Archive for Mandrake

Twelve days, Twelve tasks

Posted in Folklore, History, Projects with tags , , , , , , , on December 29, 2016 by manxwytch

The twelve days following the winter solstice have long represented interstices between the end of the old and the beginning of the new throughout the Celtic countries. As the popular calendar shifted the New Year from 1st November to 1st January, many of the traditions and influences around Sauin became associated with the twelve days. Divining the year to come was an important way-marker of this time, and many traditions around post-midwinter divination survived in the folklore and practice of the Isle.

The twelve days were seen as both predictive and prescriptive, in that they could offer insight into the forces at play in the year to come, but also allow a measure of influence to shape the year according to the wishes of the practitioner.

In this spirit, I have chosen to accomplish a specific task for each of the days, to set a theme and to empower completion and accomplishment as motifs for the coming year.

yulefrog1

The Lord of Misrule

The first is a re-working of an antique taxidermy frog which I acquired a half dozen or more years ago. I’m not certain what possessed someone to over-inflate this unfortunate amphibian and outfit him with a homemade musical instrument, but this fellow had been a harpist for most of his afterlife, until I was inspired to arm him with a Yule stang and crown him with a gilded acorn-cap. The staff was originally part of the harp, and the horns I formed and added from deer antler.

 

braggotdec2016

Gale Braggot

A fresh batch of braggot was overdue, flavoured with sweet gale and yarrow.
I’m modifying the recipe this year, to add a second fermentation, and four year old homegrown mandrake root to the brew.

My recipe:

3lbs liquid malt extract
3lbs apple blossom honey, plus 1lb for secondary fermentation
4 gallons spring water, plus 1/2 gallon for secondary fermentation
2oz dried sweet gale leaves, buds and nutlets
1oz dried yarrow flowering tops
Ale yeast
1/2 oz dried mandrake root

Heat 1 gal of water with the malt and honey, add half the sweet gale and all the yarrow and bring to just below a boil.
Put the remaining sweet gale in the primary fermenter with the remaining 3 gal of water. Add the hot wort to the fermenter, cover and allow to cool. Remove 1/2 cup of the liquid, test the specific gravity and hydrate the yeast in it afterward. Return the proved yeast to the fermenter, lock and allow to ferment.
Starting SG should be close to 1.060, add water or honey to reach it. Ferment until still, 1-2 weeks depending on temperature. Strain into secondary fermenter. Dissolve the remaining 1lb honey in a half gallon of spring water in which you have decocted a half ounce of mandrake root. Cool, add to the secondary fermenter and lock. Strain and bottle when clear, adding 1tsp barley malt extract to each clean bottle to prime. The final SG should be below 1.0 and abv will be just over 6%.
flyingointment2016

 

I’ve combined mandrake root with henbane seed as actives in this small batch of flying ointment. I add a small handful of dried poplar buds to the extraction, to contribute their resin as a preservative, as well as to provide their own properties and influences to the salve. Soot and salt round out the symbolic ingredients, with a small amount of beeswax to provide solidity, a touch of solar force and the experience of flight.
My preference is to stick with one family per ointment recipe, as far as the actives go, and I have had good success with this basic recipe. I’ll leave the hemlock and aconite to others.

 
Further twelve-day tasks will include extracting oleoresin from some of my prodigious harvest of last season’s sweet gale, to see if it can be used with efficacy as an oneirogenic incense; the completion of a holly and rowan wood wand, and the remaining number to complete the twelve, which I shall report on anon.

Viriditas

Posted in Musings, Projects with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2013 by manxwytch

hyoscyamus nigerI’ve always had a strong connection to plants, particularly unusual plants – living fossils, carnivorous plants, armed and venomous plants, plants that walk or move, magickal and medicinal plants – in short, plants that have power. As a child I grew plants in my parents’ garden. In fact, I turned the entire property into garden, banishing the tedious, ordinary and useless grass and colourful annuals in favour of sacred plants. I worked my first alraun as an early teen – an heroic first year Verbascum specimen that I spent a day conversing with, digging around, loosening the sandy soil of the cliff on which it stood and teasing it away from each and every root to take up the plant entirely intact.  My parents seemed oblivious to what I was filling their yard with – dwale, jimson weed, and henbane mixed in with their petunias and tulips. So long as there was something pretty and recognizable, I got away with a startling amount of weirdness. I also grew the bright cousins of the venificii, lunar, solar and venusian plants alongside my beloved saturnian and martial specimens.

Atropa belladonna
Up until a decade ago, I always had gardens full of plants. As an adult I became semi-nomadic, moving great distances following my career, and I stopped cultivating plants. But I roved and foraged and related to wild plants wherever I travelled. I had completed academic training as an herbalist, and had begun to widen my practice beyond myself and those closest to me before embarking on my travels, and continued to practice as I went.
This past summer I committed to renew my relations with witchcraft and fairie associated plants, regardless of my location. Perhaps a little like a veneficic Johnny Appleseed, I will leave Daturas and Belladonnas in my wake as I move from place to place. But the first challenge I set myself was the cultivation of that Ultimate Diva, the one plant spirit I have never been able to coax into my life, even when I tried religiously and repeatedly in my youth; the Mandrake.

This was back in the dark times before the internet, when seed catalogues were printed on paper and virtually none of them offered mandrakes of any variety. When I found one that did, I ordered an embarrassing quantity of seed and tried every trick I had ever seen to get them to grow. For years I kept this seed company in business, or at least could have, considering the amount they charged per seed, and for years I waited in vain for any sign of life from the mandrake seed they sent to me.
This summer I had the good fortune of finding more than one online source for Mandragora seed, as well as groups of folk online who successfully grew this Holy of Holies from seed. In the end, I ordered from Harold Roth at Alchemy Works in the U.S.A., packets of white and autumn mandrake seeds, twenty seeds of each, and followed his instructions for their preparation and planting. I eagerly awaited their germination according to the timetable Harold provided…
And waited…
And waited…
Months went by. The peat pellets I planted the seeds in mouldered, so I broke them up and mixed them into the top layer of soil in a couple of large plastic pots. Still I watered them, and kept looking for signs of life. I was just about ready to admit defeat and, like the fox after the grapes, decide that mandrakes weren’t that big a deal anyway, when for a completely unrelated magical working I collected water from a Holy Well. I figured I had nothing to lose by throwing some of my holy water on those barren pots of stubbornly ungerminating and ungrateful and probably not even worthwhile mandrake seeds.
And the bloody things sprouted that night.

Mandragora officinalis
The few that sprouted, I have cared for like newborn babes, and they have waxed strong and large in my care. I swell with pride at the sight of them under my plant lights each morning, and my success with them has regenerated my enthusiasm. There was some marital strife, however, when I brought the little darlings into the house. It seems that Mandragora is aligned with Beelzebub, and they brought the flies and their Lord in with them in the form of swarms of tiny little fungus gnats. I bound them with incantations and fly paper, and their numbers gradually dwindled as millions of tiny bodies were sacrificed on the sticky strips.

I have since bought Atropa, Hyoscyamus, and more Mandragora from Harold (his incense and resins are also of the highest quality, I’ve bought and used them with great success too), and look forward to planting them in my garden this spring to surround myself with a proper witches garden once again.

I have come to think of plants as totemic, as I have ever had stronger connections with green things than with the more typical, winged and furred spirits of the contemporary neoshamanic world. I find this particularly appropriate on the Isle of Mann, where there are few ‘wild’ animals left, and the sacred land animals tend to be domesticated ones.
But more of them in another post.