Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Magickal Herbs - The Uses of Juniper

The traditional, herbal and magical uses of Juniper are varied.

The Juniper shrub, or Juniperus communis, grows freely throughout the Northern Hemisphere. It's typically found in places where lime is present in the soil. Folk names for Juniper include enebro, gemeiner wachholder, geneva, gin berry, ginepro and gin plant.

Juniper berries take several years to ripen, so it is not unusual to see a tree covered in berries of differing colours and ripeness. Only the blue berries are harvested which are slightly dried which changes their colour to the black that we commonly see.

Traditional Uses of Juniper

Juniper berries are probably best known for their use in making gin. In fact, the distinctive flavour of gin is from the Juniper berries. Some recipes for making Sauerkraut include juniper berries in with the cabbage. Most commercial Juniper berries seem to be harvested for making essential oil, or a berry extract called ‘Roob’ or Rob of Juniper.

Different varieties of Juniper are well known as traditional Japanese Bonsai trees, usually the dwarf Juniperus procumbens varieties, as they have a spreading, cascading habit.

Ancient Greeks burned Juniper to fight and prevent epidemics, including the plague, this continued even into the 19th Century when French hospitals burned it in an attempt to prevent the spread of smallpox.

In the Middle Ages, Juniper was believed to ward off demons, disease and venomous creatures, and it was planted around homes to protect them against the evil eye and to keep snakes away.

Herbal Medicinal Uses of Juniper

Juniper oil is used for various complaints involving the digestive system, and illnesses of the kidney and bladder, although it should be avoided by those with kidney disease. The berries, when chewed, sweeten the breath and help to heal infected gums.

In aromatherapy, Juniper oil is used as to detoxify the body and is often used in massage blends for this reason.

Before taking any herb internally, be sure that it is correctly identified first and check with a qualified medical herbalist.

Magical Uses of Juniper

Juniper is a masculine herb, under the element of Fire, and the influence of Jupiter. It is considered to be a protective herb, and specifically guards against theft. Wearing a sprig of Juniper is believed to protect the wearer from accidents and wild animal attacks. Hung at your door, it's said to protect you and your home from evil forces, evil people, ghosts and sickness.

Juniper has been used as incense for a very long time, and used in exorcisms, to help psychic powers, to break hexes and curses and to attract good, healthy energies.

When added to love mixtures, or amulets, it is believed to increase male potency. Dried Juniper berries can be strung together like beads for a simple amulet or charm.


Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham, Second Edition, Llewellyn Publications, Minnesota, 2002.

Wylundt’s Book of Incense by Steven R Smith, Samuel Weiser, Inc, Maine, 1996.

The Master Book of Herbalism by Paul Beyerl, Phoenix Publishing Co, Washington, 1996. – retrieved 10 December 2010.

Magickal Herbs – The Uses of Dragon's Blood

The Traditional, Herbal and Magickal uses of Dragon's Blood resin.

Dragon’s Blood is the name given to the resin harvested from the fruit of the Dragon’s Blood Tree. Several different palms are given the name Dragon’s Blood Tree, Daemonorops draco, Dracaena cinnabari, Dracaena draco, Croton draco, Croton lechleri and Calamus draco (although this has been renamed Daemonorops draco, it is still a name used)

Dragon’s Blood is usually founds as a bright red resin, in powder or granule form. When larger pieces are broken, the inside is glossy and bright. There are unscrupulous vendors who sell “poor man’s Dragon’s Blood” which looks and smells the same, but is a blend of talc, red sandalwood and frankincense.

Traditional Uses of Dragon’s Blood

Dragon’s Blood has been used as colouring for various goods like varnishes, toothpaste, tinctures and for dying horn to look like tortoiseshell. Many violins are still varnished with Dragon’s Blood, which gives them that beautiful rich colour. The ‘tears’ named for the shape they form when ‘bleeding’ from the trunk or fruit have been strung to make stunning jewellery.

It was believed that a woman burning Dragon’s Blood while sitting near an open window at night would entice a straying lover to return to her, and that a stick of Dragon’s Blood placed somewhere near the bed, would cure impotency in men.

Herbal Medicinal Uses of Dragon’s Blood

The different varieties of Dragon’s Blood Trees have been used for many different herbal remedies. One has been said to cure syphilis, while another is used as an astringent and vulnerary (effective in treating wounds, cuts and burns) and yet another is used to make an intoxicating drink.

Correct identification of which type of Dragon’s Blood is used for which ailment is essential, and as such, it would be advisable not to make assumptions, but to see a qualified Medicinal Herbalist before trying any remedies using Dragon’s Blood.

Magickal Properties of Dragon’s Blood

Dragon’s Blood is under the planetary influence of Mars and its elemental association is fire. It is said to be sacred to Shiva, so it's burned as an offering to Him.

Dragon’s Blood is an ingredient in many loose magical incense recipes as it adds power and strength to any spell or working. It is said to increase the power of any ritual energy. On its own, Dragon’s Blood is considered to be a protective herb, with the ability to drive away negativity and evil spirits.

Dragon’s Blood Ink is used to seal and protect magical writing, such as agreements, oaths and vows. It is also used for love or protective talismans and sigils.

Sources: – retrieved 26 September 2010-09-29.

Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham, Llewellyn Publications, Minnesota, 2002.

Wylundt’s Book of Incense by Steven R Smith, Samuel Weiser Inc, Maine, 1996.

The Master Book of Herbalism by Paul Beyerl, Phoenix Publishing Co, Washington, 1984.

Magickal Herbs – The Uses of Mugwort

The Traditional, Herbal and Magickal uses of the very versatile herb mugwort.

Mugwort is the common name of Artemisia Vulgaris, and is also known as Moxa, Felon-weed, Sailor’s Tobacco, Artemis’ Herb, Naughty man, Old man, Old Uncle Henry, Muggons, St. Johns’ Plant, and Cingulum Sacti Johannis. Mugwort is a member of the Daisy family and grows like a weed in many places.

Traditional Uses of Mugwort

Many medieval stories and legends tell of shoes stuffed with mugwort to prevent the traveller from fatigue and sore feet. When dried and rubbed, the leaves become quite woolly, so it certainly would have cushioned the feet and perhaps kept them warm. In England of long ago, mugwort was used as a tea substitute, and was used in beer-brewing, and many Eastern European countries used mugwort in poultry stuffing. Mugwort repels some insects, and can be laid between rows of vegetables to deter moths.

Mugwort was believed to protect against poison, wild beasts, demons and sunstroke. Ancient tradition says that placing mugwort in a building prevents elves and “evil thynges” from entering. Legend tells that St. John the Baptist wore a belt or cingulum woven from mugwort when he was wandering in the wilderness. In China, the Dragon Festival sees bunches of mugwort hung around the home to keep away evil spirits. In Japan, the Ainus burn large amounts of mugwort to remove the evil spirits of disease.

Herbal Medicinal Uses of Mugwort

Medicinally, mugwort is listed as being good for all things female, especially childbirth and menopause as endorsed by Culpeper, Hippocrates and Dioscorides. As a tea, mugwort is a diuretic and can be used for treating feverish colds. In a bath, it is also good for feverish colds, but is recommended for rheumatism and aching legs as well. In Chinese Traditional Medicine, mugwort is known as Moxa and used in the process called moxibustion.

Before taking any herb internally, be sure that it is correctly identified first and check with a qualified medical herbalist.

Magickal Properties of Mugwort

In Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, Scott Cunningham describes mugwort as being feminine, under the influence of Venus, the element of Earth and sacred to Artemis and Diana. Wylundt’s Book of Incense mostly agrees, but gives mugwort to the element of Air, although this may be because Wylundt is talking about using mugwort incense.

The most common magickal usage of mugwort involves prophecy and divination. A dream pillow of mugwort is said to produce prophetic dreams and aid in achieving astral projection. An infusion of mugwort is used to wash magic mirrors and crystal balls or any other scrying tools that can handle being wet. Mugwort can be stuffed into a pillow to rest a crystal ball on when scrying or leaves can be sprinkled around the base. A tea made from mugwort and drunk before beginning a divination can enhance psychic ability and development.

Mugwort is also used for protection. An incense including mugwort can be burned to protect the home. An amulet or mojo bag stuffed with mugwort is said to protect the traveller from misfortune.

In Shamanic practice, mugwort is used for consecration and purification. Burned in a manner similar to smudging or as incense, mugwort is used to clear the messy energies of the day and the outside world. Paul Beyerl also lists mugwort as being traditional for consecration of all silver tools.

Mugwort is quite a commonly used plant, and an essential component of any Witches herb cabinet.


Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham, Second Edition, Llewellyn Publications, Minnesota, 2002.

Wylundt’s Book of Incense by Steven R Smith, Samuel Weiser, Inc, Maine, 1996.

The Master Book of Herbalism by Paul Beyerl, Phoenix Publishing Co, Washington, 1996.

Reader’s Digest Magic and Medicine of Plants, Readers Digest, Australia, 1994. – retrieved 3 September 2010.

Making Magickal Incense – How to Make Homemade Incense

Magickal incense is a wonderful tool in ritual, spell-crafting and meditation. There are stores that sell magickal incense, but it is very easy to make.

Incense is a blend of herbs and resins, ground together for a magickal purpose. There are plenty of books and websites that provide recipes, these can be followed exactly or used as a place to start.

Most incenses utilize a resin as a base. Resins used in magickal incense include:
  • Frankincense;
  • Myrrh;
  • Copal;
  • Benzoin; or
  • Dragon’s blood.
Woods or roots can be added to these substances. Some common choices include sandalwood, cinnamon, galangal, angelica or lotus root or some seeds and leafy herbs such as juniper berries, star anise, patchouli, mugwort or cloves.

Choosing which ingredients to use is as simple or complicated as you choose to make it. Some recipes have only 2 or 3 ingredients; others like Kyphi can have up to 20 ingredients. It comes down to personal preference. Some like to look up which herbs are suitable for a purpose, and others prefer to stare at their herbs for a while, and use whichever herbs catch their eye. Both systems can work equally well.

Magickal Herb Substitutions

If the herbs that are listed in a recipe are unavailable, or difficult to obtain, substitutions can be made. Pagan or Wiccan Herbal books often feature an appendix that list herbs by magical intentions and by planetary ruler.

Depending on the purpose and intended usage for the incense, substitutions can be made using either list. For example, if the purpose of magickal incense was communication, then any Mercury ruled herbs would be appropriate, as Mercury is the planet of communication.

Making the Incense

The process of empowering magickal incense begins as soon as the decision is made to make it. However, grinding the incense is a tedious process, and this provides an opportunity to raise energy and infuse the magickal incense with a purpose. The chosen herbs are placed in a mortar and ground with a pestle. Some leafy herbs like mugwort and bay leaves can be very hard to grind, so it is worth cutting them finely first, and grinding the smaller pieces with the rest of the incense. How fine the incense is ground is entirely personal choice, but it is important to ensure that the ingredients are well mixed.

When the magickal incense is sufficiently ground, remove it from the mortar and pestle and put it in a jar. An opaque glass jar is usually recommended for storing incense. Hold the jar with the incense in your receptive hand, and hold your power hand over the top. Visualise your magical purpose, see it working, and send that image or feeling through your hands into the incense. Completely fill the incense with the magickal purpose until it seems to glow. The incense is now ready to use.

Using Magickal Incense

This form of Magickal Incense is also known as loose incense and is burned on a charcoal block. Charcoals are often round (although not always) with a depression in the top. The charcoal is held over a flame with tongs or tweezers to light it. There will be sparks and spits glowing across the surface, and generally, a lot of smoke. When the entire block has sparked it will then begin to glow and smoulder. It is now ready to be placed in a burner, also known as a thurible or censer, on a bed of river sand, small stones or soil. As most burners are brass, salt or sea sand will corrode the burner. Sprinkle the loose incense lightly on the top, and enjoy the incense.

Making incense really is a simple process, and one that can be rewarding as it won’t have anyone else’s potentially conflicting energies infused in the incense. Magickal herbs are readily available and easily researched for intentions. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll never be caught without the right incense for the occasion again.


Complete Book of Incenses, Oils and Brews by Scott Cunningham, Llewellyn Publications, Minnesota, 1989.

The Incense Bible by Kerry Hughes, MSc, The Haworth Press, New York, 2007.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Fam-Trads and Hereditary Witchcraft

Fam-trads, or Family Traditions is when a witch or pagan can claim to have been trained by a living family member - like a parent or grand-parent. This hereditary path has been treated as some special Pagan Royalty, to the point where many people make false claims to be fam-trad, and now any such claims are treated automatically as someone lying and trying to be something they’re not.
I don’t automatically treat anyone who makes a claim to be fam-trad as a liar and flake. Witchcraft has been becoming more popular for around 60 years now, we can’t all be the first generation to find it. But I am somewhat cynical when I hear it - cynical seems to have become my natural state when dealing with the Pagan Community.
I have managed to become less openly cynical however. I’ll take a step back and make all the appropriate noises when dealing with people making hereditary claims. I don’t automatically fall into the hero worship or adoring puppy mode, but neither do I dismiss them as a deluded twit who is probably attention seeking. It’s something I now treat as no different from any other tradition. The hereditaries I have met though, have been vastly different, and perhaps it is time to consider those differences.
There is one chap that I know who explains his path as “traditional hereditary”. He doesn’t claim to have all the answers, he teaches, and when challenged he says “that may be, but this is the way I was taught and this works for me.” At no time does he suggest that his way is the right way. He is open to learning new things and new ways of doing things. While this man was at my house one day, I received a phone call from a lady who thought she might have some magical mystical goings on at the new place she’d bought which had been previously owned by a Wiccan. I asked a few questions, as I do, and didn’t feel it was anything she needed to be worried about. On a whim, I also put it to this man. He asked a few questions and gave her a very sensible, down to earth answer too. This impressed me a lot. There was no deep mystical fantastical “I’m so special” type of nonsense from him.
Another man I’ve met describes himself as fam-trad. He frequently talks about the family book that goes back a couple of hundred years and how he does things ‘his way.’ The first time I heard this from him, it was followed up by a request for me to make him several incenses for special purposes, and could I possibly also teach him how to dry herbs. I’m sorry, but for me this is the basics. What has he been learning from his grand-mother who taught him everything?
I’ve spent time around the second man in workshop situations. My role was to monitor the energy for the facilitator and keep control of it. I had to make sure that no one was in over their heads, that it didn’t get out of hand so everyone got the most out of the workshop and the facilitator could focus completely on what it was she was teaching. His energy was like a stagnant pond in the middle of a river. When we did the connecting aspect, he was thrown out of the circle. The symptom was a physical one, easily explained, however, the true reason was that he wasn’t in sync with the rest of the group. My impression was that he was either unable to connect, or didn’t want to. His ritual etiquette was badly lacking. He approached the person running the ritual and objected to the choices made for key roles within the ritual. He turned up to the ritual with a cigarette in his mouth, and didn’t get rid of it even after having been told to repeatedly. He was disrespectful to all concerned on a number of levels.
Now these things don’t make his claims to be a fam-trad false, but they do high-light one of the flaws with the way many of us see family and hereditary traditions. The assumption is that because they’ve been trained by a family member then they automatically know more than those who are new seekers or who have learned the hard way. We’ve all met people who seem to be missing a big part of their training. People who might be strong in one area but have no clues in another. I know that I don’t get certain things that others consider the bare basics, but I have strengths in other areas. I don’t make any claims to know it all however.
We as Witches, seem to assume that he should have all the basics and have all the training that we’re working hard to catch up to. What if his grandmother (who apparently did his training) was lacking an ability, if she had no strengths in one area and so was unable to monitor his progress there? Or what if she had issues with his mindset and never taught him a few things, believing him to not have the core stuff required, but never spoke to him of it? What if she passed away before teaching him anything serious at all?
The twits and flakes we meet in the Pagan and New Age community come in all shapes and sizes, and more importantly, in all age groups. Consider if you will, any one of those flaky people training their kids and grandkids. Those people can rightfully claim to be fam-trad or following a hereditary tradition. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the family tradition was one worth upholding.
I learned a lot of things that have helped me in my own learning of witchcraft from my grandmothers. However, neither of them were witches. They were both ordinary women, living a life of challenges and hardships and making the best of it that they could.
I believe it’s time that we stopped looking at hereditary traditions as being anything overly special, and look at the qualities of the person themselves. That’s the truest measure of their worth - the things that they say and do and the examples they set. Who cares if it’s a 500 year old secret, passed down from parent to child over the generations, or an inspiration that came on the spot five minutes ago. It’s what you do with it that counts, and the person you choose to be now.

Sunday, 15 January 2012


I've been to two funerals in the last two days.
I think that should be my quota for this year, or at the very least the next six months, but I know that short of choosing not to attend a funeral, this is something that I have no control over.
The two funerals were very different. The first was a guy who had been a workmate and good friend. It was huge, there were several hundred people there. It was held at a large church in the West side of Christchurch.
The first half of the funeral was lovely. The tributes and memories shared were very moving and I cried a fair bit as various family members that I was finally able to put faces to (having heard many stories of various exploits and adventures from my friend) got up and shared the odd tidbits. Then the Minister who was officiating got up and spent the next three quarters of an hour waffling away, telling stories that eventually got to his point - he was preaching. His sermon took longer than the rest of the funeral. It also was all wrong for my friend. He wasn't particularly religious in any form and if he'd been present he would have been rolling his eyes at it all. How was this sermon about him? It was all wrong and I felt it was really rather disrespectful.
Today was the second funeral. A friend’s Mum. I didn't really know her, I'd met her a few times at family events for this friend and his wife.
This one was held at a small chapel in the Eastern side. The first thing said by the chap officiating after the family had filed in and we had sat down again was the "in event of an earthquake" safety notices.
The service was small and lovely. The memories shared were again moving, and I cried my eyes out when the grand-daughter read a fantastic poem that she had written for her Grandma. It was about not being sad because she'd gone, being happy because she'd lived and been a part of your life.
I noticed that several of the eulogies were spoken to the coffin not to the crowd. They were addressed to the deceased, they were personal messages to her that were spoken proudly in front of everyone. I think this was the first time I've ever seen that. It was touching.
Two very different funerals but both following the same traditional structure. It made me think about what I want to happen for me when it's my turn. A lot of people seem to count the numbers who attend as some kind of mark of prestige or something. I always wonder how many of those who turn up at the funeral had visited in the last year, how many were there out of a sense of duty or morbid curiosity.
I went to one last year for an old friend. I hadn't seen her in a few years, we'd drifted, but it was one of those friendships where that didn't matter. When we did see each other it was all okay. I heard of one lady today who has said that if you don't receive an invitation to hers don't bother turning up. She thinks that if it's too much trouble to stay in touch when you're both alive, why be a hypocrite when one of you dies.
I've noticed that everyone at funerals has a story or ten to tell, everyone mills around outside before and after talking about the deceased, memories are shared and there is as much laughter about the good times or funny times as there are tears about the sad times. But as soon as it becomes the formal setting of the funeral service, either everyone clams up and doesn't want to speak in front of the crowd, or we're all bored by yet another person crying about how much that person meant to them. It almost seems to become a competition about who is going to miss them the most.
Someone is always upset or offended (kind of like a wedding), there are songs played that many of the attendees can't listen to again for a long time as they become an overwhelming emotional trigger, and there is always someone complaining about how this was all wrong and didn't fit their memories of that person. And then there are the notable absences. There can be many reasons for someone not to attend, and some people struggle to face funerals. Although by the same token, it can be heartwarming when people who would not normally choose to be in the same room, much less the same building as another can put that aside for long enough for a funeral.
Let's be honest, funerals are for the living, they're not really about the deceased at all.
I don't want the formal traditional setting when it's my turn. I am not Christian, so much that goes into a Christian funeral often makes me uncomfortable. I fully respect those who truly believe in the Christian faith, and I'm quite happy to be respectful about that when it comes to their funerals. But when it comes to those who were openly agnostic or non-religious in life, an overly Christian funeral (complete with sermon) seems like a safety net a little too late - one of those 'just in case it is all real' scenarios, or it's the family putting a 'respectable' face on it, or it's the family making it what they want rather than what would have suited the deceased. Because I feel like this, I don't want my Christian, agnostic or otherwise friends made uncomfortable by an overly Pagan funeral.
In fact, I don't really want a funeral as such at all. I want my family and friends to have a big party at my home. I would like those I love to sit around and talk crap about me while having a good time. No one needs to pay any sort of homage to my empty shell (which will not be embalmed, I don't need it preserved, I won't be using it again) and criticising the way the mortician has done my makeup or my hair.
I get that it's a send off, it's a way for many people to say goodbye and have a sense of closure. But it doesn't need to be morbid or sombre. There is often a hushed atmosphere, like everyone is afraid to speak in a normal voice. Tears are stifled, or heads are bent as tears are quickly wiped away - why is this? Is it somehow shameful to cry? I cry with my head held high, I'm not ashamed of a single tear, I'm sad, everyone else is usually sad, the only time the tissues come out at a funeral is when my nose runs. Makeup these days is generally waterproof, smudgeproof and the worst that should happen is that you'll wash it off, so that doesn't really work as a reason to be hiding tears and wiping them away stealthily.
I'd like my send off to be raucous and rowdy. I'd like there to be laughter and an honest form of story-telling. I don't want anything to be censored down so as not to shock anyone, or prettied up to make me out to be a better person than I am. I am who I am, I'm not ashamed of that, why should anyone else be? Funeral services are often now described as a "Celebration of the Life of " but they're still the same thing, I would like it if mine could be a real celebration of my life.
I realise that there is a pretty good chance that when it actually happens, those close to me will forget about this, or be pressured into doing what is expected. This is one of my reasons for blogging this - let it be out there and public, let it be known to all. But also let there be a change in the way we do things. Everyone seems to hate the funeral but love the wake - so let's skip the funeral and just have the wake.