Scenes from a Witch’s Cottage (Part 3)

The hummingbird hovers, the goldfinch alights
A leafy green path ’neath the lofty pine beckons:
“Come ye to the woods, seek their earthen delights
where oaks count the hours and bright toadstools, the seconds.”Willow basket in hand, she heeds sylvan call
and wanders past foamflower and lowbush blueberry,
whispers welcome to trees, with a silent footfall,
she soaks up the magick of old forest Faerie.A lighthouse stands guard on the point, giving warning:
Wave-lapped rocks – sailors’ bane! – warmed by midsummer heat.
Her throne a moss pillow bedewed from the morning,
she rests, breathes in pine-scented air, soft and sweet.How wondrous the isle where the woods are enchanted!
How sparkles the sun on the diamond-like water!
How blessed is she in her sturdy white cabin,
where secrets are passed from wise mother to daughter!

Scenes from a Witch’s Cottage, Part 3
© 2017, Valerie Barrett

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Scenes from a Witch’s Cottage (Part 2)

Well! It has been quite some time since I’ve had a chance to focus on this blog. I do apologize for not keeping up with yours; I will try to catch up soon. I hope everyone is enjoying the newly-minted summer. Happy Solstice!

For the last few weeks, I’ve been on a mission to spruce up my Etsy shop. I hadn’t made anything new for quite some time, and many items have been languishing on my work table, waiting to be finished, or to be photographed, written up and posted. I’ve now added several items, including a new line of beaded gemstone jewellery which I’m really excited about, and will soon be posting more.

I’ve also been wracking my brain, trying to come up with a new shop name using gillyflower somehow, so that the shop, this blog and my Facebook page are all tied together. (Wood So Wild was fine, but it seems removed from what I do here.) “Gillyflower” was already taken, so I’ve pestered my friends and co-workers, and even held an informal Facebook contest; the winner gets a custom-made item from my shop if I end up using his or her suggestion. There were some good submissions, but none was exactly right.

It was just this week, when I arrived at work, that my friend and co-worker gave me a wonderful book called An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures by Katharine Briggs (1976, Pantheon Books). This volume, which is an alphabetical listing of all manner of mystical and mythological beings, customs and lore, was originally published in England as A Dictionary of Fairies by Allen Lane (Penguin Books). It was a lovely and welcome surprise!

As I flipped through its pages, looking particularly at the G’s (to alliterate with gillyflower), I came upon a term (not a G) that was so obvious – and so perfect – that I wondered why on earth I hadn’t thought about it before!

I still have work to do before I’m sure I can use the name. Etsy has rules about such things, and I will secure a domain name, too. Then there are the not inconsiderable tasks of switching the name wherever Wood So Wild appears in my listings and across other social media platforms. And, of course, I do have to come up with a new photograph for my shop banner, and design and order business cards and branded packaging. If all goes well, I’m hoping to unveil the new name this weekend and spend the next little while making the transition. And I owe my friend a piece of jewellery, for, although she didn’t suggest the actual name, she did give me the book from whence the idea came! Fair is fair, after all.

I haven’t had much time to read, so I’m still enjoying Dark Witch by Nora Roberts. Yesterday, after a spectacular lightning storm had ravaged the night, a gentle, nourishing rain fell steadily throughout the morning and afternoon. I read a little, worked on this article, and tended my herbs before heading off to work. My window garden has expanded to include a selection of culinary and medicinal herbs, and they’re all coming on nicely. As I was potting up a couple of new ones, this scene played in my mind:

Last e’en, lightning flashed and thunder shattered;
today the storm’s settled to soft June rain.
The hedgewitch steps barefoot from the garden,
basket a-brim with lavande and fresh thyme.
Rosemary, too, to remember with,
and basil – well, that’s for supper!
The warm windowsill waits with aloe for balm,
and oregano grows to flavour a stew.
What shall it be, this aft, for the cauldron?
A tincture, an oxymel, chamomile tea?
In leather-bound grimoire, receipts will be written
in spidery hand and iron gall ink.

Scenes from a Witch’s Cottage, Part 2
© 2017, Valerie Barrett

Plants from the Past: Nine volumes for apothecary-herbalists

20160924_111926-3Most of these books have huddled happily together in my library for years. I really only use them occasionally, especially when I need to look up an
archaic reference or remedy. All, however, contain fascinating information on the history, properties and applications of therapeutic, ornamental and culinary plants  ̶  invaluable for herbalists, gardeners and anyone interested in traditional folk medicine.

  1. Herbs in the Middle Ages by Evelyn Meagher (Grant Printing, 1983). In the preface to this slim booklet, the author quotes a medieval herbalist commenting on his own observations, “Most of these I am confident are true, and if there be any that are not so – yet they are pleasant.” How well that must have summed up the extent of 12th century medical wisdom! Brief but interesting facts are given on monastery, royal and kitchen gardens, the development of herbals (reference books of plant knowledge), symbolism, medieval beliefs, food and customs, archaic plant names and a list of herbal remedies used long before modern therapeutics were known. Check used & out-of-print book services.
  1. Plants from the Past: Old Flowers for New Gardens by David Stuart & James Sutherland (Penguin, 1989). “Even the most modern garden can be full of history.” The first part is a gardening history from ancient Mesopotamia to English cottage gardens of the 19th The rest is an extensive list of plant “antiques” which graced the flowerbeds of yesteryear but still work well in today’s modern plots. Includes photos and illustrations. Available new & used from Amazon.
  1. Proven Herbal Remedies by John H. Tobe (Provoker Press, 1969). This volume also gives a comprehensive history of herb use from ancient times to the present. The notes on the flyleaf, however, state, “It is important that you remember that, unlike drugs, these natural healing herbs bring you their healing benefits without doing you any harm whatsoever.” We know now, of course, that herbs are drugs, and sometimes quite powerful ones, so they should always be used with common sense and caution. The author zealously defends the individual’s right to choose his or her own type of treatment, whether it be herbalism (“mankind’s oldest form of healing”) or more modern methods; the rant goes on at length and becomes rather tiresome. (The publisher’s name is a good clue.) However, the book does include a long list of plants and the ailments they’re supposed to treat, plus sections on the different forms of medicinal preparations, a glossary of terms and tables of doses, weights and measures. Tobe also discusses herbal teas and methods for plant gathering and preservation. Text only. Check used & out-of-print book services.
  1. A companion book to the television series of the same name, The Victorian Flower Garden by Jennifer Davies (BBC Books, 1991) brings the garden plots of the nineteenth century to life. Davies was the associate producer and researcher for a trilogy of PBS series, all of which featured the expertise and reminiscences of Harry Dodson, longtime head gardener at an estate in Chilton Foliat, Wiltshire. Highly detailed information is given on Victorian flowerbeds, herbaceous borders, wild gardens, greenhouses and conservatories, and the craze for cut flowers, flower shows, orchids, ferns and roses. The charming “language of flowers” is discussed as well as the Victorian preoccupation with death and memorial flowers. Lots of beautiful illustrations and photos. Available new & used from Amazon.
  1. Guide to Medicinal Plants by Paul Schauenberg & Ferdinand Paris (Keats Publishing, 1990) was originally published in French in the 1970s. The plants presented in this book are grouped by the substances they contain, such as alkaloids, vitamins, antibiotics, flavonoids, oils, resins and tannins. A true guidebook, it lists the Latin and common names, origin, range, habitat, description, active constituents, properties and applications for each species. There are also herbal recipes, a brief list of famous figures in the history of medicine, a glossary of botanical terms, and a list of maladies and the plants to treat them. Pretty botanical illustrations in colour round out this intriguing collection, which I have referred to time and again while writing a novel featuring a wise woman in Dark Ages Britain. Available new & used from Amazon.
  1. Herbs in Ontario: How to grow and use 50 herbs by Charlotte Erichsen-Brown (Breezy Creeks Press, 1975) is another bare-bones, illustration-free booklet that delivers exactly what it promises. The most common kitchen garden herbs are here, plus instructions on making a Tudor knot garden as well as potpourri, sweet bags and tussie mussies. Check used & out-of-print book services.
  1. World of Herbs by Lesley Bremness (Ebury Press, 1990) outlines the use of seeds, leaves, flowers, roots, bulbs and essential oils in culinary, cosmetic, medicinal, household and decorative applications. There are some recipes scattered throughout. The section on essential and carrier oils is particularly helpful, as it points out which ones are skin- and food-safe. (For the record, I would neverknowingly ingest an essential oil.) Mostly text with a few decorative and not particularly useful line drawings. Available new & used from Amazon.
  1. Edible & Medicinal Plants of Canada by MacKinnon et al. (2009) is one of many nature guides issued by Lone Pine Publishing. Categories include trees, shrubs, vines, herbs, sedges and grasses, ferns and poisonous plants with a photograph for each species. As the title suggests, their historical, traditional and modern uses as food, drink and medicine are discussed, as well as other applications (past or present) such as smoking, tinder, spiritualism and superstition, furniture and construction, clothing and bedding, dyes and more. Toxicity and contraindications are also covered. Note: Peterson and National Geographic publish similar guides which I haven’t yet had the pleasure to read. Available in bookshops and new & used from Amazon.
  1. I recently purchased The Complete Book of Incense, Oils & Brews by Scott Cunningham (Llewellyn Publications, 2016; originally published 1989). Reviews on the back cover tout this book as a “magical cookbook” and “a natural, Earth-oriented approach to magic that should make readers more aware of their connection to the Earth Mother and all of her children.” Indeed, the focus (I really, really want to say hocus-pocus focus) is on using herbs and herbal preparations for ritual magic, which Cunningham defines as “the use of natural energies to bring about needed change”. The main chapters of the book are devoted to incense, oils, ointments, inks, tinctures, herb baths, bath salts, brews, sachets, charms and powders, with some recipes and helpful information on scent combining, artificial ingredients and substitutions. Here you will also learn about more obscure plant and animal materials such as ambergris, civet, copal and storax. Mostly text with a few decorative line drawings. Available new, used & in Kindle format from Amazon.20160924_110913-9

Of course, there are many more beautiful herbals and guides out there; I’ll follow up with a personal wish list of the ones I’d love to get my hands on!

Hedgewitchery in a Nutshell

DSC_8096 (7)In the tradition of the village wise woman, the hedgewitch (also spelled hedgewytch) has a deep respect for nature and uses herbs and natural remedies to ease suffering and promote healing. In the past, hedgewitches often performed midwifery, matchmaking and marriage counselling, sold protection charms, blessings on houses and crops, curses and counter-curses, and made divinations and prophecies.

The name ‘hedge witch’ is thought to derive from the Saxon word haegtessa, which means ‘hedge rider’. The hedgewitch often lived on the outskirts of a village and would venture beyond the hedges or fences which kept the community safe, into the wilderness to collect materials for her craft. She would have been respected – and perhaps a little feared – for her willingness to do so, and for her healing skills and the seemingly magickal feats she could perform.

For hedgewitches today, the hedge symbolizes the separation between this world and the Otherworld, and “crossing/walking the hedge” refers to making a shamanic journey (reaching an altered state of consciousness in order to interact with the spirit world). A hedgewitch spends time in the wild, usually in solitude, and prefers working with natural rather than manmade objects and materials, with an emphasis on herbalism.

Welcome!

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As Rosemary is to the Spirit, so Lavender is to the Soul.                                                                                 – Anonymous