Photography by Michaela Durisova
Model: Kristína Szegenyová
Accessories: Magaela Accessories
The old woman handed her young apprentice a book of soft leather with tattered pages scented of lavender and then motioned for her to follow into the forest.
“There are things that only nature can teach us,” the old woman said. She knew the secrets that were whispered on the breeze or came through the shape of a leaf or were reflected in the still pools where the ferns grew best. The two of them walked quietly through the forest, and the young apprentice watched keenly as the old woman gathered bright spotted mushrooms for baneful brews and twigs for a new besom to sweep away the old year.
“Ah, my dear,” the old woman said as they came upon a birch tree shivering near the edge of a quiet creek. “The Lady of the Woods, as she is known, allows for us fresh starts, for she is the first to arise after devastation.”
Her apprentice nodded.
“The sap of the birch clears away the sluggishness of winter and the leaves ease arthritis.”
The apprentice once again nodded.
“Why aren’t you writing this down, dear one? Go ahead,” she said and pointed a gnarled finger to the book the apprentice carried under her arm. The girl quickly opened the book and began to scribble her notes.
she said and pointed a gnarled finger to the book the apprentice carried under her arm. The girl quickly opened the book and began to scribble her notes. The old woman hummed as she scoured the forest floor for the last of the hazelnuts, which not only brought nourishment throughout the cold winter months but could be slipped into
a charm bag to bring one wisdom. “Aha!” the hedgewitch exclaimed, and the girl looked up from her writing. “A potent magical parchment.” She smiled and handed the girl a papery piece of birch bark that had fallen to the forest floor.
The girl took the bark and slipped it between the pages of her book.
“Come here, girl!” The crone was bent down near the stream. “
Tell me what you see.”
The girl kneeled and peered between the mossy stones where clumps of clover grew.
The old lady pointed to the one with four leaves and said, “One leaf for fame, and one for wealth. One for a faithful lover, and one to bring you health.”
The girl smiled and picked the lucky charm.
“Keep that pressed in your book and you will always know if a spirit is present. Red clover for the blood and white clover for a cold. Are you writing these things down?”
The girl smiled and nodded as she scribbled furiously.
“Everything has wisdom,” the old woman said, stopping again.
Her eyes grew bright as she picked up a smooth hagstone and peered through the naturally formed hole that offered a glimpse into the otherworld. “But we must be willing to change our perspective, child.” She held the hagstone and nodded for the girl to take it. “If you’re ready.”
The girl eagerly took the stone and peered through the hole. The corners of her mouth turned up and her eyes were bright with wonder. Then she sat on the mossy forest floor and began to write what she saw in her book.
“You’re doing well, girl.” the crone said. “These are the first steps. Sit and observe the shifting seasons and attune yourself to nature’s earthbeat. Always remember the knowledge that frequents nature.” She placed a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Write it all down, so others will know that magic is theirs for the discovery.
A dear friend of mine, who has long since passed on, was one who truly lived between the worlds. She left the city and a life of monetary gain to walk the path of the hedgewitch. Through exploration, experimentation, and observation, she became a skilled herbalist, midwife, and natural magical practitioner. It wasn’t uncommon to find her walking near the dog roses at the river’s edge, her head tilted toward the sky and her expression reflecting a life at peace. And if one stopped to say hello, she would smile and sometimes offer you wild chamomile to aid in sleeplessness or maybe or a smooth round stone with a perfect hole through the center to better see the “otherworld,” that place of liminality where one teeters between the mundane and magical.
Under the lacy branches of an elder tree or in the cool shadow of the bramble that borders the wild and the tame she would sit. This is where the spirits of the natural world approached her and the secrets of sacred herbs whispered. The magic of the elements and healing power of plants revealed themselves. She was always grateful for her visions. In gratitude, she would return with an offering of oatmeal or a bowl of milk.
In Norse Mythology these wise women were known as Disir. They were the clan mothers who provided wisdom to leaders, inspiration to poets, courage to warriors, and healing for the sick. The Disir were both midwife and undertaker—and held a fragile link to life and death.
A modern hedgewitch may no longer be wandering about the wilderness foraging for herbal supplies but may be exploring modern herbal techniques by growing culinary, medicinal, or magical herbs and applying their uses accordingly. They may not be providing courage to warriors or murmuring words of inspiration into poets’ ears, but they are encouraging others to believe in themselves and inspiring friends, family, and co-workers with an infectious spirit and sage advice. The hedges of today are no longer a physical boundary between the wilderness and the farmstead but a metaphorical border that connects us to the otherworld—its tangled roots helping hold our connection to the magic and wisdom of the wisewomen and cunning men of old, steadfast within in our souls.
The Receipt Book
One thing that my friend always did when she was in the forest or gathering material among the hedgerows was to log everything in what she called her Receipt Book. Unlike the grimoires of medieval Europe that contained strictly magical formulas, talismans and amulets, spells and instructions on how to invoke spirits, the Receipt Book (which became popular in households around the late 16th century) included entries such as how much was spent on dry goods for the month or the price of a new wagon. In them you would also find old family recipes that had been passed down from mother to daughter for generations, as it was a book of “things received.”
Yes, you could find a wonderful recipe for mutton and the perfect Christmas pudding, but dig deeper and you could find steadfast herbal remedies for a cough or gout, maybe a poultice for a leg injury or a tea to calm the nerves. Keep turning the pages and you might be surprised: Strewn among the recipes were other formulas. You might find a spell for banishing negativity or a list of ingredients for a love charm. Or even how to use the thorns of a blackthorn tree to stick in a poppet to curse your enemy.
Modern receipt books can be treated much like a journal, recipe book, and witch’s book of shadows all in one, as they may contain recipes, family traditions, research, mementos, spells, magical correspondence, journaling, and art. They can also be a wonderful way to pass insight and wisdom from one generation to the next.
Pictured is one that was given to me by my dear friend Mardi McLasky. I use it to hold information on magical and medicinal plants, and recipes for salves, tinctures, and balms as well as favorite spells and charms for working magic.
Easy Screw-Post-Bound Journal
When you use the screw-post method for binding your receipt book, you’ll find your book more forgiving than when using paper of varying textures and weight. You also don’t have to worry about folding your paper or sewing, which can be tedious and take some practice. On the downside, your journal may seem bulkier than a traditionally bound book, but for me that’s all part of its charm.
You will need:
Sheets of paper to fill your book—varying sizes, weights, and textures are okay
Supplies for aging or decorating your paper, which may include tea or coffee for staining, paint, stamps, glitter, stickers, and/or cutouts
A single rectangular scrap of real or faux leather that will be folded as the front and back cover and is at least a quarter-inch longer at the margins than your paper
Leather-craft hole punch (can also be used on paper) appropriate to size of chosen screw posts (available at most craft stores or online)
Hammer 2 to 4 screw posts that are suitable for the thickness of your book (available at most craft stores or online)
Ribbon or faux/real leather strips long enough to wrap around your journal and tie
Gather your paper. You can purchase paper that is beautifully aged or textured, make your own paper, or you can age and decorate plain white paper by using a sponge to lightly wash over cooled brewed coffee or black tea. You can also gently tear or burn the edges of your paper to give it a tattered look if you like. Be creative and make lovely title pages in whatever artistic format you choose. Or just use plain white paper—it is really up to you. Just make sure that all the pages are completely dry before moving on to the next step.
Fold leather in half and mark where you want your holes (between two and four depending on the size of your journal). By following the directions for your craft-punch tool, use a hammer and craft punch to punch out the holes.
Put the pages inside the folded leather and mark the holes. Use your craft punch to create holes in the paper. (You may have to do only a few pages at a time depending on your craft punch.) When you are done, put all completed pages back into the folded leather cover and screw in the binding posts. Use lengths of pretty ribbon or leather to wrap around your book of things received to finish the look.
Here is a wonderful little salve to add to your book of “things received.”
Sweet Birch Salve
1 cup coconut oil
1 cup olive oil
½ cup beeswax
20 drops of sweet birch
10 drops of sage and/or rosemary oil
On low heat, use a double boiler to slowly heat coconut and olive oil. Stir in beeswax. When melted, take off heat and let set for approximately 10 minutes. Add essential oils. Makes approximately 16 ounces or 4 four-ounce containers. Great for aches and pains and minor skin irritations.