Under the Yarrow moon, my heart has become a little bit more courageous. At the beginning of the year I made the decision to have more adventures. Of course it is not as easy as it sounds, but there are small little adventures that can open up doors, fire up the blood, and bring warmth to the heart, all it requires is getting off ones bottom and saying “yes” to things which are new or scary.
I am a hermit by nature, and rarely go out, preferring to keep my head in a book, or my hands busy in the garden. My life is very small but I don’t mind the smallness of my life, at least not so much that it would make me wish I lived the life of the truly adventurous- jetting off to strange lands and all that it entails. I like having my feet firmly planted in the ground like a tree, with roots, and family and a warm bed to engulf me on cold winter nights.
But sometimes, I long for those special adventures found in books; worlds that can be accessed through wardrobes, or looking glasses, or ponds and caves; the kind of adventure that can be found when stumbling across a special book bound with deep and dark magic, or going into the woods at night with nothing but a little dog or cat by your side…
The Dark Forest Journey has begun again, and with Yarrow in my pocket… and perhaps a little sugar 😉 , I walk with a little bit of courage down dark and winding pathways.
Seven Years Love
“Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up.”
― Neil Gaiman,
Some might think that love is the opposite of adventure, keeping lovers insulated in a cocoon where the whole world fades away and only they remain, but really I can think of nothing more demanding of bravery and courage than falling in love and staying there.
Yarrow is a Venusian herb, both in terms of its powerful healing properties and within folk magic. Its lore is steeped with love spells and folk charms for faithful relationships and it is often used in wedding rituals.
While some authors have called the love charms associated with Yarrow “sappy” (1), and lacking in depth and go off on their own train of thought away from the folklore and history, I simply cannot agree with this stance. There is something to be said for the old granny-witches love charms and the power that they hold, after-all love magic, love divination and the pursuit of love is common across cultures and times, even among our feathery and furry brethren.
Love is not just a silly little thing, born of frivolity and childish fantasy in the way that Hollywood and teenage infatuation portrays it. Love is much deeper than that.
Perhaps I can be accused of being quaint or naive, of reading far too much poetry, and having too many romantic notions, but love has always been the most powerful magic that I know. Read a fairy tale or two, and you will know what I mean. Love is enchanting, and at the same can break enchantments, love is what causes us to go to the underworld and back, and is certainly not something that should be scoffed at.
“Real love was dangerous, it got you from inside and held on tight, and if you didn’t let go fast enough you might be willing to do anything for its sake.”
― Alice Hoffman, Practical Magic
I think Yarrow’s magic is gentler than that, but then again maybe not, Yarrow can take over a garden if it is not kept in check.
Just as well that Yarrow is a powerful healer of wounds working on the blood- to make it stop, or make it flow.
“‘Yarroway, Yarroway, bear a white blow, If my love love me, my nose will bleed now.'”
One of the most sought after charms from folk magicians, witches, cunning folk and pellars was their ability to stop bleeding, and is the one charm common to many folk grimoires.
Yarrow is a Martial herb as much as it is Venusian, its folkname Soldier’s woundwort, powerfully demonstrates it’s use for wounds, scrapes, bruises and bleeding, Achillea being a reference to Achilles who used the herb to heal wounded soldiers during the Trojan war.
A styptic powder can be made from Yarrow for wounds, but fresh leaves and ointments can also be used. Remembering this and Yarrow’s propensity for stopping a nose bleed I created my own folk remedy in the form of a salve.
There is something very magical about making a salve from herbs grown in your own garden. Gathering herbs is always a mystical experience, I often hum or talk softly to my plants , connecting to the ancestral knowledge that has been lost through time. Like true friendship- the purest of which is found in the deep bonds with our animal kin, yarrow can act as a balm against the darkest times and deepest wounds.
Yarrow may be considered a woman’s herb, as it is said to allay menstrual pain, it certainly has something of the feminine about it with its dainty daisy-like flowers and feathery leaves. Of course with its use in war and military many might consider it a masculine herb, but it acts as a balm to heal wounds rather than to cause them. It also causes static blood to flow when it is no longer needed- much like a women’s menstrual cycle moves blood out of the body.
I often steep the fresh leaves with mint into a calming tea to help with cramps, which is also helpful for flu’s and colds. It is said to dispel melancholy and give one the courage to face the world. (Oh bitter herbs really do have a way of kicking-in ones teeth a bit.)
“By the stroke of midnight, haunted trees covered in verdant shadow become cloaked, hooded, shrouded- touched by the Old One”
-Corinne Boyer ‘Plants of the Devil’
With courage, bravery, and adventure also comes danger. In the forest are wicked faeries and witches who want nothing more than to make a meal out of your flesh and bones, and steal your soul. Very rarely are things quite as they seem.
Deadman’s Daisies, Devil’s nettle, Bad Man’s plaything, these dark little names are something of a conundrum for Yarrow, but I have found reference to it being a herb dedicated to The Evil One. I have not been able to find out how or why other than small mentions of it being used in spells.
As with many herbs and plants that are said to belong to evil it is thought to repel it as well. Yarrow was thought to prevent witches from entering the home if placed on the doorstep and was often used to ward off evil and illness when hung up on St John’s Eve by the Irish. I still use Yarrow in this way, binding the flower stalks with thread, and hanging it about the cottage while whispering protective charms.
“Herbs gathered on May Eve were used for healing purposes if gathered in the name of the Holy Trinity, but could be used for malefic intentions, if gathered in Satan’s name.”
– Corinne Boyer – ‘Plants of the Devil’
Boyer theorises that herbs which are not poisonous in nature, and which are not physically dangerous or associated with ill omen are dedicated to the devil in order to prevent them from being over-harvested, particularly if they are medicinally valuable. This may fit with Yarrow but I speculate it may be deeper than that.
Another clue may lie deeper in the ground within the roots of the plant. The roots of Yarrow contain Sulfur, a powerful substance used for protection and purification, but also often used in magic for cursing and hexing.
It is interesting that Yarrow is a serpent herb, and washing ones hands with Yarrow will allow a person to charm snakes, (2) the serpent of course being a creature of the Devil.
Of course not everything from the Otherside is malevolent. In fact some deadly, fae or deathly beings may even be our allies and can be called on for assistance, guidance and knowledge.
Yarrow was thought to have power to connect with the Otherside (3). Yarrow taken from a grave or crossroads or any other place associated with ghosts was placed under the pillow to dream of a future lover. Perhaps the secret as to why it is so powerful for dream- divination is its connection with the dead, whom we are able to communicate with in the dream states. I find posies made with Yarrow are wonderful offerings for the dead and often lay them on my altar.
Oh, sometimes I do long for adventure, for the dark winding roads where I could meet trolls, and faeries, and be swept up in quests with talking cats and creatures unseen and hidden. And in those moments, where I say “Yes!” to something a little different, knowing that danger may lurk around every corner, I arm myself with Yarrow, Knights Milfoil, and take a a few steps off of the beaten path.
He often used to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep and every path was its tributary. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.”
Frodo Baggins about Bilbo, The Fellowship of the Ring, Three is Company
References and Further Reading
(1) The Witching Herbs: 13 Essential plants and Herbs for Your Magical Garden- Harold Roth
(2)Viradarium Umbris- Daniel Schulke
(3)Icelandic Magic: Practical Secrets of the Northern Grimoires- Stephen E Flowers.
Witchcraft Medicine: Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices, and Forbidden Plants- Wolf Dieter-Storl, Christian Ratsch, Claudia Muller-Ebeling
A Modern Herbal- Madame Grieve
Secrets of Wildflowers: A Delightful Feast Of Little-Known Facts, Folklore, And History
Dictionary of Plant Lore- D.C. Watts
Plants of the Devil- Corinne Boyer
Medicinal herbs of the world- Ben-Erik Van Wyk and Michael Wink