Mullein - Botanicals

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005


(Verbascum thapsus)

Mullein is a tall, straight plant with downy leaves. When dried, the down on its leaves and stem are excellent tinder. In the days before wax was inexpensive, dried mullein stalks made excellent torches. They were used as such in the rites of the dark moon goddess, Hecate, to whom they are sacred. Hecate, Queen of Witches, is completely nocturnal. She only accepts petitions after dark and she’s fairly picky about forms of illumination. Mullein stalks are her favorite choice. This history is reflected in mullein’s many nicknames: The Hag’s Taper, or the Witch’s Taper, or Corpse Candle.

Another nickname is graveyard dust. Hecate rules the frontier between death and life, often escorting people back and forth over the border. Powdered mullein, her sacred herb, is considered an acceptable substitute for true cemetery dirt called for in magic spells.

Mullein’s associations with death aren’t limited to Hecate or Eurasia. Mullein is also sacred to Oya, the spirit of Africa’s Niger River, who has become increasingly prominent in African-Diaspora faiths where she is Queen of the Cemetery Gates. Oya is the only one among the Yoruba spirits, the orisha, who has no fear of the realm of the dead. Like Hecate, Oya is a powerful witch and herbalist who protects women and children.

Mullein is used in various herbal preparations, particularly for ear infections. It was believed to ward off wild animals. (Animals in general will not consume mullein because the downy leaves irritate their throats.) However, because of its associations with dark goddesses and pagan magic, mullein retained a somewhat sinister reputation and was identified as a witchcraft plant.