What Macbeth’s Witches Were Really Mixing Up

Wikipedia graphic

Fillet of a fenny snake, 
In the cauldron boil and bake; 
Eye of newt and toe of frog, 
Wool of bat and tongue of dog, 
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting, 
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing, 
For a charm of powerful trouble, 
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble. 

Macbeth, Act 4, Scene 1

When you read Macbeth and hear the witches chanting about the eye of newt and tongue of dog, don’t worry. Most of those ingredients are the folk names of herbs, not critters’ body parts. Here are those added by the second witch.

  • Fenny Snake – Fenny refers to fens (swamps).
  • Eye of Newt – Seeds of Black or Brown Mustard (Brassica juncea), which–in hoodoo- are used to confuse enemies. They are often mixed with sulfur powder.
  • Buttercup: Steve Matson photo from Califlora

    Toe of Frog – Yellow Buttercup, including within the United States, the Western Buttercup (Ranunculus occidentalis Nutt), the seeds of which were ground up by Indians with other seeds for making a flour-like staple called pinole. The flowers themselves are considered poisonous.

  • Wool of Bat – Holly (Ilex aquifollium), meaning “holy,” used by Druids and other ancient Europeans. Holly symbolized male and female and Yule and is still considered in conjure as not only a blessing to the household and as protection for the home.
  • Tongue of Dog – Houndstongue (Cynoglossum officinale), also called dog’s tongue and gypsy flower. It was once considered a cure for madness and has been used by herbalists for a variety of ailments, including venereal disease and inflammations.
  • Dog-tooth Violet – Wikipedia photo.

    Adder’s Fork – Dog-Tooth Violet (Erythronium americanum) and related species. It’s also referred to as rattlesnake violet and serpent’s tongue. It’s not related to the violet. In conjure, it’s used to stop slander and gossip and those who are using it against you. It is placed on the doorsteps of enemies or when meddling inlaws are the problem, mixed with slippery elm into a body wash.

  • Blind Worm’s Sting – This is a lizard that looks like a worm. It’s sting is it’s bite. Perhaps they used the poison or tossed in the worm.
  • Lizard’s Leg – Ivy, genus (Hedera) and other creeping plants. Potentially, might include poison ivy and poison oak. Ivy is for binding things together as well as for ensnarring unwelcome desires (including drinking too much.) One can spend days trying to unravel the folklore and symbolism of ivy throughout the ages, including the use of the plant as a crown. Holly and ivy are among the evergreens used to decorate houses for Christmas and Yule as symbols of rebirth.
  • Howlet – That is to say, an owl.

–Malcolm

The Kindle edition of my hoodoo novel “Lena” is on sale this weekend at Amazon for only 99₵. P.S. I have no idea why WordPress changed the font of the Toe of Frog paragraph

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