Archive for Herbal

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
Longevity
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.

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.

2Carboys1Pail

Midsummer Nights’ Dreaming

Posted in Musings, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on June 23, 2015 by manxwytch

HenbaneEdit2

Henbane, named lus ny meisht in Manx, has been variously ascribed to Jupiter; Gerard claiming that the plant was called Jupiter’s Beame by Pythagoras; or to Saturn, as postulated, (and in his own opinion proved), by Culpepper, based on where it grows.
But my experience of this plant’s genius, along with what we know of modern neurochemistry, make me  inclined to consider this plant and its spirit to be quintessentially Lunar.

Aside from her traditional associations with goddesses of Witchcraft and of the Moon, henbane’s power and chemistry work almost entirely upon the nervous system. I tend to associate psychoactive plants with the domains of either Sun or Moon, depending on their actions. If one considers the vault of the skull to reflect a microcosm of the vault of the sky, then the luminaries of Sun and Moon are the primary lights affecting this part of the anatomy. They are also widely held to be the right and left eyes of God, allowing direct access to the Divine and the personal, individual Spirit. Pharmacologically, the alkaloids of the nightshade family are anticholinergic, binding to muscarinic and to a lesser degree, nicarinic receptors – physically affecting the fluids and autonomic functions of the body, and evoking sleep, dream, terror and stupefaction in the mind. Hyoscyamine and scopolamine, the main alkaloids found in henbane, affect the smooth muscle tissues of the body: those rhythmic undulations that occur beneath the level of conscious control. Henbane also pulls the fluids of the body inward, drying the peripheral mucosa, condensing and retaining the fluids in the hollow organs. This control of the bodily waters is held in common with the power of the Moon, as are the unconscious, the soporific, the primal, the terrifying and the oneiric.

Henbane’s morphology also suggests to me her Lunar energies: leaves that are fat, succulent and fragile, bearing long silver hairs that glisten in the dark and damp; flowers that are round and pallid with purple-brown irregular spotting coalescing in the throat of the blossom. The flowers bear five petals and later produce an abundance of tiny round seeds contained within a capsule which is sealed until ripe by a tiny circular lid. Once germinated, Hyoscyamus niger grows with astounding rapidity provided there is sufficient moisture. A strong, narcotic smell is released at the slightest touch of any part of the plant, evoking her anodyne properties, sleep and dream.

Henbane has traditionally been used to relieve pain in cases where opiates are ineffective or undesirable. She has also been used to calm the mind and induce sleep in cases of insomnia. Overdose of the plant dilates the pupils, causes dimness of sight, delirium, profound sleep that may be prolonged for days, and death. All in accordance with the most extreme effects of the Moon. Her dual faces, causing stimulation at lower doses and sedation at higher ones, also align her with the bright and dark faces of the Lunar Orb.

Flos et folia

Flos et folia

Several of these effects may also be aligned with Saturn, but in my experience, Saturnine energies have more to do with decay, degeneration and permanent loss of mental and physical faculties than with the transient, seemingly alien narcotic undermining of the waking consciousness that typifies henbane intoxication.
Saturnine plants also tend to be slow growing, physically expressing the slow, plodding pace of their planetary ruler.

Historically, the magicks of this plant are those relating to thanatotic workings, to love and to theriomophism, also suggesting that she belongs within the Lunar Mansion.

Of all the seeds I planted this year, henbane has been the most generous, amenable and prolific in her growth. She and her sister, belladonna, have overshadowed all the other veneficii in my garden. I regard this as in indication that I have work to do, and much to learn from these plants this year. Combining this with the wild plants I have found in my wayfaring, and happening upon formulae that call for these specific plants together, I am directed in my research and explorations at this time through this specific region of the plant world.

Buhner has a useful section addressing henbane and recipes using it in his, Sacred Herbal Healing Beers, and Schulke has worthwhile research and experience to add in his, Veneficium. I sincerely hope he will share his Hypnotikon with an appropriate, educated and eager audience one day.

HenbaneEdit1

Viriditas

Posted in Musings, Projects with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2013 by manxwytch

hyoscyamus nigerI’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.

Atropa belladonna
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…
And waited…
And waited…
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.

Mandragora officinalis
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.

Wortcunning

Posted in Folklore, Musings with tags , , , , on July 23, 2012 by manxwytch

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For many years I trained as an herbalist. A Medical Herbalist to be precise, which means that in addition to traditional herbalism I studied biochemistry, anatomy and physiology, embryology, pharmacognosy and a whole bunch of other ‘ologies’ that are typically part of regular medical training and make up a Bachelor of Science degree. Then I practiced herbalism for 10 or so years before going into mainstream primary care and emergency medicine as a career.

So I’ve seen medicine from both sides, and as a practicing clinician I apply each paradigm with different clients according to need. Both are knowledge based, both make use of the clinician’s insight, experience and intuition, and I have seen both succeed in bringing a  sick person back to health.

In emergencies, and for most primary health care, the mainstream approach is largely cookbook medicine. You see these symptoms, you do these tests and give these medications at these doses for this length of time. And see what happens.

Herbalism in my experience is more complex. It’s a relationship between organisms, not just a chemical acting on anatomy and physiology. Herbs produce a myriad of components, once living, and that changes the therapeutic picture. Though by and large, in many cases a broad cookbook approach still prevails. I know that this plant has these actions, and I’ve combined it with other herbs according to the client’s constitution and current state of health, and based on years of practice I have a gut feeling this plant is going to help so I add it too. And see what happens.

But there comes a time, an event or a patient, when your herbal medicine goes beyond knowledge and biochemistry, beyond the clinical application for patients. When your connection with the healing properties of the plant becomes a personal necessity.

Belief must manifest as result, or faith is broken.

The plant and patient must be engaged on a more than knowledge based theoretical level. This can be facilitated by dream incubation, prayer, meditation and intuition to identify with and solicit the plant to act on more than just biochemistry. The responsible, informed, judicious and very occasional use of entheogens, which I don’t recommend to most people, (including most witches), is another way to identify with persons and plants beyond their physical and chemical components.

Here is where Herbalism becomes Wortcunning. The element of faith, the direct negotiation with plants as partners in the healing process, the realization that the vital and less tangible components of a plant’s makeup are as essential to the healing process as the biochemical constituents. Prayer and meditation are normally involved, with a corresponding reverence for approaching and working with the Viriditas or Genius of the plant and other tutelary spirit(s) appropriate to the work.
When faith is invested in the necessity of a result, there is the potential for that faith to be broken if the desired result does not come about. That tension of faith and expectation creates the emotion that drives the intensity of the prayer or charm that accompanies the physical act of making and administering the medicine of the Wortcunning man or woman. As I’ve said before, if the powers you raise (and your reason for raising them), don’t scare you just a little, you’re not doing it right.

And if you can consistently combine plant, patient and spirit to obtain the desired result when it really counts, you’re practicing Wortcunning.

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Ex Libris: Viridarium Umbris

Posted in Library with tags , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2012 by manxwytch

Viridarium Umbris, The Pleasure Garden of Shadow, Which treats of the Secret Knowledge of Trees and Herbs. Deliver’d by the Fallen Angels unto Man.

Daniel A. Schulke, Xoanon Ltd., 2005.

The Verdelet and current Magister of the Cultus Sabbati has introduced a lifetime of work with plant lore and magic in this volume.

It is clear that Mr. Schulke is a master of his chosen field. The amount of research and practice that combine to make up VU is staggering. In addition to reliably drawing on folklore from a broad range of traditions, both of the New and of the Old World, the author also details valuable experiential exercises and practices to bring the reader and aspiring Green Witch in contact with the ultimate teachers, the plants themselves.

The book is organized into categories of herb lore, and each follows the same basic pattern. The section on the Wand for example, begins with a poem to engage the right side of the brain and to introduce the subject in broad and arcane terms.  Following this he reviews the folklore in general before describing a specific practice relating to the exploration of the qualities and powers of the tree branch. From here he supplies a charm or consecration script and a detailed description for the making of a wand by the practitioner. Next he describes the uses of particular species of tree from which one might fashion a wand, and to finish the section, Mr. Schulke describes several practices using wands and staves from his own tradition, along with a more detailed exploration of a particularly significant species used as a wand, namely the Hazel.

This pattern provides a thorough introduction to a host of aspects of Plant Magic ranging from one’s first approach to the Green World, it’s important inhabitants and the taboos associated with them, the values and qualities of various kinds of land ranging from Wild to Cultivated and that which lies In-Between. The Fertile and the Desolate, the Healing and the Harming are all dealt with. Invisibility, shapeshifting, necromancy, herbal medicine, the making of potions, incenses, dusts and other preparations are woven in with the worldview and approach of the Cultus Sabbati, of whom the author is the current Magister. The writing style of VU is typical of the publications of the Cultus, done in a quasi-archaic English with liberal use of Latin and Greek derivatives. I think it both admirable and appropriate to the subject matter as well as to the purpose of the book. Magic shouldn’t be written in language easily accessible to the uninitiated and the careful use of words reveals a careful consideration of the subject and requires a careful, conscious reading on the part of the audience.
The one thing that would make the book even more useful to me would have been the proper referencing of the author’s sources. I recognize many of the descriptions of constituents and correspondences, but it would have been invaluable for further study and research to know which sources Mr. Schulke drew from in those cases where the sources have been published. I have read other reviews which were critical of ambiguity or lack of detail regarding specific quantities in recipes or instructions but I do not share this criticism. I read VU as an herbal grimoire, not a cookbook. Further experience on the part of the reader and further publishing outside the scope of this very thorough introduction will see any gaps well-filled.

The Pleasure Garden of Shadow is tremendously valuable for anyone desiring to interact wisely and magically with the Realm of Plants, and is a broad and solid foundation on which to build one’s own knowledge and practice. It will be required reading for my students in the future, as will future Cultus publications from Mr. Schulke’s pen which will provide greater depth and detail in more specific areas of plant lore and practice – clearly his first love and area of greatest expertise.