While I will still be making botanicals and vending at herb fairs, conferences down the road, I’m also going to start doing more shows and fairs with vintage books, curious antiques, and scarce items. I’m expanding on my work as a rare book dealer, but keeping more object based materials in stock and lower priced rare books.
I’m trying my hand making short instructional videos! This is on making black salt, or ritual salt, or witches’ salt. I’ve been making salt for ritual practice for a number of years, this batch comes from wood collected from up in Northern California. I recommend clean wood and dried plant material. This is not a culinary salt, it is used for ritual and clearing in your home, spellwork, and or consultations. Be mindful when using and of course, have the highest and best good with intentions.
Charred Western red cedar, crushed in mortar and pestle
and I infuse lastly, under the full moon. Next one is May 29th. Flower Moon.
One of the reasons why I love Caitlyn Doughty is the way she approaches death. Literally and figuratively. It was serendipitous she happened to post a NYT article today on decomposition. Honestly, it is what I think about when I have been working on my new project, “As above, so below.” With the majority of my pieces or products I’m marrying my practice and interests, these bottles are the result of “spiritual decomposition” and reflection on the relationship to nature to myself as a mortal being.
There has been a flurry of interest in ‘memento mori‘ recently and the science of death. This is a good thing. I won’t justify and lament on how my work is different than other makers of terrarium or memento mori art work. We all share certain visions and express them in a way that makes sense to us. Frederik Ruysch as other classic anatomists has reinvigorated the study of anatomy, botany, and vanitas for new makers of oddities and the like. I will say the difference between much of what I do and many other makers is I don’t want to present the work as a static, preserved, and sterile work. It is form and function with a dose of aesthetics, but the materials I use in my work will probably decompose or at least shift in time. I will not use any adhesive or “cleaning” technique when constructing my terrarium or talisman bottles. The downside to this, they don’t travel well, as far as something to be shipped. I would rather not purchase pre-cleaned animal bones or any other kind of post-mortem material, partially due to ethics and my own approach to this project. These materials are part of an micro-ecosystem within the bottle and holistically are one in the same. I am gifted with many of the materials from my loved ones from their homes and areas, as I also find the materials myself in nature. The one aspect that is more difficult are the precious stones and rocks I acquire; I generally go through a seller I trust for those.
Another facet to the project is taking flora and geological materials from different bioregions and composing the “weed altars” to create more magical spaces and environments that wouldn’t exist elsewhere in life. There are certain organisms that do not grow cohesively with other in the natural world. One taken out of their natural environments, these plants derived of their hosts are essentially deadened. How they react after that is up to the environment themselves. One of the reasons why I chose to use ‘dried’ plants and/or sun-bleached bones in the first place. These organisms have already gone through a state of decomposition. As they are derived of oxygen, however, that process is slowed, however, even in the state of ‘death’ microorganisms survive, as they pass through my process of handling.
As with a previous blog, I also work with cemetery dirt and continue to do so with this project, keeping in mind my ethics and the ethics of the dead and the ones that remain. “As above, so below” is a mantra that brings about such a change the magician uses the conception of “dynamic interconnectedness to describe the physical world as the sort of thing that imagination and desire can effect.” Imagine places co-existing within world above and below, in death and life. I’m trying to depict with intent, that death and life are integrated in nature, rely on each other, and are necessary to understand place. These works are ritual for me and possess much of my intent to exemplify beauty and grief.
Huss, Mathias; David Wolfe [artist]; Eli Kahn [printer]. La grāt danse macabre des hōmes [“Dance of Death at a print shop”]. Portland, ME: Wolfe Editions, 1499; . Limited Edition. Limited edition print, in fine condition. Original woodcut rendition of 1499 plate in late Medieval early printed book, which not only has spectacular representations of death but also the first illustration of a printing office and a working printing press. Run of 25, signed and numbered by printer, approximately 11×17″ Fine.
One of the first representations of publishing’s workflow is the wood engraving published in an edition of the “Grande Danse Macabre”, by Mathias Huss (Lyon, 1499); a book representing all trades of the time, in a “Dance of Death” genre, late-medieval allegory on the universality of death. The wood cut depicts a printing press with a compositor, two printers and a bookseller – from production to distribution – separated by a pillar, a common way at that time to make a time or space ellipsis (later used in comic books). Woodcut designed and created by David Wolfe and printed by Eli Kahn at Wolfe Editions, Portland, Maine.
I commissioned this work because I loved the image and it is the earliest known image of a printing and bookbinding office. You can find the print for purchase here: Dance of Death at Of Oak and Ash.
I want to say a quick word about my use of graveyard dirt in a recent spell bottle I produced. Again, I am mostly approaching my craft from a very Western perspective, partially of how I grew up, but also because I am very concerned about direct and disrespectful cultural appropriation. Like I have before, many cultures, indigenous and contemporary, have used parallel sources of magick working in their religious evolution. Have colonialist attitudes and efforts taken more from indigenous cultures? Absolutely. There is no disputing much of Wicca and Western European magick was influenced and appropriated from Afro-Caribbean and Eastern spiritual practices. Gerald Gardner himself spent time in the Indies and Asia. We do live now, in a multi-faceted society where research is important and knowing the roots and root work of magic is extremely important. Allowing the work to speak for itself is not enough sometimes, we need allow the root work to speak louder.
I made spell bottle (a talisman) recently that contained graveyard dirt I gathered from a Chicago cemetery. I have visited this place many times younger, so the experience returning older and wiser is eye-opening. Talismans have a long history of magical spell work both as worn objects and as objects of admiration and worship. My talismans are meant to venerate the natural and spiritual forces of protection from ill spirits and unwanted spiritual energies in your home or personal spaces. Graveyard dirt can be used to communicate with souls at rest; I ask for help against malignant souls with the support of realms we can’t see. Not out of malice, but out of veneration. My thoughts are to allow the natural cycle of life be part of our present and protection. I want to be able to pair plant, essence, and element together which is why I know that soil from earth in a cemetery is quite powerful.
Graveyard dirt, also referred to as ‘goofer dust’ is originated in African American conjuration and magic practices. Many contemporary sources including Scott Cunningham also referred to graveyard dirt as a euphemism for mullein and other plants for clandestine reasons. I would say, that the despite the evolution of formula and uses, graveyard dirt will always be and noted to be a vehicle of energy originated by African American Hoodoo and Obeah Rootwork practitioners. While I do not practice Hoodoo, I want to acknowledge the history of graveyard dirt is directly sourced in Hoodoo.
Alexander, Leslie. Encyclopedia of African American History. “Goofer Dust,” 2010.
The talisman bottles, although created with magick, use herbal healing as a source and healthy communications with entities outside our living realm. It is up to the intended person to use them to their own benefit, much like the black salt. Each bottle contains:
Graveyard (cemetery dirt)* [from Graceland Cemetery, Chicago]
Sea salt [for clearing and confirming spaces]
Silver or pearl bead
Wraiths of the house,
Take heart and live:
To every chamber
This light I give,
To every corner
This breath I say-
Approve and favor
This vessel I display
–modified from Crone’s Book of Words
As the calendar year comes to a close, I’m often reflective of accomplishments, but this time, rather more that needs to be done. I fear that people’s lives will be compromised, including education, living spaces, environment, civil rights, and very important, the right to wellness and healthcare. We’ve already seen this happen in one event in recent days at Standing Rock. All in one area. There were many herbalists and healers present at Standing Rock. That action was important. There is more action there and even in your own community to be taken. One of many to do this is by supporting local organizations banding together that provide services for communities. Another is do-it-yourself! Take personal action. Your neighbor, friend or family or the person you *see* everyday on the street, make them a nice cup of herbal tea, if they are sick.
I’ve been treating myself and people around me as best I can within the confines of my income to make medicine and items for personal healing and energy. I’ve operated on an online platform with little success, but I will continue forward. I do tend to do better with in-person events and appearances. One of those was the Peace Bazaar which Margarat and I have been attending for the past 5 years. Social justices and environmental organizations supporting gift giving from good causes.
It’s hard to maintain and be creative in this world, but keep at it! I know I am! As a matter of fact, keep an eye out for some new herbal and plant based magical items in the new year at Of Oak and Ash. Only *we* can make things happen!
The “witch bottle*” is a counter-magical device dating to the 17th century. (We have an early description of a witch bottle from Suffolk, England, 1681.) Jane Sibley, Ph.D., (specialist in Norse folklore and runes and traditional Norse practitioner) has described these historical artifacts as similar to a reactive or protective amulet.
*It is known that research is slanted toward white, colonialist and Western evidence of witch bottles. In Afro-Caribbean, Afrocentric, and indigenous American cultures, curse bottles and other uses of apotropaic amulets were already established in spiritual and religious ceremony.
Witch bottles were sealed with a good watertight lid and contained a number of curious items, including sharp objects such as pins, bent nails, broken mirror shards, plus any of the following: knotted threads (often red), ashes, salt, hair, vinegar, botanicals, dirt, sundry other items, and human urine. The sharp objects in the bottle are intended to shred the malicious intent. The vinegar and ashes are supposed to disempower the ill will. Vinegar is a solvent. Knotted threads bind it up. Sounds grounds it, neutralizing the negativity. The botanicals could be any sort of magical herbs or plants, opposing a broad range of ill. If the hair is human, it probably seems the same purpose as the urine.
This bottle was intended to protect a person from malicifica (malicious or ill-intentioned magic) directed at him/her. The containers were often made of glass or pottery. (Bellarmine jugs were popular in England, although made previously before in Germany.)
This magical practice crossed the Atlantic to colonial America. Evidence for the practice was found in excavations at Governor Printz State Park in Essington, Pennsylvania. This American example probably dates to the 18th century–the bottle was manufactured around 1740 and may have been buried about 1748. A description of the “Essington witch bottle” is below:
This squat piece of glasswork with a bright gold patina over its dark olive color had been buried upside down in a small hole. Two objects were deposited under the shoulder of the bottle: a piece of a long thin bone from some medium-sized bird, possibly a partridge, and a redware rim sherd from a small black-glazed bowl. The bottle contained six round-headed pins and had been stoppered tightly with a whittled wooden plug.
—Marshall J. Becker, An American Witch Bottle, “Uncanny Archaeology,” Archaeology Magazine Archive, 2009.
Here is a description from 19th century PA Dutch healing magic:
Another Remedy to be applied when anyone is sick, which has effected many a cure where doctors could not help. –Let the sick person, without having conversed with anyone, put water in a bottle before sunrise, close it up tight, and put it immediately in some box or chest. lock it and stop up the keyhole; the key must be carried one of the pockets for three days, as nobody dare have it except the person who puts the bottle with water in the chest or box.
–John George Hoffman, Pow-Wows or Long Lost Friend, 1820, pp. 10-11
So, even though temperatures in Southern California fluctuate ridiculously, we just went through a “cold” spell this last week or so and it seems many of my comrades fell victim to the ick. Without knocking on wood and walking around a broom three times, I have managed to keep my immune system up and not get sick, due to a couple of things: diligent cleaning and just that, boosting my immune system. One of the ways I do this is through a daily dose (sometimes 3 times a day) of Elderberry Syrup or “Elixir.” I’ll remind you, that is just one of the ways. The immune system is funny because it over compensates, especially when you are stressed. So, even if you are dosing on good herbs, if you aren’t getting good sleep and are super stressed, even elderberry isn’t going to fully fix that. Keep that in mind. I also take a tincture of Echinacea, Super Lysine, Propolis with some other immune boosters. Elderberry is an excellent preventive herb that along with conscious efforts can support your system overall.
I have a batch ready to go and can make more! If you would like to order some, please visit my SHOP!
As we just passed the Fall equinox and give thanks for the harvest, the moon passes through a time of shadow and reflection. The calendar year signals a closure and a steady march to symbolic death and renewal. I think about the elements more this time of year than any other time of year. It is a time when the self or at least for me, when I need the most protection. For some reason, our selves become more vulnerable in winter. Of Oak and Ash is concerned with the cycles of the seasons and how we manifest all unwanted and wanted energies. I created an elemental line of amulets, otherwise in historical terms known as ‘witch bottles’ thinking about how one might use the properties of plant, object, and energy to best uses.
Witch bottles have their roots in folk magic history, particularly in England; the first recorded mention of a witch bottle was in the 17th century. In the US, witch bottles have been found hidden in walls or in archaeological sites, suggesting uses for healing, hexing, protection, and spell craft. The original intent was a measure against harmful witchcraft, but mostly in mystery.
The Elemental witch bottles from Of Oak and Ash are individually created bottles each with a distinctive elemental constitution. Each element corresponds with a plant and stone or object. These are not curios, nor do they have the intent to do harm and/or change the will of someone. These witch bottles although created with magick, rather use herbal healing as a source. It is up to the intended person to use them to their own benefit, much like the black salt. Each bottle is unique. All the bottles have absorbed the full moon cycle light. Cork is not sealed. Bottles are about 1oz.
Each bottle contains:
Earth: Comfrey, Eastern Red Cedar, Cleveland Sage, Lichen from Pacific Northwest, Jade, and Lake Michigan lake glass
I take great care in the process of these items, as a practicing witch for over 30 years, part of the process is in the ritual of making and the good intention for the user. All stones and beads were cleared and the process space cleared. All plants are from organic sources or ethically harvested.