|Posted on May 12, 2017 at 2:00 AM|
By getting to know plants we build up our world of meaning, our mythos, and so enrich our experience of the world. Instead of seeing a hedge we see hawthorn, field maple, oak, ash, mugwort, common mallow, poppies, cow parsley etc., etc. We learn when certain plants flower, when trees leaf and come into fruit and so we learn about the rhythms and cycles of nature. We don’t just experience these things prosaically but experience them as having meaning. We experience mugwort as being ruled by the moon, St. John’s wort at being ruled by the sun, roses as symbolising love, and poppies as representing sacrifice. They enrich our world of meaning, transforming our phenomenal reality.
Planetary associations of plants are of course not literal (or physical properties) but rather make up part of the character of the plant species; in other words how we ‘experience it as’. The delicate rose is often associated with the planet Venus which is symbolic of love. We give roses to our loved ones as tokens of our affection; hence the association. These characters exist in the non literal world of meaning, the semantic landscape, lifeworld or inner plane of the Witch or Natural Magician. These characters can be used in spell work as they lend authority to the spell. Authority is one of the ingredients which make magic effective as it creates the expectation that transforms how we experience our phenomenal world. The Law of Authority in my opinion, although seldom stated, is fundamental to magic.
The characters of plants act as symbols and metaphors; the symbolic association of the plants bypass rational consciousness and enter the unconscious, where transformations of meaning can occur. The likes of Freud and Jung argued that the unconscious mind works and communicates through symbolism. So if you do a spell to keep someone away from you, you may represent that person as a poppet and stuff it with nettles, which have a protective and aggressive association. To bring a loved one to you, perhaps you might make a poppet stuffed with rose petals. Such things speak to the deep mind, and knowing these associations adds authority. It manipulates meaning, transforming how we (and others) experience phenomenal reality which makes our outcomes more likely. How we subjectively experience has objective implications as subjective meanings, through humans, have objective impacts on the world.
When I speak about a plant’s spirit, what I mean is its character. Plants do have a rudimentary awareness of their environment. For example, plants are aware of and turn towards the position of the sun, a process called heliotropism. Likewise some plants use chemical signals to communicate the presence of pests and predators when they’ve been browsed. This communication facilitates the increase of tannin in the leaves of neighbours, making them less palatable. However these examples do not point to an extra ‘spiritual’ something in the plant, but rather to physical properties and processes. To my mind the spirit of the plant is how we subjectively experience its character.
Many pagans say that you must ask a plant’s permission before you pick it. When considered literally this is nonsense, after all plants are hardly going to answer back and if they could I am sure they wouldn’t agree to their own mutilation. Rather what we are doing is relating to their characters and so fundamentally treating them with respect. We may get a hunch that it is either okay to pick or it is not. We may unconsciously notice that this is not a good plant to pick or pick from. Perhaps it does not have many berries or maybe it is diseased or infected with a pest. It is a matter of intuition.
Alain de Botton (2012) and the magician Ramsey Dukes (2011) have addressed how intuition works. We have evolved as pattern seeking animals and so unconsciously interpret patterns in the environment. Natural selection and experience has taught us what patterns ought to be like and so we notice when they don’t conform to (unconscious) expectations. This is not done consciously by thinking about it, but rather through feelings and hunches. Ramsey Dukes gave a wonderful example in his book Sex Secrets of the Black Magicians Exposed (which I can whole heartedly recommend). He asks us to imagine a woman who opened the door to a man who claims to be a meter reader. He was dishevelled and unkempt and so the lady felt that there was something wrong and so reacts suspiciously. She did not know whether the man was a confidence trickster or just got up in a hurry. Natural selection ‘programmed’ her to unconsciously and automatically notice incongruent patterns and experience had taught her that this pattern was wrong. All this manifests as a hunch, which on the plains of Africa might be the difference between living and spreading your genes or a cruel and gruesome death.
It reminds me of the hunter of man-eating tigers Jim Corbett. This pioneer conservationist in India wrote several books about his adventures. Being a sporting fellow, he would hunt these man-eaters on foot. In his books he described what he called a ‘jungle sense’. Basically this was the intuition and hunches he had which alerted him to the presence of the leopard or tiger. It was pattern recognition, unconsciously detecting a bird alarm call or a stilling of the jungle noise; something that led the hairs on the back of his neck to stand up, alerting him to the fact that he was now no longer the hunter but was prey.
To my mind, even though it is not always right, intuition matters. Meaning and character are important as the Craft (and magic in general) works in and through this world of meaning.