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What can we learn from ants and plants?  

That’s what IBMer Mauro Martino set out to answer in his award-winning data visualization, Network Earth. It explores nature’s interconnected relationships, and how they affect each other and our planet. By making the complex but important topics easier to visualize, we hope to help make more of them accessible to all.

The Domestic Garden Witch: Making Pets Happy

So maybe you’re a college witch with limited space and money, limited to the one window in your dorm. Or, maybe you’re a witch without extensive backyard space who wants to start up a magical garden. Perhaps you’re a kitchen witch who wants the freshest herbs right at her fingertips.

For many witches, having a garden seems to be a bit of a no-brainer. After all, plants and magic go hand-in-hand. Plus, when thinking of a witch, it’s hard not to think of a cottage in the woods with a little vegetable garden out front. Unfortunately for the majority of us, our cottage in the woods is a tiny flat, and our garden out front is a windowsill with limited space.

This is when it comes time to embrace your craftiness and bring your garden indoors! Not only does it place your garden in a convenient location, it also allows you to freshen the air, recycle what would otherwise harm the earth, and embrace your witchy green thumb!

Gardening for Your Familiar

This past weekend, I went to one of my coven sisters’ place to run a game of Dungeons and Dragons. This in itself isn’t that unusual - I usually play about a game a week, and every other week is held at her place. However, she is definitely a witch who spends plenty of time both in the garden and in the kitchen! A fellow animal lover, with three cats and a couple of dogs, it’s always enjoyable to visit. What surprised me, though was an addition to her home’s normal features: a little garden close to the ground meant for her cats!

Whether a college witch or a witch who’d been practicing for a long time, it’s fair to say that many of us - dare I say that perhaps most of us - have dogs, cats, or some other kind of pet. And while there are plenty of spells out there for familiars and pets, it’s rare that I see spells focusing on gardens for them. So of course, my sister’s garden is featured this week, because it is absolutely brilliant!

A simple project, done in the same way you would any container garden, consider growing plants that your furry friends can safely consume. Where the magic comes in is the intent with which you grow your plants and with which you pot them. The example above makes use of cat grass, catnip, mint (which the kitties love to rub up against), cilantro, and parsley.

But let’s take it a step further, as there are plenty of other animals out there!

Aquatic Gardens: Just like with terrestrial pets and plants, live plants can be added to an aquarium with care. Not only do they breathe new life into your fishes’ home, but they help oxygenate the water and depending on the species of plant and fish in the environment, could provide a food source. Sometimes the plant itself is the pet, as in the case of marimo moss balls!

Terrarium Gardens: In the past, I’ve mentioned bottled gardens and terrarium gardens. Whether reptile or amphibian, plants can help provide a more natural surface for climbing, can provide a food source for herbivorous friends, and - as before - help bring more life to the terrarium!

Formicarium Gardens?: Admittedly, not everyone has a colony of ants as a domestic pet. But as with any animal, ants require care and maintenance, and a proper formicarium usually has a larger area for foraging. Though the ants will be healthy with a steady supply of feeder insects and sugars, adding plants will not only make the “outworld” a more aesthetically pleasing environment, but a more diverse one for the colony as well. In addition, ants have been known to tend to plants, harvesting sap and nectars while also keeping the plant nourished and maintained. Take it a step further by adding pitcher plants - a plant that could easily be a pet itself - which not only help control the colony population, but also promote a mutual relationship with ants (the plant offers nectar to the ants from its inactive pitchers, and while it does “eat” ants, the ants will still take care of the pitcher for the sake of the nectar).

Bringing it Outside: Some of us count horses and other outdoor animals as pets. The same principle applies - set aside a box garden specifically to help nourish your friends and bring some joy to the stable. Similarly, if you don’t have any pets, you could set up a garden to encourage wildlife. It’s not uncommon to see beautiful flower gardens for hummingbirds, fruit trees and berry bushes to encourage wild birds to visit, and gardens set off to the side specifically for deer.

What This Brings to a Witch

Part of being a witch or of being pagan is nurturing a relationship with nature. There are many ways of doing this, from adopting an organic lifestyle to assisting in conservation efforts, to even learning how to forage and to recognize various plants. But it goes without saying that pets, plants, and animals can all do much to help us learn about our role in the world. They teach us how to be ourselves, how to live in the moment. Even the ants in a formicarium can teach us about how to naturally be efficient and productive.

This in itself is magical. It’s a natural spell that is meant to enliven the spirit and while it does do quite a bit to make the animals in our lives happy and healthy (even more so when planted and grown with intent), it also turns around and gives us the very same blessing.

Grow your garden, and tend to it and your animal friends with love, and they will teach you far more than you may realize!

May all your harvests be bountiful! )O( 

Marcus Aurelius on Getting Out of Bed,

At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I am rising to do the work of a human being. What do I have to complain about, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?” But it’s nicer here …

So were you born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands? But we have to sleep sometime… Agreed. But nature set a limit on that, as it did on eating and drinking. And you’re over the limit. You’ve had more than enough of that. But not of working. There’s still more of that to do.

You don’t love yourself enough. For if you did, you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat. Do you have less respect for your own nature than the engraver does for engraving, the dancer for the dance, the miser for money or the social climber for status? When they’re really possessed by what they do, they’d rather stop eating and sleeping than give up practicing their arts. Is not then your labor in the world just as worthy of respect and worth your effort?

Meditations, Book 5, Paragraph 1

Unusual Herbs

Recently, as I was reading through several books, I came across quite a few ingredients that I had either never heard of or was unsure of their exact nature. While the herbs compiled below are not necessarily “unusual,” they are ones of which I did not have extensive knowledge. Hopefully this list can be of help to anyone new to the craft, if not at least interesting reference material. 

Asafoetida:
Also known as “devil’s dung” due to its foul smell, asafoetida is a type of resin derived from a perennial herb native to Iran and Afghanistan. Today, it is mainly used as a powdered seasoning in India, as it tastes like garlic or onions when heated. Its magical powers include exorcism, purification, and protection. Careful when storing, as the odour may contaminate nearby herbs. 

Bistort:
Also referred to as “snake weed,” bistort is a flowering plant native to Europe, as well as North and West Asia. Its long flowers are different shades of pink. The American bistort (or smokeweed) has white to pinkish blooms. This plant’s magical uses include psychic powers and fertility. When combined with frankincense, you can improve physic powers, aid in divination, or drive out poltergeists.

Calamus:
May be called “sweet flag,” “sweet rush,” “sweet cane,” “sweet grass,” “sweet root,” or “sweet sedge.” A type of wetland plant, its magical uses include luck, healing, money, and protection. The powdered root can be used in healing incenses and sachets. Use caution, this plant may be carcinogenic.

Cinquefoil:
Of the two species listed in Cunningham’s Encyclopaedia of Magical Herbs, one is native to the eastern parts of US and Canada, while another is native to Eurasia and Northern Africa. Cinquefoil has blooms that can be white or yellow and leaves looking similar to those on strawberry plants. Its magical uses include money, protection, prophetic dreams, and sleep. 

Deerstongue:
Sometimes called “wild vanilla” because the leaves, when crushed or dried, produce the scent of vanilla. The leaves can be used to flavour tobacco. Native to North America, this herb grows pretty purple florets, and it is this attribute which leads some to call it by another name, “blazing star.” Its magical uses are lust and psychic powers. 

Galangal: 
Lesser galangal (Alpinia officinarum) is native to China, while greater galangal (Alpinia galanga) is native to South Asia and Indonesia. May be referred to as “chewing John” or “Low John the Conqueror,” this herb is a member of the ginger family. Its magical uses include protection, lust, health, money, psychic powers, and hex-breaking. If galangal is not available, ginger may be substituted. 

Grains of Paradise:
This peppery-like spice is native to West Africa and, along with galangal, belongs to the ginger family. Its powers include lust, luck, love, money, and wishes. While holding some grains of paradise in your hands, make a wish, and then throw a little of the herb to each direction, beginning in the north and ending in the west. 

Heliotrope:
Careful, this plant is poisonous! The flowers of “cherry pie” or “turnsole” can be white or purple and have the fragrance of vanilla. Garden heliotrope originates from Peru, while common heliotrope is native to Europe, North Africa, and Asia. This herb can be used for exorcism, prophetic dreams, healing, wealth, and invisibility. 

Niaouli:
Most commonly used as an essential oil, niaouli is a type of tree covered in papery bark from the genus melaleuca, of “tea tree” fame. Niaouli oil is made from the leaves and twigs of the tree. Though native to Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, and parts of Australia, it is considered a weed in the United States. Appropriate for use in a “protective” oil blend. 

Petitgrain:
Another essential oil, petitgrain is made from the leaves and twigs of the bitter orange tree, thus giving it a woodsy, citrus scent. This would also work well in a “protective” oil blend. 

Stephanotis:
A flowering plant with waxy, white blooms and leathery leaves, the particular species “Madagascar jasmine” is popular in wedding bouquets. Its essential oil has the magical property of friendship. 

Tansy:
Sometimes referred to as “golden buttons” because of the appearance of its flowers. It is native to Eurasia but invasive in some parts of North America and is toxic if ingested. Tansy can be planted to repel ants, and magically, it has the powers of health and longevity. 

Ti:
This plant is native to southeastern Asia, Papua New Guinea, Melanesia, northeastern Australia, and parts of Polynesia, but was introduced to Hawaii by Polynesian settlers and greatly utilised there. “Ki” in Hawaiian, this plant is also referred to as “good luck plant.” Its associated deities include Kāne, Lono, and Pele. Magically, ti is used for protection and healing. Green ti planted around the house creates a protective barrier. 

Tuberose:
A richly scented, night-blooming white flower native to Mexico. Tuberose absolute is true tuberose essential oil, while others are synthesised for the scent. If the fragrance bouquet is all you need, you can create this with the oils of ylang-ylang, rose, jasmine, and a hint of neroli. Magically used in love-attracting mixtures. 

Woodruff:
Strongly scented, herbaceous plant sometimes referred to as “sweet woodruff,” “master of the woods,” or “wild baby’s breath.” Commercially, dried woodruff is used as pot-pourri or moth deterrent, but magically, it is used for victory, protection, and money. 

A mother’s love
Is like a plant
It grows from seeds
Carried by ants
It’s planted in
The earthly womb
Give it some time
And it will bloom

A flower that
Rises so high
Through storms and pain
Will touch the sky
A mother’s love
Grows like a tree
A skyscraper
For you and me

A mother’s love
Is like a fire
Vivid flames
One can admire
A mother’s love
Will always glow
And she will never
Let you go

—  A.R.J - IT WAS MY MOTHER’S BIRTHDAY // I had to write this in an hour and that’s exactly what it looks like
So you were born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?
—  Marcus Aurelius, Meditations