11. The one with the mugwort


Perhaps it’s one of those odd laws of coincidence, or synchronicity. 

After posting about Artemis (and Artemisia dracunculus) at the last full moon (see blog 9. ‘Full and earthy’), I wasn’t intending to write more about Artemisia. But then I hadn’t planned on encountering the altogether madder, badder, and witchier Artemisia vulgaris.

More commonly known as mugwort (not the prettiest of names), she is most definitely a witchy herb.

I had no idea.

Well, I’d heard her recommended for lucid dreaming – for fair maidens to place under their pillows to dream of their true loves. The lore reminded me of Madeleine, the heroine of Keats’ Eve of St Agnes, going to bed hungry, surrounded by a great untouched feast, hoping for a vision of ‘the one’:

And turn, sole-thoughted, to one Lady there,

Whose heart had brooded, all that wintry day,

On love, and wing'd St. Agnes' saintly care,

As she had heard old dames full many times declare.


They told her how, upon St. Agnes' Eve,

Young virgins might have visions of delight,

And soft adorings from their loves receive

Upon the honey'd middle of the night,

If ceremonies due they did aright;

As, supperless to bed they must retire,

And couch supine their beauties, lily white;

Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require

Of Heaven with upward eyes for all that they desire.

 So, when an herbology colleague offered a ‘shrub’ of mugwort vinegar and blackberry syrup in return for a favour, I didn’t really think too carefully about pouring a generous amount into a mug, topping it with hot water, and settling down to the day’s lectures. It tasted absolutely delicious.

 What I didn’t know was that mugwort was once used as a kind of truth drug; that it is known as a great revealer; that it is usually found growing at crossroads; that it has a reputation for leading seekers to their true paths.

If I’d known that, I might have considered my action more carefully. As the old Blues saying goes: ‘If you meet the Devil at the crossroads…’ (google Robert Johnson for more on that).

 So I’m there in the classroom, and after an hour or so a very strange thing begins to happen. Although I’m aware that nothing superficially physical is taking place, I have a very strong sensation of the outer layers of my self — well, I don’t know what to call it exactly my aura/ being/ personality/ energetic field/ psychic defences? — peeling away, layer by layer.

As this continued, I grew smaller and smaller, like Alice. And it did continue. All day. 

By the evening, I had become so small that I had fallen entirely down a rabbit hole. Perhaps it’s fortunate that I am familiar enough with my own idiosyncratic warren of psychological rabbit holes to know not to panic when I find myself in one. Nonetheless, I wasn’t fit for much, so took to my bed early in the hope this might resolve the issue.

My cats, who had been very concerned by my countenance, followed me to bed, where they positioned themselves above my pillow so that they could purr continuously onto the top of my head — as if nursing me, or containing me. Or both. This is not their usual behavior. They continued this ‘nursing’ for the whole night.

So I rode it out and, by the morning, felt somewhat jangled but nonetheless restored.

I hasten to stress that this was in no way a hallucinogenic experience. I was entirely, and effortlessly in control of all my faculties. I could easily and safely have driven a car (though I didn’t).

I don’t really know how to classify the experience.

We had that day studied fungi, and had made hot water extractions, tinctures and dual extracts using birch polypore, chaga, usnia and jellyear — all of which we had tasted. And although it’s quite possible that these may have had some effect on me, the strangeness was beginning to happen before the tastings. In fact, I had the sense that the fungi were pretty grounding, and that things might have been more pronounced without them.

There’s only really one way to find out, and that’s to take the mugwort again.

I’m just waiting for the right circumstances, and the courage, to do it….