Plant spirits? Am I out of my airy-fairy Aquarian mind? What are plant spirits, and what do they have to do with me or you?
Throughout many cultures, there is a primordial belief in the spirit of plants, a numinous animation that can be intuited or felt in ways difficult to explain with words. Shamans and other medicine workers are known to enter into a deeply meditative state to visit the spirit world and return with just the right “medicine” or plant remedy for their patron. The medicine worker meets the spirit of the plant on his or her “journey”, and the plant’s spirit gives them instructions on how to use it. Sometimes the plant is not ingested at all, but is used in other ways according to the information received from the plant.
You may well wonder what this animistic practice has to do with us as we approach the “roaring ’20’s” of our present millennium, in this age of wireless communication, satellite surveillance, and 5G. While the dictionary defines animism as a primitive belief system, practitioners of a technique called journeying will tell you that communicating with plant spirits is a very relevant and useful form of gathering information. Journeying is not used for calling up spirits of dead people or ghosts, and it is nothing like a seance. Journeying is a tool for understanding the self and for finding ways of helping others. Similar to the dream state (another blog-post topic), the experiences you have or the entities you encounter during the journey are very personal and individualized, yet the messages received may be applied to the community at large.
Perhaps one of the most renowned explorations of human-plant communication in our era is that of the Findhorn Community in northern Scotland, and it’s co-founder Dorothy MacLean. She started her career as a secretary with British Intelligence, and worked in offices and embassies around the world. She was also a very religious woman with a deep, abiding faith. Sounds crazy, but Dorothy began to hear voices, unbidden and unrecognizable; but because she was also a student of metaphysics and mysticism, she decided take notes of what the voices had to say (in spite of some of her friends shaking their heads and clucking their tongues – this all took place in the late 1950’s, in a very religiously conservative country). Hey – a gal’s gotta do what a gal’s gotta do!
Eventually, Dorothy met Peter and Eileen Caddy through the Sufi teacher they had in common. Parents of three active boys, Peter was a former RAF official and mountain climber, and Eileen was a busy mother as well as spiritually clairvoyant. After their friendship developed, they all took the opportunity to work at a country inn, where, after working there for six years, they were all sacked… and homeless!
Following prompts received during meditation, and desperate for shelter before the coming winter, they ended up sharing a caravan (camping trailer) on the beach near Findhorn. The following spring, they attempted to grow vegetables in the brackish, sandy soil. Needless to say, it wasn’t going all that well at first, but the companions continued to follow their spiritual inclinations, which included remaining receptive to the voices.
And then one day it happened… During her meditation, Dorothy was greeted by a Pea Deva, as she called it (deva means “being of light” in Hindi). In The Magic of Findhorn, author Paul Hawken says that this being was “certainly not a pea. It was something that moved through and around the materiality that was a garden pea.” MacLean realized that she was not communicating with the spirit of an individual pea plant but “a spirit which was the plan, the mold, the architect of all the peas on earth.”
Other plant devas began to communicate with MacLean (she got to know quite a few of them), at first with purely practical information. This resulted in the flourishing of the very garden where she first encountered them. Locals would come by the caravan part to gawk at the fabulous veggies growing on the blustery Scottish coastline. Later, when there was more than enough to feed the family (and to generate some much needed income), the gardeners began selling their miraculous vegetables. One of the amendments they used in their garden was seaweed, gathered from the cove where they camped, and this was applied as mulch; they also scrounged old produce from local markets and manure from a neighboring horse pasture to make compost.
The plant devas eventually communicated information of a more universal nature, that of unity and environmental awareness. The attention that MacLean and the Caddys received and the subsequent Findhorn community phenomenon is a continuing story in the transcendental relationship between humans and the world unseen.
There are a number of studies documented in the now-classic The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, and some of these describe how common houseplants were wired with sensors to record the plant’s physical changes in response to environmental changes and, more interestingly, to human attitude and intention toward the plants. I remember reading this book as a teen (I guess that makes me a classic, too) and feeling validated for all those conversations I had with the trees, grasses, and flowers.
Along these same lines, and certainly no less phenomenal, is the gathering and use of what are called flower essences. These are not essential oils, nor are they fragrant aromas. Developed by Dr Edward Bach in the early 20th century, flower essences, or perhaps more correctly flower essence remedies, are produced by gathering specific flowers on a sunny, cloudless day, depositing them into glass bowls of purified water, and steeping them for a few hours leaving their “essence” in the water. This is further diluted until the proper dosage strength is achieved and then preserved with a drop of brandy. Dr Bach was a medical doctor and bacteriologist a well as a practicing homeopath. Unlike homeopathic remedies though (highly diluted alcohol-plant extracts used to stimulate the body’s own healing response), flower essence remedies do not contain any of the plant’s molecules whatsoever. They are not extracts, they are energetic potions, and there is admittedly a tremendous leap of faith in using these remedies. But anyone who’s tried Rescue Remedy is likely a believer. The purpose of these remedies is to impart emotional and spiritual healing and beneficence to the user. The flower itself tells the practitioner how to use it, and remedies are chosen intuitively; two or three essences may be combined to make a personalized remedy.
And how does one come to realize which flower is useful for which condition? By talking to the plants, of course!
There are several terms used for human-plant communication, and one is called attunement – we are attempting to “tune in” to the spirit or indwelling entity of the plant. And while this type of meditative exercise may be shamanic in approach, you do not have to be a shaman or healing practitioner of any sort to communicate with plants. The most important prerequisite for this intuitive approach is an open mind and heart and a willingness to allow for the possibility. It is perfectly acceptable to bring along a healthy dose of skepticism; after all, even in the wizarding world, hearing voices is not “normal.” But who said anything about being normal?
Recipe for Plant-Spirit Communication
To begin, first decide on the plant with whom you want to communicate. It can be a houseplant such as an aloe vera or Swedish ivy, or an outdoor plant such as a wild strawberry or a daffodil. Do not pick the plant; leave it in the soil. Bring along a pen and pad of paper, find a quiet place near the plant, seat yourself comfortably, and do what you can to avoid interruptions (shut off the damn phone!). Close your eyes and take three slow, deep breaths, releasing the breath completely each time. With a relaxed frame of mind, inform the plant of your intention – which at this point is simply to meet and greet. Make an offering to the plant; this could be a snippet of your hair, a pinch of cornmeal, or even a bit of nourishing compost; and sprinkle this at the base of the plant. Intention is the most important factor.
Now, sit quietly and simply observe. Look at the plant with “soft eyes”, trace your finger along the veins, feel the delicate leaves, allow yourself to merge with the textures and subtleties of the plant. You are not trying to see with your eyes, you are looking to see with your intuition. Allow your mind to open and let the stream of consciousness flow. Take as much time as you need. Then, with pen and paper, record any words, feelings, or emotions that come to you, no matter how strange or insignificant they may seem at first. Perhaps there will be music involved, or other sounds, or colors or textures. Write it down or draw it.
Tell the plant who you are, and how much you appreciate it. Let it know how it beautifies your life and that you wish to know it better. The next step is to listen. Listen with your heart for any type of energetic response. You can keep your eyes open or close them, whatever you like. Just listen quietly. Do not judge what you experience, just keep a note of it. You can decipher the messges later.
If you don’t receive a recognizable response, don’t worry. and don’t give up after your first attempt. Thank the plant again and bid it farewell for the time being, knowing that you can revisit it again in the future, when it perhaps will be more communicative and you will be more receptive. there is no wrong way to communicate with plant spirits unless you knowingly disrespect them or the plants. If you approach the process with love and respect, no harm will be done.
Once you have practiced plant-spirit attunement and become more adept at this form of wireless communication, you will be ready for the next step, which is journeying to the spirit world to find your medicine plant. This is assuming that your interest in communicating with plant spirits blooms into sharing the information with others for the benefit of all. Medicine workers, shamans, lightworkers, etc., do no do this sort of work for their own amusement; they do it for the good of all people. However, there is nothing wrong with visiting plant spirits for personal self-improvement.
My own experience with intentional plant-spirit communication is somewhat narrow. (Some of them talk to me nowadays without my asking.) However, the experiences were enlightening and amazing. You may wonder if the messages received are made up, if they are what you want to hear in the first place. All I can say is that you might want to experience it for yourself; we cannot see the wind, yet we can see the result of it. So I’ll go out on a limb here and say that I “believe in” plant spirits and other-dimensional beings because I have experienced them. I might “believe in” them even if I hadn’t.
Here are notes from my plant-spirit journey to cottonwood, this is what it told me:
The balm of me is in your hands. Use my balm/your hands to send me energetically. I am so common, so common. [and] I’m special in that I’m a survivor. Just look at me: I have scars all over, yet I survive. Use me, use my balm, on the knees, shoulders, stiff joints. Use my fragrant balm to send to people the essence of survival and overcoming injuries.
Then the cottonwood spirit had me draw hands with leaves coming out of the fingers, to emphasize the part about using “my balm/your hands” for healing. Indeed, the salve or balm made from unopened spring cottonwood buds is soothing to sore muscles and antiseptic on the skin (bees use it to make propolis, which was one of the ingredients in the embalming process of mummies from Egypt). Cottonwood oil is incredibly fragrant. My journey to the plant-spirit of yerba-buena (Satureja douglasii) was more vague, although I did receive the message that it was okay to talk to it but it wasn’t interested in talking to me at the time. C’est la vie.
I hope this brief introduction to the unseen world of plant spirits was intriguing enough for you to at least give it some thought. The concept is as old as humanity, and while people were discouraged by religion and the Age of Reason from practicing their folkways, science has finally caught up with magic and determined that inanimate objects have an energy field. If a rock has an aura, it doesn’t take much imagination to suppose that plants and trees and flowers have some sort of animating spirit.
It makes taking a nap leaned up against that old oak tree a whole new experience.
This article is an edited excerpt from my book The Wild & Weedy Apothecary, published in 2010 by Llewellyn https://www.llewellyn.com/product.php?ean=9780738719078