Plant Gnosis

Posted in Folklore, History, Musings with tags , , , , on February 28, 2016 by manxwytch

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
Morphological description
Range and Habitat
Constituents and known therapeutic chemical compounds
Therapeutic Actions
Traditional uses
Dosage and administration
Side effects and Toxicity
Pharmacognosy (macroscopic/microscopic identification of the crude plant material)
Planetary correspondence
Elemental and Deity correspondence
Typical Magickal uses
Other notes and references


Morphology, longevity; those things.

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)

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.

Baal Sauin

Posted in Folklore on October 31, 2015 by manxwytch


The last of the harvest is gathered, enough to sustain through the winter.

Henbane braggot is brewed, honey bannock is baked.

Sweet scents await the arrival of the Ancestral Dead.

A fire is kindled.

The veil is thin.

In Memoriam: Michael Howard

Posted in In Memoriam with tags , on September 26, 2015 by manxwytch

mementomoriEarlier this week I was told of the death of my friend, Mike Howard. Years before he and I were acquainted, he had been a longtime friend of several Manx Elders, and was an important supporter of the Manx Line, in addition to the tremendous work that he did for many surviving Traditional Craft Lines and recensions.

He will be greatly missed.

His extensive work and research on the Traditional Craft has left a vitally important legacy for those of us who follow the Old Ways. He made important connections between folk of valid lineages and traditions, and through The Cauldron, brought this wisdom to a wider audience and preserved it for future generations of practitioners.

The announcement of his passing may be read here.

The Gudeman’s Croft and the Blighting of the Fields

Posted in Folklore, History on September 4, 2015 by manxwytch

There is a tradition that I follow and practice, shared with me long ago by a Scottish Traditional Witch, of the Gudeman’s or Goodman’s Croft. Though not Manx, I feel it is important in spirit, lore and practice and so I continue the tradition and teach it in my Line.

Wherever I have lived in a house with a yard or garden, an area of that land is set apart, fenced, or defined with less tangible borders, and left entirely Wild. That space is not entered, nothing is sown or harvested there, it is not subject to human activity or influence in any way. This land is dedicated to the Gudeman, the Devil. With this space left undisturbed, the Spirits may take up residence here, and as the folk tradition goes, not have a negative or resentful impact on the rest of the cultivated land, the home, the crops or the animals raised on that land.

It is also an important instinctive lesson that we must set limits on what we claim to own and control, and that we must agree to leave some places entirely untouched in order to have a healthy relationship with the Land and the Spirits there. ‘Conservation Lands’ do not meet this requirement, inasmuch as we freely enter those for the sake of recreation, and leave our traces, pathways, refuse and damage behind when we leave, regardless of how careful we may be. And the vast majority of humanity is not at all careful.

The Gudeman’s Croft creates a physical locus for that which is Other. This is a necessary condition for our spiritual, as well as our environmental health. The important consideration here is that it is, entirely Other. Not that it is a spiritual resource that we can make use of, any more than it is a physical resource that we can make use of. To think of it as one’s own personal patch of ‘spiritual wilderness’, defeats the purpose of it and it’s dedication to the Devil is a reminder of the tabu placed around that land. The practice was condemned in Scotland in the late 1500s as devil worship by the clergy, and so must have been sufficiently established and widespread by that time to warrant proscription, and is doubtless much older.

Related to this in spirit is the practice of not harvesting anything left in the fields after Sauin. Traditionally, as of that night anything remaining was considered blighted by the Devil.
This practice accomplishes temporally what the Gudeman’s Croft accomplishes spatially. It sets temporal limits on what we humans can take from the Land, teaching us that we cannot take and endlessly take until nothing remains.

Reaping that which has been Sown

Posted in Art, Folklore, Projects on August 11, 2015 by manxwytch

With Laa Luanys and a Blue Moon just behind us, there have been several projects concurrently in work:

This year’s corn dolly, (a basic five straw Nek made from wheat and barley); bottling of the braggot made a few weeks ago; and the working of a rite that has been repeated over the course of several nights, which I have marked by sacrificing another of the Mandrakes I have grown – a young Mandragora officinarum root which went dormant just before the onset of the ritual work. Each night I have taken a piece of the fresh root and carved from it a bead to mark the progression of the ritual. The largest of the beads is about two centimetres in diameter and they vary downward depending on the size of the piece of root I’m working with. I am carving as large a bead as is possible with each piece, and drilling all of them with an eighth inch hole for stringing them later. I prefer to do the rough shaping while the root is fresh. As they dry they will shrink and harden into something much more like wood, and I will sand them into their final shape and surface texture. The parings and drillings I have carefully collected and will dry to be infused into flying ointment, along with those parts of the root which were too small for carving.


I have obtained two pieces of apple wood for carving, pieces from ground level where the graft of the fruiting variety onto a hardier rootstock have developed into fantastic burl-like growths. One of these I will work into an altarpiece linking the Abysmal with the Chthonic; the liminal point between root and trunk as the nexus supporting the Other.
Apple is highly charged symbolically, with concepts of Soul and Other, knowledge and transgression, Ophidian wisdom, and the unsanctioned bringing of techniques and skills of magick from the heavenly to the earthly realm.

Lugh’s Fair Day

Posted in Folklore, History with tags , , on August 1, 2015 by manxwytch

A bannock recipe for Laa Luanys:

1 cup flour (I use half whole wheat and half unbleached white all purpose)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp honey
A handful of dried currants
Whole milk, sufficient to make a moderately stiff dough

The way I was taught to make this seasonal bannock, the traditional ingredients had to include whole grain flour, honey, salt and milk. The measurements were not specified. The above is what I’ve worked out over the years.
All the dry ingredients were mixed, the butter was cut into the dry, and then the milk added. The dough was baked in a buttered cast iron pan with a lid over a slow fire. Poke with a skewer to make sure the centre is cooked through, and the outside is brown and crispy. Allow to cool, well out of reach of hungry dogs.
When done, a token ritual toasting of the bannock over a rowan twig fire was the final preparation before the bannock was ritually consumed.

I wish you all a bounteous harvest. May John Barleycorn’s sacrifice bring you health, happiness and prosperity.


Manx Corn Dolly

An old Manx corn dolly from the Museum of Witchcraft in Castletown


Potable Alchemy

Posted in Musings, Projects with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2015 by manxwytch

Mead and braggot are goals that were set this spring, and the plant ingredients desired to enhance them have been cultivated, or collected from the fields around my home. Now at the new moon’s turning it is time to begin the brew.

A couple of the basic recipes are old ones, passed down to me. Others are new to me, from books and folk who are brewers of beer, braggot and porter, and makers of mead. And with the basic proportions and ingredients proven, there is always room to experiment. The water where I live is very hard, with staggering amounts of chlorine added. I am thankful for this in terms of water safety, but in the case of brewing, these qualities are exactly what I don’t need. A providential day of continuous rain has allowed me to collect sufficient rainwater for a batch of braggot, (which I filtered and boiled, just to make certain my carefully coddled chosen yeasts will not have to compete with filthy local bacteria in the milieu of my brews). However I do not have time at the moment for travel to the sacred well I know that also happens to be health and safety tested, so I will compromise and purchase spring water for the first batch of mead.

Fires burn and cauldron bubble…

Decocting herbs for Mead

Decocting herbs for Mead


The fermentation process is a sacred alchemy, producing an embodiment of a plant genius beyond that which can be accomplished by simple chemical extraction, either by water, acid, oil or alcohol. It is the transformation of sugars and other plant constituents by the biotic processes of yeasts and bacteria, in order to release those substances from the physical corpus vegetale, and attenuate them to a level of spirit. In the process, the physical elements are changed by the living organisms consuming them; made more bioavailable, recombined, concentrated, potentiated and depending on how the alchemist directs the process, rendered more or less toxic than the original ingredients wedded together in this chemico-mystical union.

For the making of mead, I have gathered local honey collected from blaa ooyllagh – apple blossoms, along with herbs sacred to the White Lady of the Isle – tramman – the elder; dress villish – eglantine; and katog – the leaves of the wild strawberry.

The braggot, I dedicate to the Grey One, and draw inspiration from old Norse writings and recipes. It will be ready to drink much more quickly than the mead, so I will make several different types. A basic one now, to trial the recipe, I am brewing with lus roddagagh, the sweet gale. Later, as the summer wanes I will brew darker variations.