Welcome to my new blog series, Humble Herbology!
Now, before even getting into our topic for today, I would like to credit my role model, J.K. Rowling for coming up with the word “herbology.” I feel like today, (*gasp) TWENTY years after the Harry Potter series graced the world with it’s awesomeness, the holistic and witchcraft communities have adapted the word “herbology” to a point where some people are probably unaware that it’s a Wizarding World term! Thank you, J.K.R., for gifting the world with both magic and vocabulary words!
Why “Humble” Herbology?
I call this series “humble” because I am by no means a professional “herbologist!” I’m not Madam Pomfrey, folks! I am not certified to tell you which herbs to consume medicinally, and I don’t even adhere strictly to the generally accepted magickal associations for plants in spell work. These are just the humble musings of an eclectic Witch who likes to use plants in her own practice based on intuition. The goal of this series is not to provide a be-all-end-all herbal correspondence dictionary that everyone has to copy word for word! The idea is to get you thinking about what the plants in your life mean to you, and evoking the power of memory into your magickal practice. Enjoy! And do share your plant stories in the comments as we go on this journey together!
Now that the title has been addressed, let’s get down to business, shall we?
We begin our discussion of magickal plants with The Pumpkin!
The pumpkin is very near and dear to my heart, and I have a feeling, if you’re reading this article, it probably is for you, too! The world is pumpkin-crazy now-a-days, isn’t it! The moment Labor Day is over, there is pumpkin propaganda everywhere you look! From pumpkin lattes to copious pumpkin decor, this plant has become the universal symbol of the Autumn Season… And, for good reason, too!
The pumpkin is deeply rooted into the collective consciousness of human beings (especially Americans) as a symbol of abundance, stability, and security. We begin decorating with them in September, and keep them around us through November. And when it comes to pumpkin decor, the more, the merrier! There’s nothing more magical to see than a garden decorated with a bajillion real pumpkins and squashes in the fall! The pumpkin is often associated with the Autumn Equinox, Novembers Eve/Halloween, and Thanksgiving. And then, even at Midwinter, we’re often still bringing pumpkin pies to our holiday feasts!
So, what is it about pumpkins?
Well, there are as many pumpkin stories as there are people who’ve had pumpkins… But I think I figured out a key factor in our obsession with pumpkins.
I had the pleasure of growing my own pumpkins for the first time two years ago. I finally had access to a large yard, so the first thing I did was till the soil and carve out a little vegetable garden and pumpkin patch. I grew as many crops as I could that summer, but I was most enamored by the sunflowers and pumpkins that came to fruition in early Autumn. You see, after having just lived in small urban apartments for the previous three years, (and having moved every six months to five years since birth) having a long term homestead to grow crops on was a novelty to me.
Sunflowers will be a whole other topic for a future article, but they and pumpkins have a common association for me that I think is very interesting.
Because my family moved around so much, we never really got the chance to do much crop gardening. My mom is very creative, and loves things like gardening, but with four kids and a ton of other work to do, gardening usually just wasn’t at the top of the priority list for my family. When we did garden, it was during my dad’s house-flipping years, when the end goal was to create a fashionable landscape that would take care of itself for years to come. With the tiny patches of grass our urban properties came with, we mostly just put in shrubs and perennial flowers and called it a day. Because the yards were so small, and we always intended to sell our home in a year or two, we were never really able to dig around and “mess up” the yard with seasonal growing experiments.
Pumpkins, especially, need a lot of room to spread out. They also need well tilled (or “very messed up”) soil in order to grow, and that’s not usually an up-selling factor when it comes to real estate! It wasn’t until we purchased a more permanent suburban home that my mom started playing around more with annual flowers and vegetable patches… And even then, for whatever reason, we never ended up growing pumpkins or sunflowers.
Pumpkins, sunflowers, straw, and corn were things I mostly only got to see on drives through the countryside, or at farms where you can pay to pick your own apples and squash at the end of the growing season. When I was a kid, one of our family traditions was to go to an apple grove and pumpkin patch every autumn, specifically, a lovely place called Becker Farms.
Some of my fondest Autumn memories are of driving through the rural towns and observing what people with permanent homes and large yards did with their gardens. Two things they all seemed to have were pumpkins and sunflowers. Going to Becker Farms was something I looked forward to every year, and didn’t feel complete without. Driving outside the city and picking our harvest crops from this enchanting seasonal attraction felt SO magickal to me! I was that kid who always came home with more pumpkins, squash, corn stalks, “Indian corn,” and apples than I even knew what to do with! But, it wasn’t until the past couple of years that I figured out what it was that felt so mystical about those things.
Growing up, my way of connecting to nature during the Autumn season was to collect the gifts of the season. In a funny way, you could say that I was more of a “hunter gatherer” than an “agricultural” human! I would gather the nuts, leaves, and flowers of autumn from my neighborhood and from the local park, and would purchase the fruit and squash from the farmer’s market… And I was very thankful for that! But I really didn’t get to experience what it was like to plant, tend, and harvest crops myself, and reap the fruit of my labor in the Autumn time.
Because of the way I grew up, it became a sort of subconscious belief that you had to be a special type of person, or have a certain type of lifestyle to grow things like pumpkins and sunflowers. Essentially, you had to have a large yard at a “permanent” home…
It’s kind of funny when I put that into words now… Obviously, you don’t actually HAVE to have a large yard and a permanent home to grow seasonal crops like those. And, furthermore, having a big yard and a long term homestead doesn’t necessarily make you a “special” kind of person. But, you see, as a kid growing up, I was in love with nature, but always lived in noisy urban areas that were on the “tough” side as far as neighbors were concerned. The idea of being outdoors and bonding with nature, without the constant distractions of the city, seemed like a far off dream to me. Almost like a fairytale…
The hearty Autumn crops, to me, represent stability. Not to say that my family was particularly “unstable,” but our living situation was CONSTANTLY changing. Having a stable homestead and becoming very familiar with your own well-worked land was something I’d always desired, but never really experienced. Going into my adulthood, I basically continued my family’s tradition of living in temporary spaces that didn’t quite suit me, moving frequently to climb the slow ladder of success. Images of pumpkins and sunflowers conjured up quaint images of what it would look and feel like to have a permanent home, and be that “special” kind of person whose lifestyle is deeply connected to nature.
Two years ago, I moved back into the house where my mom had started her first vegetable garden in my teen years. My parents had been divorced and moved out for a few years by the time I moved back in, and it was my mission to take this semi-abandoned house and make it a home again. I had no idea what I was actually doing, but I did fall in love with the yard in a new way! I finally planted those hearty seasonal crops I’d always wanted, and got to experience first hand the process of tending a crop garden.
There was something about the simple act of tilling, planting, weeding, watering, and composting my garden that transformed me on a deep level. The path that I walked barefoot twice a day between my sunflowers, my compost bin, my watering faucet, and my pumpkin patch became a deeply spiritual bond between my feet and Mother Earth. I began to feel like part of my natural environment, and, thinking back, it was one of the most beautiful experiences I can remember. I came up with some of my favorite home and hearth incantations while walking that garden path. Talk about grounding your root chakra!
I’m back in an urban apartment now, but it’s become a tradition for me to find some way to plant pumpkins and/or sunflowers at any home I’m in. For me, it’s a ritual to keep me connected to nature, to symbolize a stable, hearth and home, and to represent the “permanent home with a large garden” that I’m working to one day manifest for myself. In the spirit of being that “special kind of person” who’s allowed to grow these plants, I also see them as a symbol of confidence, pride, and self-worth!
Another thing about pumpkins is that a single one of them provides SO much food. A decent sized pumpkin yields an almost overwhelming amount hearty flesh! Have you ever tried to slice, skin, and boil down an entire large pumpkin to make puree? One time, as I was doing just that, it occurred to me just how valuable something like a pumpkin would have been to our ancestors. Before we had grocery stores where we could access massive varieties of foods from all around the world, people in my area would have relied on winter squash to feed their families as the days were growing colder. If there is any truth to the old tale about Native Americans helping European settlers to survive by giving them pumpkins, it makes perfect sense why pumpkins are such a famous symbol for Thanksgiving. And that leads me into my third and most potent association of pumpkins…
One thing I’ve noticed about a good pumpkin, even before I had the pleasure of growing them myself, is that those suckers LAST. One February, I posted a photo on Facebook of my cat sitting next to a pumpkin in my kitchen. A friend commented, “where on EARTH did you find a pumpkin this time of year?” I hadn’t even thought twice about how odd it might seem for someone to see a fresh pumpkin that far into the new year. But the fact of the matter is, if you have a healthy, large pumpkin and keep it in a cool, dry place, it will stay fresh for a very, very, very long time!
This got me to thinking how valuable a pumpkin could be before there were refrigerators. In modern society, most people think of pumpkins as something that magically appears in September and no longer exists after November (unless you count canned pumpkin puree and frozen pumpkin pies). It’s most common for people I know to either carve faces into their pumpkins for Halloween, throw them away when the Christmas decorations go up, or simply leave them out in the elements until they disintegrate. They never leave them intact in a safe place long enough to see how long they really can last!
In the olden days, I imagine that fresh produce would have been scarce once winter was in full swing. Pumpkins were likely a staple for many people when all other fruit and vegetable rations had run out. I can see why we always celebrate with an abundance of pumpkins at harvest festivals. If you had a good pumpkin harvest in the Autumn, it would certainly make a good thing to celebrate! This makes me think of the Seven of Pentacles in the Tarot.
This is that card where we take a look at the fruits of our labor, and assess how to handle the season to come. This deck shows pentacle coins as the fruit, but notice how the vines look exactly like pumpkin vines. In fact, some decks actually replace the entire suit of pentacles with pumpkins! This whole concept of reaping what you sow is so much more valuable to me now that I’ve had the experience of growing pumpkins from seed and keeping them for decoration and food all the way through the winter. When it comes down to it, all of our food has a similar story, even though modern humans are mostly disconnected from where our food comes from. It makes me feel so much more close to our ancestors, and just reverent of the cycles of nature in general.
So, how can we use the pumpkin as symbols in magick? Pretty much the same way we use them all the time!
- To gain a closer bond with nature and the earth element, I highly recommend growing pumpkins from seed, if you can! There are even ways to do this in pots, if that’s the only way you can garden!
- For abundance at the Autumn Equinox, decorate your home with as many pumpkins as you can find, and cook one up from scratch for your thanksgiving feast! Rather than just ordering a Pumpkin Spice Latte, try getting your hands dirty and cutting the tough flesh of a pumpkin. Slicing and digging through the innards to gut out the strings can really give you an appreciation for what goes into making pumpkin pie!
- For November’s Eve, sacrifice some of your pumpkins to be carved into the death mask of a Jack-O-Lantern. Recognizing that death is the flip side of growth is a vital part of understanding the cycles of nature.
- Save some of your pumpkins for as long as you possibly can through the winter! Granted, some will last longer than others, but its a fun experiment! When they do seem to be going a little soft on you, cut them up and freeze cubes of it for winter recipes. A good home grown pumpkin pie is always a great treat for Winter Solstice!
- And be sure to save some seeds!!! There is nothing more satisfying than growing a new pumpkin plant at May’s Eve from the selfsame pumpkin you harvested the previous Autumn! Just rinse the slime off of the seeds and place them in a paper bag. Store it in a cool, dry, dark place, and plant them in the spring!
And wahlah! You’ve just celebrated the whole Wheel of the Year with a frigging pumpkin, dude! How flippin’ cool is that? Who needs complicated stories about goddesses and gods when we have nature to show us how universal energy cycles work? I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty darn impressed with the whole thing!
Thanks for reading my long winded tale! I hope you got some value out of these ramblings! I’d love to hear your pumpkin story! Have you been surrounded by them every Autumn of your life? Or do they even grow in your area? (I’ve learned that pumpkins don’t even grow in England!) Please share your thoughts in the comments below! Until next time,