Plants, Magic and Intuition
Article ID: 15311
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Rhys Chisnall
Posted: January 20th. 2013
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By getting to know plants, we build up our semantic landscape, 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. And we don’t just experience these things physically but also 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 symbolizing love, poppies as symbolizing sacrifice and so we enrich our world of meaning, transforming our phenomenal reality. We learn when certain plants flower, we learn when trees leaf and come into fruit. We learn about the rhythms and cycles of nature.
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 or Lifeworld of the Witch or Natural Magician. They are not physical facts about the plant; they are about meaning. These characters can be used in spellwork as they lend authority to the spell. Authority is one of the ingredients that make magic effective, as it creates the expectation that transforms how we experience our phenomenal world.
They also act as symbols and metaphors; the symbolic association of the plants bypass rational consciousness and enter the unconscious where transformations of meaning can occur. Freud and Jung argued that the unconscious mind works and communicates to the conscious 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 a borrowed authority. It manipulates meaning, transforming how we experience our phenomenal reality, which makes our goals more probable. How we subjectively experience has objective implications. Subjective meaning, through humans has objective impacts on the world.
When we speak about a plant’s spirit, what we actually mean is its character. Plants do have a rudimentary awareness of their environment. For example, all 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 have been browsed. This communication facilitates the increase of tannin in the leaves of other nearby plants making them less palatable. However these examples do not point to an extra ‘spiritual’ something in the plant, but to physical properties and processes.
To my mind the spirit of the plant is how we subjectively experience its character. When we get to know their characters, we often learn to treat them with respect. Many pagans say that you must ask a plant’s permission before you pick it. When considered literally, this is nonsense… after all, the 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 when we ask a plant for permission is relating to its character and more fundamentally treating it with respect.
We may get a hunch that it is either okay to pick it or that 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 pest. It is a matter of intuition.
Alain de Botton (2012) and the magician Ramsey Dukes (2011) have addressed how intuition works. Humans 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 are not right. This is not done consciously by thinking about it, but rather through feelings and hunches.
Ramsey Dukes gave as wonderful example in his book Sex Secrets of the Black Magicians Exposed (which I can wholeheartedly recommend) . He asks us to imagine a woman who opened the door to a man who claims to be a meter reader. He was disheveled and unkempt and so the lady felt that there was something wrong and 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 in-congruent 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.
This reminds me of the conservationist and 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 and described what he called a ‘jungle sense’. Basically, this was the intuition and hunch 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 to the hairs on the back of his neck to stand up and know that he was now no longer the hunter but the prey. For him, it literally was a matter of life and death.
Even though they are not always right, be honest and ‘listen’ to your hunches. Intuition matters. Meaning and character are important. The Craft (and magic in general) works in this world of meaning. So show respect to the plants, their meaning and their characters and maybe they will add more authority to your spell.
Botton, A., (2012) , Religion for Atheists: A Non Believers Guide to the Uses of Religion, Hamish Hamilton
Corbett, J, (1944) , The Man Eaters of Kumaon, Oxford University Press
Culpepper, N, (1826) , Complete Herbal and English Physician, available through Amazon
Dukes, R, (2002) , Sex Secrets Of the Black Magicians Exposed, The Mouse the Spins
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Bio: Rhys is a member of a long established rural coven in the north of Suffolk with a Gardnerian heritage. His wife, Martika and he run a training group for those interested in initiatory Witchcraft. The training runs over a period of two years and is free of charge. He is currently studying for a MA in philosophy and works as a lecturer teaching people with special educational needs.
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