The willow tree has been used medicinally and magically in cultures nearly worldwide. The Salix alba or white willow bending over lakes and ponds is what is most commonly associated with this tree. However, there are approximately 300 species within this genus in the form of trees and shrubs.
Willow in Natural Medicine
In the New Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses, author Deni Bown relates that the anti-rheumatic properties of this plant are recorded on clay tablets of the Sumerian period as early as the 4th millennium BC. Bown also states willow was once a tree associated with grief in England where garlands of the leaves were worn in honor of departed loved ones.
Willow is considered a natural aspirin alternative. In fact, the active ingredient in aspirin is the synthetic acetylsalicylic acid, which is a derivative of salicylic acid in willow. Its pain-relieving and fever-reducing properties were known to Native Americans who brewed the bark into a tea for such purposes.
English astrologer-physician Nicholas Culpeper in his famous 17th-century Culpeper's Complete Herbal tells us the white willow in particular is good for healing wounds, stopping vomiting, and clearing skin of spots and the scalp of dandruff.
Willow in Magical Practice
Culpeper also tells us that willow is governed by the moon. Many Neo-Pagans associate the moon with the Divine Feminine. As such the willow has come to be associated with the feminine aspect of nature. Wands made from willow are used by witches and Pagans to draw upon this energy.
In African American hoodoo, willow is used for good or ill as a doll baby, which is a representation of a person. In conjure work, another term for spell work, willow is combined with other items in mojo bags that are usually made of red flannel.
Since it has such a strong association with water, willow also relates to emotions, the moon, intuition, love, and friendship. The leaves are used in love magic and divination. Wands are used in full moon ceremonies when the feminine energy is considered at its highest. Branches are popular for dowsing because of the tree's natural inclination towards water.
Observation of its characteristics belies its flexible nature as it bends with the wind. This bending down also gives it a sheltering nature. Thus, it is used in protective spells for warding the home and person from evil or ill intent.
Modern Pagans use its leaves, bark, and branches in medicine bags, for wands, and herbal mixes in magic or they simply commune with the tree's essence through meditation to bring these feminine and protective energies into their relationships and lives.
References not mentioned in article:
- Hopman, Ellen Evert. Tree Medicine Tree Magic. Phoenix Publishing Inc., 1991.
- Yronwode, Catherine. Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic: A Materia Magica of African-American Conjure. Lucky Mojo Curio Company, 2002.
© Trish Deneen