I hope everyone is coming off the full moon magic nicely, I hope the first full moon of the year treated you well. Especially you Aquarians, as we are moving right into Aquarius season. Mercury went retrograde a week ago today, and will be there until February 3rd, so I hope everyone is coping with that. We are also just about a week and a half away from Imbolc, which is February 2.
Incidentally, next week’s episode will be all about Imbolc, which is the first sabbat of the calendar year. It’s associated with the maiden aspect of the triple moon goddess, and it’s also sort of how we are all being influenced by the energy of this still very new year. It’s fresh, things still feel new. So I’m excited to do that episode; I love the sabbats.
But first! Let’s talk about foraging. Now, I have spoken about foraging, more or less, in several episodes. I always try to suggest ways to acquire materials for spellwork that don’t require spending money, whenever possible. I think that it helps connect us a little more with the outcomes of our spellwork when we have had to expend the energy to go physically looking for what we need, and it’s important to me that the information I give in this podcast is accessible for witches at every socioeconomic level.
Not every witch has access to an occult shop in their town, and certainly not every witch can afford to spend money on spell materials either in person or online. But mostly, it needs to be remembered that witchcraft is meant to be practiced within a witch’s personal means. A lot of spells we find online will call for ingredients that are expensive and/or hard to come by, but we don’t need to let that be a barrier for doing the kind of work that we want to do.
So before you drive to the witch shop or hop on Etsy, or before you even go to your own grocery store to buy a $15 jar of vanilla bean, let’s look to nature to provide what we need. That is the theme of the day. We are going to go through all sorts of ways to forage what we need in order to better connect with the actual practice of witchcraft. We are all witches, every day, no matter how long we have been practicing, or how long it’s been since we performed any kind of magic with deliberation. That is a given. But sometimes it’s nice to get a little dirt under our fingernails and really do the act of witchcraft.
So let’s get into it. First things first, let’s talk about foraging plant materials. Most spells require some kind of plants or herbs, and this is where a lot of witches become a little bit stymied in their desire to perform spells when they can’t find the exact plant that a spell calls for. But it is easy as hell to find substitutions, and a lot of them can be found in our literal backyard.
So for this little exercise, I say start close to home and look around at what plants, weeds, shrubs and trees are in your own yard or apartment complex or neighborhood. Obviously, there will be a lot of plants and trees that are easy to identify and that will be very useful to you as a witch. Pine trees, willow trees, oak, maple, pepper trees, birch, apple trees, and so on are very common, easy to identify, and can be very useful in magic. You are also likely to find flowers, depending on the time of year. Something as simple as rose bushes can be found almost anywhere, and of course the petals, thorns, and even the rosehips are all incredibly magical.
Other flowers that are common to most areas of the States at least, are marigolds, zinnias, violets, sunflowers, daisies, peonies, feverfew, chamomile, lavender, poppies, my god, the list goes on forever, morning glories. There are very few flowers that don’t have some sort of magical correspondence, so go out into your neighborhood and see what’s out there. But Eli, you say, I don’t know what any of the trees, flowers or plants in my area are, I’m not a botanist. Fair enough. Neither am I.
There is an app that I use called PlantNet that identifies plants for me. It’s completely free, and you just take a picture of the unidentified plant you find and the PlantNet app will use its massive database to tell you what exactly it is. You can take pictures of the different parts of the plant, flower, or tree to more accurately narrow down precisely what you’re looking at, and it’s a really great, completely free resource for foraging close to home.
I recommend you grab a notebook and pen and take a walk. While you’re taking pictures and identifying the plants, make a note in your notebook about what the plant is and where you found it, and then when you get back home, you can spend a little time googling what possible magical properties those plants might have. So when you’re doing a protection spell that calls for wolf’s bane, you’ll be able to flip through your witch’s field guide and say aha! I can substitute fern fronds that I got from the park and get the same effect.
And by the way, if there’s a field or empty lot near you that’s overgrown with weeds, don’t overlook what an absolute goldmine it might be for witchcraft materials. Dandelion, nettle, plantain, purslane, clover, thistle and more are all considered invasive pests by gardeners, but are powerful magical and medicinal plant allies. Here is my disclaimer though, do not use a plant internally or medicinally if you’re not sure whether it’s been sprayed with pesticides. It’ll still work perfectly well for spells, but you won’t want to make nettle tea with a plant you’ve found in the park because there’s a good chance it’s been sprayed with chemicals.
Do this little exercise at different times of year as well, because there will be a lot of plants you don’t find in January that you will find in June, and vice versa. This is a great way to build your own grimoire with locally sourced plants that you have personally discovered and researched, and next time you see a spell that calls for something exotic, you’ll be better able to replace it with something free that you’ve foraged on your own. And let’s be honest, we all want to be the neighborhood witch gathering mysterious flora into a basket.
But there’s so much more to forage than just plants!
Dirt, soil, has really powerful magical properties. If you’re doing any kind of grounding spell, you’re going to want dirt. If you’re doing earth magic, get yourself some meadow or forest dirt. If you’re doing baneful magic, hexes, or curses, use graveyard dirt. If you’re doing wealth and abundance magic, bank dirt. Do you have a legal issue coming up? Use courthouse dirt. To add extra power to any spell you’re doing, use crossroads dirt. If there’s a spell you’re doing to affect someone else, sneak a little soil from their yard.
The only warning I will give here is to be ethical, safe, and respectful. Don’t take dirt from anywhere you’re not supposed to be, and if you are going to use graveyard dirt, use the grave of a family member when you can, or ask permission from the spirit of the person when you can’t. Regardless of where you get the dirt, leave an offering of some kind. In the case of crossroads dirt, the customary offering is 12 pennies, leaving 3 at each corner of the crossroads.
This next one is going to be a little weird, maybe, but bear with me. The next time you come across a big old cobweb, collect it carefully, and stick it in a jar until you need to do a good binding spell. If it’s a little too much for you, a little too icky, I get it, but I am telling you if you add spiderwebs to your spell, it will bind somebody good and tight.
Snake skins aren’t something we find every day, but if you’re lucky enough to find them out in nature somewhere or if you happen to have a friend with a pet snake, snake skins are beautiful to use in spells for transformation, or when you want to leave something behind and make a clean start, or anytime you’re trying to level up in some way.
Finding feathers is a huge big deal for a lot of witches. We may interpret these as messages from our guides, from departed loved ones, or from the very universe itself. And this can depend on the color of the feather or from which type of bird it came, too. There are a lot of different ways to interpret those things, and you can look online for those correspondences, but you can actually take it upon yourself to determine what sort of message a particular feather may be, as well.
Not everything in witchcraft has a hard and fast explanation, especially when it comes to signs and omens, because a lot of factors can come into play. Different cultures and different witchcraft traditions can have completely opposing interpretations for, say a crow feather. Some cultures revere crows as messengers from the other side, and others believe they are harbingers of death. Even a witch’s personal life experiences may dictate that certain feathers or certain birds mean something specific that goes against the grain of common explanations.
So you can kind of write your own story when it comes to feathers. Spend a little time considering what comes to mind when you think of different types of birds that are common to your area. Jot down those impressions in your grimoire. When you do see feathers in your day-to-day life, consider what you may have had on your mind just at the moment when you found the feather. Were you thinking of a lost loved one, or an old flame, or were you thinking maybe about something you’ve been losing sleep over?
If mourning doves make you think of your granddad, or if you’ve been struggling with an issue for a while, perhaps this feather is a message that things are going to be okay. If crows have negative connotations in your tradition, and you’ve been very preoccupied with a toxic relationship, maybe that feather is a sign to get some distance between yourself and this toxic person.
All of this is just a long way to say that feathers are wonderful messages from the universe, but we need to decide how we want to read them. If you have no special associations with birds or feathers at all, then by all means, ask Google what a specific feather means. But when you do find them in nature, forage them, because they can be very useful in magic. Depending what your personal connotations are, you can use these different feathers to add a lot of power to your personal workings. And there’s no getting around the fact that feathers are associated with air magic, so you can definitely use these feathers in your own air magic spellwork.
Sometimes when you’re out in nature you will come across an old, abandoned bird’s nest. These are great for your spells that may be directed toward home magic. If you’re doing a spell to create a more harmonious, calm household or family life, OR if you’re doing any fertility magic, a bird’s nest will be a welcome addition. They can also be really gorgeous on an altar for Ostara or Beltane, since they’re associated with fertility.
If you’re concerned about any mites or creepy crawlies in the nest, and you frankly should be, there’s a simple process for sterilizing it. First, leave it out somewhere dry and sunny for a few days to get rid of any odors. Then stick it in a bag and freeze it to kill anything that may be living in it, and finally spray it with Lysol to kill any bacteria.
On the flipside, wasp or hornet nests are perfect for hexes, protection magic, and banishings, just please for the love of god make sure they’re old abandoned nests and are not currently in use. Use the same process as we did with bird’s nests for sterilizing them so you’re not introducing anything funky into your house, and then use them as you see fit.
Broken glass is always helpful to keep on hand for curses. When I find bits of broken glass, I put them in a jar in my cupboard for those rare occasions when I need to make a spell jar, a witch bottle, or something that calls for broken glass. Obviously, please be very careful when you’re foraging things like glass, nails and thorns, and do wear gloves or at least carry a pair when you go out foraging.
Broken mirrors are excellent additions to spells for deflection of negativity, if you feel like someone has been thinking daggers in your direction, a deflection spell will help to turn their evil eye back on themselves and prevent you from getting the worst of it. Broken mirrors are also really good for revenge spells. It’s the same principle as deflection, we are turning their own awful actions and behaviors back onto them.
Rusty nails are a key ingredient in witch bottles, please don’t give yourself tetanus. And if you are ever fortunate enough to find railroad spikes, snatch them up. If you can find four, holy shit. Iron spikes placed at the entrance of your home, and especially placed at the four corners of your property are brilliant for protection.
If you have old scraps of clothing or fabric, and I mean ratty old things. If it’s too crappy for the Goodwill pile, use it to make mojo bags and poppets. That isn’t exactly foraging, but it’s kind of reverse foraging, I guess, rather than throwing something out. And it’s one of my favorite methods of witchcraft. I talked about it in the Spellwork episode. Stitching your own poppets or mojo bags is such a powerful way to weave your power into the literal fabric of your spells.
And it doesn’t have to look professional; if you’re not a skilled seamstress, it does not matter. Like everything in witchcraft, the aesthetics are not important AT ALL, despite what social media would have us believe. The magic is in the work.
Antlers are really cool to find. I don’t find them much in my area, but when we go up to the cabin sometimes you can get lucky. Antlers are used in fertility magic, protection, battle, and sexuality. Antlers and horns are also a great tribute to add to an altar for any of the horned gods, and of course they can be made into wands, jewelry, or totems.
Ok, um, bones! Alright, this is going to be a little in-depth. There are a lot of health and safety concerns to keep in mind when foraging bones, and it’s such a multi-faceted process. But is there anything in the world as witchy as having a jar of bones in your apothecary?
In my opinion, bones are one of the most fun things to find and forage for your craft. If you find bones that are already picked clean by scavengers and bleached by the sun, lucky you. You still need to disinfect them before handling them with your bare hands though, and for that I recommend 3% hydrogen peroxide. It’s basically just what you find at the drugstore that your mom used to pour on your skinned knees. Cover the bones with hydrogen peroxide and let them sit in a plastic tub (that you don’t ever use for any other purpose) for a few hours, then you can scrub them with a brush (again, that you don’t use for any other purpose) to get any remaining gristle or connective tissue off them.
Then just cover them in borax or sea salt for 4 to 6 weeks to dry them out. Replace the salt or borax once a week or so. This will make them safe to handle, and from there you can use them to make jewelry, or altar decorations, or of course to use in your spells.
If you find bones that aren’t picked clean and bleached by the sun, meaning, you’ve basically found a carcass, you can leave it where it is and let nature continue to do the work for you while you check up on it every couple weeks. Then downside is, it may be scattered or carried away by scavengers during this time. If you really want those bones though, you can gather them, using gloves, please, for the love of god, and bury them on your property to let nature do the job in a more controlled environment.
Depending on the size of the animal and the degree to which it’s already decomposed, this could take 2-6 months. So it isn’t a step to be taken lightly. Bury it two or three feet deep and mark it so you don’t lose track of it. If you have a dog who likes to dig, put something heavy on top of it, like a big paving stone or something. Once it’s down to mostly bones, dig it up again and proceed with soaking your carcass in water and powdered laundry detergent that has enzymes. I like regular old powdered Tide.
Make sure your detergent has enzymes in it. This breaks down connective tissue. Change the water and detergent every week or so and wear gloves. The word of the day is gloves. This step may take two weeks, it may take eight. It just depends. Once this step is over, proceed with the hydrogen peroxide step and then the borax step. This kind of witchcraft is time consuming and not really something you see on Tiktok. But it’s real.
And bones in witchcraft are really powerful tools. They’re used for protection, as tributes, and depending on the animal the bones are from, they are invaluable as materials for spellwork. Bird bones are good for abundance and fertility and magic, coyote bones are good for shamanic and transformation magic, and so on. Figure out what animal you’re working with and research the ways you can use the gift of bones you’ve received. If you can’t figure out what kind of bone you’ve got, you can still use it for general protection magic, or as a totem, or in jewelry, or really however you like.
And that’s foraging. It isn’t glamorous or cute, but it’s witchcraft. It’s gathering the gifts of nature and repurposing them in a way that benefits our practices. So remember to bring your notebooks, your pens, your gloves, and your foraging baskets, and see what kinds of treasures you can find.
We will talk again next week when we get into Imbolc and maiden season. Until then, my name is Eli, and this has been the Middle-Aged Witch podcast.