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Herbs in Magick – Willow
Willow is one of the trees most associated with Paganism and magick. Prisoners in the UK who follow the spiritual paths of Paganism as a whole, and Wicca in particular, are allowed a willow wand as part of their tools for practicing their spiritual path. In popular fiction we have the Witch character Willow Rosenberg in the series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and, in the Harry Potter books, Ronald Weasley ended up with a willow wand after his original one was broken by the (fictional) “Whomping Willow” in the second novel of the series.
This strong connection between the willow tree and magick is an ancient one, and has probably come about through its connection with healing because it is a natural source of silicic acid. This is a compound which can be effective in pain reduction, and helping manage a number of circulatory and skin diseases and conditions. There is evidence that willow bark and leaves, and that of its near relative Poplar, have been used as a painkiller for thousands of years, its remains have even been found In Neanderthal tooth plaque forty-six thousand years old. In the days before the causes of diseases and the reasons why certain treatments worked were known these sorts of results would have been seen as very effective magick indeed.
Also there is Willow’s apparent ability to ‘come back from the dead’ in that twigs and branches apparently dead after being so long separated from the parent tree that the wood was dry and brittle. But when planted in the ground these will apparently ‘spring back to life’ and begin to sprout new leaves and a root system, I knew one Witch whose clothes line prop, a forked branch you use to keep a long clothes line staying nice and high, grow roots and start to sprout even though it was two years old and had had all the bark stripped from it! In some historical Pagan traditions the stories of ‘Fairy Mounds’ which people enter to meet and carouse with the “Little People” are explained not to be hills, but large huts made of traditional wattle and daub, with an outer wall of fresh willow bent over it. The greenery would make it look like a hill from a distance and disperse any smoke leaving the fire hole at the top, and in winter it would look just like a thick clump of willow that was too much trouble to investigate closely. I’ve met several Mages of the hermit persuasion who told me that they had used this type of house to live in away from society with great success. Even in managed areas of woodland in the UK such as the Forest of Dean, and the New Forest which are well patrolled by rangers.
One question I was frequently asked when I was working in a Pagan shop in Portsmouth (UK) was, was the term Wicca for a branch of modern Paganism derived from the same root word for “Witch”? Since this was in the 1980s and the internet had yet to reach the public domain this lead to me to a search in the central library that became much more involved than I had expected. Initial investigation suggested that the term Wicca came from the early medieval Old English masculine noun for sorcerer. It had then been adopted by neo-Pagans in the 1950s when Witchcraft became legal again when the Witchcraft Act of 1735 was replaced by the fraudulent mediums act. This seemed to be “The answer” until I dug deeper and found that there was also a term from Old Norse Swedish Vika, meaning “to bend” which was the root of the term wicker in the sense of wicker furniture.
It was also the root of the modern word “Weak”, which has caused some confusion in more contemporary Pagan groups who appear not to be aware of the syntactic ambiguity, or duel meaning of the terms, because of their sounding the same. Certainly in the shop there were one or two heated discussions over “Why would Pagans follow a spiritual path that could be translated as ‘Weak’?”. To avoid any problems I produced a leaflet outlining the two sources so that people could see the dual origin of the term.
Because the Willow is associated with the moon and the Element of Water, spells using it are usually connected with healing, love, or attraction. Some are simple, such as placing a willow branch beneath your bed for enhancing the chances of conception. In pre-modern medical days it was common to wear a sprig of willow in the hair to help stave off blindness, but now a visit to the local optician or optometrist is far more effective.
One of the Deities to which the Willow is sacred is the Goddess Hecate. Pagans wishing to attune to Her for various reasons use willow wands, frequently using the stick technique mentioned at the beginning of the article to grow plants from willows with the right ‘feel’, or that grow in sacred sites. Although in these days of international travel it’s best to just keep to selecting trees from your own country to avoid spreading pests or diseases. A picture of a tree you ‘connected’ with abroad can be tapped into by using a picture you took as a “witness” on your altar.
Another way of bringing willow back from abroad for use in rituals and spells is to turn some of the branches into charcoal for drawing pictures and sigles. First ask permission of the tree, and the landowner if appropriate, and cut several two to five foot thin branches. Peel them and leave to dry out slightly overnight- preferably in the light of a waxing or full moon. Then trim them to the right length to fit in your tin, usually about three inches. The tin itself should be the type that clips together to form an airtight seal such as a metal pencil container or, if you are in the United States, an ‘Altoids’ tin. Pack the rods into the tin tightly leaving only enough room for the seal to close tightly. Then light a fire in a safe manner, ideally build it in your cauldron or in a stone fireplace of some sort. Kindle a fire and carefully place the tin within it then, for safety’s sake stay clear of the immediate area, but do not leave the fire unattended. Let it burn itself out and leave the tin for several hours to cool, preferably overnight and when you open the tin you should find that the branches are now perfect artists’ charcoal ideal for using creatively in a positive way to enhance your life and spiritual practice.
Content copyright © 2015 by Ian Edwards. All rights reserved.
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