Perhaps you've grown up in the north American south and know these spiny little balls, maybe your parent paid you pennies to collect them from the yard, but if not let me introduce you.
This is the American Sweet Gum Tree native to the southeastern United States. They are most commonly known for their star shaped leaves and accompanying spikey seed pods that go by a variety of names like: gumballs, monkey balls, goblin balls, witches burrs, and witch balls.
The sweet gum tree gained its name from Native Americans and pioneers who would chew on the hard clumps of resin. The amber colored sap, was once used by natives and pioneers as an important medicinal salve to treat wounds, cure diarrhea and even used as an adhesive (although it is not commonly used medicinally anymore). The sweet gum tree was like the jack knife of trees in its hay day, in fact once upon a time the twigs were even used as toothbrushes!
In the Magick Community sweet gum tree seed pods are often used as altar decorations, in protection spells and even fertility work. The seed pods are often added to spirit bags, above doors, as protective decoration or in fire rituals. It is most commonly seen in American Hoodoo practices where it is reverenced as a powerful protection amulet.
I could give you a vague set of bullet points and send you on your way but what I'd really like to do is touch on the how and why, giving you a glimpse into MY practice and how I make corresponding connections between an item and its Magickal properties.
Fertility & Prosperity- Sweet gum trees produce seed pods that look like spiny little balls, as they dry star shaped holes form and when peering inside you'll see the winged seeds. Each Gumball produces 30-50 seeds. This represents not only fertility but abundance to me. Sweet Gum tree is also host to nearly 30 species of butterfly's and moths as well as a favorite snack of the American Goldfinch ( a favorite of mine). This represents fertility to me as it invites others in and provides them with a home and nutrition.
Protection & Banishing - The physical characteristics of the Gumballs make it perfect for protection work, the spiny little balls bring back many memories of begrudgingly wading through the yard praying you wouldn't accidently step on one. They also made great ammo as we collected them to chuck at one another. The yard would become a mine field in late autumn and many live by the saying " the only good Sweet gum tree is a dead gum tree"
Today my own yard fills with sweet gumballs that I collect for my own practice, my tiny humans hang them on the altar as decoration, and I combine them with herbs, wax and intention for a "loaded" form to add to fire rituals and an extra oomf when needed.
How would you use Witches Burrs in your practice if at all ?
My childhood haha