Crowning Magic of the Bay Tree

Crowning Magic of the Bay Tree

Juleigh Howard-Hobson


Folk magic being what it is: directed arcane power practised by people using supplies readily available to them rather than wasting time and money accumulating the more rare and/or expensive pointedly-occult items — it is hardly surprising that the kitchen pantry holds more magical potential than most people think.

Laurus nobilis, the Bay tree — known variously as Sweet Bay, Bay Laurel, Grecian Laurel, Nobel Laurel and Laurier d’Appolon—is sacred to Apollo, the Hellenic Sun God of Poetry, Light, Inspiration, Music, Prophecy/Divination as well as Health (this covers both keeping/protecting health and the healing arts themselves).

Bay is also known as Daphne, after a nymph daughter of Gaia (the earth) and Peneus (the river) who escaped Apollo’s romantic advances by having Peneus turn her into a Laurel Tree. Apollo, unable to win her love, used her leaves to decorate his harp and crown his head, thus ‘winning’ at least that.

To this day, Apollo’s hard-won crown of laurel is still the traditional symbol of great poetic inspiration (as in the Poet Laureate) as well as the top honor bestowed upon victorious efforts, such as the laurel wreathes given to race winners, graduate students (now you see why they are called baccalaureates), and sewn on Fred Perry athletic shirts, jackets and vests.

Bay leaves though, however prestigious their antecedents, have a long and pleasant history of magical folk applications. A good timely spell, since this is January and New Year resolutions tend toward self-improvement, is also a very easy one. Simply crumble a dried bay leaf onto a wide yellow candle while announcing your intention to change whatever it is about yourself that needs improvement. Light the candle and let the leaves burn, setting your intention into motion.

A classic piece of folk magic entails the writing of a wish on a bay leaf, burning the leaf and then releasing the ash to the wind (like blowing out birthday candles). The wish can be for anything, with love wishes being most applicable due to Apollo’s wish for Daphne’s love. (There is an old European tradition of using Goosefoot Plantain for spell writing as well, the use of bay leaves came Northwards with the Roman Empire — both work!)

If you wish to dream of who will love you (or any divinatory subject, really), placing a bay leaf under your pillow will bring prophetic visions in the night. The priestesses chewed bay leaves in the Temple of Delphi, which is said to have been roofed with laurel to further enhance their divinations.

Since Apollo himself made a wreath of laurel leaves into a symbol of victory, the bay continues this practice of victorious luck and protection wherever it is found. To this end, a bay tree planted by a house will ensure protection against curses, hexes and all manner of sicknesses and ills (including lightning strikes —  a nod toward the old European use of acorns for this reason). Bay leaves placed in house corners or hung from windows serve the same purpose.

Worn as an amulet, or placed in shoes, bay leaves not only protect, but can render the wearer invisible to ‘sent hexes’ such as evil eyes and troll-runes, which need to ‘find’ their target so they can take ill-effect.

They may seem too common, too small and too cheap these days to truly wield a powerful heft anymore—but, in the seemingly humble bay leaf, as in all of the most cunning things, there is still more available and arcane power than meets the average eye. Such is the way of the numinous.

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