Wheel of the Year Activities: Corn Dollies and Witches’ Ladders

by Doyenne Rowan Nightshade

I love the autumn: the clear, cold days and chill winds that blow your hair in your face; the leaves turning colors; and the “pumpkin patches” that start appearing in every vacant lot. This month, we celebrate the coming of the harvest by making corn dollies, a traditional activity that actually has nothing to do with maize, and witches ladders, a form of knot magic.

Corn Dollies

The name “corn dolly” is something of a misnomer in this day and age. They aren’t made of maize and they often don’t resemble a person at all. The word “corn” evolved from ‘kern,’ the old English word for grain, and “dolly” may have evolved from “idol,” so “grain idol” is a more accurate term. If you look for information on corn dollies nowadays, you mostly find corn-husk dolls, so “wheat weaving” is the more commonly used term now. Corn dollies were frequently in the shapes of circles, hearts, loops, and stars (sometimes even goats) and were hung prominently in the home through the fallow winter months. It’s thought the Druids believed that the corn spirit lived in the grain fields and was made homeless at harvest time. Hollow forms, the corn dollies, made from the last of the grain harvest were woven to house the spirit, until the dolly could be plowed back into the field in the spring.

There are numerous websites and books that have detailed instructions on making beautiful and elaborate corn dollies, if you’re so inclined. For our purposes, I will describe how to make a very simple, basic one.

In choosing your grain stalks, you should select long ones that are straight and slender, and measure at least 18 inches from the base of the head to the first joint on the stalk. Green stalks will never ripen to a golden color after picking, so bear that in mind as well; golden is the traditional color for corn dollies. Just before you start, you’ll need to temper the stalks by soaking them in cool water for 20 to 40 minutes. Never use hot water, as it will cause the grain to lose it’s natural shine. After soaking, wrap the stalks in a wet towel and lay them aside for about 15 minutes before use. Once they’re ready, you can continue to use them all day as long as you keep them wrapped in the damp towel, or until they get too soggy, whichever comes first.

Five stalks of grain, all the same length.
Two lengths of string or ribbon
A large, flat working surface

Getting started:
Stand the stalks on ends to line them up evenly. Fasten them with string or ribbon just below the heads, giving you five long ends below the string and a bundle of grain heads above.

Next, spread out the long ends so that they’re fanned out on the table and the heads are standing up perpendicular to the working surface.

For ease and clarity, arrange the long ends so they point directionally, relative to you. (i.e. North, South, East, and West). Point the fifth stalk East, as well. Now you should have one stalk each pointing North, West, and South, with the remaining two pointing East, one on top of the other.

Take the bottom East stalk and pass it under both the top East stalk and the North stalk.

Now rotate the entire bundle one quarter-turn clockwise, leaving you with two stalks in the East again (having moved them from North to East).

Again, pass the lower East stalk under the top East and the North stalks, then rotate again one quarter-turn clockwise.

Continue repeating this step, passing the stalk under and rotating the dolly. Soon the long ends will begin to curl up around the heads, forming a basket shape. This is good, it’s what we’re going for. Continue weaving until the basket covers the heads completely.

Gather the loose ends together and tie them off with another piece of string or ribbon.

That’s it, you’re done! You may wish to make a loop from ribbon or wire to hang it with, or even weave ribbon in with the grain stalks themselves just for fanciness. You can also use this method to make lavender bundles. Once you have the basics down, there are almost infinite variations to try.

Witches’ Ladders

Knot and cord magic is an old type of folk magic used to bind things to you. You can bind something you want, or bind protection to you to keep away things you don’t want. A witch’s ladder is just that, traditionally made from plaited hair or cord, with feathers woven or tied in. If you can make a braid you can make a witch’s ladder. Typical witches’ ladders use one black, one red, and one white ribbon (to represent the maiden-mother-crone aspects of the triple goddess) and nine feathers, though you may prefer to use colors or numbers that correspond to your working. You might choose pink and white ribbons to attract love, green and red for Yule or for prosperity, etc. You can purchase dyed feathers at craft stores in just about any color, though I, personally, like to collect found feathers and use them. You can also weave in beads or stones, or other objects, to enhance your spell, but the most important thing is to focus on your intention as you work.

Note: If you do collect “wild” feathers, I recommend washing them before use because wild birds tend to have mites.

Some color/feather correspondences are:
White: purification, spirituality, hope, protection, peace, lunar energies
Red: physical vitality, courage, good fortune, life
Blue: mental abilities, peace, protection, psychic awareness
Yellow: cheerfulness, mental alertness, prosperity, solar energies
Green: money, prosperity, growth, health, fertility
Orange: attraction, energy, success
Pink: attracting love
Grey: peace, neutrality
Brown: stability, respect, home, grounding
Brown feathers striped with black: balance between physical and spiritual life

Brown feathers banded or mixed with white: happiness, invisibility from harm
Brown and red mixed feathers: healing to animals
Black: mystical wisdom, spiritual initiation, banishing
Black iridescent feathers: mystical insight
Black and white mixed feathers: union, protection.
Black (or gray) feathers banded or mixed with white: hope, balance, harmony
Black mixed with purple: deep spirituality.
Black, white, and blue mixed feathers: change
Peacock tail feathers: protection from the “evil eye," stimulates clairvoyance
Rooster tail feathers (called sickles): God and Goddess.
The black ones resemble the horns of the Horned God and are a symbol of male virility.
The white ones resemble the sickle with which grain sacred to the Goddess is reaped.
 They also resemble the waxing and waning moon.

Once you’ve made your witch’s ladder, hang it near your door for protection, in the Feng Shui money corner of your house (southeast corner) for prosperity, or maybe next to your bed to attract love.

Happy Harvest!

Seasonal Herb Crafting­ - Herbal Allies for Summer (Part 1: Red Clover)

by Meadowlark

Its just past the peak of summer, and the plants have begun to turn their attention from growth to production (and reproduction). Instead of focusing efforts on growing leaves and stems, they are flowering, fruiting and producing seeds. One place in nature where this is imminently evident is in the summer fields and meadows, where lush crops of Red Clover are blooming and buzzing with native pollinators, busily gathering and sipping nectar. An energy of abundance, fertility and manifestation is in the air! Red Clover is a sweet herbal ally that can help us leverage this seasonal energy of abundance and assist us in our own manifestation work.

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) is a low growing, perennial, flowering plant in the legume (or bean) family, and one of the first plants cultivated by man to improve the soil and as forage for cattle. Red Clover is native to Europe, Western Asia and Northwest Africa, but has been planted and naturalised in many regions of the world, including North America, where it is the state flower of Vermont. The plant is rich in folklore and has been used both magically and medicinally since ancient times.

This childhood rhyme for a four-leaf clover actually originates from the Middle Ages:

One leaf for fame,
One leaf for wealth,
One for a faithful lover,

And one to bring glorious health,
Are all in a four-leaf clover

With all of those magical attributes, what better herbal ally to help us manifest our dreams and desires?

Or, are your goals are a little more physical in nature? Red Clover can help you manifest these goals as well. Full of nutrients such as: calcium, chromium, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, thiamine, and vitamin C, and one of the richest sources of isoflavones (water-soluble chemicals that act like estrogens and are found in many plants), Red Clover can help support vibrant health and vitality. Recent studies (and years of use) show the following health benefits:

  • Cancer prevention and resistance: Red Clover contains the compounds: biochanin-A, caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, coumarin, formononetin, genistein and isorhamnetin, which have all demonstrated some anti-cancer properties in various published studies. The plant has traditionally been used to increase resistance to cancer and other diseases (although, due to its estrogen-like qualities, red clover isn't recommended for use against breast cancer), and is a primary ingredient in traditional herbal formulas, such as Essiac Tea, Jason Winters Tea, and the Hoxsey Therapy.

  • Reproductive Health: The isoflavones and other phytosterols in Red Clover have been shown to limit the development of benign prostate hyperplasia in men (a common non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate gland), and in women, lessen symptoms of PMS or menopause and other conditions associated with low or unbalanced estrogen levels. Red clover has also been a traditional herbal remedy for infertility and chronic miscarriage (both of which can be due to insufficient estrogen).

  • Pre and peri-menopausal Health: Red Clover has been shown to reduce hot flashes/flushes, slow bone loss (and may even boost bone mineral density), raise HDL cholesterol levels (the “good” kind), lower LDL cholesterol levels (the “bad” kind), reduce the risk of forming blood clots and arterial plaques, and increase arterial flexibility and strength, in pre and peri-menopausal women.

  • Respiratory Health: Red clover has been used traditionally to treat whooping cough and other respiratory ailments.

  • Skin Health: Red clover contains several anti-inflammatory compounds, including salicylic acid (the pain relieving compound in aspirin) and is often seen as an herbal ingredient in topical salves and linaments. Red Clover has been shown to treat and relieve the pain of both eczema and psoriasis, as well as sores, burns, and as an aid against skin cancer.



Manifesting Physical Health and Vitality: Are you trying to maintain or build strong bones? A healthy heart and circulatory system? Resistance to cancer? Or maybe trying to conceive and successfully carry a much wanted pregnancy to term? Eating and drinking Red Clover can help support you in these goals.

  • Nourishing Infusion: To make a nourishing infusion, place 1 oz dried red clover blossoms* in 1 quart mason jar (to improve the taste, you can also try including a spoonful or two dried peppermint), fill with boiling water, lid tightly, and allow to steep for 4-10 hours (easiest is overnight). Strain well (composting the spent herbs) and drink warm or chilled, as desired. For best results, drink 2-4 cups a day for at least 30 days. It may take several months to reach the full effect of this herb, and if being used for fertility, pregnancy may take up to a year or two (so keep trying!).

*Note-Since the minerals and other phytochemicals in nourishing herbs are made more accessible by drying, dried herbs are considered best for infusions.

  • Healing Food:The raw young leaves and fresh blossoms have the same vital nutrients as the infusion (albeit in smaller quantities per volume) and can be added to salads and soups or cooked with grains, such as rice or millet, to further support your physical health and vitality. Red clover is also delicious fresh from the meadow (as any young child who has sucked the nectar from these sweet blossoms can attest).

Manifesting Luck, Wealth and Prosperity: Finding a four-leaved clover has always been considered a lucky charm, and clovers have traditionally been believed to provide protection from evil spirits and disease, as well as bring good fortune.

  • Magical Amulet: Traditionally, a clover may be worn over the right breast to bring success in all undertakings, and one may be worn in the hat or placed under the pillow to bring good luck and protection. The five leaf clover is said to be powerful for attracting money and is thus worn for that purpose.

  • Magical Baths: As an external body cleanse, Red Clover is said to attract money and prosperity to the bather. To make a clover bath, infuse dried red clover (as above) and add 1 -2 cups of the strained infusion to the bath (or if conserving water, use a ½ cup as a hair or body rinse in the shower or just a hand rinse prior to spellwork).

Manifesting Love: Want to be more "lucky in love"? Red clover is traditionally used in lust potions, love magic, and spell-work to support marital happiness. Folklore and tradition tell us the following love enhancing properties of clover:

  • If you find a two-leaved clover you will soon find a lover <3

  • If you put a four-leaved clover in your shoe before going out, you will increase your chances of meeting a rich new love.

  • If two people eat a four-leaved clover together, mutual love will develop (except...maybe, if you eat the clover that was in your shoe).

Manifesting “Fairy Sight”: Clover is also believed to be a favorite plant of the Fairies. Some traditions state that holding clover in your hand will gain you the ability to see them...others say to gain "The Sight", one should lay seven grains of wheat on a four-leaved clover. Try one or both methods in your magical garden or a local green space this summer! When you see them, don't forget to make an offering of sweets made with clover honey...maybe they will help you find the love, money or treasures you seek!

Happy Herbcrafting!



  • This article is for informational and educational purposes only. Please consult a licensed or certified health care practitioner before medical or internal use, especially with children, or when pregnant or breastfeeding.

  • Red Clover is ot recommended for use in those with breast or ovarian cancer, liver problems, or those struggling with estrogen dominance conditions (e.g. fibroids, endometriosis, etc)

  • Due to its blood thinning effects, Red Clover is not recommended for those with bleeding and clotting disorders or anyone 2 weeks prior to surgery

  • Potential Drug Interactions: Not recommended for use with contraceptive pills or blood thinners

Seasonal Herb Crafting: Herbal Allies for Spring Part 2 (Dandelion)

by Meadowlark

Due to the early Spring's much needed rainfall, longer days, and warmer weather, we see activity and signs of life everywhere we look. The buds on the trees have turned to leaves, and the flowers are blooming- in parks, gardens and roadsides alike. People are coming out of their homes on weekends and evenings- jogging, biking and working in their yards and gardens. The stillness and dormancy of winter has fully given way to the movement and growth of Spring. No matter what is going on for us now, or what has happened to us in the past, this season provides us all with a chance for fresh starts and fertile beginnings.

By aligning ourselves with the changes and growth all around us, we can leverage the momentum of the season to cultivate our own desires, and manifest our own wishes and dreams. What that looks like for each person will be different. Some might strive increase their energy and vitality, to enable them to get moving and take action; Others might work on exploring their desires and dreams and determining what's needed to plant the seeds of change; Others might make wishes and work magic to enable those wishes to come true. For each of these physical, energetic or magical challenges (and more!), Dandelion (Taraxacum) can be a powerful herbal ally.

Yes, Dandelion, the nemesis of suburban lawn owners, despite its reputation in this country as a nasty lawn weed, is actually a medicinal and magical herb! Dandelion is thought to originate in Asia, but spread before written history, and is intentionally cultivated worldwide as an essential plant for food and health. All of the dandelion (flower, leaf, root and stem) is edible, and high in minerals, especially potassium, and vitamins A, B, C and D, as well as beta-carotene, choline (essential for liver function) and inulin (beneficial for diabetics). Medicinally, it helps to cleanse and support the liver, blood, kidneys and gallbladder, aids in bile production and digestion and reduce gas, blood pressure, fat and cholesterol, as well as increase muscular strength.

Dandelion has a tap root that can extend up to 3 feet underground, and is an extremely hardy plant. Even if the surface plant wilts or is destroyed, it will regrow from the root. From this quality, as well as its life restoring medicinal qualities, it has been considered a magical underworld or otherworld plant, and is magically aligned as such. Dandelion is sacred to Hecate, and according to mythology, she fed this herb to Theseus for 30 days, thus giving him the strength and vitality needed to defeat the Minatoar in the Cretan Labyrinth.

Spring Herbcrafting with Dandelions:

Health & Healing: Sometimes a gentle herbal energy boost may be just what's needed to restore and revive energy and stamina to get those spring projects off the ground! In March, we talked about “Spring Cleaning” and clearing away any dark, negative or sluggish energies of winter to prepare ourselves for the fresh, new growth of Spring. Hopefully, you had a chance to work a bit with Nettles in this endeavor. If not...its not too late! However, If you have been working with nettles and you still feel like you need some additional “spring cleaning”, dandelion can be taken in combination with nettles or by itself as a nourishing and cleansing tonic.

  • Young Dandelion leaves clear blood and lymph and can be used to add flavor and nutrition to salads and sandwiches.

  • The leaves can also be taken as an herbal infusion to support liver and kidney function. To make the infusion, place ¼ cup to ½ cup leaves (either just Dandy or ½ Dandy + ½ Nettles) in 1 quart mason jar, fill with boiling water, lid tightly, and allow to steep for 4-10 hours (I find overnight to be the simplest). Strain well, composting the spent herbs, and drink 2-4 cups a day warm or chilled, as desired.

  • For a healthy herbal coffee substitute, the roots can be roasted, ground and brewed like conventional coffee.

  • The roots can also be added to soups and stews as they simmer, adding additional nutrients and healing qualities. A little goes a long way with this, as dandelion can be bitter, but it is this same bitterness that aids in bile production and digestion.

  • Externally, a strong infusion of the flowers can be used in the bath or as a wash for skin and hair, to ease dry skin, dandruff, excema, etc

Fertility: Spring is a time associated with fertility. Dandelion, with its own fertile nature, can be an ally for those who are trying to conceive a child and prepare their bodies for pregnancy.

  • Magically, dandelions can be used in fertility spells. One only has to visualize the flower in its seed form to realize the power this flower has to germinate and reproduce in great numbers. Make an offering to the spirit of the plant, blow a seed head to spread the seeds across the land, and ask for support with your own and/or your partners fertility.

  • Nourishing and tonifying the liver is an important part of supporting overall reproductive health. The liver helps filter toxins and waste from our bodies, including excess hormones. Taking herbal infusions of the dandelion leaf, decoctions of the root and/or adding leaves or roots to foods (as mentioned above) will help to cleanse the liver and regulate hormone levels in the body. Of course, if there is a medical condition preventing or complicating fertility and pregnancy, additional measures will need to be taken, but liver health is essential for proper hormone balance and functioning.

Divination, Communication & Wishes: Magic is in the air! The wheel has turned to Beltane, when we honor and celebrate birth, life and all things living. Fairies, nymphs and nature spirits abound!  At this time (as with Samhain at the other half of the wheel), the veil between the worlds is thin. It is a perfect time for making wishes and working big magic.

  • Psychic Tea or “coffee” made from the root is said to promote psychic power and can be a useful ally when preparing for divination or dreamwork. For an extra magical boost, save some tea and place it next to your bed to call spirits.

  • A strong infusion of the plant makes an excellent wash for scrying mirrors, or you can make a scrying bowl by filling a suitably reflective bowl with this tea and gazing into the liquid.

  • For protection while sleeping as well as during astral and dreamtime travel, include Dandelion in dream pillows, sachets and mojo bags.

  • Blow on a seed head to make a wish, or use dried flowers in sachets and charms to make Spring wishes come true.

Happy Spring Herbcrafting!