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Henge Happenings
Issue #84
Samhain 2009

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Henge Happenings

  Issue 84

From the President
From the Vice-President

The Bard’s Path
Ancestors, Heroism & Weapons
by Karl Schlotterbeck
Eidolon by Jenne Micale
Celtic Necromancy: Consulting the
Ancestors
by Shawn Frix

The Seer’s Path
Sweetgum: The Sticker-ball Tree
by Jenne Micale
Comfrey by Nione
A Reminder for Veterans

The Druid’s Path
Interview with Tony Taylor
by Christopher Blackwell
On being Keltrian by NiBhrigid
From the Internet

Reviews
The Druidry Handbook
Drawing Down the Spirits

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Sweetgum: The Sticker-ball Tree

Ask the average Pagan about the properties of sweetgum trees, and you’ll probably witness furrowed brows and head-scratching. Sweetgums are notably absent from magical and herbal tree lore, which derives largely from Europe. The reason? Sweetgums, while extent in North and South America and Asia, died out on the European continent during the Ice Age.Photo of Jenne Micale

Sweetgums, for those unfamiliar with the name, are a hardwood with star-shaped leaves and seedpods that resemble spiky balls, a bit like horse chestnut but without the central seed. In North America, they grow on a vast swath of the East Coast, up through northern New Jersey and the Connecticut area, although I’ve seen hybrids grown in upstate New York parks. They are a favorite food of the luna moth (FCPS).

Known scientifically under the name liquidamber styraciflua, sweetgum gets its vernacular name from its sweet-smelling sap, which nevertheless tastes bitter. From it is derived the incense storax or styrax, used as a “binder” in incense formulas much in the manner of benzoin. Medicinally, the sap can be boiled down and used to cure skin ailments and diarrhea; the Aztecs combined it with tobacco for use as a sedative (Virginia Tech 1). It also was used to treat distemper in dogs and fever in humans (NRCS). Native tribes used it as chewing gum, and its wood is used in modern times for furniture.

Photo of American Sweetgum. Photo by Photo (c)2007 Derek RamseyOne of the tree’s most striking attributes – its spiky balls – gives ahint as to its magical properties: protection. Scott Cunningham claims that, “The seed pods are placed on the altar or held during magical rites for protection against evil forces,” although he doesn’t appear to realize that sweetgum is the largely same plant as storax and even pictures the wrong plant in Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs (160).

I submit that sweetgum has other properties: namely, sky and fairy magic, owing to its star-shaped leaves and its attraction to luna moths. Like storax itself, sweetgum can also add to the efficacy of any spell, “binding” the act to the outcome. However, this is derived from my firsthand experience and interpretations; sweetgum is my plant ally and, as previous stated, not the subject of much occult research.

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