Folk Magic and Freedom
“Folk magic belongs to the poor and dispossessed wherever that may be. It doesn’t belong to any one people, isn’t black magic or white magic. It’s magic for the everyday. It’s the magic of the people.”
From Emma Kathryn
Folk magic is as old as time. Sometimes I wonder if magic is the right term, for the practises may not seem magical in themselves alone, and I suppose it depends on your own definition of what magic is. For example, is knowing where to find plants and their practical applications magic? I would say so, but you may not. But whether you believe in magic or not, these practises have their uses in everyday life.
Folk magic was often used by those who could not afford otherwise. When doctors were too expensive or too far away, it was the local wise woman who would be called upon for medicines made from local herbs, treating illness, unwanted pregnancy and what ever ailed the local community. People turned to folk magic when there was no one or nothing else that could help them.
Occultishly speaking, some might say that folk magic is simple, that it is low magic, and perhaps it is, but that does not take away its effectiveness.
Folk magic belongs to the poor and dispossessed wherever that may be. It doesn’t belong to any one people, isn’t black magic or white magic. It’s magic for the everyday. It’s the magic of the people.
I practise witchcraft and my particular flavour, as I’ve no doubt mentioned before, is a mixture of Traditional British witchcraft (non-Wiccan), Obeah and Vodou. A right mixture, I know, but as far apart as they may seem from one another, what makes them so compatible is that many of the practises from each tradition can be described as folk magic.
Each one of those practises, individually makes use of plant knowledge and lore, of connection to the land, of singing and chanting and the power of words, of actions and of nature.
Did you ever read American Gods by Neil Gaiman? Bloody great book, and the series was okay too, but I always thought, and think now, that the message might have been lost (or perhaps I read into it too deeply, or perhaps I just saw the truth in it, because the best stories are true, if only to themselves).
Throughout the book, the protagonist discovers the reality of the old Gods and comes to be involved with their struggle with the new, modern Gods. The one the protagonist doesn’t really get or understand is the buffalo that appears to him. Turns out the buffalo is The Land, or at least a physical representation of the land.
What I took from that novel, the truth I saw within it, is that the land is always there. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in many Gods, one God, none, or maybe you’re unsure, it doesn’t matter because the land is there. It is connection to the land at the very core of folk magic. It is changing with the seasons. It is knowing what plant is used for what. It’s about cooking from scratch with real food. It is about getting back to basics. And it doesn’t matter where in the world you are or where you are from, if the land is where your ancestors hail from or not, wherever you are, you can connect to the land beneath your feet.
I believe that we can incorporate and use folk magic practises in our everyday lives, and in doing so loosen the grip Capitalism has on us. Don’t think this is an outright attack, a fight to the end. Instead see it as becoming less reliant on the State. Think of it as chipping away. If it were a fight, then folk magic would be the equivalent of footwork and body movement rather than the knock out blow, but the footwork and the body movement put the fighter in the right place at the right moment to land that power punch.
Also, it’s important to realise that this doesn’t mean you must refrain from all aspects of modern life, but in learning these things, and learning them in a way that is relevant for today, it gives us those tools, the knowledge and skill set if you should ever need it in the future.
And maybe you might just find that you actually enjoy doing it.
So what is folk magic? What I’m going to share from here on out are all things that I myself do. Everything is from my own experiences and I offer them here to you, fellow seekers.
I love nothing more than to be out in nature and foraging is an excellent way to do just that. Working with plants is probably the core of my folk practise, and that’s solely because plants can be used for so many things.
But before working with plants, you need to be able to identify them properly. A good identification guide is a must, one that shows detailed pictures of the whole flower, the petal and the leaf. And then you’ll need to get out and about where you live. Look at what grows there. Identify it. Research its uses. Harvest it. Dry it. It is quite easy and extremely enjoyable when you get going, but you do have to make an effort to get out.
A couple of words on foraging responsibly: Firstly, never decimate an area, after all, it will be in your interest to make sure there will be a plentiful supply next year; also remember we don’t inhabit the land alone, so leave more than enough for the creatures that rely on it for food and shelter.
I’ve already hinted that plants can be used for medicine. Whenever I write about this, sometimes people think I’m saying very ill people should stop taking their medication – I’m not. But that said, for many common illnesses there are natural remedies. When you take cough medicine, or cold medicine, or headache tablets, these types of medication don’t actually make you better, but rather soothe the symptoms of whatever ails you. Big pharma is big business, and you can save your hard-earned cash by not buying these kinds of product, or relying on them less often.
The first thing is to learn of the medical applications of the trees and plants where you live, for example white willow is the precursor to aspirin and grows along rivers.
When it comes to a lot of plants, they are both medicine and food. Teas are a good way to hydrate and will have different properties depending on the plant used. Use dry or fresh flower heads or leaves and steep for a few minutes in hot water before straining and drinking.
Then there’s decoctions, which are made by adding plant matter to water, then boiling until only half of the liquid remains. Tinctures are made by steeping plant matter in alcohol such as vodka, rum, or my own particular favourite, brandy. Some of the plant oils are not water-soluble, however alcohol extracts them and so the plant’s goodness is drawn into the alcohol. Both tinctures and decoctions can be taken as medicines to ease symptoms including sore throats, coughs and colds. They can also be taken , a spoonful a day, as a health tonic.
Poultices can be used for a variety of minor ailments, including spots, aches and pains, eczema and so on. A poultice can contain so many things depending on what is needed, can be warm or cold, and are typical held against the skin , bandaged in placed and changed regularly.
Witchcraft and Paganism continue to become ever more commercialised, and in the process, causes harm to people, animals and the environment, like commercialisation of anything generally does.
Returning to folk magic means that we can resist, if only in some small part, that which goes against what we believe.
Right now where I live, so many of the plants I use in my own practise are ready to pick. Mugwort and wormwood are just beginning to bloom, and the Datura is flowering. I love datura. It is a night-blooming plant, and has large creamy trumpet-shaped flowers that smell better than roses. When the flowers die back, large spikey seed pods grow big and round, finally rupturing and spilling their seeds onto the ground below.
I make ointments with all of those plants and use them in meditation, to induce lucid dreaming and other such practises. But, used carefully and always with respect, these ointments can be used to ease muscular pain as well as arthritis and other conditions. When using such plants, you must always take into account your own health and any medical conditions you may have.
And it’s not just those exotic, almost stereotypical witches plants that can be used either. Flowers including honeysuckle, roses, marigolds, lavender, and so many other common plants can be used in many witchcraft and / or folk practices. Think about making your own incense blends instead of buying. Leave offerings of flowers and seeds instead of tying ribbons to trees or leaving resin statues and the like.
But folk magic is more than medicine and food, though these issues are very important. Folk magic is about connecting to and working with the land and the spirits that abide there. I am an animist and I see everything in the natural world as having a soul, a spirit. Connecting with that spirit is an important part of my practise, and all of the things described above, going out foraging and working with plants, adds to and builds upon that connection.
Folk magic is also about taking our cues from nature. Today we are so disconnected from the natural cycles and rhythms. We go to work all year round in climate controlled shops, offices and factories. We can eat whatever we like, no matter the season. We’ve lost touch with nature and folk magic is about getting that back.
So go out and connect with where you live. Whether you practise magic or not, whether you believe or not is irrelevant, for the benefits getting back to the land offer will be for all who make the effort. Rediscovering folk magic will give you another tool in your arsenal to use in your fight against the Capitalist State.