Earth under our feet, the sky over our heads, the sun that makes the plants grow and the waters that make up most of our planet were not of primary importance. As if the birds, insects, and animals were secondary at best, or not even worth mentioning.
The fact that we are disconnected from Nature is not news, but I don’t think people understand how much we need Nature, nor how much Nature has to teach us about ourselves and about how things work in the real world. By “real world” I mean the actual real world, the world of seasons, cycles, birth, growth, death and decay, not the world of buying and selling, amassing things, and watching “life” unfold on screens, both tiny and large. I mean learning from one another, learning from experimentation and risk-taking, from one’s own observations and experiences, rather than from asking Siri this, that and the other thing.
We need to ask ourselves: Who am I and to what am I connected?
Plants are our elders, teachers and allies. They are part of the real world and can bring us back home to the magic of reality. Reality is, without question, the most utterly magical creation! What we can imagine and conceive, we can create! From a new human being to a work of art, to world peace and justice. We are in a reciprocal relationship with Nature whether we believe that or not. We belong to the Earth and we can take loving care of ourselves, one another, and her as she so generously takes care of us. Learning to work and play and make medicine and magic with the plants all around us brings us home to a sense of joy and remembrance of the meaning of life.
The plants and trees, the herbs we plant, and the weeds we harvest from the wild all help us remember that we are part of the web of life, and that we have the opportunity in this lifetime to bring our energies and talents together to speak for the voiceless, to dance and sing in celebration of creation, to love one another, and thus restore harmony on this planet.
© Robin Rose Bennett, October 2019
Part IV- Herbal Magic
excerpted from Healing Magic – A Green Witch Guidebook to Conscious Living by Robin Rose Bennett (North Atlantic Books, 2014):
Plants—including herbs, trees, shrubs, weeds, reeds, vines, wildflowers, mosses, ferns, lichens, and seaweeds—are an integrals part of Green Witch magic. They are the green in “Green Witch.”
These chlorophyll-rich life forms provide us with the oxygen we breathe and the food we eat, which sustain us physically. But plans offer even more than that. They are loving allies for our mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual growth. According to one of my elder teachers, Keewaydinoquay, Woman of the Northwest Wind, “Of all the creatures on the planet, plants have remained truest to their original purpose, which is to give generously of themselves to all living creatures.”
Plants are conscious beings of feeling and spirit, and they are blessed with an abundance of gifts to share. I have found that all plants are consciousness-altering. In this sense, plants grow us. They are wonderful allies to human beings, filled with love for us. Like birds and animals, plants don’t have to remember that they are part of nature; they simply are who and what they are. This inevitably helps us resonate with who we are as part of nature. Each specific plant also brings its own particular essence to a meditation, spell, or ritual.
Much of my time with plants is spent working with them as physical medicine for our bodies. I have discovered that there is a correlation—sometimes subtle, often obvious—between the physical medicine a plant offers, and the spiritual/magical energy it imparts.
Take garlic, for example: Magically, it is often used to repel danger and to provide powerful psychic protection. In classic Hollywood movies, it melodramatically wards off vampires. Garlic is damaging to numerous types of bacteria, fungi, and viruses. It helps strengthen the body’s respiratory, digestive, and immune systems, providing powerful, physical protection. It doesn’t take too great a stretch of the imagination to make a metaphoric connection between psychic assaults, legends of vampires that suck your blood and drain your life force, and certain strains of bacteria, viruses, or fungi that can make you sick or even kill you via an infection that gets into your bloodstream. Garlic helps repel them all.
Rosemary is known poetically as “for remembrance.” Drinking rosemary tea, or rubbing rosemary oil into your hair and scalp, increases circulation in the scalp and the brain, enhancing dreams, eyesight, clear thinking, and good memory.
Magically, you could share some with a lover who has to travel far away from you for a while, and each of you could sleep with it under your pillow; rosemary will help you dream of each other. Or, use it in a memory charm that you carry in your pocket or purse when you are taking a written or oral test, or going out on a job interview, or performing in a play. It is especially helpful when fear of forgetting is part of the problem.
Methods for Using Herbs for Healing Magic
Plants can be used in special ways for Healing Magic, in spells and rituals, and to aid meditation. For instance, you can burn dried herbs or resins for their smoke and incense, drink specific teas to help achieve distinct states of mind, heart, body, or soul, or decorate an altar with fresh or dried plants, flowers, fruits, nuts, or grains. Plants can be used in crafting all forms of spirit art, such as making a mask or a personal shield. Particular herbs can also be helpful in spell bags and protective or lucky charms.
Herbal infused oils, highly concentrated essential oils, and fragrant balms–for magic, let’s call them unguents–are used as anointing oils for people and sacred objects. Herbal waters are used in atomizers as refreshing sprays for people and places. Plants infused in boiling water over long periods of time can be added to bathwater to create magical baths. Herbs can also be part of magical adornment, such as wearing a flower wreath at a celebration, ritual, or ceremony.
Herbs for Burning
People everywhere on Earth burn local plants that are resinous an/or high in volatile oils in their ceremonies, rituals, and religious or spiritual gatherings. These fragrant plants are called aromatics and are prized for their consciousness-changing qualities, especially when burned as smudge. Smudge is a term used for sacred smoke. It is akin to specially charged incense. Herbs can also be smoked in a sacred manner in a pipe.
Smoke, in this as in most Earth-based traditions, is used both to create sacred space and to communicate with Spirit. It is a way of sending out prayers and giving thanks. Think of the smoke as making your thoughts and intentions visible as they’re being sent out to Spirit. You draw energy to yourself, as well, by means of the smoke signals. Smoke from plants is traditionally used to bring in what you consider desirable and to cast out what you don’t want, whatever you find unacceptable or harmful.
Leaves and flowers (dried only) can be burned without charcoal, directly in an abalone shell, clay pot, or cauldron. Resins and powders are burned on flat-topped, round pieces of charcoal that are usually available in herb stores and street markets where the herbs are sold. (Store charcoal in moisture-proof containers.)
First, light an edge of the charcoal in a clay dish or any fireproof container. When it is lit—you will know because it will start to spark—place the herbs on it. A feather can be used to spread the smoke through the air, whether directing it to the elements, or around altar objects, or to smudge a person by wafting the smoke all around him or her with care.
Smudge sticks are easy to use, too, and are commonly available for purchase. The “sticks” are actually leafy stalks that are dried and then bundled and tied together into a cigar shape. One “tip” is lit and the other end is held.
You can also make smudge sticks of any diameter and length by rolling up a bundle of flowering stalks snugly in a large sheet of newspaper. Secure the roll tightly with rubber bands, and remove the paper when you’re ready to use the smudge stick. Before or after rolling up the herbs to dry, tie the bundle together using any color of cotton thread. I usually prefer to use smudge sticks outdoors rather than indoors because they tend to create a lot of smoke.
Whatever you are burning, when smudging indoors, open a window, at least for a moment, because as old energies are released, they need to be able to leave the room, and as beneficial energies are being invoked, they will be able to come to you more easily. It also helps your prayers, visions, intentions, and expressions of gratitude to travel up, down, and out beyond your immediate cricle.
Plants that are wild and local to the Northeast United States, such as mugwort/cronewort (Artemisia vulgaris), white and yellow sweet clovers (Melilotus albus and Melilotus officinalis), and northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) are ones that I like to gather, dry, and use frequently as smudge herbs.
I also grow lavender (Lavandula species) in my garden. The stalks and the flowers of any of the lavenders make a sweet, enchanting smoke. I like white sage (Artemisia tridentata) very much. I also find it the easiest plant to keep lit once I get it burning. Being native to the desert, sage grows wild in vacant lots in Los Angeles (according to my friends who live out there). I plant it in my garden in the spring to harvest in the fall.
The following properties are some of the many helpful gifts offered by each of the plants mentioned above:
Cronewort (leaves and flowers):
Vision, Dreams, Opens the third (first) eyes, Enhances meditation, Encourages wild nature, Safe birth, Independence, Self-esteem, Physical vitality, Prophecy, Helps women respect their bodies and female nature, Helps men respect the wise woman in themselves and, if they need the help, to respect the women in their lives, The intoxicant that helps you remember yourself, including forgotten dreams you once had for yourself and your life that are important to remember.
White Sage (leaves):
Helps quiet mental chatter, Soothes emotional turmoil, Removes stale energies from a room, Helps everyone be fully present and focused in a group, Peacefulness, Calming, Helps in the release of energetic remnants of fear, anger, anxiety, or grief, Clears space, indoors and out, Often used for casting a circle.
Lavender (flowers, leaves, and stalks):
Invites sweetness into one’s heart or home, Calming, Eases stress, Beauty, Sweet dreams, Relief of nightmares, Restful sleep, Healing, Love.
Grandmother Cedar (leaves):
Psychic protection, Justice, Physical safety, Ancient wisdom, Connecting with all creatures on Earth, especially plants, birds, and animals, Being embraced by the Green Woman, the Soul of Nature, Guardian for safe travels from the spiritual world to the physical world at birth, or from the physical to the spiritual world at death.
Sweet Yellow (solar) and White (lunar) Clovers (flowering stalks):
Delight, Lightness, Sweetness, Celebration, Vanilla fragrance, Sensuality, Festivity, Fun.