May Eve, Beltane, Walpurgis, and Hexennacht are all names for the May festival, which is one of the Grand Witches’ Sabbaths. Hexennacht, meaning witches’ night is the springtime counterpart to Samhain, or All Hallows Eve, falling at the opposite point on the wheel of the year. Hexennacht is known as the night that witches take flight and join the Wild Hunt, led by the Horned god. A wild rade of spirits, ancestors and deities who travel in procession across the night sky and through the forests of the Middle Realm. This is the night when the power that has dwelled within the earth since Samhain emerges providing us an opportunity to tap its power. Myths of the Wild Hunt and the Witches’ Sabbath were known across Europe and there were many superstitions and folk customs surrounding this time.
This is also an important time for green practitioners whose arte is rooted in the plant realm. Herbalists, wortcunners and plant alchemists are busy cultivating seedlings and preparing to plant out this year’s magical gardens. An old custom that can be repurposed for the modern practitioner is a blessing of the fields, or in many cases the garden. The fertile earth is opened up and libations of milk, honey, compost and even the practitioners blood may be offered to the dark and fertile earth.
Since it is one of the High Sabbaths, and because of its associations with witches in flight, I thought this would be a perfect time of year to create an incense blend for spirit flight. By utilizing the powerful connections between the myth and folklore surrounding this time, the Horned God and a synergy of potent herbs one can create a ritual blend that can be burned for trance, spirit flight and hedge riding. Ointments made for the same purpose can take hours for their effects to work, and are more subtle in their effects. The effects of incense are more immediate, and by burning we release the spirit of the plants multiplying their power altering our external as well as our internal environments, thereby allowing the spirits to partake as well.
The plants that I am considering for this formulation, I have chosen for their entheogenic properties and their connections to this specific sabbath. The base for this blend will be Master of the Woods or Sweet Woodruff and Mugwort. A masculine herb of Mars associated with the gods of the forest, Sweet Woodruff has been traditionally included in May Wine recipes for Beltane celebrations. Mugwort is a feminine and lunar herb, added to balance the masculine energy of Sweet Woodruff. I chose to use Mugwort because it is a quintessential witching herb known for its power of enhancing trance, prophetic dreaming and divination. Belladonna, is included because of its use in witches’ flying ointments and its role as a powerful trance inducing and visionary plant. Belladonna is one of my favorites, and one that I consider a plant spirit ally. Its chthonic nature and connection to deities of witchcraft have made it useful in summoning spirits, and journeying to the Underworld. It was once believed that the Devil tended this plant every night, but left it on Walpurgisnacht to attend the Witches’ Sabbath. Henbane seeds are another entheogen included in my recipe for their hypnotic effects, and their connection to the dead. Henbane also has etymological connections to the Beltane festival through the ancient Celtic deity Belenus.
I plan on blending and charging this incense beginning on May Eve until the New Moon on May 5th taking advantage of the astrological and calendrical dates of the Sabbath. I find that burning these plants allows for a more immediate effect which is also easily controlled by using small amounts over a period of time so that one done not cross the threshold and become overwhelmed by the potentially toxic nature of these plants. As always every individual is different and cautious individual experimentation is the key to determining how one will react to these plants.
However you plan your celebration, through sacred intoxication, ecstatic ritual or wild abandon may you have a safe and bacchanal Beltane. May you find union with your gods, and dance with the spirits.