From Sept/Oct '15 issue, The Essential Herbal Magazine
The spookiest day of the year is right around the corner and it has me wondering about the roots of the celebration and how to enjoy the festivities in a more traditional way – sans human sacrifices, of course. Luckily I was able to borrow "A Witch’s Brew" by Adelma Simmons from Susanna Reppert and found plenty of fun crafts to keep traditions alive and the witches at bay.
Halloween was created from a more ancient druid holiday called Samhain where it was said the more mischievous and malevolent spirits would be allowed on earth for one night of revelry. This inspired many protective and preventative traditions that we still use today as decoration for Halloween.
|Turnips were the vegetable to carve before pumpkins.|
This photo courtesy of Yahoo News.
Wreaths and swags were often placed on doors to keep wicked spirits, witches, and other spooky creatures from entering the home. The ones we use now often mirror ones of old in design, herbs used, and even meanings (depending on the home). Elder, alder, and mountain ash branches and twigs were used as the base for the wreath and then decorated with ferns, bayberries, rowan berries, valerian, vervain, and even yew berries to make the wreaths stand out. These wreaths were thought to help or hinder witches depending on their intention and practice.
If you have little ones who are helping you decorate, corn dollies can be a great craft for them. Corn dollies have been hung from ceilings for hundreds of years and can add playfulness to the holiday. To create more traditional dollies use blue and purple (witches’ favorite colors) instead of the regular orange and black. Don’t be afraid to use other materials and colors, however. Dollies are supposed to be adorned with fun fabrics and designs. Even a little glitter can’t hurt!
If you want to adorn more than just your home for the season, decorating your garden or creating a “Witches Garden” can be fun for the whole family. Witches gardens differ if they are for a white witch, black witch, or the devil himself. Devil’s gardens were actually a tradition that started from farmers. By giving the devil a portion of farmland that remained wild it would keep him away from the crops and the home - giving the devil his due.
Black witches would use plants for poison or other dastardly deeds. If you decide to plant a black witch’s garden or decorate yours with such plants be sure to keep plants away from pets and to wait until your children are at least twelve so they will understand why they cannot consume or use the plants. Always be sure your younger family members tend to the garden with supervision as well. Traditionally bad witches’ gardens contained malicious plants such as deadly nightshade, daffodil bulbs (poisonous to ingest), rue (a skin irritant), and several elder trees, said to harbor witches and having poisonous leaves, branches, and roots. The garden may also have nettles, a stinging and irritating plant, and lily of the valley which is also called "poisonous root."
Some of these plants can also be found in the white witch’s garden as well. While they may be in her garden they are used for good instead of evil. You should still supervise children or pets while they are in the garden to avoid sickness. Unlike a black witch’s garden, however there are plenty of great herbs you may already use in your home. Plants such as yarrow, borage, plantain, St. John’s wort, and elecampane can help your family throughout the year as well as add some festive color, aroma, and structure to your fall decorations. With both the black and white witch gardens be sure to put a cauldron inside, with mullein plants on the four corners to light – this way the witch can always see what’s brewin’.
After the festivities are over be sure to harvest properly. Always ask and thank your elder plants before and after pruning and harvesting and set out a loaf of fresh bread for the witches so they will not spoil your harvest.
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