The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Power of the Witch
Wormwood and Garlic: Dangers and Protection
Among the many ironies associated with witchcraft is that many, if not most of the materials allegedly used to combat witchcraft are actually primary tools of the trade.
This may be understood as fighting fire with fire; magical practices used to protect against harmful witchcraft include charms, spells, and amulets. Among the most powerful protective devices are salt, iron, and menstrual blood, important components of many magic spells and part of the witch’s own arsenal. Body imagery is also considered especially effective against harmful magic as it is against the Evil Eye: replicas of hands, eyes, and genitals magically preserve and protect.
Where this begins to get strange is when certain practices or symbols are reputed to banish or deactivate witches themselves. For instance, elder and rowan wood, known as witch trees, allegedly guard against witchcraft and keep its practitioners far away. The dilemma is that these very materials are favored by the witches themselves. Thus while some believe that mullein, for instance, keeps witches far away, no one seems to have bothered to inform the witches. Instead they keep using these same materials in their own spells.
Part of the confusion derives from language. When people describe the dangers of witchcraft, they often don’t mean all magical practice, merely the harmful ones. What they’re trying to say is that these materials ward off all malevolent magic. However in societies where all magical practice has officially been condemned and where practitioners fear for their lives, such precise language may be impossible. And after all, how can one categorize rowan twigs wrapped in scarlet ribbons as anything but a spell? It will only be authorized and safe to use if one describes it as intended to combat witchcraft. Describing something as being anti-witchcraft often permitted specific magical practices to continue in safety. What was really being prevented was harm, not witchcraft per se.
Real witchcraft practices are often cloaked in what are described as measures protecting against witchcraft itself. For instance, the following allegedly protect against witchcraft:
Horseshoes nailed over doors
Brooms placed across doors
Silver in the form of bullets or charms
Silver coins, if truly made from silver, allegedly alert you to the presence of malevolent witchcraft. Silver coins were worn on chains around the neck or placed inside one’s shoe: should one encounter malevolent forces, allegedly the coin will suddenly, dramatically blacken or tarnish.
Silver, horseshoes, and (especially) brooms are all magical symbols and tools of witches themselves: each one evokes primal female magical power. How could they then be used to banish witches and prevent them from accessing their power? They don’t; however they will prevent malevolent magic, as they have allegedly done for ages, whether in the hands of witches or others. Anti-witchcraft language permitted these tools of witchcraft to continue to be accessible to witches during times when witchcraft was dangerous to practice.
See BOTANICALS: Alder, Elder, Mullein, Rowan; TOOLS: Brooms.