This is the ancient wisdom of the grandmothers, the wise women, once passed down from mother to daughter and crone to apprentice, and then improved by a lifetime of study and the daily observation of the patterns of nature.

In bygone ages most of us lived much closer to nature than we do now. Once every woman had to be something of an herbalist and healer, responsible for her household’s health, since professional medical help was either unavailable or too expensive (and possibly dangerous to boot). Every home kept some drying herbs and flowers to make herbal infusions, powders, oils and poultices, brewed wine and ale, preserved fruit, made jams and jellies, pickles and chutneys, and many also made inks, dyes, soaps and household cleaners. A girl would be initiated into the secrets of these family formulas by her mother, along with her knowledge of folklore, stories, healing potions, minor surgery, gardening, brewing and wine making, spinning, weaving, dyeing, childcare, home management, animal husbandry, bee-keeping, fortune telling and cookery know-how.

And then there were those in the community who knew that little bit more, the village wise woman or cunning man. When joined my first coven Julia, our high priestess, told us stories of the herb wives of the past, who cared for the bodies and spirits of those around them, telling their fortunes, treating their bodily ailments with herbs, dowsing their lost property, and physicking their farm animals. She held them up to us as examples of powerful, magical women in an age when women otherwise had little influence. They were the midwives who brought new life into the world, she said, and who laid out the dead at the end of life. Though such stories have often been wildly romanticised, folklore records and accounts do show that virtually every village seems to have had a wise woman or a cunning man of some sort. These village shamans had different names in different places, including handywomen, blessers, witches, conjurors, herb wives, wild herb men, snake doctors, fairy doctors and currens. These practitioners didn’t use athames and magic swords but everyday objects – stones, keys, shears, sieves, pitchforks, brooms, divining rods, wax, bottles, paper and anything that came readily to hand from the kitchen or farm.

This is the ancient wisdom of the grandmothers, the wise women, once passed down from mother to daughter and crone to apprentice, and then improved by a lifetime of study and the daily observation of the patterns of nature. Such expertise formed the pattern of women’s lives for thousands of years and that women developed highly skilful methods in all these areas, even though no contemporary historian wrote about them or accorded women due status for their invaluable work. Women’s knowledge has been derided and ignored for most of our history, and this is just as true today in western culture, in which knowledge is ‘owned’ by experts (mainly men) and can only be passed on through state-approved academic institutions, and where those seeking to follow traditional or alternative paths – such as herbalism – are dismissed as uneducated, naïve or even dangerous.

But this is our knowledge, our heritage – as women and as witches, both male and female. Discovering it and practicing my Craft has been a marvellous adventure for me, and it never ceases to fill me with wonder and awe at the power of Mother Nature. It makes me aware of the magic that flows throughout the world in every uncurling oak leaf in spring, every blushing rose petal, every humming summer bee, every rutting stag, and every misty shore. This is the reward of the path of the hearth witch.



Mint Medicine

Mentha spp.

Actions: analgesic, anti-allergic, antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial,  anti-nausea,  antioxidant, anti-parasitic, antiseptic,  antispasmodic, antiviral, carminative, cholagogue, choleretic, coolant, diaphoretic, digestive tonic, stimulant, topical anaesthetic

Of the hundreds of varieties and cultivars of the mints, peppermint (M. piperita) is the most used medicinally. It is a cross between water mint and spearmint.  

The German Commission E (equivalent of the FDA) approves the use of fresh or dried peppermint leaf to treat spastic disorders of the gastrointestinal tract and considers it effective in relieving gas in the digestive system. It has been used for hundreds of years for digestive problems, indigestion, bloating, wind and nausea. Peppermint Tea is a common home remedy.

Mint is often added to steam baths for relieving congestion and stuffy nose. It contains menthol, a natural aromatic decongestant that helps to break up phlegm and mucus, making it easier to expel.8 Mint Tea cools and soothes the throat, nose and other parts of the respiratory system and helps alleviate congestion brought on by coughs and colds.

Mint Tea provides quick relief for nausea and may relieve headaches and migraines.You could try simply crushing some fresh mint leaves and rubbing them on your forehead when you feel a headache coming on.

Menthol, the compound in mint leaves that gives them their distinct aroma, also has painkilling and anaesthetic properties. For insect bites, irritated skin, rashes etc. bathe the affected area in Peppermint Tea to cool and soothe. Fresh leaves rubbed on the affected area will reduce the pain of bee and wasp stings.

Mint is a natural anti-microbial agent and breath freshener. Peppermint Tea has a painkilling effect, as a mouthwash can help sore gums and toothache or be used as a  gargle for sore throats.

Peppermint Tea is particularly good for calming the nerves, insomnia and anxiety.

A mild infusion acts as a sedative whilst a stronger infusion acts as a stimulant and a tonic.


Avoid large doses of peppermint if breastfeeding as it can reduce the milk flow.

It should be avoided by those with gallstones, those who have a hiatal hernia or heartburn caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Peppermint should not be given to children under five. Do not take the essential oil internally. Pennyroyal should not be taken internally.

Peppermint Tea

1 tsp. dried mint leaf (or 1 tbsp. of fresh)

250 ml boiling water. Steep together, covered, for 10 minutes.

Peppermint Steam Inhalation

To relieve sinus congestion, put 2 tsp dried peppermint into a bowl of boiling water. Cover and allow to infuse for 5 minutes, remove and then bend over the bowl with a towel over your head. Breathe in the warm steam for 10 minutes. Peppermint is a decongestant and also has relaxing properties which can help a headache.

Mint Lore & Magic

Mentha spp.

Planetary ruler: Venus/Mercury

Element: air

Associated deities: Hecate, Mintha (Minthe, Menthe, Mentha), Pluto, Hades, Zeus

Magical virtues: anaphrodisiac, cleansing, purification, hospitality, thought, memory, death, rebirth

A monk writing during the ninth century said there were so many kinds of mint that he would rather count the sparks of Vulcan’s furnace. [1] It is generally accepted that there are about six species of mint with more than six hundred varieties available which continue to hybridise.  They include water mint (Mentha aquatica), field mint(Mentha arvensis), English horsemint(Mentha longifolia), peppermint(Mentha piperita), and spearmint (Mentha spicata syn. M. viridis or M. sativa). 

The name has a mythological origin: Minthe was a naiad (a water nymph) associated with the river Cocytus. According to the writer Strabo, she became the mistress of Hades (god of the underworld and the dead) but his jealous wife Persephone intervened, trampled upon her and changed Minthe into sweet-smelling garden mint.  [2] There was a hill named after her near Pylos, where there was a temple of Hades and a grove of Demeter, Persephone’s mother, who was sometimes said to have been the one to transform Minthe.  

Mint and death were certainly associated in ancient Greece. It was used in funeral rites, partly because it masked the smell of decay, and partly because it was an ingredient in kykeon, the fermented barley drink used in Demeter and Persephone’s Eleusinian mysteries, which promised a hopeful afterlife for its initiates.

The Latin word mente means ‘thought’ as it was believed that mint stimulated the brain. Pliny advised scholars to wear a crown made from the plant to aid concentration. Gerard said of it: “The smell of Mint does stir up the minde,” and Culpepper commented “Being smelled into, it is comfortable for the head and memory”.  

The Roman poet Ovid wrote that mint was a symbol of hospitality, and had the hospitable Baucis and Philemonon scour their table with fresh mint before setting out food for the gods Zeus and Hermes. Gerard wrote that “the smelle rejoiceth the heart of man, for which cause they used to strew it in chambers and places of recreation, pleasure and repose, where feasts and banquets are made.” Pliny recommended stuffing the cushions used at banquets with mint because “just the smell refreshes our spirits and gives zest to food”. Both Greeks and Romans wore mint as banquet wreaths and used it as table sprays. It was used as a strewing herb into Tudor times,

for places of recreation, and where feasts and banquets were held. Not only was it strewn about to freshen the air, but also to deter mice.

Mint was thought to have a calming, if not to say sobering, effect. The followers of Bacchus wore mint to dispel the effects of wine. [3] Aristotle and others forbade the use of mint by soldiers because it was thought to lessen or destroy their aggressiveness. It even worked as an anaphrodisiac, with Pliny warning lovers against using mint as it would dampen their ardour. Hippocrates believed too much mint could cause impotence.

The Hebrews used mint to was and purify synagogue floors, and it is mentioned as one of the consecration herbs of Solomon. In Italy mint was strewn on the floors of churches and on the ground in religious processions. It is a herb of protection and purification. It can be hung in the home or used in charm bags and protection amulets. A mint infusion can be used to cleanse the ritual area, working tools, added to the final rinse for robes or added to the pre-ritual bath. 

Traditionally it was gathered at dawn on St. John’s Day (Midsummer) and kept until Christmas, and legend had it that if it was then placed on the high altar, the dried leaves would revive. Mint is one of the sacred herbs of Midsummer and its powers are strongest when gathered on midsummer morning. It can be dried for use later in the year, or used in the food, decorations, garlands etc. for the Midsummer rites.

Mint is a restorative and can be taken after long rituals, trance work or vision quests. It stimulates the brain and the tea may be taken before ritual or during any studying you are carrying out. Peppermint tea can be drunk to encourage prophetic dreams. Use the tea and incense if you have a big decision to make, while you meditate on the prospect.

[1] Lesley Bremness, The Complete Book of Herbs: A Practical Guide to Growing & Using Herbs, Viking, 1994

[2] Strabo, Geographica VIII.3.14.

[3] Jeanne D’Andréa, Ancient Herbs In the J. Paul Getty Museum Gardens, ©1982 The J. Paul Getty Museum

Elemental Herbs

EarthThe powers of earth are concerned with what is manifest, the material, the fixed, the solid, the practical, with what is rooted. Earth magic is concerned with manifestation, business, health, practicality, wealth, stability, grounding and centring, fertility and agriculture. Earth plants tend to be nourishing or earthy-smelling.

Air – The powers of air are concerned with the intellect, the powers of the mind, knowledge (as opposed to wisdom), logic, inspiration, information, teaching, memory, thought and communication. Air magic is usually concerned with the intellectual or the spiritual, and in ritual air is symbolised through the use of perfume or incense. Air plants tend to be freshly fragrant such as mint.

Water – Water is associated with the emotions, feelings and the subconscious, and water magic is usually concerned with divination and scrying. Water plants are juicy and fleshy, or grow near water.

Fire – Fire magic is concerned with creativity, life energy and zeal. Fire gives us vitality, igniting action, animation and movement. It sparks courage and acts of bravery. It heats passion and enthusiasm. Fire is the power of inner sight and creative vision, directing it and controlling it to make it manifest in the world.  Fire plants tend to have fiery sap or to taste hot like ginger, or warm perfumes, like carnation, clove and cinnamon.   

Herbs in June

My vegetable plot is yielding plenty of salad vegetables and soft fruits now, and I’m having to water the greenhouse copiously. This is my busiest time of year in the herb garden, when most of my herbs are at their best. As well as using fresh herbs for cooking, I am industriously collecting and drying leaves and flowers, as well preparing tinctures, oils, vinegars and salves. Mother Earth is in full bearing, and the Sun God pours his energy into the plants, so that this is the time when they are filled with power. This is why the Sun God in every mythology is the patron of healing.  This is the most potent time of year to collect many herbs for magical purposes too, and I will be trying to lay in a good enough supply of herbs to last the year

I collect mint (Mentha spp.) for tea and for ritual cleansing, oregano for spells of love and friendship, and to add to skin care products, St John’s wort to make macerated oil and tincture, fennel(Foeniculum vulgare syn. Anethum foeniculum), to honour the Sun God, and for protection, dill(Anethum graveolens syn. Peucedanum graveolens) for upset stomach and protection spells.

Elder flowers, sacred to the Mother of the Elves, are gleaming white in the hedgerows, and I make sure to collect and dry a good supply of these to use for fevers and hay fever, as well as skin lotions, elderflower cordial and elderflower champagne.

Pagan Ways Tarot & the Myth of a ‘Standard Deck’

In creating a deck that changes some of the names, symbols and imagery of older decks, I’m followed a long and honourable tradition.

The first known tarot cards date from around 1430 CE and were created for the wealthy Italian Visconti family. They were not intended for divination but for playing a card game called Tarocchi. They contained four suits plus twenty-two hand-painted pictorial trumps which featured characters representing mediaeval social types, virtues and moral allegories. It wasn’t until the eighteenth century that books began to appear setting out instructions for using cards for telling fortunes.

Despite this, it hasn’t stopped many people claiming that tarot cards are much older and the repository of various forms of ancient wisdom. Antoine Court de Gébelin (1725-1784), for instance, said that the tarot contained the secrets the ancient Egyptians, despite that the fact that Egyptians hieroglyphs had yet to be translated.  Occultists have also asserted correspondences between the cards and the Cabala, an esoteric Jewish philosophy which largely concerns itself with the study of the Tree of Life and the twenty-two Hebrew letters. Western magicians applied the latter to the twenty-two cards of the Major Arcana and the four letters of Jehovah’s name YHVA to the four suits. Certainly, this can be made to work very well, but there is absolutely no evidence that this was intended by the creator of the first deck, or that the Visconti family had connections to any occult group. [1]

Another myth is that there is a ‘standard deck’. In fact, the order of the Major Arcana cards and the card illustrations have been fluid over the years. Eighteenth century French decks depicted animals on the trump cards. The mid nineteenth century Swiss Tarot substituted Juno and Jupiter for the Papess and Pope, while later decks changed the name of the Papess to High Priestess. The earliest decks had the Angel, rather than Judgement, and the Magician was the Juggler.  Some decks even had different numbers of cards, such as the Minchiate which had ninety-six and the Tarocco Siciliano which had sixty-four.

The Rider Waite Tarot has been so influential that the vast majority of tarot packs that followed it have been virtually identical reworkings of the same designs – so much so that some tarot readers complain about any variation at all. Many erroneously consider it to be the traditional deck, forgetting that it was actually a radical departure when it first appeared, published in London by Rider in 1910 and created by the British occultist A.E.Waite and illustrated by fellow Golden Dawn member Pamela Colman Smith. It was the first deck to have pictures instead of ‘pips’ to illustrate the meanings of the Minor Arcana, it re-ordered the sequence of the Major Arcana cards to suit Waite’s vision, changed the symbolism and meaning of some of the cards and substituted of pentacles for coins.  It should be said that Waite intended his deck as an aid to esoteric study and did not like the idea of it being used for divination at all.

The Pagan Ways Tarot is an unapologetically Pagan tarot, and the ideas within it are based on the Pagan worldview, its symbols and teachings, rather than the Judeo-Christian imagery of older decks.

 Each card, including the minor arcana, features a god or goddess. The stories of the gods are threads in the tapestry of this deck, creating links between cards, between the Major and Minor Arcanas, winding between the outer and inner paths. There are gods from many different pantheons to illustrate the fact that the concepts they embody are not restricted to one culture or period but are universal ideas that embody mythological truths. The phrase ‘mythological truth’ is not a paradox. Myths are stories that give us clues to the nature of life, temporal and spiritual, manuals to the whole experience of ourselves and others.  Used wisely, myths initiate the individual into the realities of his or her own psyche and become guides to spiritual enlightenment.

Anna Franklin, creator of The Pagan Ways Tarot

[1] Rachel Pollack, Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom, Thorsons, London, 1997

June – the Month of Glory

June comes and light blazes across the land. Now is the time of brightness and warmth when the Sun God stands in all his glory, with long days and short nights. According to the early chronicler Bede, the Anglo Saxons called the month Litha,[1] which probably means ‘light’. Basking in the light of Father Sun, Mother Earth is in the full flush of her maturity, soft and ample; foliage is lush, and the perfume of flowers fills the air. The crops have been planted and are growing away nicely, the young animals have been born. The hay fields stand tall, shivering in the summer breeze, ready for haymaking.  Winter seems far away. We unsurprisingly feel more joyful and want to spend more time in the open air – it is a natural time of celebration.

The name ‘June’ comes from Juno, the Roman goddess of women, marriage and childbirth, wife of the sky god Zeus. Her name is derived from the Latin name iuvenis (as in juvenile) which was used to indicate a young woman ready for marriage, and probably refers to the ripening of the crops. This month the Sun and Earth consummate their union and the seed of fire kindles the Earth to swell with fruit so that autumn and harvest can come in turn. In Scots Gaelic, it was An t’Og mhios, the young month, while in the Slavonic languages it was named as the linden month and the rose-blossoming month. [2]

In the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice falls this month. It marks the zenith of the Sun, the longest day. The word ‘solstice’ is derived from Latin and means ‘sun stands still’. For three days around the winter and summer solstices, the sun appears to rise and set at almost exactly the same place, so it seems to be standing still on the horizon.  However, while the date of the solstice varies between 19-23 June, the official calendar ‘Midsummer’ is pegged to 24 June, which is St. John’s Day in the Christian almanac, and to which the earlier Pagan festivities of the solstice were appropriated. 

Every ancient religion had its own customs and traditions associated with the summer solstice, and they date back into pre-history. Midsummer was – and still is – an important festival for those who live in the far north. There are many folk customs associated with it, most of which celebrate the light and encourage the power of the Sun with sympathetic magic in the form of bonfires, rolling wheels, circle dances and torchlight processions.

Midsummer fires once blazed all across Europe and North Africa and were believed to have the power to protect the revellers from evil spirits, bad fairies and wicked witches, as well as warding off the powers of blight, disease and death. In England, every village would have its own fire, while in towns and cities the mayor and corporation actually paid for its construction, and the jollities accompanying it were often very elaborate. Large bonfires were lit after sundown, and this was known as ‘setting the watch’ to ward off evil spirits.  Men and women danced around the fires and often jumped through them for good luck, and afterwards a smouldering branch was passed over the backs of farm animals to preserve them from disease. As late as 1900 at least one old farmer in Somerset would pass a burning branch over and under all his horses and cattle. [3] The Cornish even passed children over the flames to protect them from sickness in the coming year.

Instances of wheel rolling were recorded right into the twentieth century. In the Vale of Glamorgan (Wales) a large cartwheel was swathed with the straw and set alight, and the wheel rolled downhill. If the fire went out before it reached the bottom, this indicated a good harvest.[4]

Torches would be lit at the bonfire, and these would be carried inside the milking parlour to keep milk and butter safe from evil magic, then around the fields and growing crops as a protection and blessing. The ashes of the bonfires were scattered in the corn as an aid to fertility.[5] In towns, some of these torchlight processions reached lavish proportions. Garland-bedecked bands of people, sometimes called a marching watch, carried cressets (lanterns on poles) as they wandered from one bonfire to another. Often morris dancers attended them, with players dressed as unicorns, dragons and hobby-horses.

Midsummer was a potent time for magic and divination. The twelfth century Christian mystic Batholomew Iscanus declared ‘He who at the feast of St. John the Baptist does any work of sorcery to seek out the future shall do penance for fifteen days.’ [6] More recently, young girls would use the magic of the season to divine their future husbands. According to one charm a girl should circle three times around the church as midnight strikes saying: Hemp seed I sow, Hemp seed I hoe,/ Hoping that my true love will come after me and mow. Looking over her shoulder she should see a vision of her lover following her with a scythe. 

The raising of the midsummer tree, identical to the maypole, is a midsummer custom found in many areas, including Wales, England and Sweden. It was decorated with ribbons and flowers, and topped by a weathercock with gilded feathers, the cock being a bird of the Sun. 

It was the tradition for people watch the Sun go down on St. John’s Eve, then to stay awake for the entire length of the short night and watch the Sun come up again. In the sixteenth century John Stow of London described street parties when people set out tables of food and drink which they invited their neighbours to share, made up their quarrels, lit bonfires and hung their houses with herbs and small lamps.[7]

In Britain it was the custom to visit holy wells just before sunrise on Midsummer’s Day. The well should be approached from the east and walked round sunwise three times. Offerings, such as pins or coins were thrown into the well and its water drunk from a special vessel. [8]

The magic of June is concerned with light, fire, warmth and growth, the heat and light of Father Sun bringing Mother Earth to bear fruit.

© Anna Franklin, The Hearth Witch Year, Llewellyn, 2021

[1] Charles Kightly, The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames & Hudson 1987

[2] Martin P Nilsson, Primitive Time-Reckoning, Oxford University Press 1920

[3] R.L.Tongue, Somerset Folklore, Folklore Society, 1965

[4] Marie Trevelyan, Folk Lore and Folk Stories of Wales, 1909

[5] This has a scientific basis- wood ash provides a high potash feed for plants.

[6] Mediaeval Handbooks of Penance, ed. J.T.McNeill & H. M. Garner, New York, 1938

[7] A Survey of London, ed. C.L. Kingsford, Oxford, 1908

[8] F. Marian McNeill, The Silver Bough, Cognate Classics, Edinburgh, n/d

Peonies in Magic & Folklore

Paeonia sp.

Planetary Ruler: Sun

Element: fire

Associated deities: Paeon, Apollo, Aesculapius, Leto,gods of healing, moon goddesses

Magical Virtues: healing, warding, protection, counter magic, exorcism

The ancient Greeks believed that the peony was an emanation of the Moon that glowed at night to drive away evil spirits, giving protection horses wherever it grows, safeguarding shepherds and their flocks, keeping the harvest from injury and preventing storms.  However, much like the mandrake, its collection was surrounded by taboos and danger.  Pliny said, “that of necessity it must be gathered in the night for if any man shall pluck the fruit in the daytime being seen of the woodpecker he be in danger of to lose his eyes“.

In the mediaeval period, the peony was used to ward off evil in its various guises.  Culpeper said it was an antidote to any sickness caused by demonic possession, such as epilepsy.  Gerard said it healed those who had been bewitched.  The seeds steeped in hot wine were believed to prevent nightmares or strung onto a necklace to protect children from convulsions, ward off evil spirits and madness.  Pennsylvanian Germans also used it to prevent fits, washing with a rag that had been tied to a peony.  [1] The plants were often grown near the door of cottages as they were considered to be able to drive away witches and storms, fairies and goblins. Peonies were widely believed to prevent nightmares, advocated as such by Pliny, and even Francis Bacon who said that it protected against “the incubus we call the mare”.  [2]

It was believed to protect against lightning and have the ability to disperse evil spirits and storms, drive away tempests and witches. 

One superstition held that if you count the petals on a flower and they come out odd, there will be a death in the family.  Pennsylvanian Germans said that if you gave peony as a gift someone in your family will die.  [3]

The peony is an ancient plant of protection, its power bringing all within its sphere into the care of the Moon Goddess, particularly all living and growing things. 

  • The petals may be scattered around the edge of the circle
  • The dried petals and powdered root are used in protective incenses.
  • Grow peony in your garden for protection
  • Put the dried petals in potpourri or charm bags for protection
  • Place a peony charm bag under the pillow to prevent nightmares.
  • Peony is used in exorcism rituals and incense.
  • Add the dried petals to incense to honour and invoke the God of Medicine and healing energies. 
  • Use peony in incenses, potions, and spells of healing. 

[1] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[2] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[3] Edwain Miller Fogel, Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, America Germanica Press, 1915

Peonies for Your Skin

Paeonia sp.

Peonies have become a buzz ingredient in commercial skin formulas, especially those for mature skin.  They contain a chemical called paeoniflorin, which reduces wrinkles.  

Macerated Peony Oil

You can try making your own Peony Petal Infused Oil to use neat on your skin or add it to your homemade moisturisers. 

Pack a clean glass jar with peony flowers. Cover them in vegetable oil and fit a lid. Leave on a sunny windowsill for 2 weeks, shaking daily. Strain into a clean jar.

Peony Skin Exfoliant Scrub

Alternatively, make a Peony Skin Exfoliant Scrub, wet your skin with water and massage the scrub very gently into your face or body to remove dead cells and leave your skin cleansed and glowing.

To make, put some sugar in a blender with a few peony petals and give them a short blend.  You can add a few drops of your favourite skin oil to this if you like.

Bath-time Treats

Drop a few fresh or dried peony petals into your bath for a relaxing soak that will soothe your skin or make some bath bombs:

Peony Bath Bombs

300 gm bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)

150 gm citric acid

4 tbsp dried petals

Few drops essential oil

Spray bottle of water. 

Combine the ingredients in a dry bowl.  Very carefully, a tiny bit at a time, spray water into the mix.  You need to add just enough to make the mixture stick together, and this will be less than you think.  Fashion into balls or press into moulds. 

Peony Medicine

Paeonia sp.

Actions: analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antipathogenic, antitumor, hepatoprotective

Peonies have been used medicinally since ancient times.  In Chinese traditional herbalism, peony root (Bai Shao) is still used in the treatment of a variety of conditions, including gout, menstrual cramps, migraine and hepatitis. 

In Europe, the mediaeval monks grew them in their herb gardens, while the English herbalist Culpepper stated that the ‘male’ peony could cure falling sickness and the ‘female’ could drive away nightmares.   

It’s connection with healing goes deep.  It was named by Theophrastus in honour of Paeon, who is said to have used it to cure wounds in the Trojan War.  [1] He is said to have received the flower from Leto, the mother of Apollo, on Olympus, and used it to cure Hades of a wound received in a fight with Herakles.  [2] Paeon was a pupil of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine.  However, Asclepius became jealous of his clever pupil and sought to kill him, but Zeus rescued the youth by changing him into a peony flower.  Sometimes, however, Paeon is used as an epithet of the sun god Apollo, who had aspects as a healer god himself, dispelling sickness just as he dispelled darkness and negativity as he rose as the sun each day.  Sometimes, Paeon is used as a sobriquet of Asclepius himself. 

The Root

The dried and powdered root is used medicinally.  All peony species contain high amounts of anti-inflammatory glucosides, but paeoniflorin is the most abundant one, and it is largely responsible for peony’s medicinal actions, though other compounds likely play a role as well.

A decoction of the dried and powdered roots may be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, muscle spasms and menstrual cramps, mild depression and anxiety. 

The Flowers

Peony has mildly sedative effects, and a tea made from the petals may be taken before bed. The petals make a soothing cough syrup:  

Peony Cough Syrup
2 fresh peony flowers

600 ml/ 1 pint boiling water

450 gm/ 1 lb sugar

½ tsp cloves

Pour the boiling water over the peony flowers and leave for 48 hours, covered.  Strain. Add the sugar and cloves and boil for 40 minutes.  Bottle and keep in the fridge.

CAUTION: Peony is generally considered safe, though an overdose can lead to a stomach upset.  It should not be taken by pregnant or lactating women; peony is an emmenagogue (i.e., it is capable of stimulating menstruation).  Do not take if you are on blood thinning medication, or for two weeks before a scheduled surgery.

[1] Wilfred Blunt, Flowers Drawn from Nature, Leslie Urquhart Press, 1957

[2] Mrs C.F.Leyel, Herbal Delights, Faber, 1937

The Werewolf

Werewolves have proved very popular with horror writers and film makers, and now we all know that you become a werewolf after being bitten by one, turn into a wolf at the full moon, and can only be killed by a silver bullet – the werewolf lore of Hollywood.

Wer simply means ‘man’ (from the Anglo-Saxon) but there have also been stories of were-hares, were-foxes, were-cats etc. According to the old lore the werewolf wanders about devouring children, sometimes in the form of a man, sometimes in the form of a wolf followed by dogs, sometimes as a white dog, or even a black goat. Its skin is bullet proof, unless the bullet has been blessed in a church dedicated to St. Hubert, a Christian saint usually depicted as a huntsman.

Legends of werewolves occur worldwide, for example the voodoo baka or evil spirits are believed to be able to turn themselves into werewolves, and stories of werewolves appear from ancient times. In ancient Greece it was said that Lycaon originated the practice of sending a man as an emissary to the wolves, to ask them to refrain from killing sheep and children. The man would then stay with the wolves for eight years and become a were-wolf for duration. The Roman Petronius related the story of a servant who witnessed an officer strip off by the roadside and change into a wolf. He followed him to a farmhouse, there to be told that a wolf had broken in and had killed several cattle before being driven off with a sword. Returning to the roadside he saw his master’s clothes had gone and a pool of blood was in their place, hurrying back to their quarters he found the soldier was being treated for a sword wound in the neck.

 An old Irish tale tells of triplet sisters who would take on wolf form to terrorise the countryside. The harper Cascarach was asked to destroy them. As they came from a single birth they had to be killed by a single blow. He charmed them with his music, and he told them they would better appreciate it if they changed out of their wolf skins. As they became human, he struck them with a spear so that it pierced all three hearts. The historian Giraldus Cambrensis said that all Irishmen could change into wolves.

In England the wicked King John is reported to have roamed the country in the form of a wolf after his death.

Werewolf mania reached panic proportions in parts of Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when there seems to have been a plague of werewolves and 30,000 cases were reported. A council of theologians, convoked by the Emperor Sigismund in the fifteenth century, decided that the loup garou (French -‘ogre-wolf’) was a reality.

In the Auvergne in 1558 it was testified that a hunter promised a nobleman some game, but on his way was attacked by a wolf, which he drove off by slashing one of its paws off. He put the paw in his hunting bag to produce as proof, but when he called in to see a friend to tell the tale, he was horrified to find that the paw had turned into a woman’s hand. His friend was even more shocked, as by a ring on the hand he recognised it as belonging to his wife. Rushing upstairs he found her bandaging the stump of her wrist. The woman confessed to being a werewolf and was sentenced to be burnt. Surprisingly enough, people often confessed to being werewolves.

There is a connection between Christmas and werewolves. In southern Greece, the evil, ravening spirits that appear before Christmas, the Kallikantzaro,  are called ‘man-wolves’. In the north and east of Germany, children born during the Twelve Nights become werewolves, while in Livonia and Poland that period is the special season for the werewolf’s rapacity. The French historian Simon Goulart (1607) said that when Christmas day is past, a lame boy goes into the countryside and calls the devil’s slaves together in great numbers, and a great man comes with a whip made of iron chains, and they are changed into wolves. In Poland, an excitable drunk is said to be like one ‘who runs amok at Christmas in a wolfskin’. In Campania, those born on Christmas night turn periodically into werewolves. In Naples, those born on Christmas day have tails and turn into werewolves. Reginald Scott wrote in Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) that every year at the end of December a knave or devil summons witches to a certain place and leads them through a pool of water, when they change into wolves. To change back they have to go through the water (possibly the boundary river between the worlds).  The wolf is thus associated both with the wild side of nature and the time of chaos and boundaries, like Yule, when the sun declines to its lowest ebb, and the world is shrouded in darkness, before its rebirth sets the world spinning on its proper course once again.  In France, the twilight is called ‘between the dog and the wolf’.

© Anna Franklin