Medicinal Herbs: Aconite

Aconitum napellus

Also, Known As:

  • Aconite
  • Auld Wife’s Huid
  • Blue Rocket
  • Cuckoo’s Cap
  • Friar’s Cap
  • Jacob’s Chariot
  • Monkshood
  • Soldier’s Cap

The aconite is a shrub which sports purplish blue aconite flowers that bloom during the summer as well as during the fall and are generally shaped like a helmet. The form of the flowers is especially intended to draw as well as make use of the bees visiting them, particularly the humble bee. The sepals of aconite have a purple hue – the purple color particularly helps to attract the bees. In addition, the sepals have a fantastic shape and one of the sepals have the shape of a covering. On the other hand, the petals of aconite are simply embodied by the two extremely bizarre nectar-producing parts positioned inside the hood – rather in the shape of a hammer. Aconite flowers have copious stamens that are positioned in a depressed manner in the form of a bunch at the flower mouth. Initially, the stamens are drooping, but get up one after the other and position their anthers frontward in such a manner that any bee that visits the flower in quest of nectar is covered with pollen dust. Subsequently, the bees transport the anthers to the flower they visit next and, in this way, pollinate the immature fruits that are within a bunch at the center of the stamens. Every carpel of aconite encloses a solitary seed. This shrub has dark green shiny leaves, which are a lighter green color on their under surface. A perennial, the aconite is capable of growing anywhere from two feet to six feet in height. The thick tuberous roots support its stem.

monkshood illistration

Plant Parts Used:

Root, rhizome, stem, leaf, flower.

Ancient History Herbal Use:

Aconite is found growing in rocky areas, and perhaps this is why this herb has been named after the term, ‘akone’, which means ‘cliffy’ or ‘rocky’. The ancient Greeks had an interesting story about the aconite: it was their belief that when the so-called gatekeeper of Hell, Cerberus was being dragged up by Hercules from the nether regions where he lived, he started foaming at the mouth, and when a few of these drops happened to drop on the aconite that was growing in the region, the shrub became poisonous! Theseus, the step-son of Medea, who was the priestess of Hecate, was supposedly poisoned using the aconite. The young prince, however, managed to survive, thus thwarting Medea’s plans for her own son to inherit her husband’s throne. The aconite also enjoys the dubious distinction of having been used by witches of yore, in potions that would create a real sensation of flight among its users. This was perhaps why this shrub was often one of the main ingredients in the reputed “flying ointments” of the past.

Aconite has been used for a great variety of purposes, primarily because of its ability to provide very quick relief for a number of ailments, chief among them being a pain, arthritis, fever, neuralgias, various kinds of inflammation, and skin problems. Aconite works within a few minutes, especially if this herb is taken orally. The versatile shrub’s analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties caused by the strong presence of alkaloids are legendary; aconite is used safely and popularly as an important ingredient in certain homeopathic remedies, like for example in cases of physical and psychological stress. The aconite is also used in cases of extreme stress or fear and the restlessness associated with it, like for example, a panic attack or palpitations or numbness of one’s limbs. These are usually displayed through anxiety and widely dilated pupils, where the person associates his fear and nervousness with a previous unrelated event. There have been cases reported where a woman who fears to die during childbirth has been suitably calmed by the aconite.

However, the root of aconite can be extremely dangerous; even a few drops of the root can lead to either paralysis of the cardiac muscles, or of the entire respiratory system. Germany’s Commission E, the German group of herbal remedy experts who assess and appraise plant and herbal remedies for their efficacy and safety, have deferred giving their approval on the aconite. The reason may be the plant’s poisonous nature, despite proof that the aconite has been widely used right from ancient times.

  • Homeopathy
  • Tension headache

monkshood-wolfsbaneGrowing Aconite:

North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia have a widespread growth of aconite.

The shrub aconite has a preference for a soil that can somewhat retain moisture, for instance, a damp loam, and thrives best when it is grown in a shady location. Aconite is likely to grow opulently when it is grown in a damp, open wood and is also likely to yield high returns when a little more trouble is taken to get the soil free of weeds, retaining its dampness as well as prevent any type of digging.

While readying the bed to grow aconite, it is necessary to dig up the soil properly and pulverize it before the winter frosts – the burying in of decayed leaves or standard manure will prove to be useful.

Aconite can be propagated from its seeds, which need to be sown in March half-an-inch inside a cold frame. Alternately, aconite seeds may also be directly sown outdoors in April. However, it is important to exercise immense care to ensure that the appropriate type of seed is acquired since there are several assortments of aconite – as many as nearly 24 have been identified. Moreover, all varieties of aconite do not possess similar active therapeutic attributes. Normally, aconite plants take about two to three years from the date of sowing the seeds to blossom.

Aconite may also be propagated by means of root division usually done in autumn. The underground part of the aconite plants is unearthed when the stem had subsided and the smaller among the ‘daughter’ roots that have grown at the side of the older roots are chosen for the purpose of re-plantation either in December or in January to develop new stock. The little roots are planted approximately a foot away from each other on all sides. When propagated by root division, the tender shoots of aconite emerge over the soil in February. While aconite plants are recurrent or perennial in nature, every separate root survives for just one year and the plant continues to remain alive by means of its ‘daughter’ roots.


Aconite contains 0.3 – 2% terpenoid alkaloids, principally aconitine.

Herbal Remedy Use:

Aconite can be taken in certain prescribed and tested dosages: 1 – 2 minims for a child 5 to 10 years old; 2 – 5 minims for adults, three times daily.

Possible Side Effects and Precautions:

People intending to take therapeutic preparations of aconite should be aware of the potential adverse effects of using this herb. Aconite has many species and all of them enclose the poison aconitine. While the herb is infused with this poison, the maximum amount of it is present in the roots. Consuming a leaf or nibbling a minute part of the aconite root will result in a lack of sensation as well as itchiness in the mouth more or less instantaneously. Hence, it is advisable that you keep children as well as pets away from this shrub. In addition, never grow aconite with any other herb that you may plant to take internally.

It may be noted that the entire aconite herb is extremely poisonous and it especially works on the nerve centers. Initially, the poison aconitine invigorates the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system and subsequently knocks out or paralyzes both. The additional symptoms of aconite poisoning may comprise vomiting, a burning feeling on the tongue, diarrhea and stomach pain. It has been documented that simply coming in contact with this herb has caused loss of sensation or numbness in a number of people.


Medicinal Herbs: Arnica

Arnica {Arnica montana}

Arnica has been an important topical healing herb since the 15th century. It is a member of the large and varied Asteraceae, or Composite family, along with sunflowers, daisies, lettuce, and chicory. This perennial herb originated in the mountains of Europe and Siberia and is now widely cultivated in North America.

The plant’s genus name derives from arna, Greek for “lamb,” because of the soft, fleecy hair on its green leaves. It reaches an average height of one to two feet and produces daisy-like yellow-orange flowers that begin to bloom in May.

Healing Properties

Arnica’s flower heads, either fresh or dried, are the base of creams, salves, ointments, liniments, or tinctures that are applied to the skin to treat muscle aches, sprains, strains, and bruises. Arnica can also be useful in treating superficial phlebitis, inflamed insect bites, and swelling from broken bones. There are studies that suggest it might be useful in treating burns. It is not recommended for use on any open wounds.

In a high-profile testimonial on the herb’s effectiveness, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center states: “A few clinical trials suggest benefits of topical arnica for osteoarthritis and for affecting the significant reduction of bruising compared to placebo or low-concentration vitamin K ointments.” On the other hand, a small study reported that topical arnica increased pain in subjects 24 hours after calf exercises.

Several species of arnica, including A. Montana, contain two sesquiterpene lactones: helenalin and dihydrohelenanin, which help reduce inflammations and ease pain. Arnica also contains inulin, a compound somewhere between sugar and starch, that plants store underground as a source of energy and that diabetics can use as a natural sweetener.

Arnica has several uses outside the realm of sprains and bruises. Swiss mountain guides chewed the herb to avoid fatigue while climbing. The dried leaves can be used like tobacco – the herb is even sometimes referred to as mountain tobacco – while the dried flowers mimic snuff and produce sneezing.

Minerals found in arnica include selenium and manganese, both powerful antioxidants. Manganese is important for maintaining healthy bones, healing wounds, and metabolizing proteins, carbohydrates, and cholesterol.

Arnica is a favorite medication of homoeopathic practitioners, and it is widely marketed and praised for its healing powers. Yet, clinical trials indicate that when heavily diluted homoeopathic arnica – typically at a strength of one part per million – is prescribed, it is no more effective than a placebo. {Arnica can be toxic in high doses, and diluted extracts should never be taken by mouth.}


Aromatic Qualities

Arnica is not a heavily scented herb, and most arnica products are very lightly fragranced or fairly scent neutral. Arnica is a sub-alpine plant; it is used to growing in nutrient-poor soil and thrives in sunlit mountain meadows ten thousand feet up or higher. Although the flowers normally do have a light grassy or dusty scent, the higher the altitude the plants reach, the more intense their aroma becomes.

History and Lore

  • With popularity comes problems. Over-harvesting has depleted wild arnica populations in many areas. The World Wildlife Fund {WWF} and other conservative groups publicized this issue, resulting in protective legislation in most of Europe.
  • Arnica Montana is sometimes called leopard’s bane or wolfsbane, although the latter name is more often applied to aconite, a European flowering herb with a poisonous root.
  • Arnica flowers mixed with safflower oil makes an anti-inflammatory massage oil that may ease the pain of sports injuries.

Medicinal Herbs: Clary Sage

Clary Sage {Salvia sclarea}

Clary Sage is an ancient herb that has been used by many cultures to medicate the eyes and treat a variety of diseases. This biennial member of the mint family, Lamiaceae, is native to the northern Mediterranean, parts of North Africa, and Central Asia. It is now a commercial crop in the Mediterranean, Russia, the United States, England, Morocco, and Central Europe, cultivated primarily for its essential oils. It still grows wild in many places.

The plant begins as a rosette, and, by its second year, produces strong, hairy stems that reach an average height of three feet. The large, downy green leaves are paired and show a hint of purple. The herb produces lush spikes of lilac or blue flowers that bloom from spring to mid-summer and attract bees and other pollinators.

Healing Properties

Written records of the herb’s healing powers go back to Theophrastus in the fourth century B.C., and Dioscorides and Pliny the Elder in the first century A.D. By the Middle Ages, clary sage was cultivated almost exclusively for the perfume trade, but healers still relied on it for treating digestive issues and renal complaints. In modern times, it has begun to regain some of its medicinal popularity.

The herb is notable for one specific medical attribute – a seed placed in an irritated eye will soon turn to mucilage and carry out any irritants. This practice of clearing the eye gave rise to the herb’s name – from the Latin clarus, for “clear.” Clary sage is still used today to brighten the eyes, improve vision, and slow down the ocular aging process.

In Asian medicine, clary sage oil is thought to circulate and strengthen qi energy that has become “stuck.” Qi is considered the life force that flows through our bodies and sustains our physical being. In Jamaica, the herb was once used to soothe ulcers, while a decoction of the leaves boiled in coconut oil was thought to cure scorpion stings.

Traditional healers also use it to treat bronchitis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, hemorrhoids, circulatory problems, digestive distress, muscle aches, kidney disorders, and hair loss, and as an aphrodisiac. by acting on the “primitive” hypothalamus in the brain, clary sage produces a euphoric effect when used for anxiety or depression. It can heighten the effects of alcohol, so should not be combined with drinking.

It is one of the few herbs with a high proportion of esters – gentle chemical compounds with anti-inflammatory properties. The other two are lavender and petitgrain, or bitter orange.

Culinary Uses

If harvested early, the leaves can be eaten raw or added to most recipes that call for sage. The older leaves turn bitter, so use only tender, young leaves. The flowers can also be eaten and make a tasty addition to salads or, dried, can be steeped in a tea.

clary-sage-oilAromatic Qualities

The scent of clary sage has been described as sweet-spicy, floral, grassy, tea-like, somewhat nutty, and similar to ambergris. The essential oil is extracted from the buds and leaves by steam distillation and is used as a perfume fixer, in cosmetics, and as a flavoring – mimicking the taste of muscatel wine – in vermouths, wines, and liqueurs. In aromatherapy, it is used to relax the mind, aid sleep, and to relieve PMS and cramps. The essential oil can be applied topically, used as a compress, massaged into the skin, placed in a warm bath, or directly inhaled or diffused. It is not ingested.

History and Lore

  • In the Middle Ages, clary sage was called Oculus Christi or Christ’s Eye.
  • In 16th-century England, the herb was sometimes substituted for hops as a flavoring in the production of beer.
  • Clary sage is said to enhance the ability to dream and to recall the dream accurately.

The Women’s Helper

Clary sage is called the “women’s helper” because of a long history treating female reproductive complaints, from the onset of menstruation – cramps and PMS – through to menopause – night sweats, hot flashes, and mood swings. The herb contains sclareol, a compound with a chemical structure similar to estrogen; this allows clary sage to mimic the effects of estrogen if there is a deficiency and to help restore hormonal balance. The herb should be avoided during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Recipes with Clary Sage
It’s Been a Long Day –Diffuser Blend – Relax and wind down. Makes a great Sleep blend too.
• 2 drops Clary Sage
• 2 drops Lavender
• 2 drops Mandarin or Tangerine
A Woman’s Balance Bath Soak – Balance female hormones with this amazing blend. Add mix to warm bath water right before getting in. Soak away the tension before bedtime.
Mix the following oils in a jar with 1 cup Epsom salts:
• 3 drops Clary Sage
• 2 drops Geranium
• 2 drops Lavender
• 2 drops Bergamot

Directions: Add to your diffuser for aromatherapy benefits. Recommended to properly blend with a carrier oil prior to topical applications.

Clary sage flowers change color, depending on the lighting conditions, from white through cream, ivory, pink and purple. The flowering stems yield an essential oil that blends particularly well with sandalwood, juniper, lavender, pine, geranium, jasmine, frankincense, and many citrus oils.

Topaz ~ Divine Light

Good Witches Homestead


Topaz promotes individuality and creativity while providing self-confidence in your own decisions. It helps to remove doubts about your decisions and promotes the expression of ideas. Topaz acts as a catalytic trigger, and activates the laws of attraction and manifestation of your desires – it helps you to have faith in the universe’s desire to help you, prompting receptivity and willingness to act.

  • It helps one to creatively change one’s personal world.
  • Helpful in correcting unwanted, unloving behavior patterns.
  • Acts to replace negativity with love and joyfulness
  • Helps to initiate faith and further the quest for the enlightened state.
  • Enhances relaxation, creates lightness of spirit, and stimulates feelings of peace
  • Restores loss of taste, healing of wounds and skin eruptions, liver disorders, gall bladder, endocrine glands
  • Topaz balances emotions and calms passions. It releases tension and gives feelings of joy. Topaz is known as…

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The Energies of November

As we move into the month of November there are some beautiful Autumn colors on display in the countryside around us. We also have many late flowering roses and other summer plants still blooming happily in our garden.

However, with both Halloween and the change of time into winter mode now behind us, it is clear that we need to prepare ourselves for the winter months ahead. For all of us in the northern hemisphere, this is the beginning of a time of greater introspection, an opportunity for personal reflection and a period of rest and recuperation at an inner level. A time to nurture the seeds that we intend to sow in the springtime.

Everywhere in the world now you can see the old stories that belong to third-dimensional consciousness unravelling as things that have previously been hidden from view are brought into the light of awareness for transformation.

This will be a particularly strong theme throughout November because the energetic alignments for the next few weeks continue to have a focus that is firmly fixed on promoting change and transformation.

There is a definite degree of intensity in the energetic line-up this month which will be pushing us to engage more fully with our empowered fifth-dimensional self so that we are able to make a positive contribution to the creation of a new reality.

At times this could feel challenging and uncomfortable, as though you are being well and truly pushed out of your comfort zone. If this is your experience this month remember that the universe always has your back and that this is simply an opportunity to release who you are not in favour of becoming more of who you really are.

Success is assured if we just keep moving forward with the least amount of resistance that we can manage. Just stay grounded, detached and focussed on your own truth so that what you no longer need can be released and transformed.

The Influence of Scorpio

Scorpio Symbol

The sun moved into the constellation of Scorpio on October 23rd providing us with the perfect energetic backdrop to assist with our process of change this month.

When the sun magnifies the watery energies of Scorpio the energetic focus is always one of deep inner transformation. Scorpio energy is warrior energy and it will unequivocally take us deep into the subterranean world of our subconscious, emotional nature. Here we can find ourselves confronted with the need to make the choice to transform ourselves from the inside out.

There is a ‘death and rebirth’ flavour to these energies that can feel both intense and challenging if we are tempted to resist the proffered invitation to make any changes that might be necessary.

The influence of Scorpio could feel particularly intense for the few days around the full moon which is exact in the early hours of November 4th, or late November 3rd in some time zones. This full moon with the sun in Scorpio and the moon in the opposite sign of Taurus always tends to ignite emotional sensitivities and the consequent propensity for overreaction and emotional drama.

So, if you should find yourself in a situation this month where some sort of emotional drama is playing out around you, remember to breathe deeply, ground yourself and detach energetically. For best results choose the path of least resistance and just go with the flow if you can.

Expanding Realities

There is a definite degree of intensity in the energetic line-up this month which will be pushing us to engage more fully with our empowered fifth-dimensional self.

Until very recently, incarnating on Earth has meant that we have had to squeeze ourselves into the ‘reality’ of a third-dimensional template because that is all that has been available here for a very long time.

From within the restriction of this setup, there has been a very limited choice of realities that we could experience here in a physical body. The collective reality that developed, as a result, was one that required conformity to a set of limited beliefs and ideologies. While these have varied over time they have all restricted our capacity to experience multiple realities from the vantage point of a physical incarnation.

Since the third-dimensional template was replaced by a fifth-dimensional one back in December 2012 the constraints of the old patterning have gradually been loosening and our perceptions of life have been expanding and changing, sometimes quite dramatically.
The opportunity to create a completely different reality for ourselves both individually and collectively is now easily within reach, provided we allow ourselves to leave behind our old third-dimensional mindset and the restrictions that relate to it. This opens up the possibility of many parallel realities operating side by side, as each of us explores the opportunities available to us within the new template, from our own expanding perspective and at a speed that works for us.

The energies this month will be offering us a wonderful opportunity to review our current choice of reality with a view to making adjustments where necessary. This is an individual, inside job so it is important that we pay attention to what feels right for us and allow the expression of our true self to take centre stage in this process.

Moving away from a shared reality in which conformity to a group agreement has been perceived as necessary for survival can feel temporarily uncomfortable. Give yourself permission to choose the quality of the vibrations that you allow into your personal reality. Equally importantly, give yourself permission not to let other people’s realities overflow into your own. It can be all too easy to fall back into old habits, comfort zones and emotional patterns of interacting with others if we are not very careful.

Be aware that anything old that does not fit the new fifth-dimensional reality that you are constructing may well make itself more obvious to you this month. Here is a lovely quote from Abraham via Esther Hicks to remind you of how to cancel out any unwanted vibrations in your reality; “Get so fixated on what you want, that you drown out any vibration or reverberation that has anything to do with what you do not want”. Abraham

November Birthflower: Chrysanthemum

COMMON NAME: chrysanthemum
GENUS: Chrysanthemum
The garden chrysanthemum,
C. morifolium, is a hybrid developed from four species native to Asia. Many cultivars have been developed from this one, differing in size, shape, type of flowering head, growth habit, color, and time of bloom.
FAMILY: Compositae
TYPE: perennial
DESCRIPTION: The many classes of chrysanthemum include pompon, quill, spider, brush, thistle, single, in-curve, and spoon. These classes are based on the physical characteristics of the flowering head.
CULTIVATION: Small chrysanthemum plants can be purchased in spring, set in the garden or holding bed throughout the summer, and then put on display beginning in early fall. The plants develop very shallow root systems so they can be transplanted easily in late summer with few problems.
Conscientious pruning during early summer will result in bushy plants with numerous flowers. Pinch back new plants when they are 6 inches tall, and continue to pinch back the flowering stems until ninety days before they bloom.
Chrysanthemums are heavy feeders. They will benefit from weekly applications of a liquid manure or biweekly applications of a quickly soluble fertilizer. Continue to fertilize them until the buds begin to show color.
Chrysanthemums are very ancient plants, as supported by the fact that Confucius wrote of them in 500 B.C. The ancient Chinese botanist T’ao Ming-yang developed many new strains of chrysanthemums so beautiful that people came from great distances to view them. Soon his village became known as Chuh-sien, or the city of chrysanthemums.
Chrysanthemums were always great favorites of the noble class, and in China, up until a relatively short time ago, common folk were not allowed to grow them in their gardens.
Records show that chrysanthemum seeds came to Japan by way of Korea in the fourth century. In A.D. 910 Japan held its first Imperial Chrysanthemum Show and declared this the national flower.
Claire Haughton in her book Green Immigrants tells the following legend of how the chrysanthemum came to Japan: The Empire of Japan was born when a shipload of twelve maidens and twelve young men from China set out to find the “herb of youth,” which kept people eternally young. They carried baskets of chrysanthemums to trade for this herb. After many weeks at sea, their shipwrecked near an uninhabited island. They swam to shore, planted the chrysanthemums, and settled down to build an empire. Japan’s imperial coat of arms shows a sixteen-petaled golden chrysanthemum.
Chrysanthemums were first introduced to Europe in 1688, and their reception there was not enthusiastic. They were essentially ignored for many years by most European gardeners, despite the fact that records from the 1700’s indicate the Dutch were growing at least six species. In 1843 the Royal Horticultural Society sent Robert Fortune to China to obtain the hardy autumn-flowering chrysanthemums, and this seems to have triggered great interest. By the mid-1800’s their popularity had been established. Particularly popular in France were the small, rounded varieties, which were called pompons because of their similarity to the small, wool pompons found on soldier’s hats.
Chrysanthemums were introduced to the United States in 1798, and by 1850 many nurseries were carrying as many as forty varieties. In 1900 the Chrysanthemum Society of America was established, and they staged their first exhibit in 1902 in Chicago.
The genus name is from two descriptive Latin words, meaning “yellow” and “flower.” These flowers make a very good dye.
In the Victorian language of flowers, this plant means cheerfulness and optimism. The Chinese consider it a sign of rest and ease, and the Japanese take it as a sign of long life and happiness. According to the Japanese floral calendar, it is the flower of September. The English calendar claims it for November.
Chrysanthemum petals are quite tasty and are particularly good added to cream soups or various salads {including green, fruit, or chicken}. Blanch the petals for several seconds before using them, but don’t cook them too long as this makes them bitter.

About Samhuinn Fire Festival – Beltane Fire Society

The membership of the Society has often celebrated the other quarter-day festivals. After the success of Beltane, Samhuinn was our next public event, first taking place in 1995. Our Samhuinn celebr…

Source: About Samhuinn Fire Festival – Beltane Fire Society

Forget Halloween. Edinburgh’s annual Samhuinn Fire Festival is a league of its own. Brought to you by the Beltane Fire Society, this unique and atmospheric event celebrates the Celtic new year, the end of summer and the beginning of winter. With amazingly detailed costumes, mythical creatures, fire, lots of drums, naked skin and enthusiasm the Samhuinn Fire Festival brings the epic Celtic tale of the Summer and Winter Kings to life, illuminating Edinburgh’s Old Town. That’s the Edinburgh way to wish summer farewell. Winter surely is coming!

This 31 October, Edinburgh’s cobbled Royal Mile will once again host the country’s most spectacular Hallowe’en night event. The Samhuinn Fire Festival celebrates the Celtic New Year, marking the end of summer and welcoming the onset of winter. The event, starting at 9pm, takes the form of a stunning torchlit performance along the Royal Mile to West Parliament Square, with wild drumming, acrobatics, fire-dancing and intricate costumes as dozens of volunteers act out battles between the forces of summer and winter.

All Hallow’s Eve

Sly does it. Tiptoe catspaws. Slide and creep.
But why? What for? How? Who? When! Where did it all begin?
“You don’t know, do you?” asks Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud climbing out of the pile of leaves under the Halloween Tree. “You don’t really know!”
– Ray Bradbury, The Halloween Tree

Samhain. All Hallows. All Hallow’s Eve. Hallow E’en. Halloween. The most magical night of the year. Exactly opposite Beltane on the wheel of the year, Halloween is Beltane’s dark twin. A night of glowing jack-o’-lanterns, bobbing for apples, tricks or treats, and dressing in costume. A night of ghost stories and seances, tarot card readings and scrying with mirrors. A night of power, when the veil that separates our world from the Otherworld is at its thinnest. A “spirit night”, as they say in Wales.

All Hallow’s Eve is the eve of All Hallow’s Day (November 1). And for once, even popular tradition remembers that the eve is more important than the day itself, the traditional celebration focusing on October 31, beginning at sundown. And this seems only fitting for the great Celtic New Year’s festival. Not that the holiday was Celtic only. In fact, it is startling how many ancient and unconnected cultures (the Egyptians and pre-Spanish Mexicans, for example) celebrated this as a festival of the dead. But the majority of our modern traditions can be traced to the British Isles.

The Celts called it Samhain, which means “summer’s end”, according to their ancient twofold division of the year, when summer ran from Beltane to Samhain and winter ran from Samhain to Beltane. (Some modern covens echo this structure by letting the high priest “rule” the coven beginning on Samhain, with rulership returned to the high priestess at Beltane.) According to the later fourfold division of the year, Samhain is seen as “autumn’s end” and the beginning of winter. Samhain is pronounced (depending on where you’re from) as “sow-in” (in Ireland), or “sow-een” (in Wales), or “sav-en” (in Scotland), or (inevitably) “sam-hane” (in the U.S., where we don’t speak Gaelic).

Not only is Samhain the end of autumn; it is also, more importantly, the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. Celtic New Year’s Eve, when the new year begins with the onset of the dark phase of the year, just as the new day begins at sundown. There are many representations of Celtic Gods with two faces, and it surely must have been one of them who held sway over Samhain. Like his Roman counterpart Janus, he would straddle the threshold, one face turned toward the past, in commemoration of those who died during the last year, and one face gazing hopefully toward the future, mystic eyes attempting to pierce the veil and divine what the coming year holds. These two themes, celebrating the dead and divining the future, are inexorably intertwined in Samhain, as they are likely to be in any New Year’s celebration.

As a feast of the dead, this was the one night when the dead could, if they wished, return to the land of the living, to celebrate with their family, tribe, or clan. And so the great burial mounds of Ireland (sidhe mounds) were opened up, with lighted torches lining the walls, so the dead could find their way. Extra places were set at the table and food set out for any who had died that year. And there are many stories that tell of Irish heroes making raids on the Underworld while the gates of faery stood open, though all must return to their appointed places by cockcrow.

As a feast of divination, this was the night par excellence for peering into the future. The reason for this has to do with the Celtic view of time. In a culture that uses a linear concept of time, like our modern one, New Year’s Eve is simply a milestone on a very long road that stretches in a straight line from birth to death. Thus, the New Year’s festival is a part of time. The ancient Celtic view of time, however, is cyclical. And in this framework, New Year’s Eve represents a point outside of time, when the natural order of the universe dissolves back into primordial chaos, preparatory to reestablishing itself in a new order. Thus, Samhain is a night that exists outside of time and, hence, it may be used to view any other point in time. At no other holiday is a tarot card reading, crystal reading, or tealeaf reading so likely to succeed.

The Christian religion, with its emphasis on the “historical” Christ and his act of Redemption 2000 years ago, is forced into a linear view of time, where seeing the future is an illogical proposition. In fact, from the Christian perspective, any attempt to do so is seen as inherently evil. This did not keep the medieval church from co-opting Samhain’s other motif, a commemoration of the dead. To the church, however, it could never be a feast for all the dead, but only the blessed dead, all those hallowed (made holy) by obedience to God–thus, All Hallow’s, or Hallowmas, later All Saints and All Souls.

There are so many types of divination that are traditional to Hallowstide, it is possible to mention only a few. Girls were told to place hazelnuts along the front of the firegrate, each one to symbolize one of her suitors. She could then divine her future husband by chanting, “If you love me, pop and fly; if you hate me, burn and die.” Several methods used the apple, that most popular of Halloween fruits. You should slice an apple through the equator (to reveal the five-pointed star within) and then eat it by candlelight before a mirror. Your future spouse will then appear over your shoulder. Or, peel an apple, making sure the peeling comes off in one long strand, reciting, “I pare this apple round and round again; / My sweetheart’s name to flourish on the plain: / I fling the unbroken paring o’er my head, / My sweetheart’s letter on the ground to read.” Or, you might set a snail to crawl through the ashes of your hearth. The considerate little creature will then spell out the initial letter as it moves.

Perhaps the most famous icon of the holiday is the jack-o’- lantern. Various authorities attribute it to either Scottish or Irish origin. However, it seems clear that it was used as a lantern by people who traveled the road this night, the scary face to frighten away spirits or faeries who might otherwise lead one astray. Set on porches and in windows, they cast the same spell of protection over the household. (The American pumpkin seems to have forever superseded the European gourd as the jack-o’- lantern of choice.) Bobbing for apples may well represent the remnants of a Pagan “baptism” rite called a seining, according to some writers. The water-filled tub is a latter-day Cauldron of Regeneration, into which the novice’s head is immersed. The fact that the participant in this folk game was usually blindfolded with hands tied behind the back also puts one in mind of a traditional Craft initiation ceremony.

The custom of dressing in costume and “trick-or-treating” is of Celtic origin, with survivals particularly strong in Scotland. However, there are some important differences from the modern version. In the first place, the custom was not relegated to children, but was actively indulged in by adults as well. Also, the “treat” that was required was often one of spirits (the liquid variety). This has recently been revived by college students who go ‘trick-or-drinking’. And in ancient times, the roving bands would sing seasonal carols from house-to-house, making the tradition very similar to Yuletide wassailing. In fact, the custom known as caroling, now connected exclusively with Midwinter, was once practiced at all the major holidays. Finally, in Scotland at least, the tradition of dressing in costume consisted almost exclusively of cross-dressing (i.e., men dressing as women, and women as men). It seems as though ancient societies provided an opportunity for people to “try on” the role of the opposite gender for one night of the year. (Although in Scotland, this is admittedly less dramatic–but more confusing–since men were in the habit of wearing skirtlike kilts anyway. Oh well…)

To Witches, Halloween is one of the four High Holidays, or Greater Sabbats, or cross-quarter days. Because it is the most important holiday of the year, it is sometimes called “The Great Sabbat”. It is an ironic fact that the newer, self-created covens tend to use the older name of the holiday, Samhain, which they have discovered through modern research. While the older hereditary and traditional covens often use the newer name, Halloween, which has been handed down through oral tradition within their coven. (This often holds true for the names of the other holidays, as well. One may often get an indication of a coven’s antiquity by noting what names it uses for the holidays.)

With such an important holiday, Witches often hold two distinct celebrations. First, a large Halloween party for non- Craft friends, often held on the previous weekend. And second, a coven ritual held on Halloween night itself, late enough so as not to be interrupted by trick-or-treaters. If the rituals are performed properly, there is often the feeling of invisible friends taking part in the rites. Another date that may be utilized in planning celebrations is the actual cross-quarter day, or Old Halloween, or Halloween O.S. (Old Style). This occurs when the sun has reached fifteen degrees Scorpio, an astrological “power point” symbolized by the Eagle. The celebration would begin at sunset. Interestingly, this date (Old Halloween) was also appropriated by the church as the holiday of Martinmas.

Of all the Witchcraft holidays, Halloween is the only one that still boasts anything near to popular celebration. Even though it is typically relegated to children (and the young-at heart) and observed as an evening affair only, many of its traditions are firmly rooted in Paganism. Incidentally, some schools have recently attempted to abolish Halloween parties on the grounds that it violates the separation of state and religion. Speaking as a Pagan, I would be saddened by the success of this move, but as a supporter of the concept of religion-free public education, I fear I must concede the point. Nonetheless, it seems only right that there should be one night of the year when our minds are turned toward thoughts of the supernatural. A night when both Pagans and non-Pagans may ponder the mysteries of the Otherworld and its inhabitants. And if you are one of them, may all your jack-o’-lanterns burn brightly on this All Hallow’s Eve.


by Mike Nichols

Permission is given to re-publish this document only as long as no information is lost or changed, credit is given to the author, and it is provided or used without cost to others. This notice represents an exception to the copyright notice found in the Acorn Guild Press edition of The Witches’ Sabbats and applies only to the text as given above. Other uses of this document must be approved in writing by Mike Nichols.


2017 Crone Moon Cycle Energy Report — Spirit de la Lune

Welcome to the Crone Moon……A moon cycle filled with magick, deep wisdom, and a cycle which asks you to stay receptive and open as the seasons wane. The Crone stirs you into her cauldron to be alchemized and transformed. This cycle is not for the faint of heart, and as it lands in the s

Source: 2017 Crone Moon Cycle Energy Report — Spirit de la Lune

The Dance at Earthbone Forest

The History of Herbal Medicine and Essential Oils

The history of essential oils is intertwined with the history of herbal medicine, which in turn has been an integral part of magical practices. Herbal medicine has been used for more than treating minor ailments and disease; it has been instrumental in providing life-enhancing benefits. In most ancient cultures, people believed plants to be magical, and for thousands of years, herbs were used as much for ritual as they were for medicine and food. According to medical herbalist and healer Andrew Chevallier, the presence of herbs in burial tombs attests to their powers beyond medicine. In addition, fourth-century BCE Greek philosopher Aristotle noted his belief that plants had psyches.

Aromatic plants in the form of oil and incense were elements of religious and therapeutic practices in early cultures worldwide. In addition, anointment with perfumes and fragrant oils was an almost universal practice. Burning incense in rituals provided a connection between the physical and spiritual—between the mundane and the divine. The word perfume comes from the Latin per, meaning “through,” and fume, meaning “smoke.” It was a common belief that contact with the divine could be achieved through the smoke of incense.

The ancient Egyptians believed that deities were embodied in the smoke and fragrance of temple incense. In addition, aromatics were used to deepen meditation and purify the spirit as well as to add subtlety to their sophisticated system of magic. Dating to approximately 1500 BCE, the Ebers papyrus is the oldest written record of Egyptian use of medicinal plants. Along with the physical details of plants, the manuscript contains related spells and incantations. It also mentions fine oils for perfumery and incense. Made from healing herbs, many of the perfumed oils doubled as medicines. Likewise, Egyptian priests often doubled as physicians and perfumers. Those who specialized in embalming the dead also used their expertise for the living by creating mixtures to beautify skin and protect it from the harsh, damaging desert climate.

Always a valuable commodity, frankincense was considered the perfume of the gods and was used in temple rites as well as a base for perfumes. Because perfumed oils were highly prized, the use of them remained in the province of royalty and the upper classes. These oils were often kept in exquisite bottles made of alabaster, jade, and other precious materials that were functional as well as beautiful. Some of these flasks retained scent until they were opened by archaeologists thousands of years after being sealed.

When the Hebrews left Egypt around 1240 BCE, they took the knowledge and practice of perfumery with them to Israel. Their temples contained two types of altars, one for burnt offerings and the other for incense. The Babylonians also employed the use of aromatic plants and became a major supplier of plant materials to other countries. Both the Babylonians and Sumerians prized cedarwood, cypress, myrtle, and pine for their deities. The Assyrians were fond of aromatics for religious rituals as well as personal use, and the Mesopotamians used ceremonies and special incantations when gathering herbs. In the thirteenth century BCE, the Mycenaeans used scented oils to honor deities as well as for grave goods. Throughout the ancient world, information flowed from one culture to another, and by the second century BCE there was a thriving trade in herbs, spices, and oils among Europe, the Middle East, India, and Asia.

Some of the earliest writings from India, known as the Vedas (circa 1500 BCE), contain praises to the natural world along with information about aromatics including cinnamon, coriander, ginger, myrrh, sandalwood, and spikenard. Working with herbs was, and still is to a certain degree, considered a sacred task in India. This eventually evolved into Ayurvedic medicine, which is believed to be the oldest system of healing. Its name comes from the sacred Sanskrit language, with ayur meaning “life” and veda, “knowledge.” Written by the physician Charaka in 700 BCE, the Charaka Samhita details approximately 350 plants and is still widely consulted today. In addition to healing, oils play an important role in the religious rites of India. Anointing with perfumed oils is used to purge worshippers of spiritual impurities. In preparation for the funeral pyre, bodies are cleansed with sandalwood and turmeric. Although the tenth-century Middle Eastern physician Avicenna (980–1037) is often credited with discovering the distillation process, archaeological evidence from the Indus Valley in northern India indicates that distilling aromatic plants into oils was achieved there around 3000 BCE.

Herbs are also integral to traditional Chinese medicine, which dates to approximately 200 BCE in a text called the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine. This system of healing is separate from Chinese folk medicine, which included the use of aromatics in religious rituals. Herbs were also important for maintaining beauty and hygiene. Chinese herbalists influenced the practices of Japan and Korea, as fifth-century Buddhist monks transported spiritual and medicinal information with them on their travels. There was also movement westward as Phoenician merchants traded scented oils around the Mediterranean region, bringing aromatic treasures from the East to Europe—most notably to the Greeks and Romans.

Greek historian Herodotus (circa 484–425 BCE) and Pythagorean philosopher Democrates (born circa 460 BCE) visited Egypt and then distributed the wisdom of perfumery they found there to a wider world. As the popularity of perfumes increased among the Greeks, the medicinal properties of herbs and oils became common knowledge. Unlike Egyptians, Greeks at all levels of society used perfumed oils. The Greeks used aromatics to honor deities at feasts and used perfumed oils on themselves to please the gods because they believed that anything extracted from plants held spiritual qualities. Greek physician and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides (circa 40–90 CE) compiled the first herbal manuscript in Europe, De Materia Medica, which served as a major reference well into the seventeenth century. The ancient Romans carried on the Greek use of botanicals for medicinal and perfumery purposes. In addition, they scented their entire surroundings, from their bodies, clothes, and homes to public baths and fountains.

Elsewhere in the world, the aboriginal people of Australia closely integrated their culture with their medicine and developed a sophisticated understanding of native plants. Their eucalyptus and tea-tree remedies are now used worldwide. In South and Central America the ancient Maya, Inca, and Aztec had herbal traditions that were intertwined with religious rites. Some of the practices from the Aztec, Mayan, and Spanish cultures evolved into modern Mexican herbal medicine. North of the Rio Grande, plants were also employed for both healing and ritual by Native American peoples. European settlers in the New World adapted some of these herbal practices into theirs, and African slaves brought their herbal and religious traditions, adding to the melange. The influence of the Yoruba from West Africa created a rich Afro-Caribbean culture and herbal medicine that still maintains a separate identity.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the use of perfumery waned as Europe was plunged backwards into the Dark Ages. To escape the upheaval, many physicians and other learned people relocated to Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey, today), and along with them went a storehouse of knowledge. As European civilization foundered, the works of Hippocrates, Dioscorides, and others were translated and widely distributed in the Middle East. Experimentation with plants continued and the tenth-century physician Avicenna extracted plant essence, producing otto (or attar), the oil of flowers—in this case, roses. As European culture slowly recovered, the practice of perfumery was spread by the Moors from the Middle East into Spain, where it became popular. After the Crusades, the perfumes of Arabia were in great demand throughout the Continent, and by the thirteenth century, a booming trade between the Middle East and Europe had been established once again.

By the mid-sixteenth century, perfumery had made a strong comeback in Europe. In France fragrance was used as in ancient Rome: on the person, in the home, and in public fountains. Experimenting with local plants, Europeans began distilling lavender, rosemary, and sage oils. While essential-oil blends were popular for masking body odor, they were also used medicinally. Juniper, Laurel, and pine were widely used for combating illness, including the plague. In England, physician and master herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (1616–1654) published his great herbal treatise The English Physitian. An edition of this book was the first herbal published in the American colonies in 1700.

For a time the use of herbs and perfumery were stifled with a double whammy: universities and the emerging medical establishment fought to take herbs out of the hands of the so-called uneducated, and the Christian church steered people away from personal adornment in their bid to hold power over people’s lives. As a result, the use of aromatics, even possessing oils and unguents, became a way to identify Witches, and culture again took a backward step. Under Great Britain’s King George III, who ruled from 1760 to 1820, a woman’s use of scents or potions was equated with seduction and betrayal, and was met with “the same penalties in force against Witchcraft.”

Eventually, herbal practices and perfumery made a comeback as attitudes shifted, but by the mid-nineteenth century, essential oils were being replaced by chemicals in medicine. By the twentieth century, perfumes and cosmetics contained mostly synthetic fragrance, which was cheaper and easier to produce. Ironically, a French chemist, Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, was responsible for resurrecting the use of essential oils during the 1920s. After burning his hand in his laboratory, he grabbed the nearest bottle of liquid, which turned out to be lavender oil. Intrigued by the rapid healing effect of the oil, he devoted the remainder of his career to studying essential oils and named his discovery aromatherapy.