To be honest, I really have no idea if the use of Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) stalks for candles or torches is historically verifiable. When the idea of making some Hag’s Tapers struck me earlier this year, I was thinking mostly of Hekate striding from the Underworld and holding blazing light before her, of nighttime processions in silence to ancient meeting places – of Romantic Witchery. Of course I had to try them.
In July I noticed a patch of Mullein growing alongside a set of railroad tracks, right by a major intersection in the middle of town. The flowers were already fading, and I wanted to gather them before they set too much seed. Since the plants were growing on a patch of disused ground within decent view of the road, right behind a billboard and a prominent “no trespassing” sign, I was just going to have to walk in there like nothing was out of the ordinary, be quick, and make sure not to be noticed.
Mullein is a weed. It’s a tall, distinctive, imposing plant, but a weed nonetheless. This doesn’t diminish its power at all – there are plenty of witch’s plants that are weeds. Besides Mullein there is ominous Thornapple of course, and Chicory, master of roads; as well as Dandelion and Wild Lettuce and many others.
Mullein grows quickly, has a short life span (only two years), and springs up along roadsides, on waste or recently disturbed ground, and at field’s edges. The in-between places, which are where many weeds and many powerful plants make their homes.
On the afternoon when I went out by bicycle to gather mullein stalks, I had in my backpack some kitchen scissors to cut them, and a bottle of pure water for offering, freshly purchased from a gas station on the way. No passerby noticed as I wheeled my bike into the tall grass along the railroad tracks, leaving it propped behind the billboard as I began my work.
As I knelt in the grass I grasped each stalk and whispered my intention, my hope that they give themselves to be used as torches, as tools of witchcraft. I poured water out at the base of each plant and cut the stalk with scissors, and stripped the sticky, fuzzy leaves from each one. Laying my hands on the remaining base of the plant, I drew a bit of energy up from the earth, through myself, and sent it into each one. I collected five stalks, thanked the Mullein for their sacrifice, and biked back home across town, weed-stalks a yard long or more tucked under my arm like lances.
I hung them, bundled, in my office upside down to dry until autumn. Some seed was shed, tiny black specks fine as dust, and I gathered this up to be scattered along some fencerow at a later time. For their first few days in the quiet room I could hear a faint “skirr, skirr” from somewhere in the stalks; a grub or worm working at the pith, or chewing patiently from inside a dark seedpod.
Then, I waited.