Herbs for Hedgewitches: Mugwort

mugwortRecall, mugwort, what you declared,
What you established, at the Great Council.
‘Unique; you are called, most senior of herbs.
You prevail against 3 and against 30
You prevail against poison and against infection,
You prevail against the harmful one that throughout the land travels.
– The Nine Herbs Charm, from the 10th century Anglo-Saxon manuscript Lacnunga, as translated by Bill Griffiths 

Mugwort has held such a special place in my personal practice for so long that I really feel it deserves its own post.  Not only is it one of the herbs mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, but (as seen in the above quote) it is the very first herb mentioned, described as “unique” and “most senior.”  This description is accurate, since mugwort has been found in the caves of Lascaux, France dating back to the Ice Age at least 17,000 years ago.  It is extremely ancient and has been an ally of shamanic practitioners for a very long time.

While it doesn‘t have any remarkable value as an antibiotic medicinal herb (as the charm might lead one to expect), in Germanic tradition mugwort was the premier purification and warding herb of choice during the smudging nights between Hallows (Samhain) and Yule (filling a role for Northern Europeans similar to that of white sage in North America), as well as during the thin-veil holiday directly across the Wheel from Yule, Litha.  Mugwort was also used to season the traditional feast of roast turkey on Martinmas (November 11th), the day which marked the beginning of the Yule season in Germanic countries.  Since Martinmas was said to be distinguished by the appearance of “St. Martin” riding on a white horse through the sky, I have concluded that there is ample reason to identify this festival day as originally a day for Odin/Wotan that was later grafted onto the saint.  For me, mugwort is perhaps the herb most strongly connected with Odin, and this is borne out by some of its folk names, such as old man, felon herb, naughty man, and Uncle Harry (the latter suggesting Harr, one of Odin’s many by-names, and meaning “high one”).

Mugwort has a very long history as a hedge-crossing herb.  A frequent ingredient in witches’ flying ointments during the middle ages, it is still called upon today by many Northern Tradition practitioners (including myself ) to purify ritual spaces and as an aid in trance journeying.  Mugwort is an especially helpful ally during transitions of all kinds, and was traditionally used by midwives to help guide newborns into this world, as well as included in graves to ease the passing of the dead into the next world.

The German name for mugwort, beifuss, translates literally as “by the foot” and refers (or so I believe) to the plant’s frequent inclusion in charms for safety and guidance during travel (whether physical or spiritual/astral).  When worn or carried during a journey, mugwort wards off disease, wild beasts, evil spirits, and fatigue.

In addition to this, mugwort is well known for being an aid to divination and visionary trance work (the latter being one of the main ways in which I use it personally).  Mugwort tea can be sipped before a divination or oracular trance session and also used to wash crystal balls and scrying mirrors.  If kept in a red bag under your pillow, mugwort is said to induce clairvoyant dreams.  Mugwort contains thujone, a mild hallucinogen and neurotoxin, and while the herb is generally safe to use, mugwort essential oil is dangerous (because of the concentrated levels of thujone it contains) and should be used with extreme caution, if at all.

Appropriately enough considering its properties and its strong connections with Odin, mugwort commonly grows alongside roads and ruins—places frequented by travelers and scholars–where the soil is stony and poor.  A tenacious perennial, if cultivated in your garden it will grow prodigiously and can reach heights up to seven feet during the summer.


2 thoughts on “Herbs for Hedgewitches: Mugwort”

  1. Does Mugwort grow well in potted planting? It is an herb I have a very good, strong relationship with and I’d like to be able to grow it with my limited space if at all possible.

    1. I’ve never tried growing it in a pot myself, but I don’t see why that wouldn’t work; the artemisias are very tough plants, with minimal requirements. (Back in Philly where I used to live, it grows between cracks in the sidewalk!) It does best in full sun to partial shade, so I would try to either set the pot outdoors or pick a sunny window, and don’t overwater. I would also get a seedling (as opposed to starting the plant from seeds); if you don’t have a local plant nursery, try ordering online from Horizon Herbs (Google the company name and you’ll find the website pretty easily).

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