The Modern Witch on Smell: An Interview with Stacey Demarco

Stacey Demarco, The Modern Witch, is an internationally respected spiritual pagan practitioner, Witch, author and activist who hails from Sydney, Australia. Her passion is to make practical magic accessible to everyone and to reconnect people with the power of nature. She is the author of several books, including Witch in the Boardroom and Witch in the Bedroom. She was gracious enough to answer my questions about how aromatic botanicals are used in witchcraft, and why smell plays an important role in her practice.

Aromatica Poetica: Please tell us a little bit about the origin and aims of “The Modern Witch.”

Stacey Demarco: I started the business 20 years ago. It seemed a very different time then, you know, no Instagram, Facebook, and the internet just beginning. I was a corporate girl, very rational, yet I also identified as pagan, specifically as a witch, and well, a lot of people see those two things as being mutually exclusive. That you couldn’t possibly have a brain, have a “normal” job and have a spiritual practice like that.

This was only because they didn’t actually understand what witchcraft was and how old it was, after all, there are lots of negative stereotypes about witches. So I decided I wanted to start a “business” that would be very professional and ethical, smart and, whilst it didn’t shrink from what the word “witch” stood for, that it helped shape what a witch was in these modern times. At the same time, I wanted it to directly hard back to the very things that made witchcraft such a powerful tradition: the connection with nature for starters.

Rue looks like a little hand warding you away.

AP: Could you give us a little introduction to the use of essential oils/plants/flowers in the craft?

SD: It is a HUGE subject. The way I always introduce the use of plants to my students is to imagine you are someone who was living back in a time when we lived off and from the land. Let’s say a thousand years BC. So you wake up in the morning and depending upon whether you were a nomad or lived in a settlement, you have needs for food, shelter and survival that were linked to the land is specific ways. So here we are we wake up and what do we need to do? Well we need to know where the water is and to feed ourselves because we can’t just hop down to the mall and grab something from the supermarket right? We can’t just roll on down to the grocery aisle or the fresh food section and grab something possibly wrapped in plastic (but I digress) that someone else has grown and gathered for us.

So what do we need plants for? Well we need them to eat. We need them for medicine–pain relief, relaxants, purgatives, etc. We need them for hygiene. We need them for worship (frankincense, myrrh, pine resins, bay- all key plants used in worship, and I’m not even going into the ones that change mood and state here.) Without plants and the KNOWLEDGE of what plants can do for us, we would eat less, die or be sick more quickly, we would get diseases (for example scurvy) more readily, and of course the richness of ceremony would be much less.

AP: You mentioned in our previous correspondence about doing fragrance and perfumery studies in France. Could you tell us about those and how they inform your practice?

SD: Well firstly, I’ve been in love with fragrance since I was a little girl. I once tipped all of my Mums perfumes together into one bowl because I wanted to smell them all combined (apparently). Of course she was not amused.

I read The Emperor of Scent” by Chandler Burr, the story about scientist and perfumer Luca Turin, and I decided that if I really wanted to learn more about how the olfactory sense affected folks, I should check out more of the science of it and how perfumes were constructed and made.

I also wanted to have a more “educated” nose.
When you do something like this you get exposed to smells that you would never ordinarily. I learnt a lot. However, the negative is I cannot abide cheap perfumes or those ones that have a lot of chemicals in them! You get a nose for the good stuff! LOL!

AP: Please tell a little about your “potions workshops,” and about the work you’re doing with Miranda Mueller.

SD: Oh I love working with Miranda. Miranda is a qualified permaculture expert and one of the best professional gardeners I have ever met. Everything she touches grows! We liked the idea of doing joint work where Miranda shows people how to grow and care for the plants and I show them how to use it all in magic. We make ointments, potions, salts- we give people a practical way of using the plants. We want people to fall in love with their garden again.

AP: How important is the use of scent in your practice and spellcasting?

SD: It sets mood. It helps get your mind and body into a receptive state. This is why something like frankincense was as valuable as gold in the ancient times. It affects our state.

AP: Could you describe some of the vehicles for using scent in witchcraft?

SD: Herbs, magical oils, essential oils, incense, scented candles, plus salts, talismans and poppets!

Stacey Demarco stretches in front of big tree.

AP: How do you determine what scent/plant to use in a given spell or charm? Some uses seem somewhat universal–for example, rose in love spells, and sage for cleansing–but there are so many to choose from.

SD: Symbology is important but so is what a plant actually does. For example the plant rue looks like a little hand warding you away. If you rub the leaves with your bare hands, it burns you. It’s considered one of the top five witch’s plants. So if I am doing a protective talisman I would put rue into it.

We knew all about Echinacea before science confirmed it; the dried flowers are included in health charms. White willow bark is high in salicylic acid (basis of aspirin)and this is why the tea took pain away and we used the flowers in spells for recovery from illness. I could go on!

AP: Do you have an aromatic plant or two that you seem to reach for most often? If so, what are they and why?

SD: I’m a little bit in love with lemongrass…but I have to use it sparingly due to having bees. (I’m a beekeeper). The bees are REALLY attracted to it. Lemongrass enlivens any bad day!

I love tuberose absolute (the real deal used in perfumery)- its mind-blowingly lush. I use it in love potions.
And I love the simple clean smell of rosemary and lavender plants. Both are used a lot in potion making and spells and they are easy to grow where I am. And I love rue! Rue is an acquired smell…but its bitterness is perfect for use in repelling.

AP: Could you give an example or two of the use of an
herb/flower/essential oil in a particular spell, and how or why it works, or helps enhance the power of the spell?

SD: Well if I am doing a spell or ceremony that I wish to invoke a particular deity, it makes sense to burn or offer that deities favorite plant or scent. Aphrodite loves roses. Athena loves rosemary and bay. (In fact most of the Greek Pantheon love bay), Circe loves all herbs- medicinal ones especially, Apollo loves honey, Thor enjoys pine resin and Freyja is famous for her love of amber.

Another example is making up bath potion for cleansing  before ritual. Having a ritual bath is something many of us do on sabbaths or before big workings. I use pink Himalayan sea salt as a base and add dried rosemary, some bay leaves, rose or jasmine flowers, some lemon peel, and if I have it fresh rose geranium leaves which are super heavy with natural oils, and a teaspoon of pink or black clay.

AP: anything I’ve neglected to ask regarding this very large and exciting topic that is important for at least a beginning understanding of the use of aromatic plants in witchcraft?

SD: I want to mention that some of the plants we use are considered “dangerous” or poisons. For example we have a battle looming that may stop the public sale of wormwood because well, someone might get high on it or try to brew their own . Ridiculous! However, there are plants we love to use to remove curses, to heal nasty disorders or to clear negative energy, and these are often poisonous if ingested. I speak of mandrakes for example.

*For more on Stacey and how to incorporate the power of witchcraft into your daily life, visit TheModernWich.com, or follow her on Facebook and Twitter*