Episode 160 – Turtle Island Folk Magic with Via Hedera

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Summary:

We talk with the Riverton Witch Via Hedera in this episode about folk magic on Turtle Island (North America), intersectional magic, what folk traditions we keep alive and which ones we leave behind, and how to weave magic into the things we make.

Please check out our Patreon page! You can help support the show for as little as a dollar a month, and get some awesome rewards at the same time. Even if you can’t give, spread the word and let others know, and maybe we can make New World Witchery even better than it is now.

Producers for this show: Heather, WisdomQueen, Jenni Love of Broom Book & Candle, Jennifer, Jen Rue of Rue & Hyssop, Little Wren, Khristopher, Tanner, Fergus from Queer as Folk Magic, Achija of Spellbound Bookbinding, Johnathan at the ModernSouthernPolytheist, Catherine, Payton, Carole, Payton, Staci, Montine, WickedScense, Moma Sarah at ConjuredCardea, Jody, AthenaBeth, Bo, Scarlet Pirate, Leslie, Bagga, Stephanie, Sherry, Jenna, Jess, Laura, & Clever Kim’s Curios (if we missed you this episode, we’ll make sure you’re in the next one!). Big thanks to everyone supporting us!

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Play:

Download: Episode 160 – Turtle Island Folk Magic with Via Hedera

Play:

-Sources-

The main spot to check out is Via Hedera’s amazing website, full of articles on everything from “Rat Letters” to erotic apples, tarot reviews, book resources, and more! Also be on the lookout for her book, Folkloric American Witchcraft and the Multicultural Experience:  A Crucible at the Crossroads, coming later this year from Moon Books.

We also mention a few folklore collections, such as the Frank C. Brown collection of North Carolina lore and American Regional Folklore, edited by Terry Ann Mood-Leopold that you might be interested in.

Image sourced from Via Hedera (copyright Via Hedera).

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Promos & Music

Title and closing music are “Woman Blues,” by Paul Avgerinos, and is licensed from Audio Socket. Incidental music is “Danse Morialta” by Kevin MacLeod (Free Music Archive).

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Blog Post 221 – Magic Seen a Second Time

I know that many people come here for articles on folk magic with historical footnotes and sources, and don’t worry–more of those are in the works. But today I wanted to share a more personal post about my own family life and the magic we share. If that’s not your cuppa mugwort tea, though, I completely understand, and I will not be hurt if you wait for the next post reviewing books of magic or sharing a bit of lore from North America. If you are interested in the personal stuff, though, please read on.
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Over the past few years, one of the aspects of parenthood that I’ve enjoyed most is seeing both how my children reflect their parents and how they are different. We’ve done a few episodes on the idea of magical families and raising children within a magic-inflected world, but largely I have only been able to offer a bit of the magic I experience in abstract ways–nature walks and discussions of the spirits of plants or rivers we pass, small charms to help ward off nightmares, or a steady diet of Studio Ghibli films, for example. As they have come into their personalities and selves more and more, though, I’ve started to see them take up bits of magic on their own, or to seek it out from me in new ways that transcend the “kiss on a boo-boo” level of enchantment (not that a boo-boo kiss isn’t magical; I’d hate to be pitted against that level of magic unprepared, frankly!).
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Picking mulberries by our little creek
Some of this has coincided with an increasing awareness of the world around them, and some subtle and wonderful influences that have led them to magic. Today, I want to pause for a moment of personal reflection and look at the influences at play in my kids’ lives. I know this probably seems self-indulgent (“hey look at these pictures of my kiiiiiiids!!!”) but I also think that there’s a lot of pressure on parents with magical inclinations to somehow “raise” their kids in specific ways. I’m hoping that by illustrating the meandering magical path my children have followed–both with and without my direct involvement–it might help ease some of that strain. It’s also helpful to remember that as children grow, the nature of how we all relate to magic in our household has changed as well.
We have often said on the show that we believe in everyday magic, and that includes magic that exists apart from and outside of ourselves. Children are really good at tracking that magic back in the house with them (along with occasional muddy shoes). Those who know me know I’m a big fan of folklore (obviously), and my kids have certainly been marinated in a vast variety of folk tales and other lore from a very young age. Up until very recently, I read to my children every night, ranging from collections of fairy tales and folklore like Perrault’s eighteenth century assemblage to Jane Yolen’s masterful world lore tome and even individual retellings like Zora Neale Hurston’s The Six Fools. And, of course, all of Harry Potter and a great deal of Roald Dahl (both of which have some lovely embedded folk materials). They have listened to some of our All Hallows Read shows, too, during car trips, along with podcasts like Two Girls One Ghost and Spooked!. They have a great fondness for Neil Gaiman’s retelling of the Norse myths (and several of his other books, too). Lately, though, the flow has been slowly reversing. They bring me tales of strange creatures and legends they hear from other kids, and keep an eye out for all things sasquatch related (because he reminds them of me, for reasons both flattering and unflattering). They share digital legend lore, too, telling me stories of the mythic Herobrine of Minecraft’s lands, and helping to expand my “landscape” of magic into spaces I hadn’t considered. I’ve also been making an effort to read the books that they select for me, too, as a way to understand their inner worlds, and in doing that they’ve given me Tracey Baptiste’s The Jumbies and Raina Telgemeier’s Ghosts, both of which are rich in lore.
We can’t deny the importance of other media as well. The Harry Potter movies (and one of my personal favorites, Willow) have certainly been in our world for a while now, and while the unrealistic flash-bang magic of Hollywood films isn’t an accurate presentation of how magic works, those are also not the ones they are most drawn to for magic. Instead, my daughter is deeply enamored of the film Song of the Sea, which retells Irish mythology and folklore of selkies in gorgeous ways (she often thinks of herself as a selkie, too). I mentioned the Ghibli films above, and many of their understandings of spirit-world interactions are shaped by films like Spirited Away. They see a little whirlwind carrying leaves down the street and make space for that spirit to go through, for example. YouTube has also provided surprising connection points to magic for them. Two of our family favorite channels, Illymation and Rebecca Parham’s Let Me Explain Studios, have recently done videos on magic-adjacent topics like using tarot as a form of therapy and seeing how slumber parties are like witch gatherings. It helps to normalize their own experiences of magic, and gets them interested in exploring on their own, too.
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My daughter turning tarot cards as a therapeutic practice (this deck is the Majors-only Steven Universe deck)
Some of those explorations are directions different than my own. My daughter’s fascination with selkies has also led her to take an interest in other creatures like mermaids and unicorns, to the point where she is learning worldwide folklore about both that are beyond my own scope (which is more focused on North America, of course). My son is getting fascinated by hypnotism (thanks in part to the amazing Uncle Pedro character in the Big Nate book series, who uses hypnosis to help the titular Nate with one of his problems). The Illymation video on tarot sparked an interest for both of them in reading cards. My daughter–who has anxiety and emotional control conditions–uses tarot as a way to talk about her inner life with me and for herself (the therapeutic nature of the cards is one reason that my wife–an Evangelical Christian–has been open to them, in fact). My son’s interest has been more on the “fortune-telling” side, but he still sees some value in thinking of them as patterns he can detect and put together, too. I couldn’t resist, of course, and got them each their own decks (with their input, of course)–the Kawaii Tarot for my daughter and the Happy Tarot for my son (both great and very easy to read).
Additionally, I see the way that magic is infusing their lives in exterior ways as well. I mentioned making way for wind spirits earlier, and an extension of that is the reverence my kids feel for our local spring-fed creek. We make a point as a family to go pick the mulberries on its banks in early summer, thanking the trees for their generosity. The kids love to make sure the birds along the creek trails are fed, and so we bring homemade bird cakes of seeds and nuts out to leave for them (although I think we’re just as likely feeding the squirrels as the birds). They have befriended the gang of local ducks, too, who follow them around and eat from their hands. They recognize that the creek and its denizens are connected and alive, and we do things like trash pick-ups along its banks to show our appreciation. To them, the world is very animistically alive. My son has developed a deeply animistic relationship with a whole bevy of succulents and cacti on his own, too, spending his allowance on new ones or better pots for them. He names and labels each one, talking to them, calling them his “children,” and has even gotten a reputation as the “plant dad” at one of our local shops.
Seeing them find these tendrils of magic in their world, especially on their own, has been its own sort of enchantment. There’s a line in a Brandi Carlile song called “The Mother,” in which she notes that all her friends are out doing things they want to do, but that her daughter allows her the chance to experience magic, twice, saying “All the wonders I have seen, I will see a second time, inside of the ages through your eyes.” That has been my own experience as well. New World Witchery–folk magic–lives because we pass it on, but we also pass it up, and around, and between. I learn new magic through my children, and offer them the magic I have to give as well. That magic changes over time, and it may not always be this way, but for the moment I am deeply grateful to share wonder with them.
Thanks for reading,
-Cory

Episode 91 – Appalachian Plant Lore with Becky Beyer

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Summary:

We spend some time outside in this episode, where we talk Appalachian magic and plants with Becky Beyer of Blood & Spicebush. In the second part of the show, Cory tries something new and does a “practical pathworking” in the woods.

 

Please check out our Patreon page! You can help support the show for as little as a dollar a month, and get some awesome rewards at the same time.  Even if you can’t give, spread the word and let others know, and maybe we can make New World Witchery even better than it is now.

 

Producers for this show: Corvus, Diana Garino, Renee Odders, Ye Olde Magic Shoppe, Raven Dark Moon, Ivory, The Witches View Podcast,  Sarah, Molly, Corvus, Catherine, AthenaBeth, & Jen Rue of Rue & Hyssop (if we missed you this episode, we’ll make sure you’re in the next one!). Big thanks to everyone supporting us!

 

FINAL MONTH! It’s been a while, and we want to do a second round of our Audio Spellbook, so all you have to do is send us the sound of *you* describing your favorite spell which uses everyday ingredients (things you could find in a spice cabinet, grocery store, or backyard, for example). You can either record your spell and email it to us at compassandkey@gmail.com or call us and leave us a voice mail on our official NWW hotline: (442) 999-4824 (that’s 442-99-WITCH, if it helps).  You can also get an extra entry by sharing either our Patreon page or our Contest Announcement via your favorite social media (make sure to tag us or get a screen capture you can email to us). What will you be entered to get? Well, you’ll get a NWW Annual Mailer (who can’t use an extra one of those, right?), a couple of bottles of our personally handmade condition oils, a folk charm or two, and a book or two to make it all even better!

Play:

Download: Episode 91 – Appalachian Plant Lore with Becky Beyer

 

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You should most definitely check out Becky’s EXCELLENT site, Blood & Spicebush. You may also really enjoy some of the other sites and people she recommends, such as:

 

There are some books worth looking at, too:

 

We’ve got several previous episodes and website articles that inform this episode and which might be of interest to you if you like this topic:

 

If you have feedback you’d like to share, email us or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter! And check out our Facebook page! For those who are interested, we also now have a page on Pinterest you might like, called “The Olde Broom.”

 

 Promos & Music

Title and closing music is “Pig Ankle Rag,” by The Joy Drops, and is used under a Creative Commons License (available at Soundcloud.com).

 

The incidental musical selections is “Cabin in the Woods,” by the Be Good Tanyas feat. Jolie Holland (from the Free Music Archive/Soundcloud, used under a Creative Commons License). Additional incidental music is “Lucidique,” by L’Horrible Passion, via Soundccloud.com and used under a CCL. Sound effects derived from original material at SoundBIble.

Blog Post 158 – The Doctrine of Signatures

Greetings everyone!

In this entry, I want to talk a little bit about a concept that can get very sticky, and which may very well put me at the outer limits of credibility. Before I dig into the meat of the subject, however, I think I should remind everyone that THIS IS NOT A MEDICAL BLOG. NO INFORMATION PRESENTED HERE IS INTENDED TO DIAGNOSE, TREAT, OR OTHERWISE PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE FOR ANY ILLNESS, AILMENT, OR CONDITION. IF YOU HAVE A MEDICAL NEED, PLEASE SEE YOUR PHYSICIAN OR QUALIFIED HEALTH PROVIDER. ALL INFORMATION CONTAINED HEREIN IS STRICTLY IN THE INTEREST OF PRESENTING FOLKLORE AND PERSONAL OPINION.

Now that the big, scary, all-caps part of the post is done, let’s talk about the Doctrine of Signatures. I was actually rather surprised after our last episode to hear from several people that the concept of the DOS was unfamiliar to them. I realized at some point that the ideas founding the DOS were so internalized, and I was assuming that most people who worked with herbs had heard of those concepts. Now I’m thinking that I may have just been sort of lucky to have picked that information up early on (I know my mother shared a bit of that with me based on herbs she grew and I learned a lot of it from my first few years as a practicing neo-Pagan hanging around rock and herb shops).

So what is the Doctrine of Signatures? In this case, I think I’ll leave the general explanation to better folklorists than myself. First, I’m going to quote a somewhat neutral (though erring on the side of skepticism) article by folklorist Wayland D. Hand:

“Advocates of nature’s way in natural and organically grown foods, probably still have a lingering belief in the doctrine that for every illness with which man is afflicted God himself has provided a healing agent. All one has to do is to learn to seek out these wondrous plants. It was on this essential premise that the Doctrine of Signatures was enunciated by Paracelsus, Giambattista Porta and the early botanists. This theory is most ably stated by William Turner, an English botanist, who in his The New Herbal of 1551, wrote: ‘God hath imprinted upon plants, herbs, and flowers, as it were, a hieroglyphic, the very  signature of their vertues, as on the nutmeg, which, being cut, resembles the brain.’ Writing a half a century later, Johannes Franck, one of the leading German botanists of his day, compiled a book which  he called Signature, that is, a Basic and True Description of Plants Created by God and Nature. This doctrine went somewhat beyond the shape and color of plants to their activity and function. One of the earliest examples of this kind of sympathetic connection is found in the writings of Pliny the Elder who flourished in the first century, A.D. Calcifrage was recommended to combat the stone. This prescription  comes form the fact that this hardy plant which could penetrate the fissures of the hardest face of a cliff, would certainly be able to break up kidney and gallstones, as the name of the plant itself suggests:  calci-frage, ‘stone breaking.’” (Hand, “Magical Medicine,” Western Folklore)

Next, let’s look at a much older (and much more cynical) opinion about this idea, from plant folk-lorist T.F. Thiselton-Dyer, whose Folk Lore of Plants is something of a classic:

“The old medical theory, which supposed that plants by their external character indicated the particular diseases for which Nature had intended them as remedies, was simply a development of the much older notion of a real connection between object and image. Thus, on this principle, it was asserted that the properties of substances were frequently denoted by their colour; hence, white was regarded as refrigerant, and red as hot. In the same way, for disorders of the blood, burnt purple, pomegranate seeds, mulberries, and other red ingredients were dissolved in the patient’s drink; and for liver complaints yellow substances were recommended. But this fanciful and erroneous notion ‘led to serious errors in practice,’ and was occasionally productive of the most fatal results.” (Dyer, TFLOP, Chapter XVI)

The idea of plants bearing the divine mark which indicated their use is a very old concept. Hand notes that Pliny the Elder recorded such an idea, and it was debated even in his time with question to the validity of this method.  The idea—in one form or another—appears in herbal medicinal systems throughout the world, including Chinese traditional herbalism and Indian Ayurvedic medicine.  Many people swear by it, and a number of ‘yarb doctors’ have treated ailments with it for centuries with relative success. Yet at the same time, the doctrine has been misused, misapplied, or just plain wrong in some cases and has caused an increase in illness or injury.

I bring up the DOS at all because it’s so fundamental to New World magical concepts. The idea that God, the Creator, or some other spiritual force has set in motion a world which bears hallmarks of its design seems to have been taken as de facto truth among many early settlers in America, particularly poor folks with limited access to medical treatment. An entire profession of folk herbalism, or “yarb doctors” arose in the Appalachians, and similar practices (such as curanderismo in the Southwest) appeared elsewhere. In most cases, these medicine men and women did not make their primary living off of their knowledge of herbs and plants, but rather in many cases refused payment for such services, feeling that it was their God-given duty to render help when help was needed. Of course, such high-mindedness was not universal, but even in cases where money or goods changed hands, yarb doctors cost less than a typical doctor in most instances.

Determining which plants have which signatures is a strange and murky process. For instance, an herb with heart-shaped leaves might be good for treating a physical heart problem, an emotional disorder, working a love charm, etc. The hairy stems of mint might indicate that it has the ability to ‘prickle’ the lungs and stimulate respiration, or they might signal that rubbing mint on one’s scalp would stimulate hair growth. The tall and showy joe pye weed, which has the nickname ‘gravel root,’ is used to treat kidney stones—frequently referred to as ‘gravel’—but its hollow stems might signal a use in treating sore throats as well as problems of the urinary tract, which both feature hollow tubes leading to external orifices. In this latter case, we can see another important aspect of the Doctrine, in which many plants receive their folk names based on their folk medical uses (boneset, feverfew, eyebright, etc.). Critics of the DOS sometimes point out that the retroactive ascription of signs to the plants, such as noticing that joe pye weed has hollow stems and therefore would be good for urinary problems, does not indicate a heavenly marking of use, but rather makes for an easy mnemonic device for remembering what plants are good for what ailments.  Further complicating the matter, some signatures are not visual markings, but rather based on sounds the plant makes when shaken, for example, or perhaps on a specific odor the plant emits.

There are also potential problems separating out a ‘signature’ from a legendary or mythical ascription of plant demarcation. Passionflower, which I’ve written about previously, is a good example of layered interpretation, with the numerical and color symbology of the plant being so closely linked to Christian mythology that the flower essentially contains a sermon. Was passionflower marked, given its unusual structure by a Creator to illustrate a story? Likewise, a number of plants are reputed to have some tie to the Crucifixion in Christian myth, such as the holly berry. Thiselton-Dyer also records a similar blood-staining myth related to poppies, in which they have been dyed by the blood of St. Margaret. In these cases, the plants are ‘marked,’ but not necessarily for use. They bear the signs of an interested and involved divine power, but are not strictly Doctrine of Signatures material since those signs illustrate a story and not a practical application. Yet, by a stretch of imagination, one could link the poppy’s use as an opiate and intoxicant to the story of St. Margaret, who famously battled a dragon. Since the use of poppy-derived-opium (and its relative, heroin) was known for a time as “chasing the dragon,” the connection does, by a bizarre happenstance, make some degree of sense. But was the flower marked with foreknowledge of the phrase, and thus was it pre-figurative? Or is all of this just strange coincidence?

It’s probably time for me to come clean, as I’ve been sort of dancing around my opinion on the Doctrine of Signatures. I’m a believer. Not a hard-and-fast, every-plant-bears-a-signature-and-medical-science-is-quackery kind of believer, but I tend to think that the DOS has some validity. My personal work with herbs and plants has led me to see the connections between their form and their functions. I don’t think that we necessarily understand every signature in every plant, and I do think that we frequently misinterpret the signs we see, but I do think that there’s an element of deliberate design within most flora that has to do with its use. This probably hedges a bit close to the Intelligent Design argument for some folks, and I don’t want to get bogged down in that discussion. I don’t make claims as to who marked the plants—perhaps they mark themselves in some way, for all I know. And I don’t necessarily think that I could wander into a meadow, find a foot-shaped plant, and use it to treat bunions and corns. I tend to agree with the skeptics about the retro ascription of plant signatures that human understanding of the plant signatures comes after we figure out what they are used for. But that does not diminish—to me—the idea that the design is implicitly connected to the use. It only emphasizes that we should be paying much more attention to what plants have to teach us, and to the hidden language of the world working around us.

So that’s my nutshell version of the Doctrine of Signatures. There are many authors who discuss this concept more handily than I have here, so please do some research and see what you think of the whole thing. Have you ever noticed signatures in plants (or even in animals, weather phenomena, etc., which are sometimes included in an extended version of this doctrine)?

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Podcast 42 – Plants and Witchcraft

Summary
On this episode of New World Witchery, we look at the world of plants and how it affects the world of witchcraft. We talk about sourcing herbs and roots, wild vs. cultivated plants, and whether you need to work with them at all.

Play:
Download: New World Witchery – Episode 42

 -Sources-
We don’t cite a whole lot of sources, so I’m just going to list a few of the herbal books/resources we discuss or which I turn to regularly:

The Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, by Scott Cunningham
Hoodoo Herb & Root Magic, by Cat Yronwode
The Folk-lore of Plants, by T. F. Thiselton-Dyer
Jude’s Herbal Home Remedies, by Jude C. Todd, M.H
The Complete Book of Herbs, by Lesley Bremness
Complete Herbal, by Nicholas Culpepper
A Modern Herbal, by Mrs. M. Grieve (also known as botanical.com)

We mention Mountain Rose Herbs as a great source for buying herbs, and we make several failing attempts to recommend our shop, the Compass & Key Apothecary. You should also check out Sarah Lawless’s great herbal supply shop, Forest Grove Botanica.

You can now request Card Readings from Cory via email, if you are so inclined.

Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter!

 Promos & Music
Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.

Promo 1 – Inciting a Riot
Promo 2 – The Infinite & the Beyond
Promo 3 – The Pagan Homesteader