Behind the Veil

by Anne Duthers

When I step through the veil, it is a bit like a waking dream. I can fly.

But mostly I stumble around, walking into walls, off cliffs, into oceans. I’m just learning how. When I do fly, stopping in time is troublesome too. I will often end up stuck – half way in a wall, or entirely inside a solid structure, as if I were a ghost. I am trapped there, until I teleport out of trouble. And just like a dream, there are times I end up naked in public with no intention or desire to be that way. This is discomforting, too. But like I said, I’m still learning how to do all these things, on the other side of the veil.

This is the way things are in my second favorite place to be online. And this is where I am planning a new herb garden. Welcome to Second Life and the virtual campus for Grey School of Wizardry!

I am, let us be very clear about this, a Luddite. Preferring brooms to vacuum cleaners, real books over e-books, and sailboats over speedboats, I gave my children a hard time when they played any computer games. I wish I’d done this differently. My preference for sunshine and mudpies, showed as distain for the binary. Battles ensued. I knew it was addicting – but I didn’t know why.

But did I mention, I can fly, now? …and swim, without equipment!

Of course, I use a computer for work, always have. And maybe my work ethic was the problem. Wouldn’t even consider going down that rabbit hole unless my work, my life work, had tied a carrot to a string and got me to give chase. Yet here, I find myself teaching a seven-foot-tall elf with flaming red hair- my avatar- how to dance for Beltaine ritual. As it is said on this side of the veil: lol.

And what have these adventures to do with Wortcunning and Wizardry? Well, it is also here that I teach a few classes and, as a project, we are planning a magickal garden. I know, ROFLMAO. My children, now grown, think this is all hilarious, too. However, we, in the Grey School Garden Club -meeting weekly at the rooftop gardens on virtual campus- do not care. We are planning something grand on a virtual scale, virtual on a grand scale, or both.

Wortcunning classroom at Grey School of Wizardry

It is a Wizard’s Physic Garden we plan, but shhhh…. don’t tell! When all is done, you will be able to visit the virtual campus and walk the garden’s central dearynth, sit beneath its apple tree that grows with the seasons, as well as view and gather magickal herbs from the surrounding beds. Sometimes, it is hard to tell exactly how far down this rabbit hole I’ve gone. I expect one day to hang up my head phones with  hands dirty from virtual mud.

Most days, we sit around like any garden club, and talk about our gardens, pests and plant problems in the real world. Here, on this side of the veil with real earth, er, soil, er, dirt. We have become friends, and I would miss any one of them if their avatars were gone on a meeting day, as sometimes happens. Nothing virtual about that. Some things remain familiar no matter which side of the veil you visit.




Smelling Roses

by Anne Duthers

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‘Betty Boop’ Rose

We have all heard the phrase, and some even quote it: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…”  In the famous play, Juliet here asks Romeo to change his sir name, as if it didn’t matter. Often today the quote is used as if to say that one lovely flower, although different, is as good as another despite a change in name. Sometimes this ‘lovely flower’ meaning is stretched to mean ‘women’ or ‘love’ in general. But roses can be very different in name, and some don’t smell at all.

Ah, William (if that is indeed your name) truth is ~ you got it wrong.

Although, in Shakespeare’s day it was closer to being true.  Back then, the almost scent-free hot house rose we see commonly today would not be tolerated. Simply no room in the carefully tended medieval garden for such nonsense.

Ever wondered what apples, strawberries, blackberries and pears could possibly have in common? If fire blight had once been through your yard, then you know the answer already. These, along with rosehips, are all the fruit of the Rosa family of plants.

Rosa is among the first and most common botanical family for our favorite Western fruits. And roses have always been especially magickal, the plant itself being a symbol of both Mars (for its blood red blossoms and protective thorns) and Venus (for its scent, beauty and tasty fruit) with the five petals of the most ancient varieties a symbolic reference to her celestial body.

Rosa polyantha  ‘The Gift’

As above, so below ~ or so the saying goes. Venus in her meandering across the sky is never far from the sun and, in the course of one Earth year, traces (are you ready?) a pentacle in the nighttime sky. And if you slice an apple in half cross-ways, it can also become an instant pentacle to remind you, for your picnic altar cloth.

I don’t make this stuff up, I just report it.

Among the flower’s rosy fruit, strawberries are most odd. Not only is the shape of the fruit decidedly, er, male… but because the fruit actually forms in-side-out and all the seeds are stuck out there upon the skin. I would definitely call this variety of rose plant masculine.

And speaking of Mars, thorny vines can keep you safe if your home is deep within them but what does it say as a symbol of Love that the thorns are shaped just so as to let you reach an arm deep within the twisted branches with nary a prick, only to scratch and claw at you viciously when you dare to pull away? Golly, this sounds familiar too.

The thorns of a rose or berry vine, I was surprised to find, are nothing more than undeveloped leaves gone wrong. Or gone right, if you like a thorny barricade.

Transplanting the ever-forgiving rose is a relatively easy task. Make sure you clip back about 60% of the above ground growth before digging up an established shrub, and be sure to dig wide so you don’t damage too many roots as you go.

Joseph’s Coat

Re-position your rose in its new place with a nice big hole, where it will grow nicely with the affections of you as Gardener, the sun and a little water ~ just don’t cover the root-crown with soil! You will know that your plants are getting enough water if the new leaves show rose-colored around the edges, fading as they age to a deep and glossy green.

Once in the rose garden, if you notice a branch of leaves browned and shriveled as if by fire then you have likely got a case of fire blight in your yard.  Take care of this right away!  Here is what you do: Immediately get a large paper bag, a pair of garden gloves, your pruners and, some rubbing alcohol. Clip away any damaged foliage. Being careful not to contact the plant with your clippings, place these in the paper bag right away.  Burn the bag to destroy the blight virus. Clean your pruners with rubbing alcohol to avoid spreading the disease.

The oldest roses are still available today. Rosa gallica, called the ‘Apothecary Rose’ was the type mentioned by Greek historians and used in dark age monastery gardens and found too in medieval physic gardens. This is the type most used for the fragrance of their essential oils and in healing preparations at the time. And today, when the roses bloom in Bulgaria, armies of old women go to the fields picking 250 lbs of petals to distill for each single ounce of essential oil.

Wild Rose hips

The hips containing vast amounts of Vitamin C are best eaten fresh and raw, as heat and age will break this vitamin down quickly.  This vitamin is used today on skin to topically reduce wrinkles.  Long considered a beauty aide, the leaves plucked early in the morning and placed over ones eyes are “cooling” and  said by Hildegarde “to relieve puffiness”.   The petals are edible too, and may be added to salads or desserts for color and flavor.

The rose has enjoyed various cultural significance through history. In Roman times, it meant success ~ and in later days, perhaps to excess ~ as Nero nearly broke the state with his obsession for the flower.  The early Christian church for this reason condemned roses as depraved…until adopting the white Rosa alba as the emblem of the Virgin Mary.

Different meanings  were ascribed to each color of a rose in the Victorian era. These are the meanings largely used today: red roses for romantic love, white for your mother or someone who has died, and yellow roses for a friend. Now, there are also roses that bloom a silvery violet grey, and some so dark that they bloom nearly black. I wonder what to make of that.

California Wild Rose (Rosa californica) in bloom

Planted in the yard, rose bushes, shrubs and vines will all attract fairies. Fittingly, it is also said that roses grown from stolen cuttings are the ones that grow the best. There seem to be love analogies waiting in that one, too.  And here is a secret from a Gypsy friend of mine: The petals of a rose, picked for one’s true love are the most potent aphrodisiac of all. Careful now…

For the modern Crafter, the rose has many uses.  The wood is very hard and may be used for making a protective and prophetic wand. Associated also with prophecy, a string of dried rose hips worn as a necklace will allow a young lady to “see” her future husband in dreams, as will drinking a tea made from rosebuds. And Scott Cunningham assures us that even a single rose bud upon the altar will help greatly with love spells ~ just do be sure to remove the thorns first!



The Complete Rose Book  by Peter McHoy , Anness Publishing Ltd., Oxford c.1997

Hildegard’s Healing Plants  by Hildegard Von Bingen, Beacon Press, Boston, c. 2001

Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham, Llewellyn, St Paul c. 1999

The Language of Flowers by Kate Greenaway, Avemel Books, New York

Ceanothus: an American Fairy Bush


by Anne Duthers

It started with me, barefoot on a lawn in the suburbs of California’s Central Valley. It was summer, and therefore, redundantly, hot. I wore little besides, well, a diaper actually.  From all accounts it was a happy day, but what I remember is the grass. Between my toes and in my chubby hands: then grab, yank, and in the mouth, much to Mom’s alarm.  As natural to me as falling down a rabbit hole.

And thus began my love affair with Nature in all her green glory. Oh yes, mud pies were an important part of this journey. As were afternoon hours of insect observation ~ a fascination of the creepy-crawliest kind! (shudder) Getting lost got me in trouble in the expanses of hillside shrubbery that pass for wilderness to a kid in San Francisco. Lost, not in location, but because I was busy with the plants I found. And in trouble as in, “Where the heck were you? It’s dark already! You’re grounded forever!”


honeybees on Ceanothus

It was in those days I was introduced to Ceanothus, aka Wild Lilac, or Indian Soap Bush. Pick a ripe blossom (ask the plant first, of course) and rub the flower head (called a panicle) briskly between your palms… See? Soap! There are over 2,500 varieties of this North American Native, ranging from shore to shining shore. In any location, dozens of indigenous animals, birds and insects depend on this plant for survival.

They are a drought tolerant plant that explodes for about 3 weeks each spring in exuberant calliope of panicle blossoms ranging from white to pink, light purple to deep blue. The scent is heady, too but all that fun doesn’t last long. Then dark, glossy leaves wait thick and quiet providing wildlife habitat until nutlike seeds appear later in summer, feeding wrens, cottontail bunnies, and many other small animals and birds. Honeybees and Butterflies love this plant!

Don’t be surprised to find an actual rabbit hole at the base of a wild lilac, too. Ceanothus can grow quite old and large. Even, or perhaps especially, some ground-cover varieties require the wind-sheer of a coastal cliff to keep them below shoulder height.  Most other varieties of Wild Lilac will grow into the sort of shrub most folks call a tree, at 15 to 30 feet tall. The wood of the plant is very hard and branches grow low and thick around a central stalk. Established plants can grow for 150 years or more in the wild.

You may find this plant at a local garden center in a plastic bucket. If you decide to get to know one another better and take the plant home, please don’t try to grow this wild thing in a container. It requires lots of toe-room for the roots to grow far and wide in their pre-programmed search for water. Yet despite its wild ways (or maybe because of them) you will find Ceanothus very drought tolerant after that first, root growing summer.

Very much a wild plant, it does not like extra water at all, so no nearby sprinklers please! Well-drained soil is a must. And keep those pruners in your pocket – Ceanothus resents pruning in any fashion. If you must trim a branch, cut it all the way back to the main stalk. It is much better, however, to place this beauty in an untamed and showy corner of the landscape where it will have plenty of room to thrive under your benign neglect. You have a wild corner, right? A place you never touch in the garden… a place for the fairies to play? (Hint: A Northern corner is ideal for this purpose.)

Use the leaves and blossoms of the Indian Soap Bush in an infusion for washing skin, especially good for facial blemishes, and as a hair rinse. Or make a leaf and twig tea to wash babies and those with sensitive skin. The wood will make a good wand for use in transitions, and things that generally need cleaning up. Being old, wild and native, connected with babies and clearing things up, you may also recognize it as a powerful fairy plant.  Rabbit hole, indeed.

Remember always to use your manners when wildcrafting or harvesting plants in the wild. Use these simple guides to gain good sympathy with the plant and its Deva (fairy spirit). Do not use any part of the plant without permission from the plant or her Deva,  however this is easy to gain if the plant is approached with an open heart and honest connection. Tell the plant of your intentions, sing to it a song of praise and pleasure, ask the plant to help you with your need, and then leave an offering (a bit of colored ribbon or a coin is traditional) as a thank you.

In this way you may establish a relationship of mutual respect with your garden. Careful, from here gardening becomes almost as easy as falling down. You may soon find yourself making mud pies and following rabbit holes to adventure.

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