The Monthly Wort: Yarrow (Part 3)

The Monthly Wort

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The Monthly Wort will provide readers with detailed descriptions of specifically chosen herbs (aka “wort”, meaning a useful herb), splitting it into 4 categories over the span of the month. Herbal History, Medicinal Uses, Magical Uses and Growing/Harvesting. In order to get the full scope of each plant, stay tuned every week as we delve into spiritual and practical experience of Herbalism.


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If you read about yarrow’s vast medicinal properties in my previous Yarrow: Part 2 blog, you might have surmised that its magical uses vary just as much. And you wouldn’t be wrong! It is largely utilized as a protective and healing herb, much like in the tales of Achilles, which the source of its namesake. For many magic and energy users, yarrow is a key plant to have close when trying to avoid negative outside influences or emotional attack, and it is regarded as a psychic protector. For those of us that are practiced at passing through the veil, yarrow can be just the stimulant you need to keep your feet grounded while your mind travels. And this is not merely for the modern hedge jumper! Throughout its chronicled uses, yarrow was worn as an amulet to protect against negative energy. It is a charm that can be hung over a child’s crib to protect them from “demons” or being replaced by Changeling (alongside a few others).

- Yarrow protects from outside influences -

For those in the Hebrides, a leaf of it held to the eyes was believed to give second sight. Stalks of yarrow are also used as randomizing agents in the divination practices of I Ching. Across more than several cultures, it has been applied very similarly for spiritual insight.

Yarrow has also proved a successful love charm, mainly by the fact that it is ruled by the planet Venus, according to Nicholas Culpeper’s Complete Herbal. In folklore, a maiden was to put yarrow beneath her pillow in order to dream of her future husband, only after reciting:

Good morrow, good morrow
To thee, braw yarrow
And thrice good morrow to thee:
I pray thee tell me today or tomorrow
Who is my true love to be.
— Wilde, 1902
The Weed Wife,   Rima Staines

The Weed Wife, Rima Staines

- Yarrow has a long history in love, fidelity and fertility -

It was also a proponent in assuring fidelity. Tucked into a bouquet or flower crown promised seven years of a successful marriage. Bride’s Brew became a tradition for weddings as well, in which yarrow was a key ingredient.

The paradigm between these kinds of fanciful love charms and its use in war create an unusual dichotomy when it comes to spiritual use. To ignore one would do injustice to the other, as they are equally important proponents in yarrow’s mystical chronicles, considering the strong consequences of utilizing both. Love versus hate, life versus death, these extremes find a vivifying balance with this herb.

Yet, there may be even yet another side to yarrow that has been little inspected. After all, how can a single herb invite such an array of different uses over such a long span of time? One could argue that it has very well to do with a deeper purpose, one that does not require a specifically defined motive but an innocuous metamorphosis. To be more specific, using it an herb for shape-shifting.

In a 19th century Scottish folk poem, we examine how a spell for love suddenly becomes a spell of transformation:

I WILL pluck the yarrow fair,
That more benign shall be my face,
That more warm shall be my lips,
That more chaste shall be my speech,
Be my speech the beams of the sun,
Be my lips the sap of the strawberry.

May I be an isle in the sea,
May I be a hill on the shore,
May I be a star in waning of the moon,
May I be a staff to the weak,
Wound can I every man,
Wound can no man me.
— Earr Thalmhainn, Carmina Gadelica by Alexander Carmicheal

This is a great example of where we see yarrow start to change from the want of love into the want for the ability to change one’s self. The first passage begins with all of the cliché trappings that would be expected of a lovelorn poet’s wants; handsomer looks, a quicker wit and a more romantic charm. But then something changes in the last prose: Where what could be presumed as metaphors for gaining noble traits starts to look more like the poet desiring to take on new forms. This is where one my favorite herbal-occult authors, Harold Roth (The Witching Herbs) makes a strong point in his book, “[They’re]… a mask, an appearance, a guise. And then we have yarrow, not so much as Venus’s eyebrow… but as the tail of the werewolf – the shapeshifter.”  He asserts that yarrow is much more than something specifically “this” or “that”, and in fact takes on many gilded facades, which would correlate it more closely with the planet Mercury, which by tale is more of a trickster and perfectly capable of disappearing behind disguises.

Simply use its Latin name as an example, achillea millefolium. If you have read the myth, Achilles had shapeshifting parents.

- Yarrow as a shapeshifter: Have we been looking at yarrow the wrong way? -

Mercury Relief

Mercury Relief

The plant itself is known for being very polymorphic. In other words, it takes many forms in a single species. Roth factually states, “Achillea Lanulosa and achillea millefolium have a different number of chromosomes and a different profile of volatile chemicals (fragrances), depending on the locale where it grew. So, from plant to plant, one yarrow can have not only a different scent, but also different medicinal and magical capabilities. If that’s not Mercury, I don’t know what is!” [Page 85]

Throughout his chapter on yarrow, he suggests that perhaps the plant isn’t entirely intertwined with love and isn’t entirely intertwined in war, but perhaps a fragment of both; that love spells are the perfect place to hide a shape-shifting spell. That, just maybe, things are not always as they may seem with yarrow.

 

Just as significantly, yarrow’s correlation with shapeshifting derives from one of its other coined names, wolf’s tail. Visibly, the silhouette and feathering of the leaves gives it the resemblance of such, so the title is very apropos. It would be easily presumed that the folktales surrounding the nickname derive from its appearance, and thus it was used in warding off werewolves. Now, remember that this is during a time in which the idea of “werewolves” were less Hollywood and more of a traditional term for someone that could shift forms (not necessarily into a wolf, but into the shape of something else entirely), and those shapes were more often than not rather benign creatures, such as birds or mice. The witch trials and spread of Christianity later morphed the concept of shapeshifting into a much more sinister one, therein claiming the accused “witches” to turn into beasts such as wolves to spread fear.

- Yarrow Tales and Werewolf Tails -

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Considering that yarrow is one of the nine sacred herbs of the Lacnunga, which was largely important to the Anglo-Saxon cultures, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that its importance translated to other closely incorporated cultures, such as the Irish or the Celts, in its relevance to love, shapeshifting, protection and werewolves.

- The connection with yarrow is intimate and instantaneous -

I myself have always felt a draw to yarrow. It is a connection adopted from growing up Colorado, where yarrow flourishes, and it was encouraged by my mother’s relationship with it as well. My best friend grew her love and appreciation of yarrow from her grandmother. Now, I can’t speak for them, but for me personally, I have always found myself struggling between the varieties in life and, much like any Gemini/youngest child/creative type, I am at constant war with trying to define myself. Yarrow is one of those herbs that reminds me that a person may not necessarily need a definition. That there is immense power in being able to remain ubiquitous and unexpected. Yarrow is a handsome example of being able to adapt and change and grow at any pace. To spread off in different directions, each one transformative, and still relish in the small, precious rosette from which it began.

See you next week, Folks!

Mountain Hedgewitch

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