Hail to the spirits of Hekate’s Garden!
Pharmakeia is the ancient practice of plant medicine/magic descended from Hekate’s Ancient Witches. Working with the materia medica helps us break down the illusion of separation – that there is a divide between the spiritual and corporeal. Enter Hekate’s Garden where the magick and mystery of botanicals can be found.
“In the innermost recess of the enclosure was a sacred grove, shaded by green trees. Therein were many laurels, cornels, tall shoots, and grass, within which grew short plants with powerful roots: asphodel, beautiful maidenhair, rushes, galingale, delicate verbena, sage, hedge-mustard, purple honeysuckle, healing cassidony, flourishing field basil, mandrake, hulwort; in addition fluffy dittany, fragrant saffron, nose-smart; and also lion-foot, greenbrier, chamomile, black poppy, alcua, all-heal, white hellebore, aconite, and other noxious plants which are born from the earth. In the middle, the trunk of a great oak reached high, and the tree’s branches overspread the grove.” – Orphic Argonautica, 4th Century, CE
This ancient author painted a portrait of a beautiful sanctuary wherein the powerful fleece that Jason sought hung from a might oak, protected by the fiercest serpent. Jason’s quandary was how to liberate the object of his obsession. To this end, he elicited the help of Medea who used her sorcery to charm the snake. The garden where all this took place can be interpreted as belonging to Hekate, although there is some conflation with Artemis throughout the story. Scholars have debated this version of Artemis-Hekate. Was Hekate an aspect of Artemis according to the author? To confuse things further, there were multiple versions of Jason’s epic tale. The ancients had their own versions of stories, just as we do now. There is no decisive answer about this garden. However, the spirit of the Garden lives on, calling forth those who dare enter.
I discuss more about Medea’s story in my article on her.
The Moon, The Green World And Hekate (Artemis)
There is ample evidence to support the theory that the author(s) were referring to this sacred grove as belonging to the goddess that we would now see as Hekate rather than Artemis. Over the centuries, Artemis has become more known as a maiden huntress, rather than the complex way that some of the ancients understood her. In the version of Artemis-Hekate in the Argonautica, and other ancient stories, Hekate can be viewed as an aspect of Artemis, who was viewed as a torch-bearing, fierce goddess in a very similar way that some of us today see Hekate. The Hekatean aspects of Artemis were the attributes associated with witchcraft: the moon and sorcery.
In the Argonautica’s sacred grove, it makes sense the author would have seen this garden as belonging to a goddess of magic, either Hekate, or the Hekatean side of Artemis. This garden was associated with great power and mystery. It was the location of Jason’s symbol of his manhood. There was a snake preventing him from claiming the pinnacle of masculine achievement. Then a woman, a witch naturally, came along with her poisons and helped him achieve his goal. However, seducing Medea into being his wife and enabling his rescue of the fleece ultimately led to Jason’s demise.
The Garden And Fear Of Female Power
This all sounds so similar to the story of the Garden of Eden, where the noble Adam was led to his downfall by a woman and a serpent. Of course, the version in the book of Genesis had the garden belonging to God, rather than a Goddess of Witchcraft. The garden was God’s domain, not a grove sacred to Artemis-Hekate. However, the wickedness of women is a dominant theme in both. Man, according to both myths, is ultimately “noble,” while women rely on seduction, trickery and even witchcraft. Both stories tell a story that rationalizes the growth of what we know consider civilization: male control over the natural world. That the intertwined worlds of the wild and women are devious. It’s interesting, complex, and a great subject for discussion.
As Medea’s role in Jason’s story unfolds, her relationship with Hekate becomes clearer: she turns to the Witch-Mother for help in all manner of spells. At the core of her magic was the practice of pharmakeia. Today we call this herbalism. To the ancients, the division between using plants for physiological complaints and as metaphysical solutions was nonexistent. Artemis, Hekate and Artemis-Hekate were healers as well as destroyers. As modern civilization grew, the barrier between the corporeal and the spiritual was erected. So much so that the ancient practice of pharmakeia now sounds like the word used to describe medications that only treat the physical being.
Civilization And Allopathic Medicine: Diminishing The Natural World And Feminine Power
Monistic views of botanicals have long infused allopathic medicines’ approach to treating disease. However, herbalism that treats the mind, body and soul, and often also works in conjunction with the deeper world, has persisted. There is something about botanicals that speak of so much more than the superficial world. The magic and mystery of Hekate’s Garden remains.
The trepidation felt by ancients when they approached groves sacred to Hekate lives on, many are intimated by this fierce goddess. Not surprisingly, herbalism is also off-putting to some. We can feel called by both, yet timid of entering that sacred grove where Hekate abides. Using the forces of the deeper world, the hidden powers of botanicals, in the practice of magic is a daunting undertaking. The spiritual home of witchcraft is contained within Hekate’s Garden, as much as it is found in her Cave or along The Starry Road.
Materia medica, the name given to botanicals, all those centuries ago aptly describes their powers. Unfortunately, the mainstream approach to medicine has become incredibly narrowly defined. Hekate, and the spiritual properties of the green world, have been dismissed as ignorant. It’s not a coincidence that as goddess reverence, paganism and spirituality, has become more popular over the past century that there has also been a return to practicing holistic herbalism. Perhaps it’s not that these intertwined practices have increased in popularity, it may well be that we simply have more knowledge of how herbal practitioners have always functioned.
Botanicals and humans are interdependent in all ways. The green world offers respite to the weary and gives us what we need to survive. It’s entirely possible to reap the benefits of the world of botanicals without ever connecting to their spiritual qualities. To enter Hekate’s Garden without acknowledging her presence. However, Hekate as the Anima Mundi is the very essence that fuels the life force. Whenever we engage with plants, we have the opportunity to connect to this force. Each plant bears a unique energetic signature that is a combination of the forces and elements. A unique construction that is connected to all other life. The practice of pharmakeia embraces all aspects and uses of botanicals, from healing the common cold to consciousness-expanding metaphysical experiences.
The Reconnection To The Green World
For practitioners who work with the spiritual aspects of botanicals, we are reconnecting to what we’ve always known that separation is an illusion. What functions on the surface level is reflected in the deeper world? The corporeal and the spiritual are mirrors. Botanicals offer practitioners a way into this world, whether it’s through trance-inducing entheogens, burning incense to cleanse a space, or consuming them to alleviate physical maladies. The green world cares little for our attempts at separation. Often, botanicals work in spiritual ways even when we are only interested in their mundane abilities. Their abilities become more heightened when we intentionally seek their magical and mystical powers. Much the same as when we enter Hekate’s Garden seeking her presence.
Neither the green world nor Hekate will respond well to cavalier interactions. Both desire our sincere pursuit of their powers. On the other hand, results can be obtained, on occasion, with casual interactions. The more we seek to understand the world of spirits, be they deity or botanical, the deeper our understanding becomes.
I revere Hekate’s Garden as the sacred energetic center of the Middle World, the realm of everyday life. It is a mystical location that can be journeyed to in trance or dreams. Therein reside the Pharmakoi Kyrios, the Master Plant Spirits, of each botanical. We can connect to these spirits through using materia medica or purely energetically, using symbols of them. Plant spirit oracle cards are one example. Intuiting, channeling or divining botanical spirits is one of my central practices. Letting the spirits present themselves without knowing the standard properties is an amazing way to practice pharmakeia.
Botanicals are such a central part of my life that they are as important to me as air. They are food, they built my home and surround it, and they are how I enter the world of spirits.
Simple Ways To Practice Pharmakeia
If you are completely new to experiencing the mysteries of botanicals and the power of Hekate’s Garden, I recommend going slowly. Avoid pithy internet advice. Use a mixed-methods approach: follow your intuition and divination and then map it onto standard properties and applications. Experiment, experiment, experiment. Pharmakeia is as much science as it is magic. What works in general may not work specifically for you. Mugwort, to me, is mother’s milk. For others, it can trigger an allergic reaction. I consume all manner of botanicals each and every day, but I have an empirical approach to my ongoing practice. In our home, allopathic medicine is the absolute last resort unless it is clearly indicated. Pharmakeia, as it was originally practiced, is the spirit in which I work with botanicals. Entheogens, psychedelics and their kin are very alluring, but come with real risks.
Set up a journal and/or spreadsheet to record your practice of pharmakeia. Create monographs of the botanicals you work with, recording your personal experiences and intuitive correspondences and characteristics in addition to the standard ones.Becoming aware of our reliance on the green world in materialistic ways can create a path leading to their deeper aspects. Go on a quest, opening yourself up to accepting the call of one local botanical. Birch, maple, pine, oak, ash, poplar, beech and other tree spirits are present even in the most urban spaces. Using bits of these botanicals in our witchery is enhanced when we practice Vox Botanica, singing or speaking to summon out their qualities and personality.
An inventory of the botanicals already in our homes is an excellent undertaking to demonstrate the plant spirits already among us. Of course, those spirits can become quite dormant, so studying their spiritual properties and characteristics is a fantastic way to learn how to approach them.
Look in the kitchen and elsewhere for evidence of Hekate’s Garden. The herbs and spices you favor, along with the scents you prefer, probably indicate the botanicals with which you have a natural affinity. Choose one to develop a deeper connection with.
Research the botanicals associated with your astrological considerations and birth month for a potential Pharmaka Kyrios – your personal Master Plant Spirit – if you don’t feel called to/by any one plant.
Openness to the world of botanical spirits is necessary in order to take your herbal practice deeper. Perhaps my article on vulnerability and magic may be helpful.
Set an intention to dream of Hekate’s Garden.
Research the botanicals associated with your favored deities and then create an altar incorporating them. My articles on Artemis, Circe, Demeter, Medea, and Persephone all have lists of their correspondences, including their sacred herbs, plants and trees. I’ve shared two different rituals that feature them with corresponding plant spirits:
If you already use the tarot, explore the botanicals featured on the cards for your favored deck. They should be listed in the accompanying book. I’ve put together an Introduction to Herbology and the Tarot.
Entering Hekate’s Garden need not be a daunting task if we approach one spirit at a time, although there are times when letting the immense power overwhelm us can be transformative.
I teach pharmakeia in The Keeping Her Keys Mystery School and it is woven into my books, Keeping Her Keys: An Introduction to Hekate’s Modern Witchcraft and True Magic: Unleashing Your Inner Witch.
I could write for the rest of my life about pharmakeia, the green world and Hekate, but, for now, I’ll end this with these links to me talking more about botanicals.
Learn pharmakeia in The Keeping Her Keys Mystery School:
In The Sacred Seven, the course all about the journey from healing to wholeness, each lesson features botanical monographs and practices.
In The MYSTAI, three levels of pharmakeia are embedded within each lesson, exploring over 33 botanicals throughout the course.
If you don’t already have Paul Beyerl’s The Master Book of Herbalism, now is the time to get a copy. Really, this and Llewellyn’s Book of Correspondences is all you need. The Master Book of Herbalism contains all the fundamental botanicals and formulations for remedial and magickal herbalism, the combination of both is the practice of pharmakeia.
There are two classic herbals that are fantastic to explore:
Culpeper’s Complete Herbal Index:
Grieve’s Modern Herbal database:
Blackthorn’s Botanical Magic by Amy Blackthorn is an excellent complete herbal using essential oils.
For advanced practitioners, I recommend Plant Spirit Shamanism: Traditional Techniques for Healing the Soul by Ross Heaven and Howard G Charing. A challenging book for sure, but so full of information and wisdom. One of the most influential books on my approach to pharmakeia.
For wildcrafting, I recommend the two classic books by Euell Gibbons: Stalking the Wild Asparagus and Stalking the Healthful Herbs.
I highly recommend Harold Roth’s book, The Witching Herbs for information and inspiration.
The Plant Spirit Familiar by Christopher Penczak is an excellent in-depth exploration of the many types of botanical devas, demons and devils.
A more serious book is Daniel A. Schulke’s Thirteen Pathways of Occult Herbalism. I enjoy all of his books, but this one is great for introducing yourself to his unique magickal green world. To immerse yourself in the world of the Pharmakoi, I recommend his Pharmaka Gnosis that is a deeply spiritual book about practicing pharmakeia (not a how-to book, more of a devotional).
Coby Michael Ward’s excellent list of books on magical herbalism. I recommend every book on this list, as well as his blog, the Poisoner’s Apothecary.
Here’s a good list of the coded names for plants common in witchcraft:
Many of my Hekatean articles contain at least some botanical magic: