In the House
(Euphorbia pulcherrima syn. E. erythrophylla, Poinsettia pulcherrima)
*Also known as flame leaf
In Mexico, the poinsettia is a shrub that can reach ten to fifteen feet tall. For most of us, these subtropical plants are strictly houseplants. The poinsettia has a woody stem and large, dark-green leaves with slightly wavy edges reminiscent of holly. What we usually think of as big red flower petals are actually modified leaves called bracts that help direct insects to the flowers. The actual flowers are the little yellow clusters in the center of the bracts. Poinsettia stems have a thick, milky sap that can cause skin irritation. However, despite rumors that persisted for years, the plant is not poisonous.
Aztecs cultivated the poinsettia for its brilliant red color, which symbolized purity and the need for sacrifice.121 In addition to rituals, poinsettias were used medicinally, and during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, they were used for trade in the markets of Tenochtitlan, present day Mexico City. According to legend, seventeenth-century friars added the plant to nativity processions beginning this plant’s association with Christmas and a range of little drummer boy-like stories.
The plant was named for Joel Poinsett, the American ambassador to Mexico who introduced it into the United States in 1825.122 The species name, pulcherrima, is Latin and means “most beautiful.” 123
Although the poinsettia has had little magical use, its red and green colors fit with the scheme of the season representing ongoing life. It is also appropriate for the Yule altar because the tiny yellow flower and ray of red bracts resemble a brilliant sunburst welcoming the return of the light.
POMANDER BALL/CLOVE ORANGE
The pomander ball or clove orange is a traditional winter air freshener that can enhance the atmosphere of our homes and support magic. It is created by pressing the stalks of cloves into an orange. The ball was usually hung in the bedroom to freshen the air and enhance sleep. In addition, it helped to keep moths away from clothing. Once hung, a pomander ball can last for several years, becoming smaller as it dries out. A ripe Seville or other thin-skinned orange works best. The clove orange became a Christmas tradition in Colonial America and has remained popular ever since.
Making a Pomander Ball:
A couple handfuls of cloves
1 teaspoon orris root, powdered
1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
1 teaspoon nutmeg, ground
1 or 2 straight pins
To get your pomander ball started, begin pressing cloves into the orange at the top where the stem was attached. It may be easier to start the holes with a skewer and then press the cloves in. The traditional way to make it is to circle the cloves around the orange in one big spiral until the whole fruit is covered. As you work, you may want to chant or recite an incantation to infuse it with magical energy.
When the ball is finished, mix the orris root powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg on a plate, and then roll the orange in the mixture. Other spices can be used, just follow your nose to create a combination that you like. Wrap the orange in tissue paper and store it in a dark place for two weeks.
After two weeks, take the orange out and finish decorating it. Starting at the top of the orange, wrap the ribbon around it. At the bottom of the orange, cross the ribbon at a 90-degree angle and bring the ends back to the top. The ribbon is basically quartering the orange. Secure the ribbon at the bottom of the orange with a straight pin pushed into the orange. You may need a second straight pin to secure the top of the ribbon, too. Tie the ribbon in a bow or make a loop for hanging it.
In addition to scenting the air, a clove orange can be used for magical purposes. Although the orange is usually completely covered with cloves, you may choose to create designs with them.
Create the moon phases on an orange for an esbat celebration or pentagrams for other rituals. Use shapes such as runes, oghams, astrological symbols, or anything that suits your magical purpose.