While I typically prefer to write posts about devotions closer to the actual observance, recently I’ve been moved to share this as I feel in these times any bit of practical advice on improving one’s condition in life doesn’t need to be put off. Also I definitely won’t pass off an excuse for a Hail Mary, especially when she pulls through for me.
As I’ve written before, I have a strong Marian devotion. Without going into elaborate theological musings, as a good small “c” catholic, she’s integral to my daily devotions and beliefs about salvation.
So many devotions to her various forms throughout history attest to her miraculous intercessions and, naturally, have been applied toward folk-magical ends and syncretisms with powerful divine figures for love, luck, healing, and protection. As a practicing magician informed by necessity and the culture in which I live, I’ve become enamored with her ability to aid in opening the road to new opportunities.
In Southern African American conjure practices and Latin American magic there exist a classification of spells and prayers broadly called “road opening” (Spanish, abre camino) spells which can be applied for purposes of removing negative situations and persons, financial stagnation, sustained illness and disease, emotional blockages; in short, unexpected or systemic road blocks. For these I’ve found no better than to turn to the Blessed Mother as Our Lady, Undoer of Knots.
Our Lady, Undoer of Knots or Our Lady, Untier of Knots, is a popular Marian devotion and subject of Baroque iconography made famous by Johann Georg Melchior Schmidtner and found in the pilgrim image church of Saint Peter am Perlach Church in Augsburg, Bavaria.
The image depicts Mary surrounded by a nimbus of light, surrounded by angels, and standing on a lunar crescent holding a long ribbon untying their knots. The theological basis of this beautiful painting stems from St. Irenaeus of Lyon’s famous Adversus Haereses (Against the Heresies) where he presents a parallel between Mary and Eve:
“[Also] it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.”
According to popular piety, it was this image that first aided the grandfather of the painter’s benefactor. According to the legend, Wolfgang Langenmantel was on the verge of the separation from his wife Sophia Rentz and sought help from Fr. Jakob Rem in Ingolstadt. Father Rem prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary and said: “In this religious act, I raise the bonds of matrimony, to untie all knots and smoothen them.” Peace was restored separation did not happen. In the memory of this event, their grandson commissioned the painting of the “Untier of Knots”
In recent years, owing to the popularity of Pope Francis, this devotion has taken on new life throughout the Roman Catholic world and beyond. Although the original narrative concerned ensuring domestic and marital bliss,I began a daily practice of praying to her as patroness of opening roads especially in difficult times, and can account to the miraculous nature of this devotion and have used it on behalf of others.
As a perpetual novena, I use the common prayer found on most prayer cards for my daily needs, which is this:
A Prayer to Mary, Undoer of Knots
O Virgin Mary, Mother who never refuses to come to the help of your children in need, Mother whose hands never stop working for the welfare of your children, moved as they are by the loving mercy and kindness that exists in your Immaculate Heart, cast your compassionate and merciful eyes on me and see the snarl of knots that exists in my life.
Oh Mother! You know the difficulties, sorrow and pain that I’ve had because of them. O loving Mother, I place the ribbon of my life and this knot (these knots) into your loving hands, hands which can undo even the most difficult knot. Most holy Mother, come to my aid and intercede for me before God with your prayers.
I cast this knot into your hands (mention your intention/need) and beg you to undo it,in the name of your son, Jesus Christ, and for the glory of God, once and for all.
Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, pray for us!
While this can be done as a stand-alone prayer without much ceremony beyond a candle, I’ve found carrying a small cord tied into a slip-knot and snapped open upon completion of the prayer and placed before her icon can have a powerful and dramatic energetic effect in sending my intentions into the world.
For more sustained practice of road-opening, the Novena to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots is a powerful practice which, combined with road opening supplies, has helped me obtain nearly immediate results. While there are a few variations of the novena out there which can be used, as an illustration for a opening practice for I’ll use the novena I most commonly pray.
For this you will need the following:
- An image of Our Lady, Undoer of Knots
- A glass of water
- Nine white flowers in a vase
- A bowl of water
- A white seven day candle
- A length of white twine or ribbon
- A bottle of road opening oil
Arrange the table with the image in the middle, the vase of flowers to the left of the image, the candle and glass of water to the right, and bowl of water and cord in front of the image.
Before starting the novena prayers which are said every day, add a few drops of road opening oil to the water along with a pinch of camphor. Pierce three holes into the candle and also add some oil. Anoint the ribbon with road opening oil and concentrating on your petition make nine knots in it.
Lighting the candle, begin the daily prayers:
Intro Prayer (to be said each day)
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin.
Now, holding the cord, begin the first prayer with conviction:
Concluding Prayer for each day
Mary, Queen of Peace, look with kindness upon me, your poor child, and obtain for me the grace to maintain Christ’s peace in all situations. Through your maternal intercession with your Son, Jesus Christ, help me to not be disturbed and discouraged, no matter the circumstances that I find myself in.
Mary, Mother of Justice, look with kindness upon me, your poor child, and obtain for me the grace to act justly toward God and neighbor. Through your maternal intercession with your Son, Jesus Christ, help me to give each person their due, and to pray each day as is just to so great a God.
Mary, Queen of the family, look with kindness upon me, your poor child, and obtain for me the grace to be a blessing in my family. Through your maternal intercession with your Son, Jesus Christ, help me to show God’s love to my family and in each family with whom I am blessed to interact.
Mary, Untier of Knots, look with kindness upon me, your poor child, and obtain for me the grace to see all the knots in my life that try to separate me from God. Through your maternal intercession with your Son, Jesus Christ, help me to give each knot to God and allow Him to undo it.
Mary, Queen of Heaven, look with kindness upon me, your poor child, and obtain for me the grace to die in sanctifying grace. Through your maternal intercession with your Son, Jesus Christ, help me to avoid mortal sin and lead others to conversion and salvation.
When the novena is concluded, offer your thanksgiving to Mary and take a bath with the remaining water in the bowl and let the remainder of the candle burn out. The next day, take the ribbon or cord and tie up the flowers and take them to a crossroad or, if you’re near a church with a chapel to Mary, place them in her chapel.
This novena can also be done for others, instead of brushing yourself with the flowers, sprinkle some of the water on a picture of the person who needs assistance or their name paper and when you offer your flowers, tie that image to the bundle.
The use of potpourri has a long history both in domestic life as well as funerary practices dating back centuries and combined with knowledge of herbal and magical correspondences can be utilized effectively as both an offering and base for spiritual aid.
In the early 17th century, fresh flowers and herbs were gathered from the Spring and throughout Summer and left to dry between layers of coarse sea salt which would occasionally be stirred as fresh herbs were added before being pulverized with fixatives such as oils being added along with a powdered base. This would then be strewn on floors or kept in decorative vessels to scent the home.
As many as three hundred different ingredients and combinations of herb, plant, and fungi have been identified in extant potpourri recipes, many having valuable astringent and antimicrobial properties which would be of value especially where exposure to contamination are a concern. For this purposes, though, I will focus primarily on herbs associated with spiritual connection.
Althea (Althea officinalis), or marshmallow, grows throughout marsh and wetlands throughout Europe and was introduced to North America during the early colonial era owing to its use in medicine and confection. It has beautiful purple-white flowers and in American folk magic and Spiritist traditions, the leaves, roots, and flowers are kept near one’s ancestor table to facilitate connection with the spirits.
Angelica (Angelica archangelica) grows wild in most of Europe and Russia and has been cultivated primarily for its sweet stems and roots. According to lore, it first appeared when the Archangel Michael set his foot on the earth and revealed its use in healing ailments. In European and American folk magic, it’s a highly protective herb and in the latter is used extensively in creating positive spiritual connections.
Star Anise (Illicium verum) comes from a medium sized evergreen native to Southeast Asia and is prized for its ubiquity in both cooking, perfumery, as well as having medicinal anti-microbial properties. In American conjure Star Anise is believed to facilitate psychic visions and facilitate spiritual communications.
Apple (Malus domestica) has been cultivated since at least the fourth century before common era and has no shortage of lore connected to it ranging from the Biblical narrative of Adam and Eve in Genesis to the earlier Trojan War myth where the goddess Eris offers an apple upon which was written “to the prettiest” causing the gods to war. According to Harry Middleton Hyatt, the apple in American folk magic has many uses ranging from healing, divining future lovers, and bringing people together romantically.
Lavender (Lavendula augustifolia) is one of thirty eight plant species native to Europe and the Mediterranean which has been prized for its calming scent and use in medicine as well as confection. It is a calming herb and is used frequently in cosmetics and domestic cleaning products. Magically it has been used to stimulate loving connections and peace, and is also used for psychic connections and spirit work.
Marjoram (Origanum majorana) is a tender perennial native throughout the Mediterranean and Europe which is popular in cooking and has been used extensively in medicine to soothe nerves and digestion. It has a floral, woody scent and is used magically for protection, healing, and purification being one of the herbs suggested in the Key of Solomon for the construction of the aspergillum
Orris root is a term used for the roots of Iris germanica and Iris pallida which is valued in medicine and perfumery with a scent reminiscent of violets. In American folk magic, Orris root is sometimes referred to as Queen Elizabeth root and is used whole as a love and success drawing charm and sometimes as a pendulum.
Rose (Rosa spp.) is a woodsy flowering plant in the genus Rosa with over three hundred species throughout Asia, Europe, Africa, and North America. Various species have been used decoratively and medicinally throughout history, the most ubiquitous folklore throughout connecting roses to rituals of courtship, love, and protection owing to the spiny stems.
Rosemary (Salvia rosemarinus) is a woody perennial which has been highly prized for its uses in medicine and cuisine as well as having been used in funerary preparations since time immemorial. Magically it is believed to bestow luck and protection, strengthen memory, and purify negative or unwanted energies.
Having spent some time looking at different herbs and flowers, we can now construct a potpourri which can be used as a tool to facilitate spiritual communication and left as an offering where one practices ancestral veneration. While it is ideal to start with freshly harvested herbs, the recipe I provide here only uses approximate dry weights.
Prior to making the potpourri, obtain a dozen white roses along with two apples and offer these to your ancestors and spiritual guides where you practice your devotions. Ask them to imbue the flowers and apples with their light and wisdom, explaining that they are a token of your love and connection. After a week, replace the roses and hang them in a safe place with a white ribbon to dry.
Prepare your flowers by snipping off stems and/or removing individual petals. Separation won’t be necessary or desirable if your rosemary and marjoram still have flowers and leaving the althea flowers whole gives a great visual effect. Place these flowers in a white bowl.
Next, separate the leaves from the stems of your rosemary, althea, and marjoram. If you are so moved, you may also do the same with your lavender. You should ideally have half an ounce of each by dry weight give or take. Use your senses – both olfactory and common sense to create an aesthetic blend and presentation.
Next, cut and sift your angelica and althea roots. These should not be powdered but be slivered granules that are easily sifted through. If you are starting with whole orris root, you can also do the same with a quarter of the root and leave aside the rest to be powdered. You can also put a handful of star anise in this bowl.
With the apples you’ve offered, try to peel them in one, thin, continuous peel. Don’t be disappointed if this is difficult, just be mindful and patient. The remaining fruit can then be set aside for later and baked as an further offering for your ancestors and spiritual guides.
Cover a sheet pan with parchment paper and lay out your chosen flowers, herbs, peelings, and petals in one layer. At this point you will want to add essential oils of frankincense, myrrh, and hyssop. For ease of diffusion, add about nine drops each of these essential oils to an ounce of vodka or clear grain liquor in a spritz bottle which can be shaken vigorously and misted over the flowers and herbs.
Bake the flowers and herbs in your oven at 200° F for two hours. The flowers and peels should feel brittle but still have some give. I find periodically misting them with the same spritz bottle with a little water added helps. It’s important that the herbs and flowers are dry and not moist.
After two hours, let them cool and put them in a large bowl adding in your fixative, in this case about an ounce to ounce and a half of powdered orris root. As you stir the herbs and flowers in the fixative you may recite a prayer or psalm such as Psalm 23, The Lord is My Shepherd. While stirring, spray in more essential oils.
When you are done, put the potpourri in a large mason jar and place on your ancestor altar, shaking it every day vigorously for about a week to help it cure and evenly disperse the oils and fixative.
During this time you may also wish to obtain a special potpourri jar, cleanse it, and consecrate it to your ancestors. At the bottom of mine I also keep a parchment of the Fourth Pentacle of Mercury from the Key of Solomon which is said to:
“…acquire the understanding and Knowledge of all things created, and to seek out and penetrate into hidden things; and to command those Spirits which are called Allatori to perform embassies.”
One may also include a simple packet on which is written a petition or letter to your ancestors.
After a week, add the potpourri to your consecrated vessel and leave it on your shrine or altar, stirring it with a stick or spoon and savoring the scent and offering it to your ancestors as a vessel where they may ground their presence in your life.
The potpourri should ideally be replaced every three to six months in a respectful manner. Personally I like to spread it at a cross road and time it with the New Moon. It can also be taken to a graveyard and offered at the gate or at the graves of beloved dead.
In honor of the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, I’ve decided to expand my offering $5.00 three card Tarot or Lenormand readings throughout the octave of her feast.
An octave is the eight-day period during which a feast is celebrated, and includes the actual feast reminding us of the grace of God and holy women and holy men. I dedicate my cards to the care of the Blessed Mother of whose many early titles included “She Who Shows the Way”.
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One of the most evocatively named historical concoctions, Four Thieves Vinegar (also called Marseilles vinegar or the Marseilles remedy) has proven itself time and time again to be one of the most useful allies in my magical and necromantic practices. A mixture of wine vinegar and herbs, Four Thieves Vinegar is one of the most powerful cleansing mediums to neutralize energies I’ve found – a vital consideration as whenever one interfaces with the dead as any contact necessarily results in some degree of contamination.
Apocryphally, this vinegar composition comes to us from the early modern period during the height of the Black Death and was used to prevent infection of the illness. The usual narrative concerning the original vinegar is said to come from Marseilles where four thieves were apprehended for breaking into the homes of those dying from plague and succumbing not to the illness, but to the hands of authorities. When brought to trial they were offered leniency in exchange for the recipe they used to prevent becoming ill, which they provided to the local magistrate.
In the Museum of Paris, the following recipe, believed to be the oldest, reads:
“Take three pints of strong white wine vinegar, add a handful of each of wormwood, meadowsweet, wild marjoram and sage, fifty cloves, two ounces of campanula roots, two ounces of angelic, rosemary and horehound and three large measures of champhor. Place the mixture in a container for fifteen days, strain and express then bottle. Use by rubbing it on the hands, ears and temples from time to time when approaching a plague victim.“
This recipe is indeed very strong and is the one I favor, especially for external applications however multiple other recipes have been created over time, including ones which can be used internally as well as externally.
The ingredients in the older recipe all have very well-attested uses in protective and cleansing magic doubtlessly adding to its efficacy. Wormwood (Artemisia vulgaris) is well known for protecting against ghosts and the hidden ones, meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) historically was believed to help find thieves as well as break curses, marjoram (Origanum majorana) was counted among martial herbs by Agrippa and was used to relieve grief, sage (Salvia officinalis) has a long history in exorcising spirits, and of course garlic (Allium sativam) is well known for protection from evil.
In my personal practice, following heavy interactions with the dead, I draw a bath and add multiple capfuls of Four Thieves Vinegar to the waters while reciting the psalms appointed for the traditional Solomonic bath or, at minimum, Psalm 91. I also make a rinse whenever buying new or used objects to be used ritually. It can also be used to neutralize negative persons by writing their names on butcher paper, placing the slips in a bottle of vinegar, and shaking the bottle thus dissolving them. The versatility is only limited by your imagination.
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