This week we had again another “hottest day of the year”. Since June, most of Europe experiences a near ceaseless heat and drought period. These hot days of summer are also referred to as “Dog Days” (Hundstage) and this year they live up to their name.
The Greek called them kynádes hēmérai, Romans adopted it, calling them dies caniculares. Historically the period began with the heliacal rising of the dog star Sirius in the Northern Hemisphere, which Greek and Roman astrology connected with heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck, while to the Polynesians in the Southern Hemisphere the star marked winter and was an important reference for their navigation around the Pacific Ocean.
For my “Dog Days” incense I took inspiration from the paralyzing and deadly weather phenomenon.
The formula has been updated, with field eryngo (Eryngium campestre) being added to the baneful blend. In German language this type of thistle is also referred to as “Unruh” and “Elend” and the occurrence of clusters of broken off stems, similar to spiky tumbleweed carried forth by the wind, are named “Steppenhexen”. This stingy plant is almost impossible to touch or harvest without hurting yourself. Yet, and despite the heat and drought, it is frequented by dozens of bumblebees and other pollinators.
Beside obvious herbal references to the the dog/wolf totem, such as wolfsbane and mandrake, the incense contains also black and white henbane, which have been used in prophecy, baneful spells but also for rain magic. I burnt a good amount of it on this day, both to cleanse and bless a dog skull I found at the flea market, as well as to call for rain and cooling. It may have been simply good timing, but rain came the following morning.
I am often asked about side effects and dangers of burning venific incense blends – I can only speak for myself, I did not notice anything, apart from feeling more focused and empowered. I also sensed a relaxing effect on myself. A slight dizziness I attest to the burning sun and heat, not to the herbs.
Luckily, the worst heat seems to be over now and I look forward to enjoying the end of summer and working on art. In other news, new batches of “Qayin” and “Naamah” incense are now back in stock!
Steady-paced I walk up the hill. The air is pleasantly cold. It clears the mind and disperses my headache. I am not freezing. The road I’m walking up is called Am Kirschberg, literally meaning “by the cherry mountain”. The field to the left is covered with a thin layer of snow. The dark frozen soil is sticking out of the white. Ploughing traces create zen like, eye-dazzling patterns. At the end of the long stretched field the view is clearing up towards town. Over the horizon line a narrow golden band illuminates the sky. Above me are grey clouds. I am planning on a short walk, but my legs carry me in a different direction…
Atop a stone wall by the castle, I find the wormwood has not entirely fallen victim to the frost. Next to fading foliage, fresh silvery green leaves are sprouting forth. I gather a few of them, enough for a small winter herb bundle to hang up at home. When dried, it will empower necromantic incense blends. Looking across the river valley, remnants of snow are showing between leafless trees and dark rocks. The sky is an eyeful and I would enjoy the silence, if it wasn’t for cars flashing past on a mint-green autobahn bridge.
The Thorn Grove in Winter
The way down is frozen over and I hold onto the rusty handrail in order to not slip and fall. People coming my way do not greet me and I do not greet them either. Halfway down the hill, I arrive at the thorn grove. The path up there leads through leafless hawthorn trees growing in all directions. A jay sitting in the branches looks at me but does not fly off. Cautiously I venture on. The ground is muddy and slippery. Most of the snow at this side of the hill has melted. By the rocks I find another wormwood plant and spot a bird’s nest near where the jay had been. I am looking around, breathing the fresh winter air, trying to focus my myopic eyes on the distance. I think of none. It is a good place for the soul.
Above, the hawthorn thicket is overgrown by raspberry and wild rose. To the right there are young blackthorn shrubs. Their thorns are long and sharp. The young twigs are flexible and make the best thorn-crowns. Further uphill, there is another areal of high-grown hawthorn trees, partly covered in ivy. It’s bordering at a property and the allotment gardens are close. One is likely to meet passersby here. But a magician knows to use the gaps and at night the place is dead silent. Today, however, I am only a passerby myself.
A Thin White Veil upon the Field
I’m on my way home, stopping now and then, intrigued by the formations of clouds and the golden light of the sun further afar. A skein of geese is on its way southwards. Passing by wild cherry trees lining the field, I search their stems for resin and at last find a group of three tall and slender trees, the base dripping with soft, blood-red gum. I memorize the spot and proceed, faster now. I have to watch my steps. The trail is akin to an ice rink.
At the birch tree, I stop once more. From here the field looks softer…
The birch is a pioneer, a tree of new beginnings and the first to come back after complete devastation. The birch profits from death and desolation, but it also paves the way for others to follow and thrive. Beith is for birch, the tree of January, the door opener.
Remnants of snow on the barren field, remind of the birch’s torn bark. It starts raining and continues to do so. The next day the snow will be gone.
The Blood-Red Resin Tears of the Cherry Tree Sisters
Returning to the cherry trees, the resin is moist from the rain water and easy to scrap off. I collect a jar full, which I later place on the heat. The resin dries and hardens quickly. In its soft state it is sticky and a yellow golden color. It smells remotely of ripe cherries and of caramel, when burnt. In German it is also known as Katzengold, literally “cat’s gold”, and used for sweetening cough tea. In my worship, I employ the dark red resin tears for Naamahand other female entities. In their harvest, take care to not take everything and leave some behind for the spirits, along with offerings for the guardians of the trees. Physical gifts are symbolical and in order, but they count none without respect and patience. The latter are the true sacrifice. The trees will remember your signature and recognize you next time you approach them.
I am thankful. The thought had crossed my mind to scar the trees in order to gather their resin. But I have not done so. Therefor I am blessed.
In my part of the world the past new moon occured close to the midnight hour and when the moon was just entering into the sign of Scorpio. In addition friends and followers in Eastern Asia and most of North America could simultaneously witness a beautiful partial solar eclipse. An astrologically and magically interesting time, some would already hold their Samhain celebrations on this night, closing another circle, saying farewell to the old and inaugurating a new year. It is the beginning of a liminal time, when the veil between the world of the living and the other side thinnens. It is believed the souls of the deceased – both beloved or malign, familiar or nameless – come to visit and contact the living, in dream or even physically. Temperatures are dropping, you see your breath in the cold air. The trees are yet aflame in autumn colors but will soon turn barren. Winter is just around the corner.
I felt it sooner this year than usual, perhaps owed to the early arrival of summer, autumn and winter are coming earlier as well. And it feels like its going to be a cold one. I experienced some dark days and nights, where I turned inside and contemplated, what has been done and what can and will be done. I got inspired and wrote these lines:
I feel the change of season
this autumn fire
the nights getting longer
the impending darkness
this cold breath down my neck.
But I am aflame and
burning with passsion
to a degree that it
almost consumes me.
Memories and dreams
the future and the past
they are merging
in a round-dance of autumn leaves
in the yellow light of street lamps
or in the dim grayness of
one drizzly September day.
I am day dreaming
and the world around me becomes
like the surface of a pond
into which I dip my finger
and suddenly the whole picture
starts to ripple and disperse
and the voices of people talking to me are muted
and I hear something else.
The veil is thinning.
I am dreaming of reconciliation.
I hear from a lot of people this year has been their worst by far. Some say they felt a strong negative Saturn influence in their life. Things being stolen or lost, relationships breaking apart, unexpected changes for the worse and in some instances also suicide attempts. There was a lot happening around me and for all I know there is little in life to rely on. Believes and faith, relationships and worldly values are questioned and challenged. And the idea that from loss and pain still something good or even better arises, may infact not always hold true. Yet the quality of conversations improves, deepens. Superficialties don’t suffice any longer. And I still feel lucky. I do have my self, my work, and spirits and friends to turn to. Even if they may be struggeling themsselves; as long as there is a shared will to continue and work towards better times – not sit and wait – there is reason for hope.
What really helps me during times, when there is apparently nothing positive at all, is the feedback I receive from you, my customers and followers. It does indeed mean a great deal to me. It is one reason why I’m doing what I’m doing and why I continue this project. Feedback such as this:
Having received one of your plant sigil card sets, I wanted to thank you for your work and express my gratitude in having received one. It is a beautifully crafted work, with an obvious spine of honesty, experience and exploration. A profound expression of the green, from the veils of the divine. – JR/O.
Thank you and all who write me messages, comment, like and fave! Thanks to over 2000 followers on facebook and 500 on tumblr, thanks to my watchers on deviantArt and elsewhere! Thanks to the loud and silent supporters and the imps and gnomes and wizzards doing ‘magic’ in the background and spreading the word! You know who you are.
And though it is true that this is often a lonely path we do take inspiration from another, consciously or unconsciously. I like to think that the same spirits contact us individually and sometimes they whisper the same and other times different things into our ears. Tuesday I thought about harvesting Belladonna under the waning moon. But the night was cold and rainy and there was no sharp shining crescent sickle to be seen that would have called for harvest. Thursday I read of Harold Roth‘s plan to harvest Belladonna under the new moon. I first thought no, lets leave them for another month or wait for next year’s Walpurgis. But then I gave it a second thought, went outside short before midnight and the conditions were just right.
The midnight hour was the hour of Venus and the dark moon had just entered Scorpio. A fitting constellation for working with the poisonous (scorpio) green (venus), and the darker aspects of the goddess (black moon), of whom the Belladonna is evocative. The Deadly Nightshade also has connections to the Germanic myths of the Wild Hunt, especially the Valkyries, daughters of heaven and earth (Wotan and Erda), who accompany the souls of the warriors that died in battle, to their final destination in Valhalla, which is reflected in the German name “Walkerbeere”. The Wild Hunt is said to begin with Samhain and culminates during the Winter Solstice and following nights. My first abstract vision of the plant’s essence shows her infront of a dark stormy sky with flashes of lightning and blood is raining from black clouds.
I took two roots, grown in pots, and both about 3 years old. The plants have flowered ready and the lasts berries are also ripe. In fact the stems are already slowly dying back and new green sprouts come from the root base. So it was indeed good timing. Especially since the following nights were even colder and the green parts don’t survive freezing. It makes sense that the time around Samhain is traditionally the time for the last harvest, which is then put up in the home for drying.
I also encountered a surprise when digging up the second plant as it had grown a long tap-root. It wouldn’t take an end and I actually could not unearth it wholly. I had to dig much deeper to get to the end of the part still stuck in the ground and it turned out that entire thing was indeed over 40 cm long!
I removed the soil manually, then cleaned them in rainwater and put them on the harvest altar, together with previously harvested roots. I lit beeswax candles and offered libation. I noticed a spicy smell and, though I used gloves, felt actually a bit benumbed from the fumes. I learned that the alkaloids concentrate in the root during autumn and winter. It may well be possible these two roots have a higher potency. They are now drying slowly and I plan to later make fetishes with them that tie together visullay the mentioned astrological and magical aspects. Below are a few pictures to show you their raw beauty:
In September I had already gathered leaves and sprigs, which I put between newspaper pages for drying. What do you read in there? It’s been a Belladonna year for sure!
Yet there are plenty of other herbs (and for that matter also seeds!) and so I find myself again running around the house and garden, collecting, sorting and processing all sorts of green harvest. It will still be a giant task to take photos of everything and make it available for ordering. I am also working on a larger herbal commissions, which includes labeling and filling custom bottles for a client.
At least I am ready now with rearranging our front garden (more about this later) and next is the raised bed. So lots to do this week until the official Samhain date. And I still have a very special interview in the making, as well as news concerning my contributions to the third Pillars Periodical Journal! But all in good time. 🙂
So long, after so much deadly nightshade here is now another plant, which embodies the month of October: the Chinese Aconite (Aconitum carmichaelii), or Herbst-Eisenhut, as it is called in German, is the last of the aconites to flower and brightens up the October month with its lush blue-violett inflorescences. It’s poisonous as hell too and another name for aconite was in fact Scorpio. The aconite, as the ‘king of poisons’ is in different ways to be seen as a counterpart to the belladonna or ‘queen of poisons’, who’s atropine is the physiological antidote in aconite poisoning. Now I certainly wouldn’t recommend doing the test. However I do like to grow them besides each other, for higher inspiration and guidance. In fact, I do have quite a few aconite and belladonna seedlings to plant out yet… Yep, lots do! 🙂
Tonight I finished another two Sigil Card Sets to be shipped this week and spent the rest of the night with some red wine and a herbal contemplation, celebrating the end of summer and welcoming autumn. The equinox is not yet here but the air already smells like autumn and I am heavily working towards completing the next edition of my card sets as well as harvesting and preparing all sorts of herbs from our garden. E.g. yesterday I collected most of the Black Henbane and plenty of ripe Belladonna. Earlier this week I have been gathering Yew and Bittersweet Nightshade, with which I sat down tonight. These are noisy times, a lot of heated up thoughts are floating around and so I felt the need to oppose all that with the help of these herbs, which are simultaneously marking the start of a new circle… summer passed too fast, but I had some interesting experiences and crossed ways with a wonderful person (a huntress and taxidermist), who sent me some really amazing frankincense of the finest quality I’ve used up to this point… burning this heavenly stuff rounded up the night. Now the altar candle is still burning and the libation slowly drying/being consumed…