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herbsforthedead
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herbsforthedead

by Matthew Venus of Spiritus Arcanum

To follow on the heels of the piece I wrote in the last issue of Modern Witch Magazine, The Keys to Necropolis, I thought it a proper addition to offer a listing of varied botanicals that may be of assistance to the witch in works of ancestral reverence, spirit communication, and necromancy.

The denizens of the green often serve as ally and guide in the worship and praxis of the Witch. Beyond the rites of beckoning love, staving off misfortune, and calling the winds of prosperity, the spirits of garden, wood, and meadow also serve in honoring and calling forth the shades of the dead. Though folklore attests to myriad potential partners in our task, there are some who have proven enduring assists in the twin arts of both ancestral reverence and necromancy.

Yew – One of the most ancient of trees, the Yew has a long history of association with both death and resurrection. Guardian of both churchyard and graveyard, the yew offers sustenance by the flesh of it’s fruit, yet death by it’s poisonous seed. The remainder of the yew bears toxins as well, yet when approached by the wise it’s wood serves us well as both a powder for conjuring, and as wand for calling upon the dead.

For this purpose, a wand may be rightly cut on the eve of All Hallows with offerings laid at the Yew’s blessed feet, and thanks given to the spirits who protect her. The wood should be cured for a year and a day, after which it may then be shaped according to desire. Though in this work it is often custom that the stave bear the guise of a skull; the crucible of transmutation, and emblem of the dead. Be mindful though of her baneful potential when unveiling the guise of her wand, lest the poisoned funerary dusts of Yew betray those who would court her aid.

Cypress – Another evergreen, Cypress has long been an arbor of the underworld. Legendconveys that Cyparissus, the beloved of Apollo, was transformed from a beautiful youth into the tree who’s sap is ever weeping. This act of mournful self-sacrifice served as his penance after his accidental murder of a beloved pet stag. The tree has since been a symbol of mourning and stood a prominent role in many funerary rites.

Blessed by both Hades and Hecate, the oil of the cypress serves as an excellent addition to incenses and formulas of the underworld. It’s wood, when gathered in reverent devotion, stands as a Witches Stave designed to ease the passage of souls, and in turn, assist in both rending and barring the veil betwixt living and dead.

Cedar – Cedar stands to seal our triune of hallowed conifers beloved amongst the dead. The wood of the cedar was well worked amongst the ancients and it is said that the temple of the famed King Solomon was constructed from it’s blessed wood. The fragrant oil of the cedar was once used to perfume and preserve in the rites and rituals of mummification performed by the ancient Kemetics, and has stood throughout history as welcome addition to the most exalted oils of anointing and benediction.

The dried needles of the cedar, when smouldered, serve both as a sustaining feast and as call to the goodly spirits of the blessed dead, and as an exorcising fumigant against shades of a noxious hue. It’s wood when formed into fetish, or added to incenses serves this work as well. In addition, the needles befit a smoke designed for censing and purifying the bodies of those recently deceased. The cedar stands as lord immortal and incorruptible, and in this it’s wood also stands as well appointed stave for calling forth the aid of the Mighty Dead.

Copal – The name given the hardened resins of a wide host of plant species, copal is one of the earliest of incenses and historically found much use in Mesoamerican cultures. It serves well as an offering to the spirits of the dead. This finds even greater truth in it’s varieties of a darker or blackened hue which find good use for censing the homes of the recently dead as both an offering and appeasement to those spirits who may remain in states of trauma or confusion after death.

Myrrh – The resin and oil of which stood as faithful friend to the priests of Anpu and the mummy of the dead. Coupled with cedar for preserving the body after death, Myrrh carries with her the blessings of respite. Yet when compounded as incense with her brother Frankincense, their union stands as revelation of death’s impermanence and the promise of resurrection. For where she stands as Noctifer, so he as Lucifer.

Her oil aids in all blends of a necromantic design, as she calls forth the night and envelops us in her mystery. Her resin, when tinctured serves also to hallow, perfume, and preserve the bones of the dead .

Opoponax – Commonly known as Sweet Myrrh, Opoponax has served much the same function as her sister and bears similar virtues. The resin was associated by Crowley with the fourteenth path of Qabalah and the Death Card of the Tarot in his work 777 and Other Qabalistic Writings .

A regular addition to formulas of necromancy, the rich smoke released from her smoldering may serve as temporal base for the manifestation of spirits, and her oil used as a perfume to entice and enrapture benevolent dead.

Aconite – Variously known as Wolfsbane and Monkshood, Aconite is one of the more deadly of the baneful worts and is said to have formed from the saliva of Cerberus; three headed hound and guardian of the underworld. Though her power lies hidden to many who would seek her aid, for those who approach her with humility and devotion, she reveals herself in flashes. In lieu of harvesting the plant and potential exposure to her unforgiving poison, let her be a beloved addition to the Witch’s garden where she may stand as tutelary spirit, gateway to the dead, and votary unto the Dark Lady.

Mugwort – An herb which serves to awaken the eyes to “true sight”, Mugwort has held esteem as an herb of the seer. Its measured use as potion, tincture, or fumigant may serve the wise in this art and assist in the bridging of realms. This is of especial use when the aim is accessing the dead by way of dreaming true. In the pursuit of calling the dead it is said that an incense composed from the leaf of mugwort gathered from a plant long dead and harvested in early fall to mid-winter serves best for these purposes.

Wormwood – Good sister to Mugwort, the spirit of Wormwood assists her well when joined in harmonious proportion. They may be well crafted into potions of seeing, and censes of scrying when one wishes to behold spirits through crystal or blacked glass. Well known for the virtues she bestows upon liqueur, when she presents herself as Absinthe, she aids in coaxing revelation through obfuscation and in this form may serve as an elixir of the dead, both as communal sacrament and oblation.

Mullien – Though often erroneously touted as a substitute for graveyard dirt, Mullien is both a bane and balm to the dead. The plant’s name in Greek (Nekua) literally meant “Death Plant” and it has been associated with necromancy since antiquity. The stalks of the mullien were often dipped in tallow and used as torches in the ancient world during funerary processions. In more recent periods these torches, or “hags tapers” were used in rites to conjure, constrain, and exorcise spirits of the dead. What purpose they were to serve was dependent upon the nature of the spirit, and the desires of the Witch. The plant may be added to necromantic formulas, sacramental smokes, and talismans to good effect.

Dittany of Crete – The rare sister to oregano, Dittany is a native to the Isle of Crete where she was often employed as an aphrodisiac. It is commonly grows on rocky outcrops and gorges where many a would be harvester have found, instead of their heart’s desire, a gruesome death as result of misplaced step and subsequent fall. Where it assists in the Ars Necromantia is by acting as an etheric condenser and foundational smoke for the appearance of spirits when burned as incense in rites of spirit summoning through magical evocation. This is doubly true when she is paired with gum of mastic and wood of the aloe.

Willow – Regarded in both the East and West as a tree of the dead, willow is concurrently believed to both call and cast out spirits. Some traditions hold that the willow stands as a guide to the dead on their way to the Otherworld. Another common tree of the burial plot since ancient times, it has also found representation on tombstones and in funerary art. Branches of willow when carried or placed above the door are said to protect against lost, discordant, and malicious spirits. The wood of the willow may be added to incenses of conjuring and used in the construction of fetishes dedicated to the dead.

Tobacco – A plant infused with powerful virtues, Tobacco presents both as Angel and Demon in the sacred garden, for when overlooked as sacrament and regarded with frivolity, her price is often steep. Used for centuries as an offering, tobacco may be presented as herbal offering upon ancestral altar or funerary plot, as a singular or compounded incense, or as sacramental smoke to honor the shades of the dead. In cases where it is to be smoked, let the sacred pipe be treated as such, and the practice be accompanied by prayers and praise spoken unto the dead, lest it’s inhalation devolve into an act of common habituation.