Kindling the Fire at Home & in the Community

Herbs

Communing with Plant Spirits

mandrakeThe very thought of talking to or communing with plant spirits might seem strange, odd or downright delusional to the average person. Fortunately, I don’t consider Pagans, occultists and witches “average”, not by any stretch of the imagination. Our very existence flies in the face of average, mundane and status quo.  Most of us live a life that is immersed in magic, beauty and mystery. We live for those moments of connection… to each other, to the divine and to other living beings.

This weekend I attended the Houston Pagan Conference hosted by Blackberry Circle. The featured speaker was Raven Grimassi and he spoke a lot about communing with plant spirits. How to do it, why to do it and what you can expect if you do it. I was mesmerized by the idea of being that in touch with plants to have them actually appear to me in spirit form. How cool would that be?! He told us a story about getting up in the middle of the night to use the restroom and returning to his bed in a bit of a sleepy stupor. There he found 2 mandrake spirits about mid-calf high, standing next to his bed looking up at him. His initial thought was “I don’t remember leaving my boots here.” and as he rubbed the sleepiness from his eyes and saw their little faces he said all he could muster was a weak “Hello.” as he climbed into bed. He jokingly said that when plant spirits appear to you at 3am for the first time “Hello” is about the only thing you can get to come out. He went on to talk about them disappearing and reappearing at the foot of his bed in full human size. They started to dance, shuffle and sway. Initially he thought “This is really creepy.”, but after a few moments of watching them what seemed creepy soon became beautiful to him. Their dancing and swaying was calming and as they carried out their little routine he started to receive a message from them. He had wondered why they appeared and they told him telepathically and given him a sense of calm. Just as quickly as they had appeared, they disappeared leaving him with the message they wanted him to have. It was a lovely story… one that stood out for me.

I’ve never had a mandrake plant spirit appear to me to dance and convey messages, but I have felt a sense of connection and knowing

coast redwoods muir woodswith plants and trees. I have felt an overwhelming wash of calm come over me in certain places. I have felt a sense of being remembered in others. Some of my earliest memories of feeling connected to the divine, to nature and to my authentic self have not been in the presence of other people, but in the presence of the giant redwoods in Muir woods, under the wispy branches of the willow tree in my Gram’s backyard and lying on the soft needles of the pines with nothing but earth below me and sky above me. Those moments are the ones I often try to recapture in my current surroundings. They brought me peace, serenity and a greater sense of self.

So what does any of this mean to you? Well, it means that if you want to feel close to the divine, find a way to connect to the life around you whether big or small. Don’t be afraid to stand barefooted in the grass or to put your hands in the soil. Lie on the damp ground and listen to the hum and chatter of nature around you. Be open and willing to accept even the most unexpected messenger. Whether that’s a talkative little robin or a dancing mandrake… this life you’ve chosen (or that may have chosen you) isn’t meant to be ordinary. Magic doesn’t reside among the ordinary… it’s the unbridled possibility of what if’s in this world that makes the life of a witch extraordinary. So don’t be afraid to truly live it out loud.

The next time you are tending to your herb garden, rose bushes or house plants… whisper to them that you are a witch and that you mean them no harm. Tell them that you are thankful for all of the amazing things they are capable of. Name their uses and properties one by one. Touch them, praise them and nurture them. You will be amazed at the ways in which they will communicate with you and how much closer to the spirit of the land you find yourself.

Blessings,

Bridey-signature

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Celebrating Ostara

Ostara is named after the Saxon goddess, Eostre (from whose name we get the direction East and the holiday Easter). In common depictions of Eostre, her familiar is a hare & she carries with her a basket of decorated eggs, which she gives as gifts to those who cross her path. This is a time of cleansing, fertility & renewal.  Just as the dawn is the time of new light, so the vernal equinox is the time of new life. Day and night are equal, this is a time of balance, but Earth teeters on the edge… waiting to tilt fully towards the light.

Last night our circle gathered to celebrate the first stirrings of Spring & honor the Goddess Eostre. Although it wasn’t the actual date of the Sabbat, we choose to gather a little earlier to accomodate the availability of our group. It turned out to be a small group this time and was very calming for me. I enjoyed the ritual very much. We decorated the huge oak that stands in the north quarter of our circle, made an offering of spring flowers and stood hand in hand around him drawing on his deep rooted energy. It was so lovely I had to wrap my arms around him and give him a big hug afterwards. Sometimes those stories about us Pagans being “tree hugging hippies” are true. (Hehe!)

We did a few other things like make spring cleaning lists and shared them with each other. Once I started writing things down I began to realize all of the things I need to get done. I’m hoping that writing it down & having a physical list will help me to accomplish the things on it. One of the things I put on my list was cleaning my car out, trunk and all. That might take me until Beltane by itself. (Not really, but it’s a friggin’ mess!) I have been seriously neglecting to take care of my car like I should. The members leading ritual challenged us to get as much of our list accomplished as we could by Beltane. So, if I can clean my car this week & maintain its cleanliness until Beltane I’ll be super proud of myself.

I think it’s good to take an inventory of all of the things you have in your closets, attic & garage around this time then make an effort to purge your home of anything broken, unused, ill fitting or taking up space that could be used in a more efficient way. Spring cleaning always results in me making a trip to the Goodwill to make donations. Chances are if I haven’t seen it, worn it or used it in the passed 6 months… I don’t really need it. I encourage everyone to take this time to do some spring cleaning. Get rid of the old & make room for the new!

As a gift, our ritual leaders gave us herb plants to take home & care for. I ended up choosing rosemary & pineapple sage plants. This afternoon I spent several hours replanting those plants along with the lemon thyme & oregano gifted to my mom and my love in addition to the other plants that found their way home with me from the garden center. Those included an aloe vera, standard sage and banana pepper plants. My porch is starting to look as if a witch lives here.

Tending an herb garden has become a bit of an obsession for me, so having more herbs to care for is right up my alley. In the past I’ve had small gardens, but never had such an inclination to specifically incorporate them into my practices. Many of the herbs I decided to grow this go around, I’ve done so with the full intention of using them in magickal as well as culinary & medicinal capacities. I am looking forward to growing and harvesting my own herbs again after such a long time without them.

Little by little, with the help of my circle and my own conscious decision to make my spiritual enrichment a priority in my life, I feel like I’m finding a balance. What better time to discover that and offer up thanks to the Goddess!? I can’t think of one.

I hope your Ostara was as balancing and calming as mine was.

Blessings,


B is for Belladonna

Belladonna is known by many names “Deadly Nightshade”, “Death Cherries” & “Devil’s Berries” are a few of them. It’s true name is atropa belladonna. The name is derived from the Greek fate, Atropos, who is responsible for cutting the thread of life and also for it’s beautiful appearance, as “belladonna” translates to “beautiful lady” in Italian. This lovely herb is one of those “looks can be deceiving” instances. Every part of it are poisonous, from the deep purple tubular bell shaped flowers to the shiny black berries and the fuzzy leaves.

Due to it’s toxic potency it has been used prior to 400 AD as a surgical anesthetic, as a poison (Emperor Augustus was reported to have been poisoned with belladonna by his wife Livia, as was Emperor Claudius by Agrippina), in the tips of arrows & surprisingly enough… cosmetically. Someone apparently thought it was attractive for women to have dilated pupils once upon a time and somehow discovered that belladonna, if used in eye drops, blocked receptors that prevented the muscles in the eye to constrict the pupil. What they didn’t know though, was that this was not a good idea and many of them ended up blind from its repeated use.

Belladonna was also said to have been used as a recreational drug to induce hallucinations. Rumor is that the hallucinations are very unpleasant. I can’t imagine even risking the possibility of accidental overdose for what’d surely amount to a really horrid experience, but apparently someone did back in the day. Sadly, many people died trying to get high from it. I guess the risk is what made it seem alluring.

Belladonna isn’t all bad though. She just deserves a bit of respect and special consideration for anyone who wishes to keep her around. While ingesting it or using it without knowing its true and full potential to end your life is a reality, it has been used in several positive ways. This is one of those herbs that you shouldn’t be afraid of, but you also shouldn’t take it’s abilities lightly. For anyone who decides they want to keep this in their personal apothecary, I suggest keeping it, along with any other deadly herbs you have, in a locked cabinet separate from the rest of your herbs. If you are interested in growing it, I would opt not to if you have animals or children. It would only take ingesting 2-5 berries to cause the death of a child. Does that have your undivided attention? It should.

As I said, belladonna isn’t all bad. Various belladonna tinctures, decoctions and powders, as well as alkaloid salt mixtures, are produced for pharmaceutical use. Several medications have been created with the help of belladonna, such as:

    • Atropine– Used for bradycardia (low heart rate), nerve gas attacks (blocks the receptors so that the agent cannot effect the person being attacked), secretions & bronchoconstriction in dying patients (inhibits salivary & mucus glands), certain heart arrythmias & blockages and eye examinations (dilates pupils).
    • Donnatal– Used to treat intestinal cramping & nausea; often part of GI cocktails. Also used for patients suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Enterocolitis.
    • Hyoscyamine– Used to treat various GI disorders such as: peptic ulcers, diverticulitis, pancreatitis, colic & cystitis. It has also been used to treat symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

This past Yule, my Aunt Dana sent me the very pretty canister in the photo to the right and a note that said “I found this in an antique shop and was told that this used to contain belladonna. Thought you’d like it & I thought it was cool.” I agree, it is cool! However, I wanted to find out more about this jar so I decided to research “Hiera Picra”. Turns out, this was most likely a canister that contained Hiera Picra. What is Hiera Picra, you ask? Well, it means “sacred bitters” in Greek & was a name given to many medicines in the Greek pharmacopoeia. It’s most commonly known as a combination of canella bark, aloe vera & honey. It was used as an emetic and induced purging. Nothing nice about the medication. So while it’s not a belladonna canister, it’s still pretty cool. Maybe someone opted to store belladonna in it long after its initial purpose had worn out. Who knows? Whatever the case may be, it’s mine now. I haven’t started storing anything in it yet, but perhaps I’ll re-purpose it, yet again, to store herbs, resins or other witchy things.

My point in writing about belladonna was to indicate that there are always two sides to a coin. Firstly, not every beautiful thing is harmless. I think we sometimes take things at face value without really learning about them. That’s a bad habit to get into. Whether it’s considering eating berries or picking a mate… you should base your decision on more than what something appears to be. Secondly, while belladonna is easily capable of causing death, it is also responsible for improving life if used judiciously in some instances. There are many things that are capable of causing harm & even death to us. Being aware of their potential and respecting them is key to maintaining a harmonious coexistence with so much of what this life is bound to set in our path.

Blessings,


Magical Herbs

I decided to explore this topic because it was the latest on Pagan Blog Prompts.

They say: “The weather is warming up and the time for planting is close. While somegardeners focus on edibles (veggies and fruits), a lot of Pagans grow herbs for kitchen use as well as magical use. Do you use herbs in your practice? Do you grow them or purchase them from someone else? What are your favorite herbs to work with?”
I use herbs often in my practice & for a multitude of purposes. Most often though, for cooking, as offerings and in making loose incense. The flavor of foods seem richer and more intense when you cook with fresh herbs. I use dried herbs as well when I cook, but the flavor isn’t the same. The reason I like to use herbs as offerings is because I feel like the divine appreciate the love & care it takes to cultivate and grow herbs. As for why I like to use them for making loose incense, it really just comes down to the fact that I prefer the aroma of fresh herbs over processed incenses. Especially sage, lavender, peppermint and chamomile.
I have always grown my own herbs, but I do purchase some as well. For years I had a lovely herb garden that soaked up the rays of the Northern California sunshine and prospered for 5 years. When I prepared for my move to Europe in 2005, my plants had to find new homes. The aloe vera plant that had grown from a wee footling had easily become 4ft tall! That plant was the saddest for me to give away because I had turned it into something really spectacular with the love & attention I gave it. Since 2009 I haven’t had an herb garden so this year I’m starting from scratch. The adventures in herb gardening begin again.

I kept waiting for winter to show up, but with the exception of a few days that BARELY dipped below 32 degrees, we’ve had an extremely mild winter here in SE Texas. I always worry about that, because rumor has it if winter is mild, summer will be horrifically scorching. Not that horrifically scorching is any different from any other summer here in SE Texas, but anyone who lives down here knows that extreme heat is never good as we approach hurricane season.

Lately the weather has been really lovely. Low 70’s, sunshine and cool breezes. Best take advantage of it while it lasts, because it never lasts long around here. It’s prime weather for planting! Jay built me a beautiful 6ftx3ft planter box out of cedar. I cannot wait to start planting!


We recently hit up Lowe’s for some gardening essentials, namely my Jiffy greenhouse. It holds 70 plants! I planted 14 varieties of seed in it and they’ll be germinating for the next few weeks. There are dill, cilantro, oregano, catnip, lavender, marjoram, tarragon, echinacea, chives, sage, basil & rosemary in my tray. Currently the tray is under the desk in my guest room hidden in the dark. Since the tray is self watering, I have very little work to do until it’s harvest time.


I’d have to say I’m most looking forward to the lavender, echinacea & basil sprouting. My favorite herbs that I like to work with currently are lavender, chamomile, peppermint, comfrey & catnip. Once my new crop sprouts, my favorite herbs list may be revised. We’ll see.

As my little seeds begin to sprout, I’ll update you on their progress. In the meantime, happy planting!

Blessings,