Archive for medicine

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.


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.



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%.


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.


Posted in Folklore, Musings with tags , , , , on July 23, 2012 by manxwytch


For many years I trained as an herbalist. A Medical Herbalist to be precise, which means that in addition to traditional herbalism I studied biochemistry, anatomy and physiology, embryology, pharmacognosy and a whole bunch of other ‘ologies’ that are typically part of regular medical training and make up a Bachelor of Science degree. Then I practiced herbalism for 10 or so years before going into mainstream primary care and emergency medicine as a career.

So I’ve seen medicine from both sides, and as a practicing clinician I apply each paradigm with different clients according to need. Both are knowledge based, both make use of the clinician’s insight, experience and intuition, and I have seen both succeed in bringing a  sick person back to health.

In emergencies, and for most primary health care, the mainstream approach is largely cookbook medicine. You see these symptoms, you do these tests and give these medications at these doses for this length of time. And see what happens.

Herbalism in my experience is more complex. It’s a relationship between organisms, not just a chemical acting on anatomy and physiology. Herbs produce a myriad of components, once living, and that changes the therapeutic picture. Though by and large, in many cases a broad cookbook approach still prevails. I know that this plant has these actions, and I’ve combined it with other herbs according to the client’s constitution and current state of health, and based on years of practice I have a gut feeling this plant is going to help so I add it too. And see what happens.

But there comes a time, an event or a patient, when your herbal medicine goes beyond knowledge and biochemistry, beyond the clinical application for patients. When your connection with the healing properties of the plant becomes a personal necessity.

Belief must manifest as result, or faith is broken.

The plant and patient must be engaged on a more than knowledge based theoretical level. This can be facilitated by dream incubation, prayer, meditation and intuition to identify with and solicit the plant to act on more than just biochemistry. The responsible, informed, judicious and very occasional use of entheogens, which I don’t recommend to most people, (including most witches), is another way to identify with persons and plants beyond their physical and chemical components.

Here is where Herbalism becomes Wortcunning. The element of faith, the direct negotiation with plants as partners in the healing process, the realization that the vital and less tangible components of a plant’s makeup are as essential to the healing process as the biochemical constituents. Prayer and meditation are normally involved, with a corresponding reverence for approaching and working with the Viriditas or Genius of the plant and other tutelary spirit(s) appropriate to the work.
When faith is invested in the necessity of a result, there is the potential for that faith to be broken if the desired result does not come about. That tension of faith and expectation creates the emotion that drives the intensity of the prayer or charm that accompanies the physical act of making and administering the medicine of the Wortcunning man or woman. As I’ve said before, if the powers you raise (and your reason for raising them), don’t scare you just a little, you’re not doing it right.

And if you can consistently combine plant, patient and spirit to obtain the desired result when it really counts, you’re practicing Wortcunning.