On a chilly February evening that also happened to fall on the eve of the full moon, I attended a class called "Mastering Herbs for Magical Use" at New York City's oldest occult store, Enchantments. When a friend asked what I was doing that night, and I told her, she said, "I didn't realize Hogwarts had adult education classes."
It was the store's (and the instructor, Cat's) first time offering this particular class, though Enchantments periodically holds other workshops and events, including a class called "Introduction to Candle Magic," which I've also taken. Since then, I've visited the store a handful of times, spending $10 to 30 each time on magic candles meant to help me with things like career success, confidence, and money management.
While I was aware of the beautifully arranged wall of herbs in jars each time I walked into the very small store, I was always too afraid to look directly at them. In the witch store I am afraid of both seeming like I take witchcraft too seriously, and seeming like I don't take it seriously enough. So when I got an email about a new class that would demystify the herb wall, and perhaps turn me into an actual master of them, I signed up immediately.
Of the eight other people in the class, just one is male. One of the women turns out to be someone I went to high school with, though neither of us realizes this until afterward — before then we just look at each other suspiciously, in a way that asks both "Do I know you?" and "What are you doing here?" Except, of course, we are both there.
Cat, the instructor, is amiable and approachable, with long red hair and an excellent witchcraft-based Tumblr. She asks if any of us had a weird day, and several of us nod knowingly. "I was looking at the astrology chart earlier and there were some communication issues," she says, "but we're in a good place for witchcraft now."
She hands us each a booklet — which includes lists of commonly used herbs and several potion recipes — and gives us a brief history of magical herbal use in various ancient cultures up through the present. There are many ways to use herbs in magic: crushing them into oils, burning them, and pouring them into baths. I am most drawn to the method that incorporates fire, but we are beginners, so tonight we will focus on baths.
We turn to the next page in our books, where Cat has listed her recipe for an "herbal protection bath," best taken on a Monday — or, ideally, on the eve of the Full Moon. The recipe is:
Cat's Herbal Protection Bath
One tablespoon each of:
Though each of these ingredients is available for purchase at the store, Cat tells us they all can be bought anywhere else herbs are sold. (She likes an online outlet called Mountain Rose Herbs.) She hands us each a cloth satchel and then passes each ingredient jar around one by one, instructing us to place two scoops of each into the little bags. I notice that the mix we're making is at least three times the quantity prescribed in her printed recipe, and become vaguely nervous that my bath will be too protective.
After we've filled our herb pouches up to their drawstrings, Cat takes some time to answer a few general witchcraft-related questions, and we are set free into the night. I rush home, feeling a little stressed about having to take a magic bath I had not planned on taking when I woke up that morning.
We were told that, in order to maximize our herbs' potency, it's best to boil them in hot water for 10 minutes before pouring them into the tub. I am happy my roommate is not home when I get there. I get into the shower (you are also supposed to shower first, to cleanse your spirit), and when I'm done, I heat up a pot of water, and pour everything from the pouch into it. I stand over it, trying to infuse it with my intentions. I think it looks like a giant's mug of tea.
I fill the tub a quarter of the way full with lukewarm water, and once the herbs are done boiling, I carry the still-bubbling pot into the bathroom and pour that in on top. The contents of my tub look like Bigfoot took a bath in my apartment and left without unplugging the drain. It smells OK. Mugwort-y, I think.
I do not particularly want to get into this bath (as a lady I am accustomed to bathing in glittery, girlish bubble explosions), but I do it for the full moon, which, without this bath, might have killed me. I sit in the water for about 10 minutes, until it gets too cool, and I can no longer evade the reality of the situation, which is that I am sitting in a cold puddle of plants.
In the morning, I cannot find my keys anywhere. I never lose anything, so I feel that I am being punished for tangling with the dark arts. But then in the afternoon my roommate texts me to say she found them underneath the refrigerator, so it's probably fine.
So, did it work?
In so far as I survived the full moon, as well as the end of the most recent Mercury Retrograde, I would say that yes, it worked. And in so far as I was given a satchel of herbs that could be poured into a bath, and I took that bath, yes, it worked.
Beyond that, it is too early to say just how protected I am as compared to a normal week. I remain mystified as ever by the herb wall at the witchcraft store. The booklet Cat gave us also includes a recipe for "Sweet Success Incense" (1 tbsp each: cinnamon, coriander, cloves, vetivert, patchouli, plus a pinch of sandalwood powder), and I would like to try that next, especially because the directions say to burn them on a charcoal tablet on the New Moon.