I’ve always had a strong connection to plants, particularly unusual plants – living fossils, carnivorous plants, armed and venomous plants, plants that walk or move, magickal and medicinal plants – in short, plants that have power. As a child I grew plants in my parents’ garden. In fact, I turned the entire property into garden, banishing the tedious, ordinary and useless grass and colourful annuals in favour of sacred plants. I worked my first alraun as an early teen – an heroic first year Verbascum specimen that I spent a day conversing with, digging around, loosening the sandy soil of the cliff on which it stood and teasing it away from each and every root to take up the plant entirely intact. My parents seemed oblivious to what I was filling their yard with – dwale, jimson weed, and henbane mixed in with their petunias and tulips. So long as there was something pretty and recognizable, I got away with a startling amount of weirdness. I also grew the bright cousins of the venificii, lunar, solar and venusian plants alongside my beloved saturnian and martial specimens.
Up until a decade ago, I always had gardens full of plants. As an adult I became semi-nomadic, moving great distances following my career, and I stopped cultivating plants. But I roved and foraged and related to wild plants wherever I travelled. I had completed academic training as an herbalist, and had begun to widen my practice beyond myself and those closest to me before embarking on my travels, and continued to practice as I went.
This past summer I committed to renew my relations with witchcraft and fairie associated plants, regardless of my location. Perhaps a little like a veneficic Johnny Appleseed, I will leave Daturas and Belladonnas in my wake as I move from place to place. But the first challenge I set myself was the cultivation of that Ultimate Diva, the one plant spirit I have never been able to coax into my life, even when I tried religiously and repeatedly in my youth; the Mandrake.
This was back in the dark times before the internet, when seed catalogues were printed on paper and virtually none of them offered mandrakes of any variety. When I found one that did, I ordered an embarrassing quantity of seed and tried every trick I had ever seen to get them to grow. For years I kept this seed company in business, or at least could have, considering the amount they charged per seed, and for years I waited in vain for any sign of life from the mandrake seed they sent to me.
This summer I had the good fortune of finding more than one online source for Mandragora seed, as well as groups of folk online who successfully grew this Holy of Holies from seed. In the end, I ordered from Harold Roth at Alchemy Works in the U.S.A., packets of white and autumn mandrake seeds, twenty seeds of each, and followed his instructions for their preparation and planting. I eagerly awaited their germination according to the timetable Harold provided…
Months went by. The peat pellets I planted the seeds in mouldered, so I broke them up and mixed them into the top layer of soil in a couple of large plastic pots. Still I watered them, and kept looking for signs of life. I was just about ready to admit defeat and, like the fox after the grapes, decide that mandrakes weren’t that big a deal anyway, when for a completely unrelated magical working I collected water from a Holy Well. I figured I had nothing to lose by throwing some of my holy water on those barren pots of stubbornly ungerminating and ungrateful and probably not even worthwhile mandrake seeds.
And the bloody things sprouted that night.
The few that sprouted, I have cared for like newborn babes, and they have waxed strong and large in my care. I swell with pride at the sight of them under my plant lights each morning, and my success with them has regenerated my enthusiasm. There was some marital strife, however, when I brought the little darlings into the house. It seems that Mandragora is aligned with Beelzebub, and they brought the flies and their Lord in with them in the form of swarms of tiny little fungus gnats. I bound them with incantations and fly paper, and their numbers gradually dwindled as millions of tiny bodies were sacrificed on the sticky strips.
I have since bought Atropa, Hyoscyamus, and more Mandragora from Harold (his incense and resins are also of the highest quality, I’ve bought and used them with great success too), and look forward to planting them in my garden this spring to surround myself with a proper witches garden once again.
I have come to think of plants as totemic, as I have ever had stronger connections with green things than with the more typical, winged and furred spirits of the contemporary neoshamanic world. I find this particularly appropriate on the Isle of Mann, where there are few ‘wild’ animals left, and the sacred land animals tend to be domesticated ones.
But more of them in another post.