Do your research!!

I love old spells. I mean, that’s a pretty big part of being a Traditional Witch for me. That being said, old spells are not always good spells. You need to do some research when dipping into old books and folkloric spells and I have a story that really demonstrates why.

I was considering doing a spell I found in Gemma Gary’s “Traditional Witchcraft: A Cornish Book of Ways.” Gemma Gary seems like a fairly trustworthy source. On page 128, Gary gives a recipe for “Witch Oil,” which is made by combining turpentine, dragon’s blood and madder root in one container and, in a fireproof vessel heated over the coals of a fire, linseed oil, mandrake, mugwort, and vervain. The two are then combined and left to sit for six months. I thought this would be a wonderful spell for reddening the bones (as we are getting onto the dark time of year). Gary notes that this “Witch Oil” could be used to anoint the self or to anoint tools.

Well I did a bunch of research and, oddly enough, the two ingredients I knew the least about here were turpentine and linseed oil.

Now that I did a bit of reading, I sincerely hope this is an old recipe from back in the day. Because if it isn’t, it’s utterly insane. Gary writes that this oil can be used to annoint the human body. Well, both turpentine and linseed are highly caustic materials. When I looked up some images of turpentine and linseed oil cans online, they had GREAT BIG messages warning the user to avoid contact with the skin and eyes. I have known some old, grizzled men who would wipe oil off their hands with turpentine. But I ain’t one of them.

Perhaps even more seriously, linseed oil, apparently, can spontaneously combust! According to several articles online, rags and papers soaked with linseed oil can suddenly burst into flame because linseed oil heats up as it dries (so to speak, that’s not an exact explanation of the chemical process, but that’s as far into it as I want to go). And that’s a pretty big deal. It is definitely something worth knowing before working with linseed oil. This isn’t to say it can’t be used safely – it has been used for centuries. But you have to know what you are doing. And you probably shouldn’t heat it over a bed of hot coals.

I will probably create this recipe, but will swap out these potentially dangerous oils for simple kitchen oils (olive, almond, etc). The important lesson here is to do your research. When working with old spells, sometimes swapping out ingredients is not just an option to consider, but is downright mandatory. Do you research. Don’t scar yourself or burn your house down.