With the increasing exposure and detailed information available about the use of entheogens and other teaching plants, larger numbers of practitioners are embracing the idea that working with plants demands a relationship which goes beyond that of practitioner and materia medica / materia magica – a relationship that goes beyond using plants for their biochemical constituents. Much more becomes possible if we approach the work with an attitude of cooperative partnership wherein we encounter the Intelligence of the plant, and open ourselves to receiving insight and information from that encounter.
This seems to me a far more plausible explanation for how we gained the knowledge we have accumulated about plant properties throughout human prehistory, than the dismissal that it was gained through blind trial and error, or through observing the consumption of plants by animals.
By integrating the methods of magicians, herbalists, green witches and hedge wizards, and by re-learning the techniques of intact Witchcraft traditions, it is possible to build an effective modus operandi for making contact with the presiding Genius of a given plant and of gaining insight and direction from it.
The method I have used, and that I share with students of the Path, draws from many sources and has commonalities with many modalities of making these connections, and has proven efficacious in my own experience and practice. Similar methods and approaches may be gleaned from the writings of Crowley, Weed, Schulke, Potts and others.
Begin with the study of what we know about the plant: herbal medicine, field craft, agriculture, folklore, prose and poetry, art, history, are all valid sources of knowledge to amass.
I make a single page synopsis of this information, a monograph of sorts, for each plant which is a focus of developmental study and praxis. Among the points that I gather:
Common Name in English
Taxonomic nomenclature – Genus, species and Family
Common names in languages whose cultures which have made significant use of the plant
Range and Habitat
Constituents and known therapeutic chemical compounds
Dosage and administration
Side effects and Toxicity
Pharmacognosy (macroscopic/microscopic identification of the crude plant material)
Elemental and Deity correspondence
Typical Magickal uses
Other notes and references
Morphology, longevity; those things.
In my formal study of phytotherapy, I prepared similar monographs, albeit minus the planetary and deity correspondences and the magical uses, for some 250 plants in the Western European and North American materia medica.
Following the study and knowledge of the above information, and if the plant is abundant in my area, I will collect a specimen to preserve and examine for further study. I usually press and dry it as exemplar of the species, preferably at a point in its life that shows leaf, flower and fruit/seed forms. I make sure to collect with the roots as intact as possible, and carefully remove the soil to make their form visible as well. In all cases the specimen plant makes itself known to me, presenting itself when my intention to collect is clear in my mind, and an offering is made in exchange for its life. If no plant stands out conspicuously in that location or on that occasion, I wait for another opportunity.
If the plant is not a native of my area, I will secure seeds of it and attempt to grow the plant, or alternatively, will obtain a potted specimen for cultivation.
Throughout the growing season I will get to know the plant, it’s habits and preferences, its development and qualities as I care for it and it grows through its seasonal or life cycle.
During this time I will make a visual rendering of the plant; a botanical drawing, painting, or sculpture, through which to become more intimately aware of the physical presence of the plant. By combining the most typical details from the growing plant, from photographs of other members of its species, as well as from the preserved specimen on hand, I create a visual archetype of the plant, rather than a detailed copy of a particular specimen. In this case, leaf, bud, flower, fruit, seed and root are all depicted simultaneously on the same plant, which may not happen in nature.
I find that this visual and tactile intimacy with the plant is particularly potent in the forging of a personal relationship with its Genius, and this connection enables the efficacious progression into our last step of the process. Frequently, dream and portent will indicate when this has been achieved, indicating readiness to move on.
Helen Sharp, Water-color sketches of American plants, especially New England, (1888-1910)
Having learned the properties of the plant, and familiarized myself with its form and habits of growth, I proceed to prepare and consume it at the appropriate stage in its life; using the method of preparation best suited to the plant according to traditional use. It is best to consume it at an appropriate season or phase of the lunar cycle, or during a favourably aspected time according to its planetary correspondences. This consumption of the plant corpus is not limited to the physical, but is a form of communion with the plant Genius; a mingling of spirits. And it is in this mingling that gnosis is shared.
The communion may be ritualized, with preparation and purification preceding, and an invocation of the Spiritus coinciding with the consumption of the sacrament. Gnosis may come to conscious awareness in meditation following the consumption of the plant, or in an dream experience, or as a flash of intuition in the course of your waking life and praxis. Regardless of when it occurs, or even if it occurs at a level of conscious awareness, the validity of the connection will be borne out by practical application and observation of results achieved.
As always in Traditional Witchcraft, the proof is in the potion.