What is a magic potion? It is the distilled essence of a rare flower which can only be found in one location and only harvested on one night of the year? Or is it the bubbling concoction thrown together in the iron pot containing eye of newt and hair of dog? The root of the word potion comes from the Latin potio or “drink” and refers to a magical medicine, drug or poison in liquid form, if not brewed by a witch or cunning man the product of dragons and the fay.
The modern Witches potion some times bears little resemblance to those found in mythology a literature so I will make somw superficial comparisons of the three types of potion I see as most commonly invoked in the minds eye with the very name.
Love potions are as problematic for modern pagans as their spell counterparts. The idea that potion may over come someones personal will is uncomfortable and literature gives a number of good examples of how things can go wrong when we attempt to control the emotions of others. Take Tristan and Iseult for example. Iseult doesn’t like Tristan and is actually attempting to poison him when she administers what turns out to be a love potion but the potion completely over powers both their will. Iseult is so under the control of the potion that when Tristan eventually dies she also dies, so broken is her heart.
Let’s assume for one moment there is no issue with two consenting adults spicing up their existing relationship with a love potion. A modern love potion would most likely be based around red wine (to lower inhabitions) and spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom(to lower anxiety and ‘warm’ the humours).
The deathlike slumber of princess and peasant alike is central to many folk and fairy tales. Sleeping potions appear both as a method of rendering opponents unconscious for short periods of time or to place the drinker in a deep dream state in which they experience miraculous revelations and come to understand hidden truths. The most memorable sleeping potion of all is that which puts Snow White into such a deep sleep she appears dead.
Modern dream and sleep tea’s are readily available in your local supermarket and most often include herbs such as valerian, lavender and chamomile. There are recipes avalible on the Internet which are intended to deepen sleep and improve dream state and recall and these recipes often include herbs such as mugwort.
The best example of a literary healing potion is Queen Lucy’s Cordial from the Chronicles of Narnia. Made from the juice of the fire-flowers that grow on the mountains of the sun. This Cordial can heal any wound, even those which may be fatal though it cannot heal death itself.
The name given to this kind of magical healing potion is Panacea. The origin of this word lies with a Greek Goddess of the same name. Panacea is the Goddess of All Cures and is the daughter of Asclepius and Epione, even appearing in the Hippocratic Oath
“I swear by Apollon the physician, and Asklepios (Asclepius), and Hygeia, and Panakeia (Panacea), and all the gods and goddesses, that, according to my ability and judgment, I will keep this Oath and this stipulation . . .”
Hippocrates, The Hippocratic Oath (Greek physician C5th to C4th B.C.)
She was said to poses a magical liquid which could heal all wounds and this is likely to be the inspiration behind Queen Lucy’s Cordial.
Modern potions do not hold such powers and are more often prepares with a specific purpose in mind. The healing properties of herbs are combined with other practices to bring relief to the drinker.
It should be noted that healing potions and herbs should not be uses as an alternative to contemporary medicine. Such things should be used to complement medical advice and intervention and should be used in isolation. More generally if you wish to consume herbal preperations, particularly those you have made yourself, you should always make yourself aware of the uses and contraindications of each ingredient. If you have any doubt about the suitability of an ingredient seek professional advice and always remember that any potion or healing tea is taken at your own risk.
In The Clink of the Spoon
You may wondering why most of what I have referred to revolves around teas, brews and alcohol well that us because a potion is a spell which you drink. Sometimes they are concebtrates added to other liquids but they are always consumed in liquid form. Other things are added; both pleasant and noxious, drinkable and not. Other elements such as crystals, coloured bottles and charms all add to the power and appearance of the potion but as with most Witchcraft it is the intent that makes the difference.
A cup of cinnamon tea may just be a plain old cup of cinnamon tea, good for improving circulation and weight loss, but with the right clink of the spoon it can become a potion to draw love and happiness towards you. In all Witchcraft it is not so much what you do as how you do it.