Over the last week and a bit I’ve been reading and studying the book The Secret Teachings of Plants: The Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature by Stephen Harrod Buhner. It’s a fabulous book, and I recommend it highly. The initial reason that it was recommended to me was as a way to take my healing practice and herbal knowledge to the next level. It has certainly done that. It has also given me some new metaphors to use for other areas of magickal work and thinking about the world around me. Perhaps the most striking of those metaphors for me — at least at the moment — is the metaphor of electromagnetic fields that are generated by all living things and even by different parts of complex living things.
If you imagine that the blood circulating through your body is creating an electromagnetic field, which it is, and then imagine that your body also has an antenna system which can pick up the signals of that electromagnetic field, you have the start of a metaphor for direct connection between living beings that is no more mysterious than the workings of a radio. Now, notice that your blood circulating through you is not the only thing producing an electromagnetic field. Your heart has one, too, and so does your brain. It’s possible to measure each of these fields separately, or measure the signature of the combination of all of these fields together.
All life has these electromagnetic fields. Plants and animals, and even single celled organisms. We use these electromagnetic fields to communicate with each other in ways that our logical minds do not generally process. When a baby lies on its parent’s belly, its breath and heartbeat line up with the parent’s breath and heartbeat. This is a form of communication. Studies have shown that time spent with cats, dogs and horses can each effect humans in different, therapeutic ways. Other studies suggest that time spent outside in a forest has a specific effect on human health. These therapeutic effects may come from the interaction of our electromagnetic fields with those of the cats, dogs, horses, trees, and all the other living things we share space with.
Mind you, before you either go off taking this all as precise scientific fact or else yelling at me for pseudoscientific babble, this isn’t mean to be an exact description of the scientific (capital-T) Truth. It’s only meant to be a metaphor based on ideas that fit our cultural understanding of the way the Universe is put together. It is a sort of little-t truth in as much as it gives us a form that we can use to understand the world around us and interact with it in a predictable way. There is scientific fact here, up to a point, and if you need more scientific precision, it’s a worthy area of study to explore further.
In The Secret Language of Plants, Buhner describes ways in which you can open yourself up to experience these communications directly through what he calls “heart-centered cognition” and then process the symbols you get from there with your brain. Using these methods, you tap into the shamanic tradition of asking the plants what they are good for and asking a sick body what it needs.
As I’ve been reading, I’ve been thinking about the way that this “heart-cognition” is related to the state in which I write poetry, as opposed to the “brain-cognition” which is how I usually write essays. Taking inventory of many different activities, I realized that some are always brain- or heart-centered and other activities take on a different flavor, so to speak, based on whether I am more brain- or heart-centered when I engage in them. I’ve also noticed that there are some places that make me feel more naturally brain-oriented and other places that make me feel more naturally heart-oriented. That led me to think about how one could think of the way different places feel different as being a result of the different electomagnetic signatures of place.
This isn’t a completely new thought, just a new frame to put it in. I’ve long thought that the spirit of a place — by which I mean here the feeling you get in a place — is made up of a combination of all the different activities going on in that place over a long period of history. The human activities blended with the wildlife and plants and even the stones in the area all combine to create that feeling you get when you enter a city or a park or just some undefined space in the middle of no where. This new frame gives me a new way to see how that feeling comes to be. I can now see a mental image of electromagnetic fields, some large and others small, all interacting with each other to create the overall energy signature of the place.
I think that this may be a useful way to visualize the spirit of a place, to understand how it is built up and to work with it both as a whole entity and through its component parts.