The Art Behind Witchy Spell Ingredients
Updated: Sep 12, 2022
Wicca Magazine/August 2022 Edition
Written by: Natalie Buscko
"Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blindworm's sting,
Lizard's leg and owlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble."
When you first read these ingredients of the witches' brew in Macbeth, did you think eye
of newt meant the eyeball of a newt? And that a dog’s tongue was really being thrown in? Don’t be embarrassed if you did—lots of folks did! And it is easy to see why. But these listed ingredients aren’t calling for random body parts of reptiles and animals. They are actually folk names for plants that our ancestors commonly used. So, what ingredients were those weird sisters actually using? And what were the uses of those ingredients?
Fillet of a Fenny Snake
This likely refers to a plant in the arum family with the nickname snake’s meat, specifically one found in swamps or marshes. Fenny means swampy or marshy, so fillet of a fenny snake would be a piece of snake’s meat grown in the marsh or swamp. Plants in the arum family can radiate heat and some or toxic, so the use in the spell could have been either.
Eye of Newt
When I was a kid, I definitely thought eye of newt meant newts’ eyes. But luckily for our amphibian friends, eye of newt is actually slang for mustard seeds. “Eye” is slang for seed. Newts’ eyes are yellow, like mustard seeds, hence the nickname. Mustard seed has a few uses, including protection from the supernatural and good luck.
Toe of Frog
No, you don’t need to source teeny tiny little toes for this. The bulbous buttercup has a fat, green bulbous bottom that resembles—you guessed it—a frog. The “toe” would be the leaves of the buttercup. Buttercups are often used in divination (which was one of the goals of the Witches’ brew in Macbeth and explains its inclusion.)
Wool of Bat Not to be confused with bat’s wing (holly), wool of bat refers to moss. Like bats, moss thrives in shady, sunless environments. Also, moss on a rock can resemble the fur on a bat in the dark. Moss is often used for money and protection.
Tongue of Dog
This ingredient should be kept away from human tongues! This highly toxic ingredient is a poetic way of referring to houndstongue, which grows up to 4 feet tall. Houndstongue draws out animals’ energy and helps with connection to animals.
Another poetic take on a folk name, adder’s fork is a fancy way of saying serpent’s fork, the folk name for dog’s tooth violet. Not actually a violet, serpent’s fork is beloved by pollinators. Its Latin name is Erythronium americanum, and it is also called a trout lily. It is commonly used for healing.
This is likely a combination of two ingredients: poppy seeds and wormwood. Both can be considered toxic or poisonous, explaining the “sting.” Poppies are known as “blind eyes” as a folk nickname. Wormwood has been used in drinks and medicine for centuries, so its inclusion makes sense. This ingredient is up for debate but probably relates to poppies, wormwood, or both.
Like lizards who stick and weave up walls, lizard’s leg refers to ivy. Ivy has many uses, one of which is water magick. The three witches of Macbeth were using water magick in this scene.
The prevailing theory for this is that Shakespeare took some poetic license and used owlet instead of eagle, the folk name for garlic. Garlic has many uses, some of them especially delicious, but in magick, it is most commonly used for protection and banishing. There are several other terms in the other verses of the witches’ brew spell that likely refer to plants as well, such as scale of dragon and tooth of wolf. But there are some that aren’t folk terms and more than likely refer to the very thing being named, such as witches’ mummy (mummy powder, yes powder from a dead human, was an ingredient used by witches). As you look at spells and see ingredients that seem to not be in keeping with the spirit of being aligned with nature, consider that what is being called for might instead be a plant. If you’re looking to add some dramatic flair to your spell writing, here are some folk names of common ingredients.
Bucsko, Natalie. “Wicca Magazine August 2022.” Online.fliphtml5.Com, WiccaMagazine, Aug. 2022, https://online.fliphtml5.com/jsftq/sfjs/#p=2-7.