The Library of Obscure Wonders

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Month: April, 2017

The Black Poplar Tree and naked flying

poplarcatkin 2

I really enjoyed drawing this part of the poplar tree. I’d never looked that closely at a poplar before and didn’t realise how sticky the balsam is or how sweetly it smells. I highly recommend drawing it.

The other day I went into the garden to plant poplar tree sticks. They are sticks left over at the end of a botany class. I took loads of different sticks and put them in water in a tall glass jar. Their buds sprouted into leaves which I’ve been drawing, and amazingly the poplar sticks have started to grow roots. It gives off lots of very sticky sweet smelling treacle like substance, the balsam. I dug three holes in the garden, two near the fence where an old tree used to be, and one over the other side in the shade. I’ve no idea if they will grow, but it seems a shame not to give them a go now they have started rooting.

The treacle substance can be turned into a balm. It used to be very poplar with the witches for its flying properties. Poplar balsam was used in flying potions. I read that if I smear it all over my naked body and get on my broomstick I will be able to fly far and wide through the night sky. Smeared on certain parts of the body prior to ritual or meditation it can help with astral projection.

The wild poplar is very rare in Britain now, though it used to be native. There are many cultivated varieties though which can often be seen in parks. There is a phantom tree planter who has spent the last 30 years going round Britain planting Black Poplar trees where ever he sees a bit of space. He doesn’t bother getting permission, well then he wouldn’t be a phantom would he.

Black Poplars can grow to 30 metres tall and live 200 years. They grow very quickly and are best suited to damp marshy landscapes. The bark is a dark brown often appearing black. The leaves are triangular shaped and tremple and quiver in the wind, often sounding like they are singing, it was said that this is the tree praying.

Male and female catkins of the Poplar grow on different trees (dioecious), the female catkins are yellowish green, the male catkins are red and it used to be said that these red catkins, once fallen, were Devil’s fingers and bring bad luck if picked up.

Once fertilised the female catkins turn into fluffy seeds which fall in late summer, very attractive but difficult to draw.

Poplar wood was used to make shields by the Celts, and seen as very protective. The black poplar is sacred to Hecate, the death goddess. There was once a tradition of burying lamb’s tails under newly planted poplar trees at lamb docking time, as a sacrifice to the goddess of death.

It is the sticky balsam that most interests me at the moment. Its origins are explained in the Greek legend where Phaethon asks his father Helios, god of the sun, if he can drive his chariot of the sun across the heavens one day. He was not very successful at this, he did not have the strength to control the horses and the chariot was taken off course, taking the sun so close to the earth it nearly burnt. Zeus was very cross with this and killed Phaethon with a bolt of lightning. Phaethon’s sisters, who had helped convince their father to let Phaethon drive the chariot, saw his death and weeped so bitterly that the gods decided to turn them in to Poplar trees and their tears to amber tears formed by the oozing balsam.

The balm made from these tears has been used for many medical purposes such as rheumatism, gout, coughs and colds, but I’m going to use it for flying! One warm night this summer I’ll be venturing out to find a suitable black poplar, lying under it’s singing branches, covered in sticky balm I will go into a trance and I shall astral project myself to who knows where. Unfortunately I probably won’t be sky clad, as crowded London doesn’t lend itself to such freedom.

Stinging Nettles: Protection, Exorcism, Lust and A Soup Recipe

So I’ve agreed with some friends to help them out with their garden. I decide I’m going to do little pencil sketches of plants in the garden (see above) and write a blog about each.

The first thing I do is clear away some weeds. The place is covered in thick stinging nettles that go up to my knee. I dig them up, but it seems a shame to just throw them out so I make nettle soup. It’s nice once I get the hang of it, a little “textured” but I imagine that wouldn’t be the case if I had a food blender. The second day it tastes even better. I also make nettle tea in a lovely china teapot a friend gave me. It tastes of nettles, I would be pleased only I’m getting a bit nettled out now, my hands and arms are stinging permanently despite having worn gloves. I decide to lookup what benefit all these nettles might be doing me:

Nettle is very high in vitamins and iron. They stop bleeding and used to be ground into a fine powder and used as a snuff to stop nose bleeds, or used in an infusion. They are also good for treating colds. The leaves are said to improve ones complexion and circulation and can be used to clear the chest of phlegm.

As for magic, the nettle apparently has powers of exorcism, protection and lust. It is seen as masculine, comes under the planet Mars and the element of fire.  It belongs to Thor, the Norse god of thunder. To remove a curse and send it back carry a sachet of nettle around with you. Sprinkle nettle around the house to keep evil out. Throw it into the fire to avert danger or wear it as an amulet to keep ghosts and negativity away.

It has been used as a lust inducing herb, used in purification baths and the irritant within the hairs has been used as an aphrodisiac to stimulate the sexual organs.

I’m just sticking to the soup.


Nettle tips
Vegetable stock
Salt and pepper

Cut and wash nettles tips (whilst wearring gloves)
Boil in a saucepan of water for a couple of minutes. This removes most of the sting
Slice them into small pieces and remove tough stems
Fry some onions and garlic in a pan with butter till the onions go soft and golden (I love butter but I suppose you can use oil if you choose)
Add the nettles
Add some rice
Add a good amount of hot water with vegetable stock mixed in
Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the rice is done
Add salt and pepper to taste (I add loads of salt, but then I’m addicted to the stuff and my blood pressure isn’t high)

And there you have it, very simple , tasty and good for you, just be careful not to get stung to pieces like I did.