Posted tagged ‘roots’

Podcast 42 – Plants and Witchcraft

May 25, 2012

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

Blog Post 154 – Buckeyes

April 11, 2012

I imagine that I’ll get a sharp increase in visitors from Ohio with this article. Today’s featured botanical is the buckeye, which is both the name of the tree and the fruit (or nut) of that tree. It grows in a wide variety of locations, including all over Europe and North America, and is also frequently referred to as a “horse chestnut” (which is actually a very specific species within the bigger buckeye family). Since you can find a great deal of botanical information on the tree elsewhere (like at the USDA Plants database), I’ll narrow my focus here to the folklore and magical uses of the nut.

T.F. Thiselton-Dyer, author of the botanical mythography classic The Folk-lore of Plants, makes the following observations about the horse-chestnut:

“A Worcestershire name for a horse-chestnut is the ‘oblionker tree.’ According to a correspondent of Notes and Queries (5th Ser. x. 177), in the autumn, when the chestnuts are falling from their trunks, boys thread them on string and play a ‘cob-nut’ game with them. When the striker is taking aim, and preparing for a shot at his adversary’s nut, he says:—

‘Oblionker!

My first conker (conquer).’

The word oblionker apparently being a meaningless invention to rhyme with the word conquer, which has by degrees become applied to the fruit itself.” (CH XVIII)

Already I love this plant, don’t you? Essentially they seem to be used as marbles in children’s games (give them one point for that), and they also have a nice phonetic connection to the powerful hoodoo charm, John the Conqueror root, which is frequently called John de Conker (and that’s another point to the buckeye!). They actually look llike smoother versions of High John roots in some ways, so it doesn’t surprise me to find that they sometimes get substituted in for their powerful underground counterpart:

“Buckeye nuts are believed by some hoodoo “doctors” to increase a man’s sexual power. Shaped like miniature testicles, they are sometimes carried in the pants pockets as charms to bring men “good fortune in sexual matters.” In the southern and eastern regions of the United States, buckeyes are carried in mojo bags to cure or prevent such ailments as arthritis, rheumatism, and migraine headaches” (Gerina Dunwich, Herbal Magic, 86).

Cat Yronwode similarly cites buckeyes as charms for increasing male potency. Both Yronwode and Dunwitch, however, make it clear that a buckeye’s primary powers are to aid as a gambling charm and to help stave off aches and pains—particularly rheumatism and headaches. This view is heavily supported by a number of folklore sources:

From Newbell Niles Puckett, Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro

  • Where the left hind foot of a graveyard rabbit, a buckeye, a horse chestnut, and a luck bone from a pig ham are put together for good luck [A charm for good luck] (316)
  • A buckeye carried in the pocket will surely bring one good luck (314)
  • A buckeye carried in the left pocket is generally supposed to work a cure for rheumatism as well as for piles, a belief apparently English (360)
  • Red pepper rubbed up and down the back ‘warms up de system,’ as does also a new domestic sack half full of salt into which nine grains of red pepper and four buckeyes have been put. Wear this around your waist and you will never again be bothered with chills (366)
  • In Mississippi and Alabama it is believed that if one carries buckeyes in the pocket he will have no chills through the year (366)

From Harry M. Hyatt, Folklore of Adams Co., Illinois

  • 1328. “My brother always carries a buckeye in his pocket to get money.” (28)
  • 1329. “I always carry three buckeyes in my pocket to always have money. My grandfather did this through the Civil War, my mother did this, and I am carrying three buckeyes too.” (28)
  • 4534. The person who carries a buckeye in the pocket never becomes sick. (99)
  • 4688. The person who carries a buckeye in the pocket never suffers from backache. (103)
  • 5233. A buckeye carried in your pocket or the band of your hat prevents headache. (118)
  • 5588. As a treatment for piles, a buckeye is worn: in the pocket (usually the left), or one in each pocket, or one pinned to the underclothes, or one round the neck, or one rolled in the top of each stocking. (126)
  • 5684. One buckeye is worn in one of several places as a rheumatism remedy: about the neck, on the breast, in a pocket (especially a hip pocket), round the waist, and under the bend of the knee.  Sometimes, they say buckeyes are ineffective for rheumatism, unless you begin by using an unripe one. Moreover, it is occasionally said, to lose this nut in the process of curing yourself brings bad luck. And finally, because a buckeye is also called a horse chestnut, the real chestnut is worn as a substitute, but this seems to be rare. (129)
  • 5685. Buckeyes used for curing rheumatism should always be carried in pairs. This also makes you lucky at the same time. (129)
  • 5686. “If you carry three buckeyes in a sack so they will be on your skin, good for rheumatism; if the buckeyes dry all up when wearing, then they are doing you good; but if they don’t dry all up, they are doing you no good.” (129)
  • 11073. It is lucky to keep a buckeye in your purse, on your person, or in your house. (262)
  • 13443. Keep a buckeye in your pocket while playing baseball and you will have good luck. (310)
  • 13984. You obtain good luck for a card game, if a buckeye is worn in your right pocket. (319)

From Daniel & Lucy Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions:

  • 1224 – One subject to a headache may prevent it by carrying a buckeye in his pocket (105)
  • 1288 – Carry a horse chestnut [another name for a buckeye] in the pocket, to avert piles (110)
  • 1299 – To avert rheumatism, carry a horse-chestnut in the pocket (111)
  • 2887 – You will have good luck if you carry a horse-chestnut (219)

Kentucky Superstitions also has this rather fantastic bit of lore about the good ole horse-chestnut:

  • 2889 – If one eats a buckeye, his head will turn around (219)

Vance Randolph devotes a sizeable amount of space to the folklore of buckeyes among the hillfolk of the Ozarks, also pointing out their strong associations with healing and protection from painful diseases. He relates an excellent story about just how deeply ingrained the belief in buckeye powers was in the mountains:

There is an old saying that no man was ever found dead with a buckeye in his pocket, but this is not to be taken seriously. Most people who carry buckeyes regard them as a protection against rheumatism, or hemorrhoids. One of the most successful physicians in southwest Missouri always carries a buckeye ; when it was mislaid once he was very much disturbed and let an officeful of patients wait until his pocket piece was recovered. It is very bad luck to lose a buckeye. I asked this doctor about it once. “No, I’m not superstitious,” he said grinning, “I just don’t want to get the rheumatism!” (Ozark Magic & Folklore, 153)

There is some excellent lore about the buckeye and just why it became the namesake for Ohio from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website. They mention the lucky association, likening it to a four-leaf clover or rabbit’s foot, and links the state nickname to William Henry Harrison or alternatively to Col. Ebenezer Sproat (a simply fantastic name), both Ohioans of historic and heroic stature.

Probably my favorite bit of folklore concerning the lovely horse-chestnut comes from an online forum I found while researching this topic. You can read the full thread here, but I simply cannot fail to mention this fantastic tidbit:

There is a belief by some that only half the buckeye is poisonous, and that only squirrels know which half that might be in a particular nut. Squirrels do sometimes eat a part of the nut.

There you have it: squirrels are smarter than we are. But I’ve known that for a while (at least in my case it’s true).

At any rate, the buckeye can be carried as a lucky charm or worked into other magical preparations, and it has a huge body of lore associated with it. So much, in fact, that I’ve barely (prepare for pun) cracked the shell here. If you know of great buckeye lore and magic, I’d love to hear about it! Or if you just want to pelt me with horse-chestnuts for making bad puns, I’ll be here all day.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 100 – Winter Lore Contest!

November 9, 2010

So I said last week I wanted the 100th blog post to be special, and I thought a contest might just be the way to add that little bit of extra charm.  If you listened to the podcast we posted yesterday, you probably already know about this contest, at least to some extent.    We’re hoping to put together some Yuletide specials, and part of that will involve getting lore from all over the continent (or the world, even) and incorporating that into our shows during December.  We’d love your lore, especially, and we’re even willing to give away some prizes to encourage you to send in your best winter holiday traditions.  Here’s the gist of it:

What We’re Looking For:  Your winter folklore, including (but not limited to) holiday traditions, recipes, songs, and stories; superstitions about specific days, events, omens, or signs are welcome; ghost stories set during the winter, bits of historical information, and ethnic customs are greatly appreciated, too!  We already know that many folks put up decorated trees and exchange presents, so no fair telling us that.  Pretty much everything else is fair game, though.  Try to include as much information as you can, and give us your general location (such as “Pacific Northwest” or “Southern France”).   Also, please tell us if we can use your name when we read your contribution.

What We’re Giving Away:  We’ve got two (2) signed copies of Judika Illes’ latest book, The Weiser Field Guide to Witches that we’re giving away as runner-up prizes.  If you don’t know about this book, here’s the blurb from the publisher:

“Witches peek from greeting cards and advertisements, and they dig twisted roots from the ground. Witches dance beneath the stars and lurk around cauldrons. Witches heal, witches scare, witches creep, and witches teach! A compendium of witches through the ages, from earliest prehistory to some of the most significant modern practitioners, The Weiser Field Guide to Witches explores who and what is a witch. From such famed historical legends as Aleister Crowley, Marie Laveau and Elizabeth Bathory to the popular literary and cinematic figures Harry Potter and The Wicked Witch of the West, Illes offers a complete range of the history of witches. Included also are the sacred–Isis, Hekate, Aradia–and the profane–the Salem Witch trials and The Burning Times. The Weiser Field Guide to Witches is appropriate for readers of all ages and serves as an excellent and entertaining introduction for those fascinated by the topic.”

Those of you who are familiar with our blog and podcast probably know how highly we regard Ms. Illes, and this book is a wonderful addition to anyone’s magical library.

Our grand prize is a Compass & Key Hoodoo Kit, which will contain a number of sensational conjurational goodies, including:

  • A bottle of each of our current condition oils (Attraction, Crown of Success, Uncrossing, Saints & Spirits, and Wall of Flame)
  • A custom-made mojo bag, designed for Success & Prosperity
  • Herb and Curio samples, such as a High John root, Chewing John, Gravel Root, & Spirit Money
  • Condition Soaps designed for ritual bathing
  • Flannel squares for making your own mojo bags
  • A Lucky Rabbit’s Foot
  • And more!

This kit would be a great way to get started with hoodoo, or build upon your current practice.

How to Enter: We want this to be easy, so please just leave a comment on either this blog post or the Podcast 19 Shownotes, or better yet send us an email with your submission at compassandkey@gmail.com!  You can get an extra submission by blogging, tweeting, or sharing our contest and contact information with your social network and sending us either a screenshot or a direct link to where you’ve posted about us.  The cutoff for submissions is Midnight (12:00 AM Central Standard Time) on December 6th (St. Nicholas Day).

If you have questions, feel free to email us those as well!  We really want to get as much lore as we can, so please encourage others to send in their contributions (or if they aren’t interested in witchcraft, just find out their lore and send it in as part of your own entry).
Thank you so much everyone for making this blog such a wonderful place, and we’ll be looking forward to all your submissions very soon!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 81 – Van Van Oil

August 20, 2010

Greetings everyone!  Today, I’m going to cover another piece of our recent Lucky 13 podcast:  Van Van oil.  This is one of the most common hoodoo oils around, and actually  shows up in other places fairly often, too.  Because it is made from grasses found in Southeast Asia, it has a long history in medicine and magic from those areas.  Some of the grasses used in Van Van are also grown in West Africa, which is likely one route through which Southern conjure practices adopted this formula.

The basic ingredients in a Van Van blend are oils from:

Most of these are not easily available in bulk herb form, with the exceptions of lemongrass (which you can find at almost any Asian market) and vetiver (which can often be found in herb or metaphysical shops).  All of the oils except gingergrass are readily available from any aromatherapy or herbal extract dealer.  Gingergrass oil, which can be hard to find, is often left out of homemade Van Van recipes, or something else might be substituted for it.

The proportions heavily favor lemongrass in the recipes I’ve seen, almost to the point of exclusivity.  There are some who solely use lemongrass oil and add dried botanicals to it in order to round out the recipe.  Generally speaking, a home blender would use:

  • 5-10 parts lemongrass oil
  • 3-5 parts citronella oil
  • 2-3 parts vetiver root or oil
  • 1 part palmarosa
  • 1 part gingergrass

All of these would be carefully blended in a sterile jar, then topped with a carrier oil (sweet almond or jojoba would be excellent).  The proportions above are merely suggestions, and you would do well to contact a trained herbalist before blending these on your own.  In reality, you might be able to use just the first three oils and have some pretty solid Van Van oil, so don’t spend loads of money tracking down rare herbal ingredients unless you really feel compelled to do so.

Additions to the recipe vary by practitioner and region.  For example, in New Orleans, one might find lemon verbena added to the mix.  In fact, this may be how the formula got its name.  According to Cat Yronwode, Creole rootworkers would sometimes use lemon verbena in their blends in order to supplement the strong lemon-musk scent of the oil.  Verbena—a related herb—was often called vervain, and that was given a pidgin phoneme of “van van.”  The name does NOT have anything to do with vanilla, which is not found in any traditional recipes for this formula.  Judika Illes, whom we’ve referenced several times before, suggests adding another wild Asian grass—patchouli—to the blend, but I’ve never done this myself (I’m not a fan of patchouli, personally).  Other additions might include pyrite chips or “lucky” things like four leaf clover charms (which can also be anointed with Van Van and carried for luck).

So just what is Van Van oil for and how does it work?  Well, it’s considered a sort of ultimate luck formula, having sway over money, prosperity, gambling, love, and anything else that might need a little luck.  It’s often used to anoint talismans—like the rabbit’s foot—or mojo hands made for gambling or love.  As for how it works, lemongrass (and all citrus grasses) has a powerful “cut and clear” effect…think of how many lemon-scented cleaning agents there are.  They just make things seem cleaner (lemon also has some antibacterial/antimicrobial properties, and is a potent preservative in small doses—sliced apples are often treated with a lemon juice extract to keep them from browning).  Citronella does something similar (think of how citronella candles, torches, and oils repel nasty insects like mosquitoes).  These grasses cut and clear any negative influences, warding off bad luck. Palmarosa and gingergrass (which come from the same plant, in reality, Cymbopogon martine) are muskier, and so have a slight sexual connotation.  If you think of something being clean, bright, and sexy, it’s not hard to imagine lucky in the mix, too (think James Bond in a casino).  Vetiver is the muskiest of all, with strong earthy tones.  Earth has connections to abundance and prosperity (think of fertile black soil planted with seeds which grow into crops), plus there is a strong sexual current again.  Sex + money + nothing standing in your way?  Yeah, I’d say that’s pretty lucky.

A few quick notes:

Magico-botanical notes come primarily from Cat Yronwode’s book, Hoodoo Herb & Root Magic.

You can find Van Van oils at the Lucky Mojo Co.,  Music City Mojo, Toads Bone Apotheca, Queen of Pentacles Conjure, The Conjure Doctor, and just about any botanica or root shop around.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 74 – Sassafras

July 30, 2010

While passing by the cemetery on campus one day, I noticed a few little sprouted saplings with very particularly-shaped leaves.  I got very excited when I moved in closer and saw the definitive “mitten” shape of some of the leaves.  I pinched one and sniffed, smelling a strong spicy aroma almost immediately.  I knew at that point I was dealing with sassafras.

Sassafras is one of those herbs that you can’t avoid in the South.  It grows in all sorts of adverse environments:  roadsides, hedgerows, waste spaces, etc.  It can be short and bushy in its early years of development, but becomes a full-sized tree given enough time.  The roots and bark have long been used in culinary and medicinal applications.  If you’ve ever had a root beer, there’s a chance that you have tasted this plant, as sassafras and sarsaparilla were the two primary flavors in that drink for a long time.  In recent years (since 1960), active ingredient in sassafras, called safrole, has been officially banned by the USDA as potential carcinogen.  So most of the root beer sold now uses artificial flavors to reproduce the sassafras and sarsaparilla taste.  The leaves of sassafras also feature in Cajun cooking; dried and powdered, they become file powder, which is used to thicken stews like gumbo.

Medicinally, sassafras is a tricky root to use.  According to botanical.com, “Oil of Sassafras is chiefly used for flavouring purposes, particularly to conceal the flavour of opium when given to children. In the United States of America it is employed for flavouring effervescing drinks…Aromatic, stimulant, diaphoretic, alterative. It is rarely given alone, but is often combined with guaiacum or sarsaparilla in chronic rheumatism, syphilis, and skin diseases.”  It also seems to have a strong effect on women’s reproductive systems, easing menstrual pain, but also potentially causing abortions.  Several health problems have been connected to consuming overdoses of safrole, including vomiting, collapse, pupil dilation, and cancer.  WARNING!  Consult a physician before taking ANY herb or root internally!  Sassafras is NO EXCEPTION!

Sassafras bark and root have long been made into teas in the Appalachians.  In Foxfire 4, informant Pearl Martin showed students Bit Carver and Annette Sutherland how to gather the herb and make the drink:

“Sassafras is a wild plant that grows in the Appalachians…The spicy, distinct flavor of sassafras makes the tea a popular beverage, served hot or cold…Pearl told us that she could gather roots any time of the year without affecting the taste of the tea.  However, the roots should be gathered young, so they will be tender…She chops the roots from the plants, then washes the roots in cold water.  Next she scrapes off the outer layer of bark and discards it.  Either the roots or the bark can be used in making the tea, but Pearl prefers the roots.  They can be used dried or green.  She brings the roots to a boil in water.  The longer they are boiled, the stronger the tea.  To make a gallon of tea, she boils four average-sized roots [which appear to be about a foot long and an inch thick] in a gallon of water for fifteen to twenty minutes.  She then strains it, and serves it either hot or iced, sweetened with either sugar or honey” ( p. 444).

While the safrole content of the tea is relatively low, again you should consult with a physician before drinking this tea.

Magically speaking, sassafras is a money root.  It attracts business success and material wealth.  Putting a little sassafras root in one’s wallet or purse keeps money from running out.  Catherine Yronwode has several good charms in her Hoodoo Herb & Root Magic book, including a business attracting sidewalk scrub made from sassafras, allspice, and cinnamon (which has the added bonus of a pleasant aroma), and this powerful little Money-Stay-with-Me mojo hand:

“Jam a silver dime into an alligator foot [available from Lucky Mojo and other botanicas and curiosity shops] so that it looks like the ‘gator is grabbing the coin.  Wrap it tightly with three windings around of red flannel, sprinkling sassafras root chips between each layer as you wind, and sew it tight.  Just as the alligator foot holds the coin and won’t let go, so will you be able to save instead of spend” (p. 179).

Sounds like a pretty wonderful charm to know, in my opinion.  I’ve not seen anything particularly about burning sassafras as incense, but I did find a book called A Collection of Folklore by Undergraduate Students of East Tennessee State University edited by Thomas G. Burton and Ambrose N. Manning which records a bit of superstition claiming that bad luck comes if you “burn sassafras wood” (p. 74).  The lore in this particular collection is all from first-hand sources, so I tend to think it’s got some weight.  A similar folklore collection from Kentucky elaborates on this point, saying, “If you burn sassafras wood or leaves, a horse or a mule of yours will die within a week” (from Kentucky Superstitions, #2993).  I tend to think this refers to burning wood in a fire or fireplace as opposed to using a little bit of it as incense, but take your chances as you see fit.  Particularly if your horses or mules are dear to you.

I hope this post has been of some use to you!  Enjoy the slowly waning summer, and get out in the woods to find some sassafras and other plants!

Thanks for reading,

-Cory

Blog Post 38 – High John

March 29, 2010

Howdy all!

I hope you had a great weekend!  This week, I’m going to be focusing on herbs, roots, and curios used in various American magical practices.  I’m starting with one of the most common and most important roots in hoodoo:  High John the Conqueror.

This shriveled root is part of the Ipomoea genus, and is a relative of the Morning Glory.  Its resemblance to a shrunken testicle has made it a powerful symbol of potency and virility.   I consider it to be one of the quintessential hoodoo herbs (which is the reason I included it in my “hoodoo kit” post).  Catherine Yronwode says of the root in her Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic book, “ A person possessing a John the Conqueror Root will never be long without money or a lover and will be extremely lucky in games of chance and business” (HHRM p. 111).

Some of the most common ways to use this root are to put it into a jar of neutral oil (such as safflower or olive) and let it sit for a few weeks, occasionally shaking the jar.  The resulting oil (which will have little to no smell and to which you should add some vitamin E or tincture of benzoin to prevent rancidity) can be used to anoint anything that needs more power.  Rubbed on your hands and feet, it adds personal power to everything you do.  Rubbed on money kept in your wallet, it helps you be more successful in luck and business endeavors.  Rubbed (very lightly) on the penis, it restores male virility and enhances sexual prowess.

Another key way to use this root is to keep a whole root in your pocket, either by itself or wrapped in a red cloth bag as a mojo hand.  Fed regularly (once a week at least) with whiskey or the High John Oil I just described, it keeps you empowered and potent at all times.  According to the lore, money comes easier, luck favors you, love finds you, and sex is better than ever.

You can also add John the Conqueror (by the way, you say it “John the Con-ker”) chips or oil to other mojo hands to increase their potency as well.  I like to add them to success and business workings, because they tend to work faster and require less finagling on my part after my initial efforts.

The High John root has appeared in pop culture several times, too.  Whenever hoodoo comes up in songs, a mention of this root is seldom far behind.  For example, in the Allman Brothers Band remake of Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man,” radio audiences of the 70’s heard the lyrics:

“Got a John the Conquerer root and got some mojo too,
We got a black cat bone, we’re gonna slip it to you.”

Considering the libertine behavior the singer boasts of elsewhere in the song, having a little magic keeping his virility charged certainly seems like a good idea (I’ll address the black cat bone reference in another post).  Muddy Waters (who worked with Willie Dixon quite a lot) also recorded a blues song featuring the hoodoo charm, entitled (appropriately) “My John the Conqueror Root.”

There are lots of places to find this root on the web, and if you have a local botanica of some kind, they will also likely carry this curio.  I highly recommend anyone looking into American magic familiarize him/herself with High John.  Who couldn’t use a magical boost from such a potent little root?

Thanks for reading!

-Cory


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