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Midsummer Portal to the Witches’ Sabbat

Midsummer Portal to the Witches’ Sabbat

The Black Walnut Tree: Juglans nigra

The Summer Solstice is a time to celebrate the Sun at the height of its power.  Plants collected during this time of year, like St. John’s Wort have a fiery celestial quality, which can be saved to illuminate our rituals during times of darkness.  This is a celebration of the longest day of the year, and the Solar God during the apex of his reign over the light half of the year.  Even though the days remain longer than the nights up until the Autumn Equinox, the Sun’s power slowly begins to wane after this Solstice.  As one of the four solar holidays, it has long been known as a time that witches would gather for their Grand Sabbats.

The Oak is traditionally the tree of the solar half of the year through its connection to the Oak King in modern witch lore.  The Oak tree is astrologically connected to Jupiter the Roman counterpart of Zeus, the father of the Olympian gods.  However, there is another Jovian tree that has connections to the Midsummer festivals through legend and lore, the Black Walnut tree.  Its connection to witchcraft and magic is evidenced by the more sinister aspects of this arboreal titan.  The Latin name for this tree Juglans can be traced back to the words Jovis Glans, literally, “nut of Jupiter”.  Beyond their obvious association with the male reproductive organs, nuts were also known to be food for the gods.

According to the well-known medieval herbalist Nicholas Culpepper, the walnut tree is masculine, and it is energetically connected to the element fire and the Sun, making it an appropriate correspondence for Midsummer celebrations.  When we examine the legends and lore associated with the Black Walnut Tree a darker more eldritch power is revealed.

 

 

Walnut Symbolism and Folklore

Unguenta, unguenta, portami al noce di Benevento,” is part of a chant attributed to the Benandanti a group of Italian witches who gathered on Midsummer’s Eve to fight off the forces of evil and infertility.  It is said in medieval folklore that the witches of Benevento gathered under the shade of the sacred walnut.  According to Corinne Boyer in her recent book, Under the Witching Tree, from Troy Books, there was an ancient walnut tree under which these witches held their rites for centuries.  Lore has it that beneath the tree was an effigy of a serpent, and after the tree was cut down witches continued to gather there under the cover of night.  It was said that a phantom image of the ancient tree would manifest as they continued to hold their rituals.

While the nuts of the tree were considered lucky, the tree itself held a darker eldritch connection to the Underworld, the dead, and the ancestors throughout Europe.  The luck bringing quality of the “fruit” of the tree is an aspect of its connection to Jupiter, representing gifts, opulence and virility. The dark twisting roots and branches of Juglans nigra connect to the lower world, revealing a more Saturnian aspect.  This combination of correspondences bridges the Upper world of the thunder wielding sky fathers Zeus and Thor, which we will see later in the tree’s connection with weather magic; to the gods and spirits of the Underworld.

In sympathetic magic, the shells of the walnut represented the skull, and the meat inside it represented the brain.  The nuts were also offered as food for the dead, having a strong connection with ancestor veneration.  The empty shells could be used to bring clarity or cause confusion, depending on the intention and ingredients held within these protective containers.  By representing the head of an individual, they acted as miniature effigies for the human mind.  Another superstition included placing the walnut beneath the chair of an alleged witch to prevent them from being able to move and utilize their powers.

“The shadow of the walnut tree is poisonous to all within its compass.” – Pliny the Elder

The ominous shadow cast by the walnut tree was attributed to have malefic powers.  It was thought that the spirits of the dead resided in the walnut tree, and sleeping beneath its branches could bring about madness and even death.  Throughout Germany and Italy it was believed that witches preferred to gather under the shade of ancient walnut trees during bad weather, and on Midsummer’s Eve.  In parts of the United Kingdom it was known as one of the trees of the Devil himself.  Other folkloric tales said that sleeping beneath the tree would bring about a deep sleep during which one would have prophetic dreams.  The occult effects of the tree and the area around it would make it a powerful place for solitary rituals and initiations.

The medieval taboos against planting certain things around the vicinity of the walnut tree are based in the fact that the tree is able to kill susceptible plants within its immediate vicinity.  This characteristic is known as allelopathy.  The walnut tree exudes a compound that was unknown in the middle ages.  The toxin called Juglone oxidizes when exposed to the air and soil around the tree, increasing the soil’s alkalinity.  Interestingly the Solanaceae, which consist of plants like Deadly Nightshade and Henbane are among the susceptible plants.  This ability that combines poisoning and boundaries are two qualities that are innately Saturnian.

The susceptibility of such an infamous group of poisonous plants may have played a role in the walnut tree’s use as an antidote for poisons.  Even placing parts of this tree among other baneful herbs was said to render them ineffective.

The Magical and Medicinal Links of the Black Walnut

Medicinally the walnut tree, particularly its bark and leaves, is astringent and cleansing.  It acts as a purgative, cleansing the blood and body.  The green hulls that encase the walnut are particularly good for expelling internal parasites when made into a tincture.  1-3 drops can be taken 1-3 times per day.  It is also spiritually purgative, and acts powerfully on spiritual parasites, negative attachments, and energy attachments that drain our vital force.

Matthew Wood at the American Herbalist Guild Annual Symposium, speaks on the plant’s application for the expulsion of another’s influences.  The nut’s connection to the brain also helps with the influence that of a negative person’s thoughts and manipulations.

The wood is used to fashion wands, stangs and staffs which are symbols of authority and power, bringing strength to the body and mind.  This would be useful for long or precarious journeying in the Otherworld.  Its use as a staff or blasting rod, especially collected after a powerful storm enhances its connections to weather magic, particularly lightning.  It was a bad omen to carry walnut wood onto a ship about to go on a voyage, as it was thought to attract lighting storms.  This was also a characteristic of the Oak, another tree of power and authority.

The tree’s connection to the poison path and Saturnian workings make it a great container for ingredients used in darker magical operations.  The wood helps to contain the occult energies of these materials, simultaneously increasing their power.

So in addition to gathering herbs which have been imbued with maximum solar power, and celebrating the longest day of the year; find an old walnut tree and make an offering to its resident spirits in the way of our ancestors in arte.  A simple rite of offering and communion can be performed after the sun finally sets, paying homage to the ever present eldritch powers.  You will be surprised how willing this dark and wizened tree is to give its gifts to those who know of the Old Ways.

Further Reading and Resources:

The Poisoner’s Apothecary: baneful herbs and occult herbalism

A Modern Herbal

Under the Witching Tree: A folk grimoire of tree lore and practicum, by Corinne Boyer

Dragon Oak: Magical Properties of Trees and Wood Magick

The Druid’s Garden: Sacred Tree Profile of Walnut

Blood and Spicebush: The Folkloric Uses of Wood Part IV Black Walnut

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Coby Michael Ward
,
I am a practitioner of traditional witchcraft, proud armchair occultist, and cultivar of baneful herbs. I have a passion for potion-making and arcane artifacts. I love researching and writing about the history of magic, occult philosophy, and the Pagan practices of Germanic/Norse traditions and the British Isles. As a writer, I have been working for about two years, and have taught workshops on esoteric herbalism, witches’ flying ointments, and the Poison Path. I recently self-published a zine-like booklet called “The Poisoner’s Pocket Guide” a collection of baneful plant lore and witchcraft. I have been growing a Witch’s Garden for about six years consisting of various plants commonly associated with witches and sorcery. I have been studying magic and the occult for a number of years. I later decided to go to school for religious studies, which helped me with my writing. Arizona State University is where I studied religion with an emphasis on religious text and ritual. I became interested in poisonous plants and traditional European witchcraft via my studies of American Folk Magic and African American Hoodoo, which introduced me to the grimoire tradition and eventually Sabbatic Witchcraft. In my writing I look to draw new connections between ancient mythology, symbolism, astrological correspondence and traditional witchcraft practices like spirit work, herb craft and soul flight.
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Coby Michael Ward
,
I am a practitioner of traditional witchcraft, proud armchair occultist, and cultivar of baneful herbs. I have a passion for potion-making and arcane artifacts. I love researching and writing about the history of magic, occult philosophy, and the Pagan practices of Germanic/Norse traditions and the British Isles. As a writer, I have been working for about two years, and have taught workshops on esoteric herbalism, witches’ flying ointments, and the Poison Path. I recently self-published a zine-like booklet called “The Poisoner’s Pocket Guide” a collection of baneful plant lore and witchcraft. I have been growing a Witch’s Garden for about six years consisting of various plants commonly associated with witches and sorcery. I have been studying magic and the occult for a number of years. I later decided to go to school for religious studies, which helped me with my writing. Arizona State University is where I studied religion with an emphasis on religious text and ritual. I became interested in poisonous plants and traditional European witchcraft via my studies of American Folk Magic and African American Hoodoo, which introduced me to the grimoire tradition and eventually Sabbatic Witchcraft. In my writing I look to draw new connections between ancient mythology, symbolism, astrological correspondence and traditional witchcraft practices like spirit work, herb craft and soul flight.
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