Wednesday, April 24, 2019

On Dittany of Crete

[re-posted from 2013]

"Sing to me o' Goddess of the Mountain. Sing and fill me with inspiration as I tread your paths for my love. Let me be nimble as a goat. Let me not fall. Let me find your beloved dittany. Let it fill my basket. Let its perfume waft and coil around my love. Let her be impressed. Let her be desirous of me. For I shall sing praises to you. I will make love in your name. I will honor the mountain!"

In times past we hunted plants as we hunt animals and from that time to now we have had Gods, myths, legends and stories connecting us to plants and interweaving though all aspects of our lives. Our relationship to various plants is sung in epic poems and lives on in charms and even the highest of honors, a simple olive leaf crown, was the ultimate reward for games won. Plants are with us at weddings, funerals and surround us at all times. A plant is not just simply a "thing" we eat or use for recreation or healing. Every plant has a spirit and these spirits shape us as we shape them. Some follow us and help us. Some seem to hinder us. And some are so "threatening" that we throw people in jail for life for the possession of even the smallest amount of certain plants. They alter our minds and consciousness. They heal, kill and exist in every facet of our lives each and every day.They are a foundational point in the magic of almost every worker and they even have an effect on the Spirits in various ways. An intimate and working knowledge of them is critical if one is interested in magic. I focus in on one herb at a time and go as in depth as I can with them to learn "why" they work in the magical context that they do. It has to make sense. There have to be connections. I was never satisfied when reading magical herbal books with their one to two sentence "explanation" of what herbs to what magically. Why? How? Where did they get that? Some of the lore out there is watered down at best or merely a shadow of the actual power. Some is flat out untrue. So my friends please let us explore and make connections. While I am a Rootworker my background is Traditional American Witchcraft. The two systems are intertwined in many many ways and as they are both living, breathing traditions with a body of workers and a body of lore they continue to fuse, grow, expand and develop as all systems that are "working" do.  Hopefully you can gain some insights and understanding as I have.

One herb that has always interested me is Dittany of Crete. In my early years I had only heard of it through whispers and it was held in high regard by fellow witches and workers I knew. When I asked them what it "did" the replies were vague and simplistic like "it is powerful" or "it calls to the spirits". These answers were not good enough for me then nor now and so I decided to pursue my own knowledge of this plant in my own way and in my own time.  I would encourage you to do the same in your magical studies. 

I wanted to know what makes it powerful? What does it do and why would the Witch or Rootworker want to use it? Do the dead really like it and how so? As I have learned and grown I have seen many people work natural magic as if it were a cook book and take what people say as gospel truth. A little dash of chamomile, a pinch of patchouli, and a nugget of frankincense and you have a money incense, voila! Maybe. But why those herbs? Can you just grab them whilly nilly? What goes deeper? Do they contain the power to make the spell work or do you or both?  I know now that it is the Spirit of the plant that lends the power and that the plant itself is the teacher. The worker must be gifted and go forth with will, desire and belief and the drive to go deeper.  So I decided to go deeper.

Dittany of Crete.....Origanum dictamnus (Lamiaceae Family).

I know that what people know in the pagan or witchcraft communities about dittany comes from what Aleister Crowley wrote, that it summons spirits, is related to Persephone and should be burned in copious amounts and often associates it with Abramelin. That is to say that he as well as other Thelemites held it in high regard. Daniel Schulke, in his "Viridarium Umbris" calls dittany a kapnomantic herb---used for divination with smoke.  I have used dittany in this way, it ties back to the legends that it was burnt at various Greek oracular sites, such as the Delphic Oracle.  Other references to dittany are equally as vague, though, and come from the Hoodoo community which says dittany is good for love and use it as a love charm.  Looking at Crowley's work I wondered where he got to his conclusions as in my own research into Greek mythology there is nothing about summoning spirits to manifestation associated with dittany.  The Greek link to Goddess is Athena not Persephone. The only reference I could find to the "Spirits" was in Agrippa which states that dittany is good for prophesy, and driving away of evil spirits. So there is kind of a link there but it still was not good enough for me. It was too vague and I knew that magicians in the past borrowed from other magicians and grimoires (as they do now) and things can get lost in translation. The Hoodoo love spells with dittany made more sense because in the Greek lore dittany has love rituals attached to it. However, Hoodoo is "newer" as it is a combination of various traditions which came together to battle the pedagogy of the oppressed so sometimes it is all over the place in terms of lore, how each individual worker works and how it differs in different areas of the country. And of course we all argue with one another about everything so back to the research we must go. We are on a journey here so let us go to the home of dittany.  Let us delve into the myth of this beautiful plant to see if we can gain some magical insights.

Dittany is native to Crete and is found all over the island but especially on the western side and usually on the steep slopes of the mountains. Being a Mediterranean plant it enjoys a dry hot summer with lots of sun and a mild and rainy winter season. . Being a type of oregano it is a short plant with bifurcated leaves of a greyish green that appear to have a furry lace upon them, almost like a weaving and feel soft like the plant 'lambs ear'. They produce elegant red and pink flower stalks which dip down.

Dittany is well known for its medical healing properties and is anti-microbial, antioxidant and anti-ulcer. It is used in Crete and Greece extensively as a healing herb and can be found in many local markets.

Taxonomy and medical science are interesting but what does the smoke whisper? What do the Spirits know? Shall we climb the mountain in search of answers?

The old Minoan Goddess of the mountain has no name that has survived, though she is depicted as a gorgon headed woman with ritual accoutrement.  However, once the Greeks got to the island they named her Britomartis (sweet maid) and later she morphed again and was given the name Diktynna (of the nets). The name "Dittany" was derived from Diktynna and at its root is 'dikti' which is Greek for "net". Like many of the Gods of old, Diktynna has experienced a transformation in human consciousness as cultures shifted and as people assimilated one another. First being a Minoan Goddess of her own volition (Britomartis/Diktynna)- to being a toned down lady of the woods to a nymph and finally an "aspect" of Artemis (Artemis-Diktynna). The story goes that Britomartis, beautiful and maidenly and a charmer of animals, was pursued by king Minos. Not wanting to be at the end of the amorous king's advances she threw herself off of a cliff and into the sea to escape him. Luckily for her she was caught in the nets of some Greek fishermen who called her Diktynna (of the nets) and brought her to Greece.  We can see this not only in terms of her changing name but as a spread of her cult to mainland Greece where because of her nature with animals and hunting she was associated with Artemis, sometimes as an aspect of Artemis and sometimes as a companion or nymph. What is also interesting is that even though these "aspects" are associated with Artemis, Artemis herself is depicted with the head of the gorgon on her shield. So we circle back to the ancient pre-Greek myths of the area and to the power and mystery of the gorgon.  An  apotropaic charm to be sure, everyone seemed to want the head of the gorgon for himself from Perseus to Alexander the Great!

But let us go back to the old Goddess for a bit. Back to Britomartis. Back to the mountain. Mount Ida to be exact and to a gorgon headed Goddess holding a double headed axe with serpents twining around each arm accompanied by feral dogs and other animals as is depicted in Minoan art. Quite a turn around from the skipping virgin maid who runs from the lustful glance of a powerful king. But then the ancient Greeks had a different view of women than did the Minoans and the blushing virgin was much more palpable than the gorgon who would turn you to stone and Lord knows what else. We also see that Mount Ida is centrally located on Crete and has lore connected to Zeus, but Mount Dikit (ahhh etymology how I love thee) is far to the West. Remember that dittany mostly grows in the West? Two mountains. Two faces of a Goddess. Two cultures. Consider that the ancient Minoan culture was as steeped in mystery and lore and as far removed from the Greeks as we are from those ancient Greeks ourselves today. Time fades memories, weathers stones and stories, and the victors write the tales. An ancient Goddess transformed into something more palatable? Seen that one before.
The head of the Gorgon 

So let us confuse the story a little bit more shall we? Britomartis is translated as "sweet maid", or "fair maid" and yet is depicted as a gorgon or demon with snakes, axes and dogs, so what gives? Why this opposite? We know that Diktynna was also considered to be sweet and fair and without the nastiness of the Gorgon. Now we must leave the age of Aquarius archaeology and the scientific rationality and tread the path of the Witch. We walk now into myth and dream so let us make some connections.

We know that dittany, being of the oregano family, has amazing healing properties but where it grew naturally was in a very precarious place indeed. Right up the steep slopes of mount Ida and Dikit. To procure this amazingly healing and magical herb one took their life into their very hands and a tale of the "quest" grew up around such ventures. The flowers of dittany are beautiful indeed and what young maid would not be desirous of such a beautiful prize? Oh to impress the girls! This is where the love mythos of dittany comes in and even today young men will venture up the slopes (hopefully with carabiners and on belay) to get some for their girlfriends. In times of old though this was quite the quest and proved to the young lady that the lad really did desire her. Thus dittany was used in a variety of love charms and potions and consequently still is. So if you ever read that dittany is used for love now you will know why. Here is one of my favorite dittany formulas used in Hoodoo. It is simple but effective:

A Hoodoo Love Sprinkle
To be placed where the beloved will come in contact with done on a waxing moon preferably in the hour and day of Venus.

Dittany of Crete
Red Rose petals
Catnip (if lover is a man)
John the Conqueror chips (if lover is a female)
Mix these thoroughly

Bring yourself to climax while thinking of your love. Say their name and tell them to be yours aloud as you climax. Wet both your left and right hand with your fluids. Take the herbal mixture and mix with your hands your fluids into the mixture as if you were kneading dough. Breathe your desire into the mixture. Say aloud as if you were speaking to your beloved and tell them all that you desire with passion!!!

Next you will sprinkle these where your lover will come in contact yet not be aware of them such as under a door mat or bed or mixed into some soil where you know where they will walk. You should be able to see "movement" in about 7 days. 

Love play is all well and good. Sex is great and using folk and natural magic to get a lover is awesome but what about sex to call down the very Gods? How could these snakes and axes relate to sex and power?
Dittany of Crete

The double headed axe also known as the "Labrys" was a powerful symbol of the Goddess and has been found all over Crete and especially at Knossos as well as Catal Huyuk and dates to the neolithic in terms of its use. The labrys is curved which represents the "arc of creation" and perhaps the pregnant belly and is the only way an axe can be double bladed. This "double bladedness" is important because it is the two faces of the Goddess, the Gorgon and the sweet maid.  This speaks to the dual nature in such a Goddess and interestingly enough if you look at the leaves of the dittany plant you will see that they themselves look like a mini labrys. That is a double headed axe like shape with a rounded blade. If you are familiar with the doctrine of signatures you can see it at work here with these links.

Another animal associated with dittany but not necessarily with Britomartis was the goat. There is a fabulous tale told by Aristotle (4th C. BC from the Historia Animalium), that when a wild goat was struck with a poison arrow (some tales it is just arrows) it would eat the dittany and this caused the arrows to leave the body and to heal the wounds. This tale was so beloved and believed that it stuck around and a famous engraving by the artist Dapper of Amsterdam showing a little wounded goat eating the leaves of the dittany was quite popular. Because of this lore (as well as its actual healing properties) it was valued indeed and the myth of the goat is repeated again and again in regards to dittany of Crete.  Virgil too wrote that Aphrodite used the herb to heal her wounded lover Aeneas and the myths of the virtue of dittany go on and on. This truly is the "kindly maid" side of the plant.
Dapper's Engraving, notice the arrow in the goat as he eats dittany: Amsterdam 1703

But let us not just stop here with the lovely symmetry of the labrys and the plant itself. Another symbol of Britomartis was the gorgon head and the snakes winding around the arms. If you are reading my blog then you probably have an interest in all things occult and ancient religions and you will of course recognize the famous Minoan statue of the bare breasted woman holding the snakes. These winding serpents were actually a common theme in Minoan art. The ophidian mysteries are here in the dittany. They are writhing with them. This is the face of the Gorgon. The double edged blade of the Goddess. The Ouroboros, that serpent coiling in upon itself and the very raising of the kundalini. This is the dangerous face of the Goddess because it is that which can consume you. Unleashing the kundalini before you are ready can have dire consequences. Here is not the sweet play of love but the creation of the Universe.  The very crossroads of magic. Three. Four. The intersection of power. The serpent is lodged deeply in our minds and we have a primal instinctual fear of them. Those who walk in power and opposition often find them as allies. One of the "powers" of dittany is that it is a snake repellent. Again we see the apotropaic nature at work. It is also used as a snake repellent in Hoodoo, though I believe it got there from the Native Americans. What is this you think? Were we not just in Greece? Yes and we will return gentle readers, but first a little lore from the Americas. We do after all work both Hoodoo and Witchcraft.  

I believe that dittany entered into the Hoodoo consciousness and workings from a very interesting route, that is first via its name (dittany) from the Europeans and by analog (different plans with similar functions) via the Native Americans. When the European settlers came here they looked for plants familiar to them to those they had left behind in Europe.  They did this in two ways. First they looked at plants to see if they were visually and physically the same as ones they knew and second they learned about plants from the Native Americans. Of course not really wanting to call the plants by their native names they often called them by European ones and there are several plants which were called "dittany" which, aside from lore associated with snakes, have nothing to do with true dittany of Crete.  

One of these "dittany's" was the Mountain dittany from Virginia which the Natives used to cure snakebites and to kill snakes with its mystic properties.  One John Clayton, an Englishman in the 17th century tried to disprove the Natives belief in the magical properties of this "dittany" through his writings and thanks to them we know that both the English and the Natives used this plant (later thought to be Dictamnus Virginianus or Pulegium Virginianum ) as a snake repellent. The powers of this plant were so strong that it was labeled "dittany" by the Europeans who associated it with the actual dittany from across the seas.  The Virginian Native word for this plant was "Ki Kasch Kon Ko" which means "death to snakes". It was not a true "dittany" or even an oregano but a plant with strong snake medicine to be sure. There was much confusion with herbal snake remedies being named "dittany" by the Europeans that herbal historians and taxonomists have had a difficult time figuring out what the actual plants were. Snake roots and charms were important in Hoodoo and there were other herbs associated with snakes. Another such example is that of Sampson snake root (Psoralea psoralioides) which was used as a blood purifier and protection charm against snakes shown to the Europeans by the Cherokee and later to the African slaves which is how it found its way into Hoodoo.  However, the "dittany" used in Hoodoo and in the Americas was not the actual Dittany of Crete of this article, it was the "mountain dittany" of the North American mint family (or other various "dittany plants"). Dittany of Crete needs a Mediterranean climate to thrive and the only place in North America that this is found is California and does splendid here! The earliest references I can find of Dittany of Crete (Origanum dictamnus) being grown in the US is from 1936, when it was introduced by Anne Burrage to the Herb Society of America.

The "American Dittanys or Mountain Dittanys" use was that of snake repellent as well as love charm which is direct from the lore and myths of Crete and placed upon these other plants as an analog, which is interesting because the Cretan lore lived alongside the snake lore of the Virginian Indians and Cherokee Indians and seemed to absolutely work in magic. That is to say that even though this plant was not the actual dittany of Crete it was given the name and worked with in much the same way. Though different plant species, the serpent power seems to be found in various plants to which humans gave the mantle of "dittany". Here I think we see the weaving of the ophidian current and the road of the magician and worker. Here we begin to work with Spirit and not just flesh. So how do we learn? How do we walk these roads?

 I do not have a simple recipe spell to share with you here because these are the paths and mysteries  walked on by the witch or worker alone. The way we each make to these ancient halls will be different indeed but the place is the same and those who have ventured there will know the mysteries and will know the words. They will each know one another as they look into their eyes or meet them in the dream time. Words cannot convey. But if you are interested in the dangerous edge of the labrys then start with the information at hand. Your journey will be yours alone. Know also that archaeologists unearthed three herbs in the palace at Knossos, dittany of Crete, wormwood and sage. Let these be your guides. Let them waft and coil and speak to you. Let them teach you the mysteries of the temple.
"Madea" by Fredrick Sandys 1866-1868
It seems to me that before you begin a ritual with dittany of Crete that you call down one of the specific aspects of its nature. That of the "maid" which is to heal and to find a lover. Or that of the "gorgon" which is to open to the dangerous nature of the plant and call upon the serpent energies. There are different rituals which one could use for each and I would encourage you to create you own. You could look up some Greek words and chant them as well as build a beautiful altar. See what calls to you, see what comes up. Part of the "work" of the magician and worker is to experiment and see what does indeed work and is successful.  Even those hoary forbidden books of magic, the grimoires, are only "grammars", that is bare bone outlines of where to get started. The work my friends is up to you. And of course write it down in your magical journal.

So is dittany powerful? Yes. Is it sacred to the dead? Well I am sure that you could say that it is but I believe that its powers are more attuned to the living as well as to the energies of sex and not necessarily "sacred" to the dead per-se but more of the energy of sex that they crave. That is, more of a "food" for them to help them manifest. But burning it for them is not the key, the key would be to burn a small amount to raise the sex energy for the participants in a ritual. The actual sex is the KEY for the spirits in this case. Sex and death are married and dittany coupled with darker more Gorgonic herbs would be appropriate. We step into facets of the realms of ophidian current and its coiling halls. It is up to you, the witch and worker, to experiment and see what this herb has to offer. I think your results will be most interesting indeed....

Miss Maya


Agrippa, H.C., "Three Books of Occult Philosophy" Llewellyn, 2005 8th Edition.

Blakely, Sandra, "Myth, Ritual, and Metallurgy in Ancient Greece and Recent Aftica", Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Dickie, Matthew, "Magic and Magicians in the Greco-Roman World", Routledge, 2001, 2003.

Gimbutas, Marija, "The Language of the Goddess", Thames and Hudson, 1989.

Graves, Robert. "The White Goddess", International Authors NV, 1948.

Schulke, Daniel, "The Viridarium Umbris", Xoanon Press, 2005.

Stratton-Kent, Jake, "Geosophia: The Argos of Magic", Scarlet Imprint, 2010.


Robinson, Martha K. "New Worlds, New Medicines: Indian Remedies and English Medicine in Early America", Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 3, Number
1, Spring 2005, pp. 94-110

 FeestSource, Christian F.: "Another French Account of Virginia Indians by John Lederer", The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 83, No. 2 (Apr., 1975), pp. 150-159

 Lefler, Lisa J., "Southern Foodways and Culture: Local Considerations and Beyond", Newfound Press, Selected Papers from the Annual Meeting of the Southern Anthropological Society, Oxford, Mississippi February, 2007

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