Category Archives: Folk Medicine


Insane in the Membrane

By | Flying Ointments, Folk Medicine, Herbalism, Recipes | 24 Comments

It has been over a year since I wrote a blog post and I only wrote three blog posts total last year. It’s pretty unprecedented for me! I have been blogging for 15 years and never have I written so little. Granted I did write a few posts for my wilderness education website and I have been working on my book, but it’s still very little writing for this writer! I have never been the apologetic blogger, my policy has always been to write when I can and not worry about it when I can’t, but it’s gotten to the point people are emailing me to ask if I’m okay! What happened? Go read The Dark Year for perspective (in 2016 I was very ill and lost three people very dear to me all in a row).

In the past four years I had two children, my little boys who are now ages one and four. My heart bursts with love for them and little ones are so freaking cute, but man does having children turn your life upside down! It is hard to run a business, write, and travel to teach when you have babies. You are a caregiver now and it’s not about you. There are a lot of sacrifices and waiting but those times are also filled with lots of time with your beloved partner and tiny cute faces and voices of your little sporelings adorably trying to become human like you. My older son turned out to have multiple health issues that make life more difficult, but my partner and I do our best to keep things silly and keep the kids happy. I am unfortunately in the percentage of mothers with the luck of getting postpartum depression (PPD). It revealed an anxiety disorder that had always been there but was never diagnosed until this past winter.  Depression and anxiety were compounded with severe sleep deprivation. The new baby would not sleep through the night for an entire year. He would wake up every two to three hours like clockwork. I was completely broken. I would cry all day and my nerves were so shot I would have anxiety attacks resulting in vomiting and migraines.

My partner took me to the hospital and had me admitted for a psych evaluation. They prescribed me a week of trazodone for bedtime and to let my partner worry about the baby. We began a brutal couple months of sleep training and emerged broken but victorious. Both children sleeping through the night. With sleep for us adults, the worst of the madness went away. This was in March-April of this year. My health practitioner prescribed me sertraline for the depression but it made things worse and I had all the adverse side effects, so they switched me to desvenlafaxine and after a couple months I feel almost human again. Yes I am a herbalist and I like my medicine natural, but I shut up and I took the damn pills. I was in no place to help myself. My partner Alex has suffered from depression for his entire adult life and has been incredibly supportive through this difficult time. We’d both rather not be on the meds, but understand that the situations in our life making our mental health worse aren’t going to go away for a while and that we need help in the meantime. He has one of the healthiest views on mental health of most people I’ve met in my life and he shines with compassion when things are especially hard.

And they have been hard. On top of all our troubles we also had to deal with my narcissistic ex who is the father of my older son. After moving to Ontario, I had to ask him to leave because he was being abusive on top of not taking care of his health and mental health issues. He did not like this and kept trying to trick his way back into the house. Once Alex and I fell in love, he tried to make life as difficult for us as possible. Living within sight of my house despite the lack of job opportunities in town, threatening my partner to the point the police were called twice, breaking into my garage and stealing, spreading rumours and lies in our small town, and using our son to manipulate and intimidate me; like using visit pick-ups and drop offs with the kid to verbally abuse me and Alex. Typical narcissistic bullshit, but when it’s done to two fragile people with depression and anxiety, the results are not good. We were terrified of him. He had a violent past and he liked to brag about it. You think you know and love someone and then you experience them turning into an unrecognizable monster when they don’t get their way. I was very pregnant at the time and scared. I reached out to a local non-profit women’s shelter and support resource. They gave me a free counselor who really helped keep me sane and helped us write and implement a safety plan as well as encouraged me call the police and take things to family court.

Almost two years ago, I had enough and I started court proceedings over custody and access. I received sole custody with full decision-making powers and he was ordered not to contact me, come to my property, or come near me. Due to his past abusiveness, my ex was ordered by the court to sign up for the local supervised visitation centre for access if he wanted to see his son and if he did so, he could see him a minimum of once a week. If he did that, and there were long-term notes with good feedback from the visitation centre social workers, then my ex could broach the subject of unsupervised visits. It didn’t go so smoothly, of course. Family court is brutal and the case is still not settled. It keeps getting adjourned because he didn’t file his paper work, he waited an entire year to sign up for the court mandated visitation centre, he failed to follow the court orders, and, of his own doing, he only had visits for a few months out of a period of two years so our son has no idea who he is now. It mostly just makes me sad my son’s biological father cares more about hurting me and winning some imaginary battle than actually being a dad to his son.  So, I just keep going to the court dates as, in my opinion, it’s already settled.

Did I mention my ex is a satanic Thelemic witch? So not only do I have to deal with his mundane bullshit (thankfully only through the bullet-proof shield of the Ontario court system now), I have to waste my time smacking down his stupid curses and evil eye every once in a while. Even though he’s a dark, creative curser, I’m lucky that he’s a very lazy, complacent old magician who hasn’t done any real work since the early 1990s. I know what you’re thinking, hot foot powder, right? I was seriously thinking of slipping some in the next court papers I have to legally serve him with… but then a couple months ago he fell from the top of a warehouse at work and broke his hip, an arm, and some ribs I think. I didn’t work any magic, but I have some friends I’m suspicious of. The ex was in the hospital for two months and it was really nice to be able to reclaim space in our little town for that time. But now he’s back, and still within sight of my house. He’s across the creek now though, and it’s pretty hard to throw curses over moving water. I’m not so afraid now, to see that once big, frightening man be sickly, skinny, and limping. In my life I have done very little cursing as I find the people who deserve it the most curse themselves best. They tend to end up alone, broke, ill, and in pain like Aleister Crowley. Even dark familiar spirits will abandon you if you don’t feed them offerings. Having patience while moving on and living your life as best you can is sometimes the most destructive curse you can cast on someone who is bitter.

So the old narcissistic tiger is toothless and limping and this witch is medicated, therapized, and starting to feel more human. My oldest boy will start kindergarten this fall and my one year old will be old enough for daycare in November which will help with our current childcare deficit. Things are starting to look up! The trouble is, sleep deprivation is literally torture. It’s probably number one in the international “how to torture” manual. Me and my current partner’s brains are swiss cheese — they are full of holes. Some of the damage will heal over time, but honestly some of it will not. We are both having severe issues with short-term memory loss. I am a lot slower than I used to be at everything, I can’t multi-task any longer, I can’t remember even the important things. We are both having a lot of trouble juggling a business, caring for young children not yet in school, and keeping on top of normal household chores (dishes, laundry, garbage, recycling, etc). We just move too slow right now and there are never enough child-free hours in a week to get things done. We have two kid-free days a week and that is the only time we have to do all the work we need to for the business. It is insane!

Our broken brains can barely keep up with our current life. This is one of the main reasons we closed our Fern & Fungi online store to focus on teaching foraging and why have pared things down to just making and selling medicinal nightshade ointments (aka my flying ointments – different name, same thing, same dosage). You can find the new home of my ointments here: Medicinal Nightshades. We were really hoping to be able to hire a Canadian manufacturer to make the ointments and a professional shipping fulfillment service to handle our shipping for us… but it’s not meant to be at this time. Because of red tape, no one will make our touch my nightshade ointments until we register them with Health Canada (our FDA) and receive approval and natural health product numbers for each different recipe (NPN). I’ve tried, but I can’t even start the application process until I first add the nightshade herbs to the natural health products ingredients database, but I can’t even start that application because they won’t give me the form and the only link in the internet universe to the form is broken and I have failed to hear back after contacting them about it. So, I’ll have to get back to you on that process later. In the meantime, it is still just me and my partner Alex. I make the ointments and he does the shipping.

So this is my life right now. Keeping the kids alive and happy, remembering to take my meds, remembering to turn the dishwasher on, remembering to water the plants, and trying our best to get orders for the business shipped out within 1-2 weeks of purchase. It’s hard when supply shipments are always late, supplies and herbs are always out of stock, your oven catches fire and dies (it did, two days ago), you forgot to order more beeswax, the kids keep passing on cold viruses to you, it’s monsoon season and the power keeps going out, your printer won’t work, the post office’s online shipping tool is always crashing, you go through three computers which all die… (see what I mean about having to slap down dumb curses all the time?).

How do I deal with all this stress? Going to bed early because I can’t afford losing my mental health from staying up late to work or watch tv. Asking for help from my partner, my family, and any social programs available to me. Lowering my expectations, like really lowering them and being okay with dirty floors and laundry piling up. And honestly, weed. My health practitioner point blank told me to, especially for help falling asleep and preventing panic attacks. Welcome to Canada where cannabis is poised to be sold in liquor stores any time now… any time now. It is a common part of medicine and culture in my area. Bootleg forest weed and whiskey have long histories in my county despite it being a Bible Belt. The weed came with the commune hippies and draft dodgers hiding in the woods here in the 1960s. Farmers do not get paid well for their hard job, so even if they’re not fond of hippies, many local farmers have hidden cash crops to supplement their income from corn and soy. So it’s still here, crossing social and economic boundaries. I had no idea moving from the cannabis capitol of Vancouver that there could be such a prevalent cannabis culture in the middle of nowhere in Ontario. If you ever wondered why Canadians are so chill and polite, now you know. It’s because from coast to coast, we’re all smoking the pot.

Recipes For Calming the Fuck Down

In case you are feeling insane in the membrane too, here are some recipes to help you chill out. You don’t have to be part of cannabis culture to enjoy and benefit from the plant and its effects. If you live in a state or country where it is legal, why not see if cannabis can help you? There’s not much to lose as the effects wear off in 1-3 hours. Don’t try it if your employer has a zero tolerance policy and drug testing, however!

A note on making herbal preparations with cannabis:

You will need a small scale to weigh the herb. If you’d like to make these recipes medicinal for pain management, select a high CBD strain. If you want your oil or liqueur to be psychoactive, then choose a high THC strain, such as a hybrid or an indica, and make sure to decarboxylate it before adding it to any edible or topical herbal recipes. To do this, spread the flowers out on a baking sheet and place in the oven at 225°F for 20 minutes. Allow to cool, and then the flowers are ready to grind and use.

Cannabis Flying Ointment

7-15 grams cannabis flower, decarboxylated
500 ml vegetable oil (coconut, almond, sunflower, grapeseed, olive)
60 grams beeswax, chopped or pastilles

Place oil and herb in a double boiler on low heat for 5-8 hours, stirring every 30-60 minutes. Remove from heat and strain out the herb. Add the strained oil back to the double boiler in a clean bowl and add the beeswax. When the beeswax melts, pour the ointment into jars and allow to fully cool for a few hours before putting on the lids. Do a patch test with a pea-sized amount of the ointment and wait four hours for all the effects to be revealed. Then try using larger amounts. After you’ve made it once and know how it effects you, try making it again and adding your favourite essential oil blend or other herbs.

Cannabis Smoking Blend

3 parts cannabis flower
1 part dried motherwort leaf
1 part dried rose petals
1 part dried spearmint leaf
liquid honey to blend herbs

Pick through the dried herbs and remove any stems and hard bits that won’t break down. Then rub the herbs with your hands until they break down but are not a powder. Drizzle a few spoons of liquid wildflower honey over the herbs and then mix them with your hands, rubbing the mixture between your hands, until the honey is completely blended in. The honey moistens the smoking blend and prevents it from having a dry, harsh smoke. When it is blended, store in an air tight container until use. It can be rolled with papers into herbal cigarettes or smoked in a pipe or with some vape pens.

Cannabis Elixir

15-30 grams cannabis flower, leaf, and/or stems, decarboxylated
15 grams dried damiana
one handful of ground, raw cacao beans (optional)
1/4 of a vanilla bean pod or 1/4 tsp of vanilla extract
3 thick slices of fresh ginger
1/2 cinnamon stick, crushed
500 ml of dark rum, bourbon, or brandy (don’t cheap out!)
1 cup unpasteurized honey

Smash up the herbal and spice ingredients, but don’t grind them to a powder. Place it all in a canning jar, seal the lid and leave it for 7-10 days to infuse, do not leave it for longer or it will be bitter and undrinkable. Shake it every day, as many times as you can remember to. When it’s ready, taste it. If it tastes a bit too strong, strain it quick! If it tastes weak, wait another couple days and taste it again. Strain out the herbs and put them in a canning jar and add 500 ml of water and seal it. Shake it every day for three days. Strain out the water and mix it with the alcohol extraction. Add more honey at this point if needed. Allow to further infuse, rest, and clarify for 2-4 weeks. It’s important you do not shake it anymore during this period. After the time has passed, pour your finished liqueur off of any herbal sediment on the bottom of the jar and into a new, clean jar or fancy bottles. It’s ready to drink or gift but will improve with 4-8 months to age. The resulting elixir will be around 20% alcohol. Dosage is 1-2 shotglasses (with a shotglass being 1 fluid ounce or 30 ml).


On Flying Ointments as Medicine

By | Flying Ointments, Folk Medicine, Herbalism | 8 Comments

“I ha’ been plucking plants among
Hemlock, Henbane, Adder’s Tongue,
Nightshade, Moonwort, Leppard’s-bane
And twice, by the dogs, was like to be ta’en.”

~ Ben Johnson

I have been growing henbane, datura, and brugmansia plants from seed since late winter. I have been harvesting wild mugwort and wild lettuce. I have planted wormwood, belladonna, and datura inoxia in the garden behind the raspberry patch. I am waiting on a new crop of dried henbane leaf from my local supplier which should arrive from Toronto soon. I have been writing about flying ointments for publications and researching their solanaceous herbs of belladonna, datura, henbane, and mandrake to compose detailed monographs, I have been interviewed on flying ointments by a journalist, and I have been talking about them at local events and will soon talk about them at the Herbal Resurgence Conference in New Mexico. What I have not done is make any of this more up-to-date information available to the general public… time to remedy this!

below: pallid henbane baby plants and a datura inoxia seedpod


A Witch Who Cannot Curse Cannot Heal

A poison that can harm is often also a medicine that can cure. Journalist Chas S. Clifton interviewed me about flying ointments recently and I admitted to him that after all my research and experience making and using these ointments it is my impression they survived as medicine, not as ritual entheogens. Right now I know there is a granny in Germany who makes a wild henbane leaf oil for her arthritis and sells it to her townsfolk just as there is a herbalist at a market in Mexico at this moment selling peyote and datura salves for pain made with pig’s lard. Perhaps the line between medicine and magic used to be more blurred and perhaps the psychoactive effects were once thought to be part of what made the medicine work. Perhaps it really is why the medicine is so effective and future scientific research will reveal this.

I think modern occultists tend to compartmentalize too much and be too serious — flying ointments can be medicine, intoxicants, and magic all at once with no need to separate out each application. Occultists and scientists have been trying to “recreate” flying ointments for centuries usually using instructions from a “common person” as with Agrippa and della Porta. This tells me they may have been in use all along, but the actual makers and users were likely just taking advantage of the psychoactive effects of a common medicinal pain ointment to achieve trance or soul flight the same way a group of pagans would get a bit drunk on wine during an ecstatic rite.


above: black henbane blooming in my garden

It is my own conclusion that “flying ointments” are indeed real and have a historical basis in medicine, ceremony, and for recreation, but they would definitely not have been called flying ointments or witches’ ointments and would only have been used for astral flight by a teeny tiny percentage of the population at any given time in history… but who very likely did not identify as witches. When the solanaceous ointments were used, it was probably for medicine, otherwise our ancestors were much more likely to have been smoking or drinking them to become intoxicated for the pleasure of it alone. Granted, we now know ingestion is not a good idea as the toxic tropanes build up in your system, your heart doesn’t gain tolerance, and you will eventually wear our your body from heart and/or kidney damage… So as much as it is my goal to help revive the traditions and preparations surrounding European entheogens, it’s usually best to stick to external use only.

Datura inoxia

above: datura inoxia in bloom, below: double trumpeted white datura seedpods

datura seed pods

A Resurgence of Old World Medicine

Belladonna, datura, henbane, and mandrake have a storied mythology as baneful herbs of witchcraft, poison, madness, and death thanks to the tales spun in literature by the ancient Greeks and Shakespeare to today’s fantasy fiction authors. In having spent the better part of the past decade growing, preparing, and using these plants in my herbal practice I have found they do not deserve their tarnished reputation and instead should have a place of honour at the table of respected plant medicines. I argue that the witches’ flying ointments of Europe’s Early Modern Period are largely just the church propaganda and fear mongering of the times. Flying ointments were just medicine, powerful and intimidating yes, but medicine nonetheless. The recipes for witches’ flying ointments are uncannily identical to the recipes for soporific sponges in common use of the physicians of the same era for anesthesia during surgery: opium poppy, mandrake, and henbane and sometimes belladonna and cannabis in even older recipes.

The medicinal members of the nightshade (or solanaceae) family are some of the most potent drugs we have available to us on the planet and extracts of their alkaloids such as atropine are still incredibly important in modern medicine for which belladonna, datura, and brugmansia are grown on an industrial scale to be turned into pharmaceuticals.  The herbs I use in my ointments (belladonna, datura, henbane, and mandrake) are aphrodisiac, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antisialagogue, antispasmodic, anticholinergic, euphoric, hypnotic, narcotic, and sedative. It is a very incredible range of actions which makes them a great resource for herbalists if they are able to grow their own for apothecary or clinic use.


belladonna flowers

atropa belladonna in bloom

In having built up a goodly amount of first and second hand feedback on my flying ointments over the years, I have found that the majority of my patrons who purchased my ointments for ritual almost always end up using them medicinally or recreationally instead… mimicking our ancestors’ preferences perfectly. People of all ages and walks of life are using these ointments, it’s not just traditional witches or even necessarily witches at all. They are powerful medicine and everyone is drawn to them because of it. I have baptist grannies in town using my flying ointments to relieve their arthritis (including my own mother), the florist is using them to help her with her insomnia, a friend to cope with the pain of her cancer, a lady the next town over to relieve the pain of bruising after hip surgery, and they’ve made both christian and pagan sufferers of fibromyalgia incredibly happy.

The solanaceae aren’t just medicine for physical pain, they are also medicine for the soul. Friends and patrons alike use the ointments to treat anxiety and depression. Scientists are still trying to figure out why botanicals with both psychoactive and pain relieving properties are so effective in managing mental illness. Not nearly enough studies are being performed with cannabis, magic mushrooms, medicinal nightshades, and other euphoric analgesics.

I got into this because I was fascinated with flying ointments and the sabbat imagery. I wanted to help people achieve trance and soul flight, and I most definitely have, but these plants have taught me so very much they’ve humbled me and turned me into a healer on a scale I would never have predicted or sought out. As the solanaceae continue to reveal their seemingly limitless power and potential to me, I am ever more in a state of awe. It is my goal to continue making these ointments, but with a heavier focus on their varied medicinal applications, and to teach as much as I can about them so their uses can be reconstructed within modern herbalism to the point we regain the lost knowledge of our ancestors regarding these powerful healers.

Nightshade Ointment FAQs

1. Yes I still make and sell them!

2. No, they are no longer labelled flying ointments because my customers use them for so many different purposes (mostly pain & sleep), and I do not like people treating Fern & Fungi like a head shop. I am a herbalist, not a drug dealer.

3. They are not consistently available in the shop because the herbs are difficult to get firstly because they are rare, and secondly because crop failures are common. The nightshade ointments often sell out before we have herbs to make more or are able to finish new batches… which often makes it appear as if they are always sold out.

4. If you want to be notified when “flying ointments” are restocked, I cannot send out individual emails to people so please follow my personal facebook page (, the business facebook page ( or sign up for the newsletter (sign up is at the bottom of every page of both my and websites).

5. If you’re not into that check this shop section regularly:

6. Head’s up: I’ll likely only be making simple recipes from now on! I have moved to a bible belt and can’t get away with products named “Witches’ Flying Ointment” or “Saturn Flying Ointment” at my farmers’ market booth. Look for: Belladonna Herbal Ointment, Datura Herbal Ointment, Henbane Herbal Ointment, Mandrake Herbal Ointment, and Wormwood Herbal Ointment. Massage oils may become available as well.

7. Do you miss my witchy instructions and write ups about the plants? I’ve included links below to my current body of public writings on nightshades (please note that any shop/product info in these posts is outdated). You can also search for their names in the database for good, solid articles or use Erowid – both are free and online.  If you are as passionate about these plant healers as I am you can read up on them using books recommended in my Poison Path Reading List.

Writings on Nightshades & Flying Ointments by Sarah Anne Lawless

Flying Ointment FAQs

Introduction to Flying Ointments

The Making of a Flying Ointment

The Toad in the Ointment

The Ritual of the Duck

Entheogens & Self Control

Moonflower (Datura)

Solanum: The Poison Plants of Witchcraft

Weeds for Witches: Bittersweet Nightshade

If I missed anything, let me know in the comments!
Love to you all!


The Evolution of the Apothecary

By | Bioregional Herbalism, Flying Ointments, Folk Medicine, Herbalism | 8 Comments

Once upon a time I lived in the Pacific Northwest rainforest at the foot of a mountain, the city on one side, a sea inlet on the other. I could step out my front door into groves of impossibly tall red cedar, douglas fir, and western hemlock trees. I went into the woods every day and foraged often, making friends with the local plants and trees and leaving many offerings. I turned my wild harvested plants into magical and medicinal goods to sell in my apothecary. I loved my mountain, I loved my home, and I loved my business… but I left my partner at the time and consequently lost all the things I loved and had to move to an apartment in the city.

I found that it was very hard to find the time to forage when the forest wasn’t right outside my door. I was only able to get back to my mountain a couple times a year to visit and harvest.  I ended up focusing on my flying ointments and my artwork instead. It was rewarding, but I missed foraging, I missed gardening, and I missed being cloaked in a mantle of green. I urban foraged for myself and friends, you can find some really cool things like wild plums, hawthorn trees, escaped thimbleberries, wild fennel and white yarrow… but it’s not the same as walking through the deep wood of native plants and trees. How I longed for tall red alder trees, sweeping hemlock boughs, oemleria, and devil’s club. I craved wild things, a lack of people, and a lack of the noise of civilization.

Foraging in a red pine and oak forest Round Lake, Ontario in winter

So here I am in rural Ontario and loving it –even near the tail end of a snowy Canadian winter. It is very different out here. There are no tall jagged mountains, no vast ocean and sea inlets, no impossibly tall trees, and all four seasons exist with gusto. Here the land is a shield of rock with stunted trees, rolling hills of green, beautiful farmers’ fields, vast lakes, rushing rivers, and wild forests. There are sugar maples instead of big leaf maples, balsam fir instead of douglas fir,  and many more deciduous hardwoods by far: ashes, birches, basswood, beech, elm, oak, maples… It is a land of forgotten ghost towns, abandoned farms, old log cabins, long-quiet saw mills, and forests young from over a century of logging.

Our goods at the local farmers' market

I cannot really garden here until the weather cooperates in the first week of June, but I have already been foraging and plan to do it as much as I possibly can this year. Alex and I have been making arrangements with multiple homesteaders to forage on their acreages. The bigger variety of herbal goods introduced to the online shop in the past few months is a reflection of the wild bounty available here. It has been so rewarding and happiness-inducing to collaborate with my forager and product gnome Alex, making goods for the apothecary out of the freshest and best quality botanicals possible because we harvested and prepared those botanicals ourselves. It is hard to beat the amazing fragrances of balsam fir, eastern hemlock, and spruce and pine resins which have filled my kitchen all winter. There is always chaga being cut and ground by hand, conifer branches hanging to dry, and bags of divinely scented wild harvested pine and spruce resins waiting to be turned into incense and ointments.

spring-break-blue2 spring-break-blue1

The wild changes will continue as I adjust to my new life in the Ottawa Valley and continue to discover the amazing medicinal and edible plants now at my finger tips. I merged my local apothecary of wild medicine with my online magic shop to make my life easier and things less confusing since becoming a regular vendor at the local farmers’ market and having the plan to do so for the foreseeable future. I’ve also had a good handful of locals coming to the door to purchase medicines. The Fern & Fungi Apothecary now has it’s own blog of foraging, cooking, and herbalism posts and will feature articles from our other team members in the future. This is to provide a writing space to really feed into those passions of foraging, feasting, and folk herbalism with a big emphasis on bioregionalism and terroir.

I will still blog as often as I can on my own website, but with more of a focus on animism, witchcraft, every day life, and any adventures I have. is my personal portfolio of my artwork and writing and will continue to be so. I do not like duplicates, so I will likely not cross-post on both sites. If you want to make sure you get writings from both my personal website and my business, be sure to follow both facebook pages (Sarah Anne Lawless and Fern & Fungi) and/or the newsletter.

Fern & Fungi goodies Spruce amber resin and balsam fir ointment

I will still be making my flying ointments. I may always do so. They are so pleasant and so very effective for pain and sleep issues… This winter there has been a big mandrake, henbane, and datura shortage with suppliers so recently I’ve only been able to keep ointment recipes made with belladonna in stock. If the ointment section seems sparse, this is why! Do not despair, I should be able to get my hands on more henbane in a few weeks, more datura in the spring, and more mandragora officinarum root in a couple years if Molly, my solanceous herb grower in Michigan, is successful with her crop. When spring comes I will of course be trying to grow all the nightshades and aconites I can fit into my yard. There is just no comparison to working with lovingly grown, freshly harvested medicinal herbs! Hopefully I can grow a large enough quantity on my own to preserve enough flying ointments herbs to last us through winter supplier shortages in the future. *crosses fingers*

I am making plans to expand how much I teach this year. I will be teaching herbal workshops and plant journeys out of my home and yard, plant and tree identification walks in the area, and hosting workshops and rituals at Raven’s Knoll events. Keep an eye on the websites’ events pages once spring comes around for good! I thank you all for your patience with me in all the changes I’ve been making since my big move out East. I hope you will continue to join me on my journey to rewilding myself and my herbal practice.

Blessings of the deep and the wild,



Calendula and the Lily of the Valley

By | Cooking, Folk Medicine, Herbalism | 11 Comments

I’d forgotten about calendula. I used to grow it years ago. I buried grandmother crow under its roots and it flourished into a massive bush of fuzzy green leaves covered in the brightest orange flowers. I put it in my salves and magical oils. The flowers reminded me of gold coins so I used it to draw money in spells of folk magic. But then I lost my garden and I forgot about this plant many herbalists consider an essential medicine. And then, there it was again, growing by the door of my new house. It’s hardiness impresses me. We’ve had many frosts and snow three times now, but it still blooms.

Soothing Skin Salve Dehydrating food and medicine

I decided to do something with it before the old winter hag finally kills it off with her icy touch. I plucked the flowers along with those of toadflax and evening primrose and combined it with sweet violet leaves in jojoba oil. Like many people, I get itchy dry skin in the winter and the plants who are supposed to help all happened to be growing in my yard. After a couple weeks the flowers and violet leaves are strained out and a little vitamin e oil and a few drops of rosemary essential oil are added to preserve it. Now it’s ready to massage into dry, cracked skin or to add to a lotion recipe.

The raspberry patch has been incredibly hardy, still producing flowers and fruit after hard frosts. The berries still sweet and lovely. I dug up so many ash tree saplings from the untended patch that I am convinced it contained more baby ash trees than it does raspberry canes! I am hoping that with more sunlight and root space, the patch will be productive next year with lots of new growth. I planted garlic cloves from my mother’s garden next to the patch because garlic and raspberries are supposed to look out for each other.

The hardy raspberry patch Planting garlic in the fall

I am sweet on a friend of my mother’s. She is a gardener like me and thinks herbalism is fascinating. Her name is Lily and she is ninety years old with a thick German accent. She lives alone in the woods. Her husband passed away ten years ago and her kids are long gone, busy with their own grandchildren now. She invited the whole family over for lunch last Sunday and I couldn’t very well say no. I was excited to get to know her better. My mother winced when I told her the news.

“You never know what you’re going to get when you eat at Lily’s, it could be squirrel or worse!”

“I don’t mind, I’m hoping for venison!”

So we dressed up the wee man in the coat his great grandma made him and all of us hopped in the car and off we drove down the beautiful country roads past the colourful poplars and maples, farmer’s fields, and marshes full of dead trees and bushy native willows. We drove up a very long dirt drive, half wet from a marsh, and came up a hill to a beautiful view of silver lake and there was Lily’s home, an old converted cabin with a green sun room lush with plants.

Lily's House

The wee man was completely in love with her birds. She has fat chickens, a regal goose named Georgina, and a family of peacocks. He chased them all over, but wasn’t fast enough to even get close. The goose was the most tolerant of him. I asked Lily if I could take pictures and she told me to take as many as I wanted as long as they weren’t of her. She told me she didn’t think she was pretty enough. Despite her killer cheekbones and beautiful smile, I couldn’t talk her into a portrait. She is small and spry with short cropped grey hair and a hooked nose, very funny and full of mischief. She was frying onion dumplings when we came in and the house smelled amazing.

Lily's sun room

There was no squirrel, but there was melt-in-your-mouth slow cooked venison and delicious candied black bear ribs served with endless vegetables and salads from her garden; raw kale salad, red cabbage, fresh herbed carrots, boiled potatoes, tomato and garlic brushcetta, and of course the onion dumplings (which were amazing with the bruschetta). For dessert Lily had made an apple crisp with apples from her trees. We ate the fruits of her harvest and we ate well!

A shared feast Lily's kitchen

I am glad to have a found a friend who also walks the green path and has many decades of wisdom and practical gardening advice to share. When I am ninety and wrinkled and grey, I hope I am as full of energy and wit as Lily with all my marbles and a massive jungle of a garden.

Healing Through Spiritual Cleansing

Healing Through Spiritual Cleansing

By | Folk Magic, Folk Medicine | 10 Comments


I bathe thy palms
In showers of wine,
In the lustral fire,
In the seven elements,
In the juice of rasps,
In the milk of honey

— The Invocation of the Graces, Carmina Gadelica

italk a lot about the spookier sides of witchcraft because those things to me are witchcraft and I am one among others trying to paint a full-bodied picture of an old word we too often use as a catch-all for anything smacking of magic. Dark moons, poisons, bones, and talking to shades are not the only sides to me and my practice, however. I am also an animist, a practitioner of divinatory arts, a folk herbalist, and a folk magician. These things to me are separate from my witchcraft but I do admit to occasional overlap. The roles of herbalist and folk magician have often put me in the role of healer as well. Those who have stuck with me through the years may remember my troubles of not desiring to follow the path of a healer. Well, life had other plans (as it often does). I keep being reminded of the saying “a witch who cannot hex cannot heal” which is really about the need for balance. Yes, I make spooky flying ointments and know a lot about poisonous and entheogenic plants, but I also have a wealth of knowledge about medicinal herbs and native plants and their preparations. In making flying ointments to cater to the arts of witchcraft, the byproduct was the creation of some of the most potent and effective medicines I have ever made. Most of my patrons, even if their intent was to use the ointments for flying, instead end up using them to treat migraines, insomnia, arthritis, and damaged muscles (including myself). I discovered when you combine the arts of folk herbalism with folk magic, they very often naturally lead to folk healing whether it was your intent or not. This, of course, led me down the road to healing via spiritual cleansing —for myself and for others.

Spiritual Cleansing is a practice not restricted by culture, because so many cultures share belief in the evil eye. The concept behind the eyil eye is not just one of intentional cursing stemming from anger and envy, but a belief that our environment, the people around us, and our own attitudes can affect us negatively —emotionally and spiritually. This drains us of energy, luck, health, confidence, self-esteem, happiness, and faith –everything that can make life so wonderful. If you do not actively cleanse yourself in some way, everything you see and do every day that affects you negatively will build up inside you. Think of it like needing to take your car to the car wash after too much dirt and grime has built up on it.

Sounds a bit new agey until you think about it; do you have to be around people every day who make you feel anxious and stressed? Do you take public transit? How many people are on the same bus every day that you come into contact with, how crowded is it, are people rude or shoving all the time? How crowded was the mall for Christmas shopping last year? Was it stressful? Has it been a hard year? Did you lose loved ones? Divorce? Family fights? Did you do anything to relieve the stress from any of these experiences you’ve had? From any of the feelings and emotions others are putting into you? Do you often feel stressed, anxious, nervous, nauseated? Do you suffer from an upset stomach, cramping, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, or constipation and the doctor can’t really tell you what’s wrong? For many people the build up of stress and heartache can lead to digestive problems, for others it can lead to migraines, and for others yet it can lead to incapacitating anxiety where the mind and body simply shut down.


feetTo reverse and prevent this psychic grime and its physical symptoms, spiritual cleansing is practiced. Spiritual cleansing is an act of folk healing that can involve bathing, smudging or burning incense, or anointing/sprinkling/asperging. I also include jumping over bonfires and diving into freezing cold streams and oceans. This action is usually accompanied by some form of meditation or chant to relax and soothe the mind. Bathing involves making a warm bath and adding either spring water or sea water and a magical water such as Florida Water.  The bather then submerges themselves completely in the water while praying, chanting, or being full of intention. The submersion is usually repeated in sets of sacred numbers such as 3, 7, 9 and  the bath can be repeated for days as well for a more lasting effect on the bather. Some instructions for such baths often involve performing them at sunrise, sunset, or a specific hour. It’s always practical to clean your bathroom first and give it a good blessing before performing any spiritual work within it. Sweat lodges are another example of spiritual cleansing with water, in this case steam is used and for those who aren’t weak due to illness, a dip in a cool lake or river right after is incredibly purifying.

I have performed skyclad ceremonies which involve jumping in a cool lake at the end and I have often cleansed myself by making pilgrimages to mountain springs, glacier fed lakes, and the ocean and bathing in the very cold, but purifying waters. I try to do this at least once a year as a form of renewal and cleansing of the self. The shock of the cold water seems punishing at first, but it is also thrilling and exhilarating —a way to test and challenge myself. If I’m willing to jump in the freezing cold ocean, then I know I am also willing to do the work needed to keep my life and my health on track.

water-4When I was studying with my teacher, who put a big focus on spiritual cleansing, I was reading a lot of Draja Mickaharic whose writings I fell madly in love with. His books of folk magic and folk healing are nondenominational and can be used by Christian, Catholic, Pagan, and rootworker alike. It was he along with my teacher who led me to be fluent in the practices of spiritual cleansing which fused so easily and beautifully with the Scottish methods of folk healing I already knew. Scottish scholar and folk healer Stuart A. Harris-Logan was also a big influence on me at the time and still is. I skilled myself in making my own holy water. I magically cleaned my house, I took spiritual baths, I made floor washes, incenses and floral waters, and I collected rain water and spring water from the mountain and blessed it under different full moons. Friends started knocking at my door asking for spiritual cleansings, a very involved practice of folk healing that requires trust between the healer and recipient and the recipient to be fully committed to healing themselves without the expectation that the ritual itself was a magical “fix-all”.

watersSpiritual cleansing is an important technique to protect yourself from external harm as well. I had another friend with a shamanic background who confided in me about his constant and brutal nightmares. Of the night hag, of spirits trying to steal his soul or feed off his fear. Of spirits getting into his home, haunting and trying to hurt him. He had a good teacher, but had not yet been taught what to do when spirits seek you out with ill intent. He’d only ever gone to benevolent spirits himself in protected space. I showed him how to cleanse his home, chase out all the uninvited spirits, seal off all the entrances and exits, and protect his bedroom and his body with a charm and a consecration. I had him set boundaries with his spirits. Who was welcome inside and who was to be classed as an outdweller and locked out but still given offerings of propitiation. He consecrated a key charm with these boundaries that the welcome spirits may use the key to come in. He slept much better after that.

One friend wanted aid in healing their broken heart from a messy divorce, one was having health issues which refused to go away, and another wanted help letting go of trauma from their past. I helped each person individually on different days by performing a tarot reading to better see the heart of the problem and see if a spiritual cleansing would actually help. I would meditate and ask my spirit helpers what herbs and waters would be best to use for each person and received very straight-forward replies. Then I would draw a bath blessed with spring water, sea water, sea salt, oils, flowers, fragrant herbs, and light a candle at either end of the tub for the person to pass through. They would meditate and  focus on their intent and on what they needed to let go. I got them to take three deep breaths, the last time sending out their intent with all their will, and then submerging themselves completely in the water. While under the water, they kept the focus of their will sharp in their mind for 9-30 seconds before coming back up for air. They were to imagine that which they wanted to let go of as being absorbed by the water and leeched out of the mind, body, and soul. With three being the most sacred number in Scots lore, I would get them to repeat this action three times. When they were submerged, sometimes I would see smoke coming up off the water even though the bath water wasn’t hot enough to produce steam. I took this as a good sign, that it was working. The last time they submerged themselves I would recite a purification prayer from the Carmina Gadelica over them:

Power of moon I have over it,
Power of sun I have over it,
Power of rain I have over it,
Power of dew I have over it,
Power of sea I have over it,
Power of land I have over it,
Power of stars I have over it,
Power of planets I have over it,
Power of universe I have over it,
Power of skies I have over it,
Power of ancestors I have over it,
Power of heaven I have over it,
Power of heaven and God I have over it,
Power of heaven and God I have over it.

When they resurfaced, I would have them pull the plug to let the water drain and to stay seated in the tub watching the water swirl down into the darkness, asking them to picture all the psychic waste being sucked down the drain as well. As the water drained I recited another prayer from the Carmina Gadelica, this time one of banishing:

A portion of it on the grey stones,
A portion of it on the steep mountains,
A portion of it on the swift cascades,
A portion of it on the gleaming clouds,
A portion of it on the ocean whales,
A portion of it on the meadow beasts,
A portion of it on the fenny swamps,
A portion of it on the cotton-grass moors,
A portion of it on the great pouring sea–
She’s the best one to carry it,
Oh the great pouring sea,
And she’s the best one to carry it.

When the water was gone, they would gently pat themselves dry so the herbs and oils were still on their skin. Then I would take them to the kitchen to give them a full body smudging with smoke as the final act of the cleansing ritual. Using Mickaharic’s instructions I would wrap a bed sheet around the person to be cleansed, leaving their head free, while they were sitting in a chair and allow the smoke to blow up under the sheet to smudge their entire body for about 10 minutes.  If the person wanted to, they could duck their head under the sheet so the smudge could touch it as well. For this part I most often used local wild sagebrush. To smudge a person with herbs or incense, light the smudge stick or add a loose purification incense and fan the smoke around the body of the person to be cleansed with your hand, a feather, or a smudge fan. Make sure to get under the feet, between the legs, and under the arm pits too. It doesn’t always look so graceful, but it’s effective.

After all this I’d sometimes send the person home with a protective charm or a talisman customized to help them achieve their goal. Sometimes I’d send them home with herbs and medicines instead if healing needed to continue. Heartsease, bleeding heart root, hawthorn, and rose are my go-to herbs for healing emotional and spiritual hurts. For physical pain I’d share a cup of vervain tea with a friend. It is so very bitter, but it works fast to make you forget your aches and anxiety. Tea can be seen as an ancient and beautiful way to perform an internal spiritual cleanse due to its proven soothing and calming properties.

smoke-1The cleansing worked for my friend going through the divorce. Shortly after her mind game ex-husband finally signed the papers, she cut all ties to him, her negative reactions to her ex stopped, her depression lessened, and happiness beamed from her like sunlight. Years later she is still doing well and is in a much healthier relationship. A loved one who I performed a prayer drinking ritual with needed help because they had let themselves be ruled by depression, defeatism, and suicidal thoughts after a lifetime of terrible experiences. Their life had suddenly changed for the better and was full of happiness, but they couldn’t believe in it, couldn’t let themselves be happy, and couldn’t let their dark thought patterns go. But they did that night, with tears falling into a glass of water and banishing their old dark self who was no longer wanted or needed. They stopped sabotaging their happiness and embraced it.

I wasn’t always successful, for myself or for others. I learned the hard way to make sure to cleanse myself after the rite was over and the person or I went home so none of their psychic grime stuck to me. There were a lot of tears, emergency midnight prayer drinking rituals when emotions exploded, hands held, hugs given, and sadly, failures leading to broken friendships. I tried to help a woman who though her home was haunted and wanted a house cleansing ritual. My two friends came with me, one a shamanic practitioner and the other a healer of alternative medicine. We performed the ritual despite the lack of any ghosts, if just to soothe her. She called the next day, worse than before thinking the imaginary ghost was possessing her young children. They were just teething. The woman was beyond our help. She was a war survivor likely suffering from severe PTSD due to the trauma she went through and who was alone all day with her children in a foreign country with no friends or family. She needed a therapist, not a ghost buster. She wouldn’t listen to us, paranoid and convinced her problems were external and paranormal. We walked away when another would have taken advantage of her circumstance and taken her for all her money.

smoke-2The friend with health issues did not do well either. My card reading and my chat with spirits revealed the health issues were due to them overextending themselves by taking on too many obligations. If they didn’t simplify their life, the spirits warned the body’s reaction would be severe. I shared this insight with them and they agreed, they had been feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. The spiritual cleansing rite helped to refresh them, but they didn’t heed the warning and only cut out obligations that took up an hour of their time a week. It wasn’t nearly enough. Shortly after, their life came to a complete halt due to a severe back injury resulting in them not being able to do anything but lie down and stay still for months on end. It was brutal and frustrating. But they learned from it and years later they have incredibly simplified their life, followed some dreams, and seem happier than ever. I understood what this friend was going through as similar situations have happened to me. I didn’t listen to my soul or body more than once and I suffered for it. It was a hard lesson on both occasions. I’ve stayed in unhealthy relationships much longer than I should have even though I knew I was wrong to. I overstayed my welcome at jobs that were hurting my body or sucking away my soul. I promised myself to not fall into those traps again, but of course it happens when we are so busy we do not pay attention.

I learned spiritual cleansing is about listening carefully to our bodies and our hearts to seek the source of our suffering, whether it be physical or emotional, and then to take action to remove the cause and the environmental factors that surround it. This is not often easy. What we truly need to heal ourselves can lead to breaking up a marriage, quitting a job, giving up passions, moving to a different town or country, leaving a coven or pagan community, losing friendships, conquering addiction, confronting an abuser, or taking other actions that scare you to death. Being frozen in fear is often how we make ourselves ill and prevent any form of healing from working. This is why it is so important to truly be aware of what is wrong and have full intent to do whatever is necessary to overcome it before you undergo a spiritual cleansing. It is why the healer may repeatedly ask you if you are sure and if you are ready before they will perform the cleansing. A cleansing can seem a simple thing, but its effects can run deep and cause profound change in us and our lives.

legsSpiritual cleansing is not always so heavy and serious. It can also be used for when you just feel gross or tired. Maybe you feel icky after interacting with someone skeevy in your pagan community and you just want to give yourself a quick cleanse or smudge before you see them and when you get home. Maybe your mother-in-law is a psychic vampire whose drama sucks the life out of you every time you talk to her and you find yourself taking a shower after a phone call or a visit. Or, alternately, maybe a purification bath is something you do every full or new moon or before you perform a major ritual. Some people aren’t bathers and prefer to shower. If you don’t need the serious, healing spiritual cleansing I like to recommend filling a muslin drawstring bag with a mixture of purifying herbs, olive oil, and sea salt and then hanging it over your shower head. The water coming out of the shower will contain the blessing mixture and coat you in holy water. Gently pat dry, smudge yourself with smoke, and you’re ready to take on the world… or that sabbat ritual tonight.

Sprinkling waters or oils can work great for a quick cleansing method or if a bath isn’t viable. Uplifting scents with purifying herbs, oils, and resins are usually used. This comes from an ancient practice of blessing called asperging which involves dipping branches of sacred herbs or trees in spring water and flicking it at people, livestock, objects, or a home to bless them. This act stems from the ancient pagan practice of flicking blood from an animal sacrifice at the ritual participants to purify and bless them. Florida water or rose water are much sweeter smelling alternatives to that ancient practice!  I put rosewater in a spray bottle and spritz myself before I go out, when I feel run down, or before people come over to visit. I also love to give rosewater or Florida water to people at group rituals to rub on their hands, faces, and necks to cleanse themselves before we start. I’ve noticed people are pretty fond of this —even the manly men like to smell nice.

waters-2Sometimes, holy waters are spat upon the person to be cleansed. I know it sounds gross, but stay with me. In Scotland and South America, the folk healer’s saliva is considered sacred and as having the ability to purify any substance. A Scottish folk healer would often put water in their mouth and then spit it out into a bowl before using it for blessing if they were in a pinch or weren’t someone to use sacred stones or silver to consecrate the water. Scottish, South American, and Haitian folk healers would put holy water or alcohol in their mouths and then spit it in a fine spray over the body of their client who asked for a cleansing. Whenever I attend the local shamanic conference, I usually end up covered in a fine spray of rosewater and mead with a layer of tobacco smoke and sacred herb dusts on top.

In my folk magic practice I don’t just use these spiritual cleansing techniques on people, but also on animal skulls and bones, on the plants in my garden, new furniture or used objects brought into the home, my house itself, my altar, my ritual tools, talismans I create… whether by smoke or water, I cleanse them all. Why not cleanse your car, your office, your new computer, or any used or antique furniture you bring home? Cleanse them of past influences, past owners, negativity, the evil eye,  and then bless them with protection. In rural Scotland any new cow brought home was always sprinkled with holy water or made to drink holy water before it was allowed to join the rest of the herd. Why not do the same with our skull collections or ritual tools? You never know what happened to an object before it came into your possession.

altar-2Whatever form of spiritual cleansing works best for your needs, I hope it helps you heal your body, your mind, your soul, and your life. May the waters bless you and carry you, may fire cleanse you, may the wind blow away your worries, and may the earth support you and caress your feet upon the sacred path.

Further Reading: