I’ve been thinking about the word “community” a lot lately. What community means to me, how communities are formed and grow, and how each of us relate to the communities we find ourselves in.
It’s a big word, which describes our personal corner of the big world. Siblings, cousins, neighbors—if you’re astrologically-minded, you might notice that these keywords are connected to the third house. Indeed, the third house is probably best described as the House of Community.
Messages, short journeys, early education—these are also intrinsic parts of community.
We connect with our community through communication (and note the similarity of those words). Our daily rounds take us through our community, whether for work or play. And what is our earliest form of education? Learning to socialize. Pediatricians in the United States appear universally convinced that teaching children good social skills is critical, especially during the brain’s early development.
So let’s lean into this concept of “community” and see if we can’t do a little magic. Maybe we can try some herbal magic this time.
Magic and herbalism have gone hand in hand for thousands of years. The idea of using of “plant allies” to get things done is found in traditions all over the globe, and the Western magical tradition is no exception. Modern, Medieval, and Renaissance grimoires are full of lists of herbs for all that ails you, and although some of them can be expensive or hard to find, a very good one for this “community” theme is probably sitting in your kitchen cupboard.
Basil: it’s not just for pesto
Basil has been used in religious and magical rituals for thousands of years, and can be found just about everywhere these days. Its culinary uses are legion, but it’s also a very good herb for relationships: forming them, fixing them, and dealing with them when they aren’t meant to be.
Look through any book on magical herbalism, or do a Google search, and you’ll see this property of basil mentioned over and over again. Whether it’s the plant’s attractive, sweet smell; its welcoming, vibrant green color; or its unusual resistance to “pests,” it seems obvious that this particular plant will be particularly good for “community” work.
Never underestimate the power of keeping plant allies in and around your home. If you have the window space or a suitable yard, consider growing some basil. Living basil kept in or around your home encourages meaningful, positive relationships which generate little friction. It can also help “keep the pests away,” if you need that sort of thing.
Whenever you grow a plant, from seed or seedling, you’re building a relationship with it. You offer it nutrient-rich soil, water, and daily companionship. In exchange, it offers you its culinary, medicinal, and magical gifts—not to mention its friendship.
Growing your own plant allies is hands-down the easiest way to get to know them.
If your gardening chops aren’t up to snuff, or you simply don’t have the space to grow a plant, hit up the spice rack of your neighborhood grocery store. The dried basil they sell in jars is fine.
You might do well to keep the jar on your altar for a while, make some offerings to it, and show some respect to the spirit of the plant before trying to get up to any magic with it.
I mean, let’s face it, it’s sort of rude to ask a total stranger for a favor.
Community starts with your home and those living within it. Whether these people are friends, relatives, or roommates, cultivating good relationships with those you live with seems like a good first step. And the simplest way to use basil in this regard is to cook a meal with it.
Food is powerful magic, and the sharing of food is one of the hallmarks of community. Throw together some pasta and sauce, using and thanking some of the basil you’ve either grown or bought. Invite everyone and enjoy a friendly meal together.
A pinch of dried basil placed discretely in each corner of your home or apartment (or in each corner of every room) is another common way of smoothing out tensions, mellowing everyone, and keeping “pests” away. And if this latter is a significant issue, a good pinch of basil scattered on the welcome mat outside helps make sure that only those things which actually are welcome come in.
The neighborhood and beyond
Basil scattered about the four corners of your block, or at the nearest crossroads can help cultivate good relationships with and between your neighbors. You can also toss a bit of it around your neighbors’ yards, though that might look a little weird if you’re caught.
Another way to spread some “basil cheer” is to write a few greeting cards or short, friendly notes to friends and neighbors in your community. After you’ve composed them, burn a little basil as incense and pass the cards through the smoke. You don’t want to get carried away with this, otherwise the card might smell like a pizzeria. Just a little will do ya.
(As an aside, in case it isn’t obvious, sending cards and small gifts to friends and neighbors through the mail is, on its own, an excellent way to cultivate strong relationships. It’s a fading practice we’d all do well to revive.)
There are endless possibilities for the use of basil in forming and strengthening communities, and I encourage you again to do some digging for other ways to work with this plant. It’s an ally which seems to absolutely love meeting and working with new people, which shouldn’t be surprising given what it’s so very good at.