Witchcraft is an evocative word in that it tends to stir up different imagery within our minds. For myself, and many others, one of the associations I make with Witchcraft is wortcunning, or working with herbs. When I think of Witchcraft, I think of a garden overflowing with magical flora or an apothecary crammed with jars of mystical ingredients. I think that this makes sense considering the important relationship we have with the natural landscape. Nature is inherently sacred, infused with magical virtues that can be partnered with in order to effect change. There are thousands of ways to make use of herbs, both magically and medicinally, including creating charms, incenses, ointments, tinctures, and teas. Whatever the case, plants play an intricate role in the Craft.
Yet, as we can see from some of the examples listed, these roles tend to be utilitarian in nature. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with this, after all we Witches tend to be a utilitarian people. However, I think that often, in our focus on the practical uses for herbs, we forget about their inherent Spirit. In his book, The Witching Herbs, author Harold Roth notes that “When you work with an herb, rather than with its Plant Spirit, the herb is a tool. When you work with a Plant Spirit, the herb is a sacred text that you can read to learn about the Spirit.” Plant Spirits have a lot they can teach us, whether it’s about how to grow and take care of their physical bodies or how to make use of their various parts in spellwork. On an even deeper level, they are capable of sharing wisdom with us about life, death, spirituality, and magic. Therefore, when properly engaged with, these Spirits can become invaluable allies and guides in our Craft.
So how does one go about forging a relationship with a Plant Spirit? I would say that it’s a very similar process to gaining a Familiar Spirit. But before we get into that, there are a few things to take into consideration.
First, what plants are you attracted to? You may wish to focus on one individual plant, or perhaps every single herb you work with magically. I personally work on connecting with the Spirits of each plant I grow in my garden, however there are a few that I’ve forged extra special relationships with. The important thing is not to stretch yourself too thin. Establishing these relationships take time and dedication, so don’t bite off more than you can chew. Follow your intuition, if you’re drawn to a specific herb then there is probably a reason and it’s worth exploring.
Additionally, consider if this is a plant you’re able to grow or can already find in your natural landscape. This isn’t always an option for people, and perhaps not intrinsically necessary, but it can incredibly beneficial in establishing a connection. For example, one of the ways by which plant Spirits impart their wisdom upon us is through the ways in which they grow. Consider for a moment Clary Sage, a plant that I’ve been working closely with as of late. As a biennial, it takes two whole years before it completes its lifecycle. In its first year, the plant grows low to the ground, focusing on sending sunlight to its roots, and establishing a deep connection to the earth. This connection allows it to continue living underground during the winter. Then, in its second year, Clary Sage emerges fully from the ground and shoots up towards the sky. When I consider the way in which it grows, I can see that Clary Sage is an excellent teacher of Hedge-Crossing, being able to cross into the Otherworld and safely return. In fact, Clary Sage is a main ingredient in my flying ointment.
Finally, it’s important to note that not every Plant Spirit will want to work with you. This may seem harsh, but it’s true. You may reach out, wanting to form a partnership, and either be ignored or flat out rejected. A sure sign that a Plant Spirit doesn’t wish to work with you is when it just won’t grow. Sometimes the Spirits will test you, attempting to ascertain just how devoted you can be. They may need extra coaxing, with offerings and perhaps even a contract or pact. But unfortunately, sometimes this isn’t enough and it just can’t be helped. In that case, you’re better off turning elsewhere to find a Plant Spirit to ally with.
Once you’ve figured out which Plant Spirit(s) you would like to work with, the first step is to make contact and let them know your desire for partnership. The easiest way to start is by simply saying “Hello.” This may be easier if you have access to the physical living plant, although it may not be necessary. If the Plant Spirit wishes to work with you it may reach out in several ways, such as in dreams, visions, or perhaps out in the garden. If not, thank the Spirit for its time and move on.
Another, more direct way of making contact is to cross the Hedge and travel to where the Plant Spirit resides. This is an especially useful approach if you don’t have access to the physical living plant. Once there, communication will be like that which you’d have with any other type of Spirit. So be polite! Make sure that you not only express your interest but to also ask the Spirit about its own wishes.
Similar to working with a Familiar Spirit, you should be prepared to discuss the length of partnership (whether for a specific period or on-going), what type you’re looking to get out the relationship, and what the Plant Spirit would like in return.
In regards to the latter, as with any other Spirits you may work with, Plant Spirits enjoy offerings. Examples include things like honey, milk, wine, tobacco, corn meal, a good organic fertilizer, or one’s own blood (or other bodily fluids). These offerings can be left near or around the physical plant or placed on your altar, depending on accessibility and preference. Something important to consider here is whether what you’re offering is earth-friendly or not. This may not matter as much if it’s being placed in a container or on an altar, but if it’s being put outside or in the ground then it should be something that isn’t going to harm the environment.
Finally, remember to be consistent with your offerings and to properly state your intentions and express your gratitude.
This has only been a brief overview of working with Plant Spirits, as there is only so much one can say. The rest simply must be experienced, and each individual experience is quite unique. So, go forth and get your hands dirty! Reach out and embrace the wisdom that plants have to offer, for they are so much more than tools to be utilized in spell craft. They are magnificent friends, teachers, allies, and guides.