-- Jeanette Armstrong quoted by Derrick Jensen in A Language Older Than Words
What does it mean to call a plant an ally?
As a poet and a witch, I believe that words used with precision have great power to shape someone's experience of the world.
The word "ally" comes from the Old French, "alier," meaning "to join in marriage." Originally a verb, the word was first used as a noun in the 14th century, meaning "kin."
It speaks of intimacy, tenderness, and trust.
A deep knowing.
It begins with coming to know a plant on its own terms.
Getting down on the ground and sitting with the plant. Coming back to it again and again.
Coming to know the way the light shines on the plant at different times of day. The scent of the soil where it grows. The way the air tastes around the plant.
Coming to know the body of the plant the way you would come to know the body of a lover. Knowing the feeling of its leaves and petals against your skin. Coming to love the ways it curves toward the sun.
And getting quiet enough to notice what he plant stirs in you. The subtle sensations in your body. The memories, emotions, images, scents, and snatches of music that come to you. The ways your dreams change.
Like a lover or a dear friend, a plant will teach you things you didn't know about yourself, new ways of being in your own body, new ways of being in the world.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that what you are learning and experiencing is all in your head -- or of thinking that to think of a plant in the same terms you would use to describe a beloved is to lie and think and speak in metaphor. If you treat any of this as a metaphor you will miss out on the chance to experience this other being in all of its magnificence -- and to see your own beauty and power from the perspective of the plant.
But when coming to know a plant truly mirrors in every way the process of falling in love, everything changes.
The idea of the world as sacred and alive opens into the experience of a world in which another consciousness embodied in a wildly different form from your own can speak directly to your heart.
The utilitarian view of the plant falls away. The answer to the question "What is Skunk Cabbage good for?" shifts from "Skunk Cabbage is good for calming spasms and clearing fluid from the lungs" to "Skunk Cabbage is good for setting roots deep in the mud, and melting its way through the ice to blossom forth in a gorgeous purple flower." Or "Skunk Cabbage is good for being Skunk Cabbage."
And the quality of the medicine and magic you work with the plant changes as well -- the plant goes from being an inert substance chosen according to memorized sets of indications and properties and correspondences to being an active participant in a shared working. New ways of working with the plant will emerge from your relationship.
And the relationship will demand of you consistency and honor. You will find yourself compelled to keep commitments you've made to spending time with the plant. And your respect for the plant will grow from an intellectual belief in the importance of avoiding overharvesting to a deep personal investment in seeing the plant flourish and defending the places it calls home.
Its not a path for the faint of heart. Like any intimate relationship, a true alliance with a plant will make you look at aspects of your life, patterns of thought and feeling and action that you would rather ignore. And unbound by human etiquette, plants, like gods, will not change the subject or gloss things over with niceties and half truths.
To deeply met and be deeply met by a consciousness that exists so far outside the ideas and beliefs and stories and ideologies and hang-ups of our culture is to be seduced into wandering out through a gap in the crumbling wall around our civilization, into the borderlands where the lines carefully drawn and habitually held between humanness and wildness begin to dissolve.
It is these borderlands where the greatest healing, the strongest magic, the deepest transformation occur.
Are you ready to be transformed?
If you would like to follow these threads further, consider joining me for his course:
TALKING WITH THE PLANTS -- AN ONLINE COURSE WITH SEAN DONAHUE
APRIL 15 - SEPTEMBER 15
$300 if paid in full by March 1 -- $500 if paid after March 1
Plants are our ancestors and our relations -- and they have powerful medicine, magic, and wisdom to share with us.
Whether you are a newcomer to the worlds of herbalism, an herbalist looking to deepen the spiritual and intuitive elements of your work, or a magical practitioner looking to work more closely with green allies, this course will help you deepen your relationships with the plants growing around you.
Over the course of this journey you will learn simple practices to assist you in:
-- Respecting and honoring wild plants
-- Working with the heart as an organ of perception to communicate directly with plants
-- Divining magic and medicine from the forms of plants: an intuitive approach to the doctrine of signatures
-- What ecology teaches us about the medicine and magic of each plant
-- Dreaming with plants
-- Lunar cycles and plant medicine and magic
-- Working with a plant ally to reshape your life in alignment with your Will
Along the way you will have the support of a community of people engaging with plants in similar ways, and my personal guidance.
Thinking of coming along? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Secret Teachings of Plants by Stephen Harrod Buhner
a field guide to the plants of your region