St Matthew’s Day

21 SEPTEMBER

The Church took over the autumn equinox for St Matthew, patron saint of tax collectors and bankers, and fixed this to 21 September. In the English Midlands, St Matthew’s Day is viewed as the first of three windy days, also called ‘windy days of the barley harvest’.as One of the many traditional English sayings associated with the day is:

St Mathee, shut up the Bee;

St Mattho, take thy hopper and sow;

St Mathy, all the year goes by

St Matthie, sends sap into the tree [1]

This indicates that it is time to shut up the bee hives and make the autumn sowing.


[1] From Blackburn, Bonnie & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999

Rood Day

14 SEPTEMBER

Rood Day is said to commemorate the rescue of the True Cross by Emperor Heraclius of Constantinople in 614. There were several proverbs referring to the fact this is the time of deer mating: If the hart and the hind meet dry and part dry on Rood Day fair, for six weeks of rain there’ll be no mair.

On this day in 1752 Britain abandoned the Julian Calendar of Julius Caesar and adopted the Gregorian calendar, meaning that some days had to be dropped to fall into alignment with the new calendar.  It meant that they went to bed on 2 September and woke up on 14 September, having ‘lost’ eleven days. Some people really thought that they had been deprived of eleven days of their lives and there were riots in the streets. It is the reason that many of the feast days and calendar customs are elevens days adrift.

Blackberry Vinegar

2 lb. blackberries

2 pt. malt vinegar

Place the washed blackberries in a bowl and break them up slightly with a wooden spoon. Pour on the malt vinegar. Cover with a cloth and stand for 3-4 days, stirring occasionally. Boil for 10 minutes, cool, strain and bottle the resulting liquid. This is very good for coughs. Quantities can easily be increased, allowing 1 lb. blackberries to 1 pt. fruit.

The same method can be used to make elderberry vinegar. Many people find this very good food colds – drink a tablespoon of blackberry or elderberry vinegar in hot water with a little honey.

Elderberry Glycerite

Ripe elderberries

Vegetable glycerine (food grade)

Strip the berries from the stem, using a fork. To make a glycerite put the berries into a clean jar and pour on slightly warmed glycerine until they are completely covered. Seal and keep in a warm place for 2-4 weeks, shaking daily. Strain through muslin and store in a dark bottle in a cool place for up to 2 years. Take a spoonful four times a day for colds and flu.

Red Poppy in Magic and Healing

Papaver rhoeas

Planetary ruler: Moon

Element: water

Associated deities: Agni,Aphrodite,Artemis,Ceres, Cybele, Demeter, Diana, Great Goddess, Hades, Harvest, Hera, Hermes, Hypnos, Jupiter, Harvest Goddesses, Mercury, Morpheus, Mother Goddesses, Persephone, Pluto, Proserpine, Somnus, Venus, Vulcan, Yama, Thanatos, Nyx

Magical virtues: fertility, death, mourning, dreamwork, meditation

LORE:

Poppies almost always accompany grain crops (or at least they did until the widespread use of herbicides) and a cornfield without poppies was unthinkable for the ancients.   The Greeks called it ‘the companion of the corn’, its presence deemed vital for the health of the crop, the lifeblood of the harvest goddess Demeter which nourished the fields.  They were offered, with some symbolic corn, to the goddess. 

MAGICAL USES:

Decorate the harvest loaf with poppy seeds. As flowers of death, mourning and rebirth, use poppies in funeral and memorial rituals. For spells and rituals of fertility,  carry poppy seeds in a sachet, use them in incense, charm bags, amulets and talismans, as well as adding them to food.  The seed and flowers are added to love spells and rituals, incense, oils, talismans and charms, the handfasting and incense.  The seeds and dried petals can be added to divination incense and potions. 

CULINARY AND HOUSEHOLD USES:

Poppy seeds can be scattered on bread, cakes, buns and rolls. The red flowers will add a red colour to syrups and beverages. Poppy petal syrup can be used in desserts, soups and stews.    Add the petals to summer salads. The new leaves can be eaten raw or cooked but are best picked before the plant flowers.  

COSMETIC USES:

Poppy seed oil boosts collagen production, relaxes wrinkles and helps prevent their formation.  The petals can be used in homemade skincare products.

HOME REMEDIES:

The leaves can be warmed and used as a poultice for neuralgia. A tea, glycerite or syrup made from red poppy petals may be used for coughs and catarrh, to remove excess mucus and soothe sore throat. The flower tea is mildly sedative and soothing.  Poppy flower or poppy seed tea, glycerite or syrup may also be used as a sedative in cases of insomnia and as a mild painkiller.  The seeds can be ground and made into a paste with a little water to apply in a poultice to swollen and painful joints.

CAUTION:

Red poppy flowers are mildly sedative, so exercise caution and do not drive or operate machinery after taking.   Do not use if you are pregnant or breastfeeding or taking other sedatives.  

The Magical Rowan Tree

The rowan tree (Sorbus aucuparia) is bound up with magic and enchantment. The genus name Sorbus means ‘stop’, possibly referring to the power of the rowan to prevent enchantment. The common name rowan is connected with the Gothic word runa ‘to know’, possibly referring to magic. In the Highlands the tree could only be used for ritual purposes. Evil witches had no power where there was rowan wood. Rowan twigs were commonly used as defensive charms in Britain, usually in the form of an equal armed cross bound together with red thread:

Rowan is connected with witchcraft, protection, divination and the dead. The berries are marked with the protective sign of the pentagram on their base, a sign of magic and the calling and banishing of spirits. The berries, wood and leaves can be dried and burned as an incense to invoke spirits, familiars, spirit guides and elementals.  Rowan wood may be used for making tools of divination. The berries or wood can be used in an incense to banish undesirable entities. A rowan cross, made of two twigs of rowan, tied with red thread, may be hung in the home for protection. A rowan wand is used for casting a protective circle. Plant a protective rowan tree near your house.

© Anna Franklin, 2022

Marymas

The cult of the Virgin Mary absorbed the attributes and celebrations of earlier goddesses, and many of her soubriquets and festivals were taken wholesale from her Pagan predecessors.  

Marymas is the Scottish name for the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary on 15 August. In more northerly latitudes the harvest is later, and Marymas, rather than Lughnasa, marked the start of the harvest and was surrounded by its own customs, many of which survived well into the nineteenth century. [1] The assumption of Mary into heaven supposedly took place at Ephesus, a famous sanctuary of the goddess Artemis who was represented there by a many-breasted statue, symbolising the productive and nurturing powers of the Earth.

The Marymas start of reaping was a day of celebration and ritual with distinctly Pagan overtones. Whole families would go to the fields dressed in their best clothes to hail the god of the harvest. The father of each family would lay his hat on the ground and face the Sun. Taking up his sickle he would cut a handful of corn which he passed three times around his head whilst chanting a reaping salutation. [2] The rest of the family would join in, in praise of the God of the harvest who provided bread, corn, flocks, wool, health, strength and prosperity.

The Lammas Bannock, made from the new wheat, would be dedicated to Mary Mother of God, and elaborate rituals surrounded its preparation.  Early in the morning the people would go out into the fields to pluck the ears of the new corn. These would be spread over rocks to dry and then husked by hand. After being winnowed and ground in a quern, the flour was mixed into dough and kneaded in a sheepskin. It was traditional to cook the bannock over a fire of rowan, then the father of the family broke it into pieces to be shared with his wife and children. They would sing the Ioch Mhoric Mhather or ‘Paean of Praise to the Holy Mother’ whilst walking in a procession sunwise around the fire with the father in the lead and the rest of the family following in order of seniority. The family then proceeded sunwise around the outside of their house, and sometimes around the fields and flocks while reciting a protection charm. [3]

We can celebrate Marymas in our own way, as praise and thanks to the Goddess of the Harvest.


[1] Alexander Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica, Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh, 1928

[2] Alexander Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica, Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh, 1928

[3] Alexander Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica, Floris Books 2001

The Apple in Magic & Medicine

Planetary ruler: Venus

Element: water

Associated deities: Aphrodite, Apollo, Arthur, Athene, Bel, Ceridwen, Demeter, Diana, Dionysus, Dumuzi, Eve, Flora, Grannos, Hera, Herakles, Hermes, Hesperides, Iduna, Inanna, Juno, Mabon, Manannan, Maponus, Mêliae, Modron, Morgana, Nehallenia, Nemesis, Olwen, Olwen, Pomona, Solar Heroes, Sun Gods, Tellus Mater, Titaea, Venus, Vertumnus, Vishnu, Zeus

Magical virtues: love, fertility, abundance, otherworld travel, divination

LORE:

The apple (Malus spp.) was one of the most sacred trees of the ancient Europeans; under Celtic law, to fell one was punishable by death. For many centuries artists used the apple as an allegory for erotic love.   Paris, Prince of Troy, to make the choice. Hera offered him wealth and power while Athene offered him fame and wisdom, but Aphrodite won by promising him the most beautiful woman alive, Helen, an act which led to the Trojan War.  The connection with love, marriage and fertility was preserved in folklore In England apples were often used in love divination. Juno Pomona ruled the month of November, the season of apples and fruit. A banquet was laid out before images of Jupiter, Juno, Minerva and Feronia in November. In Wales at Halloween, apples were roasted in the chimney corner, suspended on twine, and were added to ale and brandy in the wassail bowl with raisins, spices and sugar.

As part of Yule festivities apple trees were wassailed to encourage them to crop heavily in the coming year. The trees were visited, and cakes or bread soaked in cider were placed in the branches, and cider poured over the roots. When an apple is cut in half across the middle, it reveals a clear pentacle.

MAGICAL USES:

Apples or apple wands are used in spells, incense and charm bags for love magic. Dried apple bark, blossoms, peel and pips may be used in incenses for the planet Venus and the element of water, and to invoke associated gods. The blossom can be used in temple decorations or chaplets, apples can be added to the cakes at Samhain, and cider used to replace the ritual wine. Wassailing should be part of the Yule festivities.  

CULINARY & HOUSEHOLD USES:

The culinary uses of apples are well known, and there is not enough space to go into them all!  They are rich in pectin, and apple can be added to set jams and jellies made from pectin poor fruits like strawberries. Cider vinegar is one of the best natural cleaning agents there is; its antimicrobial properties destroy a variety of harmful organisms.

COSMETIC USES:

Bathe fingernails in apple cider vinegar to strengthen them. Apple cider vinegar can be added to a final hair rinse to treat dandruff.  Diluted apple cider vinegar on a cotton ball makes a simple facial toner to help prevent breakouts and fade bruises. Apple cider vinegar helps kill odour-causing bacteria, so dab a bit under your arms for a natural deodorant. Apple juice combined with malt vinegar imparts a golden colour to fair hair when used as a final rinse.

MEDICINAL USES:

Apples help neutralise the acid products of gout and indigestion. They contain pectin, which helps bulk up the stool to treat diarrhoea and constipation. The cultivated apple makes a good herb tea for fevers, arthritic and rheumatic conditions; wash, peel and boil gently until soft, strain and add some honey or brown sugar. Apples can be used to neutralise toxins in the blood, benefit the gums and reduce cavities in the teeth by clearing away plaque deposits.

Raw cider vinegar has many uses. It can be added to footbaths for athlete’s foot and to reduce the odour of sweaty feet. It has antibacterial properties, making it useful for infections. Gargle with a mixture of apple cider vinegar mixed with warm water for sore throats. You can apply it directly to the irritated skin or add a cup to your bath.  Apple cider vinegar detoxifies and is helpful for arthritis, gout, rheumatism and skin conditions.

© Anna Franklin, 2022 ( draft extract from the forthcoming Hearth Witch’s Concise Herbal, Llewellyn, 2023)

Witchposts

When I was in Yorkshire recently, I came across this witch post. They were built into fireplaces in the north of England to prevent evil coming down the chimney to enter the hearth and home and keep away evil witches. It was said that a witch could not pass the rowan wood post and the cross carved upon it, or the crooked silver sixpence that was kept in a hole at the centre of the post. The sixpence itself had magical properties and if the butter would not turn, you prised it out and put it in the churn.

Carnations in Herbalism

Actions: alexiteric, anaesthetic, analgesic, antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant, antispasmodic, antiviral, aromatic, cardiotonic, diaphoretic, diuretic, emmenagogue, insecticidal, nervine, ophthalmic, reno-protective, stimulant, tonic, vulnerary

Carnations have some pain killing properties.  Externally, carnations can aid aching muscles, skin inflammations and swellings. Soak in a warm bath to which carnation vinegar or a carnation infusion has been added. This may also help alleviate menstrual cramps.

The herbalist Culpeper wrote that carnations, “strengthened the brain and heart,” while Gerard stated that “the conserve of the floures of the clove gillofloure and sugar, is exceeding cordiall, and wonderfully above measure doth comfort the heart, being eaten now and then.” The petals would be steeped in white wine infused with the petals until they were pale and then strained but you can try carnation flower tea can be taken for nervousness, stress and minor depression, and may be of use in cases of seasickness.

Carnation tea may be used as a tonic for the digestive and urinary system.

Use a carnation steam for chest congestion.

Carnation essential oil is used in commercial perfumery and soap making. It takes 500 kg of carnation flowers to make 100 grams of the essential oil. You can’t make your own essential oils effectively, but you can make a macerated carnation oil, which you can use to soothe your face and body, or in massage to treat skin problems. Add it to your homemade skin care creams.  Carnations promote the healing, conditioning and softening of the skin, making them useful for wrinkles, irritated skin, acne, rashes, rosacea and eczema.

In Mediaeval times carnations were steeped in rose water to make a perfume for the hair.

Carnations are naturally quite high in saponins (soap). If you make your own soap, carnation petals are a lovely addition, but you can simply simmer the leaves in water, strain and use the liquid to cleanse your skin. If your skin is irritated, you may find this gentler and more soothing than conventional soap.