A practical guide to using the sacred herbs of Samhain for healing, divination, purification, protection, magic, and as tools for contacting the Spirits
• Explores the identification, harvest, and safe practical and ritual use of more than 70 plants and trees sacred to the Celtic festival of Samhain, the origin of Halloween
• Details the most effective plants for protection from the mischief of Fairies, herbs for releasing the Dead, and visionary plants for divination and shamanic work
• Provides instructions and suggestions for a traditional Dumb Supper, offerings to the Land Spirits, Samhain rites, and recipes for the sacred foods of Samhain
The ancient Celts separated the year into two halves, the light half and the dark half, summer and winter. The festival of Samhain, from which the modern holiday of Halloween originates, marks the transition from summer to winter, the end of the Celtic year, a time when the barriers between the physical and spiritual world are at their most transparent. The herbs most characteristic of this time have specific magical and healing properties that echo the darker aspect of the year and offer potent opportunities for divination, contact with ancestors and Land Spirits, and journeys in the Otherworld.
Presenting a practical guide to the sacred herbs and trees of Samhain, Ellen Evert Hopman details the identification, harvest, and use of more than 70 plants and trees in healing, divination, purification, magic, and as tools for contacting the Spirits wandering the landscape at this liminal time of year. She explores the most effective plants for protection from the mischief of the “Good Neighbors,” the Sidhe or Fairies, as well as herbs for releasing the Dead when they are trapped on this plane. Identifying visionary plants used to induce ecstatic trance, Hopman explores how herbs have been used for millennia to aid in psychic travel and shamanic work and shows how one might safely use plants to take a voyage to the Otherworld. Drawing on her knowledge as a master herbalist, she also includes cautions to prevent harm and misidentification, along with advice on basic etiquette and common sense approaches to herb magic.
Detailing the history, rites, and traditions of Samhain, Hopman explains how to make an offering to the Land Spirits and provides instructions for the traditional Samhain ritual of the Dumb Supper, complete with recipes for the sacred foods of Samhain, such as Soul Cakes, Colcannon, Boxty bread, and dandelion wine. Woven throughout with mystical tales of folk, Fairy, and sacred herbs, this guide offers each of us practical and magical ways to connect with Nature, the plant kingdom, the Spirits that surround us, and the turning of the year.
Samhain is a great “Fire Festival” of the ancient Celts, celebrated at the official close of the harvest. By Samhain all the produce of the fields must be safely gathered into the house and barn and anything left in the fields after this date is the property of the Good Neighbors (the Sidhe) and not to be touched by mortals. It is an old Celtic tradition to leave offerings for the Fairies on this potent Spirit night.
Samhain marks the end of the Celtic year and after a three-day observance, the beginning of the next agricultural cycle. Just as a seed begins its existence in the dark of the soil, so does the New Year begin in the dark of winter, which is the time to rest, take stock of the past year’s accomplishments, and dream in future goals.
For the ancient Celts there were only two seasons: summer and winter. The festivals of Samhain and Beltaine (May Day) were portals between two spheres of existence, the dark half of the year and the light half of the year, times of chaos when the Otherworld more easily bled through. Samhain, like Beltaine (May Day) was a potent Spirit night, a liminal time when the walls between the worlds were thin and ancestral Spirits roamed the Earth. It was a good time for divination and contact with the Otherworld.
Chapter 2. Herbs of Protection and Why We Might Need Them
According to Celtic tradition the dead come to visit the living at Samhain, especially in the dark of night. A welcome is extended to these wandering dead by leaving a door open, setting an extra plate of food at the table, and by placing an extra seat near the hearth. Candles are lit and placed in windows and doorways to light the way home for departed ancestors.
But it is understood that not all these ancestors are happy and that some might come to take revenge for slights inflicted upon them in their previous life. Ghosts are known to seek out and follow those with whom they have a grudge and if one hears footsteps behind them it can be deadly to turn around and look. If you have to be outside it is wise to go in disguise so as not to be recognized by vengeful Spirits.
Periwinkle, Sorcerer's Violet, Flower of Immortality, Flower of Death Vinca minor, Vinca major
The woodland ground covers known as Lesser and Greater Periwinkle have the same medicinal properties. The herb and flower tea are used for diarrhea, gastritis, heavy menstruation, bleeding between periods and other hemorrhages, and as a gargle for tonsillitis and sore throat. Periwinkle is sedative and beneficial for nervous conditions.
The tea is used as a wash for eczema, wounds and inflammations. A poultice of the plants is applied to cramps. Use it in salves for hemorrhoids and for inflammations.
*Caution: taking large amounts could harm the kidneys and nervous system, upset digestion, and cause hypertension. Avoid during pregnancy and breast feeding. Periwinkle can cause irritation to the skin in some people.
Periwinkle is said to be a charm against “Evil Spirits” and was once made into crowns for dead children. Wear the herb or hang it over the door and on gateposts to repel evil spirits and ill intentioned sorcery.
“In France the plant was placed in a buttonhole it was thought to keep evil spirits away. In some areas, it was added to both wedding and funeral wreaths… The flower is called by the Italians Centocchio, or 'Hundred Eyes,' but it is also called 'The Flower of Death,' from the ancient custom of making it into garlands to place on the biers of dead children. To the Germans, it is the 'Flower of Immortality’… In Italy wreaths bound by Periwinkle were placed around the neck of condemned men, before their execution.”
Periwinkle at Samhain
Make a wreath of Periwinkle and hang it on your door. Drape it over gates and windowsills as protection against ill-intentioned Spirits.
Mandragora officinalrum, M. vernalis, M. autumnalis
The ancient Greeks considered this plant to be an aphrodisiac. They also used it to help with insomnia, anxiety, depression and as a general pain remedy. *Caution - Mandrake should not be taken internally more than once a week and larger doses could be fatal. Mandrake contains trance-inducing tropane alkaloids.
Ancient Egyptian paintings sometimes show priest-shamans guiding the living and the dead, accompanied by both Mandrake and Sacred Blue Lotus (Nymphaea caerulea). Sacred Blue Lotus is aphrodisiac, euphoriant, slightly mind altering, and helps to alleviate pain. The flowers are brewed as tea or soaked in wine.
Mandrake protects against demonic possession and is used in exorcisms. To activate a root first display it prominently in the home for three days then soak it in water overnight. Sprinkle the water on entrances, windows, and people. Left on the mantle it attracts prosperity and happiness to the house.
While digging the root avoid touching it because the first person to do so will likely die (This is why dogs were once used to pull it from the Earth). Mandrake roots are used as poppets for good or ill. To make a poppet take a root that looks like a person, decorate it to make it more closely resemble your “target” and then focus blessings or curses on the homunculus.
Mandrake at Samhain
Display a Mandrake root in your home for three days; the day before Samhain, the day of Samhain, and the day after. Then soak it in water overnight and use the water to sprinkle entrances, exits, and windows. Leave the root on display afterwards.
Ellen Evert Hopman has been a teacher of herbalism since 1983 and is a professional member of the American Herbalists Guild. A member of the Grey Council of Mages and Sages and a former professor at the Grey School of Wizardry, she has presented at schools and workshops across the United States and Europe. A Druidic initiate since 1984, she is a founding member of The Order of the White Oak (Ord Na Darach Gile), a Bard of the Gorsedd of Caer Abiri, and a Druidess of the Druid Clan of Dana. A former vice president of The Henge of Keltria, she is the author of A Druid's Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine; A Druid’s Herbal for the Sacred Earth Year; Walking the World in Wonder; Being a Pagan; Tree Medicine, Tree Magic; and Priestess of the Forest. She lives in Massachusetts.
"Ellen Evert Hopman’s The Sacred Herbs of Samhain is a fascinating sourcebook of lore, history, magical methods, and practical information regarding plants sacred to the festival of Samhain. Samhain, observed at the end of the Celtic year as autumn turns to winter, is also noted for being a time when ancestral and otherworldly spirits are most likely to interact with the living. Though its focus is on the beautiful and haunting time of Samhain, The Sacred Herbs of Samhain can be used year round to appreciate and explore the cycles of our natural and mystical world."
– MEG NOLA, Foreword Reviews (July/August 2019)
“The Sacred Herbs of Samhain offers even more than bringing us into the magical world of spirits and fairies! I recommend that anyone fascinated by herbs embark on a literary herbal foray with Ellen Evert Hopman. Her in-depth knowledge of herbs provides a unique reference resource for the harvesting techniques, preparation methods, dosages, cautions, and use details for both physical and spiritual healing, complete with the fragrance of informative ancestral herbal lore.”
– Kathy-Ann Becker, author of Silencing the Women
“. . . a very straightforward, practical guide for those readers who want to actually put the information to use. This is the kind of book that gets dog-eared from sitting on your kitchen table or altar rather than dusty from sitting on your bookshelf. Highly recommended for all levels of practitioners.”
– Kirk White, author of Masterful Magick
“There are all kinds of herbalists but none as magical and profound as Ellen. I cherish every book--every word--she gifts us with.”
– Susun Weed, herbalist and author of the Wise Woman Herbal series
“Based on her impressive knowledge of herbs and the old-time practices of wise and witchy forest wives, Hopman offers a compendium of herbal medicinals in The Sacred Herbs of Samhain. A compelling look into Celtic herbal practices connected to the autumnal time of year when days are short and the veil between life and death is thin. The contents include all the how-tos and why you’d want-tos and why nots, with clear identification for practical and ritual usage provided by image and description. Beyond the practical are the entertaining, engaging tales of folk and fairy, of goddess and god, and of prophetic romance and/or death. This book is an invitation to delve into the shadows and realms of time gone by, the origins of the hallowed days of Samhain, Halloween, and other worldwide observances. A guide to keep by your side.”
– Marylyn Motherbear Scott, poet, author, and founder and high priestess of Magickal Cauldron
“A delightful collection of herbal knowledge and Celtic lore for Samhain. In addition to providing a significant reference on relevant magical and medicinal uses for herbs, trees, and more, Ellen provides complete instructions for a Samhain ritual and also a traditional Dumb Supper. Her easy-to-follow recipes for soup, breads, soul cake, dumb cake, magical ink, and even dandelion wine complete this gem. Recommended.”
– Morven Westfield, author of The Old Power Returns
“Another jewel in Ellen Evert Hopman’s collection, The Herbs of Samhain sparkles from beginning to end--from how to stay alive and dig mandrake to making elderberry sorbet and crowns of mallow leaves to how to spot where the fairies did battle the night before. I was entertained, challenged, and enthralled with each turn of the page as I partook of eclectic knowledge, Druid teachings, poetry, and recipes that have inspired me to more deeply weave herbs into my Samhain tradition. No doubt I’ll be coming back to this book many, many times!”
– Wendy Snow Fogg, founder and senior herbalist of Misty Meadows Herbal Center in Lee, New Hampshire
“Ellen Evert Hopman provides a potent reminder that it’s the relationship between the living and the dead that lies at the very heart of Samhain and Halloween. This crucial point is all too often overlooked amid all the commercialization and sensationalism that in recent years has come to surround this most profound of holidays. This book is a practical, comprehensive, clear, and useful guide to a wide variety of plants together with a great selection of spells, recipes, and fairy lore.”
– Judika Illes, author of Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells
“Ellen Hopman’s book is a treasure trove of herbal knowledge and wisdom. A great read!”
– Rick Allen, Grammy nominee and author of F ’n’ A!: My Crazy Life in Rock and Blues
"Ellen Evert Hopman, a prolific author of herbal manuals and handbooks is a long-time herbalist who cares deeply about your use of herbs. You can sense that easily because her handbook [ The Sacred Herbs of Samhain] is like a kit, containing lots of information and stories doled out in a practical way. One thing seems clear: herbs are our allies. Herbs guide us towards physical and mental health and the health of the planet, if we respect and use them right."
– Herbology East and West's Lotus, Lady, & Verse
“The Sacred Herbs of Samhain is a good pick for those interested in plants and herbs, but it is an absolute must for those interested in integrating those plants and herbs into their Samhain observances."
– The Magical Buffet
"What a perfect time of the year to review this book! Ellen Evert Hopman has written a very concise book on herbs to use in and around Samhain, and, most likely, at other time of the year, when one wishes to communicate with their ancestors. I really love this book and as a budding herbalist, this book will hold a place of honor on my herbal bookshelf."
"The Sacred Herbs of Samhain is an extremely useful and complete practical guide when it comes to the identification, harvesting and usage of different herbs and trees connected to the celebrations of Samhain."
– Aurora Sothis, Pagan Dawn: Journal of the Pagan Federation
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