Hi! I love your blog! Thanks for being so willing to answer questions! I was wondering if you knew why it is that certain herbs work better for certain purposes more than others? Is there any reason other than “Just because they’ve always worked like that”? (And at the same time, I know there are some who think it’s all intent and that the herbs don’t really matter.) I’d love to hear what you think on it.
I actually don’t think it’s all about intent. Personal opinion of course and others are perfectly welcome to work within that belief but I don’t.
Why certain herbs are ascribed certain characteristics depends on who you talk to. For our purposes, I’ll detail why I’d ascribe a particular characteristics to an apple, mostly because I’m noming on an apple right now. But I can probably do this with most herbs.
- Mythology – There are mythological reasons why an herb would be associated with something. Iðunn kept apples for the youthfulness of the gods. There’s also a myth involving those apples, Iðunn, and Loki. Apples also have a Norse association with fertility if I recall my Volsunga Saga properly. (I believe there have been some Norse finds that discovered apples and nuts among offerings). Apples were part of Hercules’ Twelve Labors (golden apples from the Tree of Life). Hippomenes who tossed golden apples to distracted Atalanta leading to his winning the race and her hand in marriage. Of course there’s Eris the goddess of Discord and the fiasco that was the marriage of Peleius and Thetis, indirectly causing the Trojan War. I’m not sure on the etymology of it but apples are associated with Aphrodite I believe because they are part of a folkloric or symbolic act of expressing love but don’t quote me on that. This, of course, doesn’t include the story of the Garden of Eden. Conle of Celtic mythology is given an apple which feeds him for a year but thrusts him into the world of the fae (? My version of this mythology is likely not the original.) Avalon translates to “the apple land”, “land of apple”, or “apple island”. Breaking that down, an apple can be used for love, sex, marriage, fertility, youthfulness, secrets and trickery.
- Folklore – Local and cultural folklore is important, often coming from a local tradition, festival, or even a particular person. Then there’s William Tell, Issac Newton, and Johnny Appleseed. For example, Irish/English folklore states that if an apple is peeled in one continuous piece like a ribbon and is thrown over the shoulder it will reveal the shape of a future lover’s initials. This doesn’t count the vast amounts of saying involving apples such as “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”.
- Fairy tales – Snow White’s dealing with the apple is quite famous. In the original myth Snow White actually chokes on the apple instead of being poisoned by it.
- History – Historically, apples travel well and keep well for a very long time. They’re one of the oldest fruits to be cultivated and are very popular. Not just that, they were often dried and eaten both fresh and dried over the coarse of the winter months. There’s about eleventy-billion ways of cooking, canning, or otherwise preparing apples for consumption. Some foods even have specific meanings to them such as apple and honey for Rosh Hashanah to symbolize a sweet new year. Because apple trees were common, apple wood was also commonly used in hearth fires and buildings. In fact, buildings boats from apple wood was said to be unlucky because coffins were built of apple wood. There’s a few scholars that have said the apple is a symbolic substitute for Amanita muscaria (fly agaric mushroom) and mandrake. Settlers were told to plant apple trees (upwards of 50 trees) when settling in America so they wouldn’t starve. Apples are BIG money and there’s a great many contests relating to apples (apple pie contests and bobbing to apples).
- Cultural Associations & Art – Apples are given to teachers by children as gifts. Because of this, it can be used in association with education or enlightenment (especially if combining with Issac Newton’s legend.) Beauty is often linked with love, sex, and marriage because most cultures associated beauty as a desireable trait for all three. In the Victorian era, apple blossoms became known in floriography for generosity and love. Apples can be dried to look like shrunken heads or be used on dolls or as fetishes or poppets.
- Biology – Apple seeds are actually toxic (amygdalin, which is a sugar-cyanide compound) but safe in small amounts. The larynx on men is called the Adam’s Apple (I believe coming from Garden of Eden story but Christian mythology is NOT my thing.) Falling back to the “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” there is suggested research that states that apples may reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer, increase skeletal muscle, decrease fat, obesity, glucose intolerance. It’s great for fiber and vitamin C.
- Appearance & Color – Apples vary in colors depending on type while apple blossoms are white and pink. If you associate color with the apple, you’ll get fire (especially in gala breeds). Red for action, motion, courage, and passion. Pink is gentler, warm, love, comfort, and good for healing, and to relieve depression. In appearance the flesh is smooth and can be shined with a white, crisp flesh and a core of tiny black seeds. The seeds are rather eye-like aren’t they? And in shape, apples are fairly round and I can attest from personal experience make fairly entertaining baseballs.
tl;dr: I’d use apples for love, fertility, marriage, sex, lust, secrets, taboo or forbidden things, beauty, youth, trickery, poison, death (because where there’s fertility there’s death), education, knowledge, contests, trade or commerce, and suspended life (apples are stored long-term for food plus Snow White’s story). And that’s just the simple apple.
Additionally, there’s the animistic belief that plants have souls or inherent power. Either the power or spirits exist there or the power and spirits can be “unlocked” or “encouraged” to a specific purpose for spell work. Or if one worked with a linked deity, you can use those herbs as a substitute for those deities or those deities’ power.
So there’s a lot of reasons why someone may use an herb for something. It really depends on the person. For example, some won’t use the physical appearance of an herb. Others will rely entirely on the folkloric or mythological attributes. The medical and biological attributes are often used by herbalists and are sometimes ignored by some witches. It really depends on the person themselves and their practice. I like to use all of the above in my witchcraft.
(Also, thanks so much! <3)
Originally posted on tumblr here.