Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lemons don't dry in the rainforest: notes on bioregional magic

When you stand in your own power, people tend to have some strong visceral responses -- conscious and unconscious, positive and negative and somewhere in between. Most magical traditions have warnings about and protections against "the evil eye" -- and the "evil eye" doesn't always come in the form of a hex or a deliberately wrought energetic attack (although it certainly can.) Resentment, envy, jealousy, fear, and anger are strong emotions, and if you are someone who attracts a lot of attention -- whether you are the "village witch" in a small, conservative town or someone writing and teaching in public or just the kind of person whose presence is immediately noticed when you walk into a room -- those emotions can be directed at you with an intensity and volume that really begins to take its toll.

So cleansing and protection are an essential part of my magical practice. I take salt water baths to slough off the energetic detritus of the day. I burn various and sundry leaves and roots and resins to clear my home and my car and the spaces where I teach or see clients. And, until recently, I regularly did a Lemon uncrossing spell.

There are various versions of the Lemon uncrossing spell, with accompanying incantations that reflect various worldviews, but the core technology is the same. The practitioner holds a Lemon and envisions all the sour spells and prayers and intentions directed toward hir being drawn instead to the sour fruit. The Lemon is then cut into three or four pieces, depending on the version of the spell, and those pieces are covered with salt and left to dry. If the Lemon pieces dry, the energies drawn into the Lemon have been cleared. If the Lemon molds, the spell needs to be repeated.

The spell worked well for me for a good long time. And then I moved to the rainforest.

A few days after I moved here, I performed the spell and put the Lemon slices by my altar.

A week passed. The Lemon slices had soaked up most of the salt but were still pretty moist. The salt preserved them well -- there was no mold. But clearly they weren't going to dry as they were. So I added more salt.

Then another week passed. Still no mold. But the Lemon slices still weren't dry.

Nothing in my life was suggesting a steady slow flow of malice, so I reached the obvious conclusion: there's no amount of salt that will dry out a Lemon in any reasonable period of time in my particular corner of the world. A spell based on drying Lemons just doesn't work in the land of Western Red Cedar and Salmonberries and Western Skunk Cabbage. It was clear that I needed to adapt my magic to my new surroundings.

Being the kind of witch that I am, I began looking to the plants around me to find someone who could bring the kind of protection I wanted.

Himalayan Blackberry came to mind, as I am myself the cultural equivalent of an invasive species adapting to a new part of the world. But its ecological niche suggests to me more the kind of protection afforded in the wake of the equivalent of the emotional equivalent of a clearcut, allowing new growth that will bring forth sweet fruit. Beautiful but not quite what I was looking for.

Hawthorn brings protection from those who blunder into your heart space, and Rose brings protection for the heart to open -- but again not quite what I was seeking.

What I was looking for was Devil's Club.

I'm wary about adopting practices from other peoples' traditions -- especially when I am an interloper on their land.   And at the same time, I believe that the magic and medicine of a plant are inseparable, and the experience of people who have lived in a place for a long time is important to look at as I begin to know the plants that grow there.    And nearly everywhere that Devil's Club grows, its stem or bark or ash are traditionally used for purification, cleansing, and protection. 

All of this resonates with my own first experiences of Devil's Club -- which first called to me when I was sitting in a clinic in New England, looking for a plant to help someone who seemed to feel entirely unsafe and out of place in the world.  Just opening a jar of the root bark beside him made him sit up straight and brought a light to his eyes and a confidence to his voice.

Devil's Club can grow to be six feet tall, and has a woody, resinous, thorny bark that surrounds a pith core.  When it gets bent down to the ground it roots and begins growing upward again.  New stalks spread in a ring around the place where the first one grew.   Small, delicate plants often grow in the midst of a Devil's Club patch, taking advantage of the the spiny protection.

Here along the Salish Sea its late April when Devil's Club begins to bud.  A single maroon bud grows from the tip of each stalk, concentrating tremendous life force.   Biting one, I feel a surge through my body -- and I am strong and alive and aroused.

Devil's Club brings me the protection to concentrate on raising and standing in my own power without the distraction of worrying about judgements and ill intentions being directed toward me.

Interestingly, Ryan Drum notes that in some traditions, houses are made from Devil's Club spines "to prepare for important work and to warn away intruders; some references claim (pers. comm) that certain healers lived outside the village longhouse area in such huts, frequently built into huge hollow western red cedar stumps."   

This fits with my sense that the plant has an affinity for people doing a certain kind of work -- the work of walking back and forth between worlds, maintaining connection with the wild and divine to serve the human community.

This is not a medicine for everyone   Devil's Club is a demanding teacher, insisting that those who come for help be willing to leave behind their games of playing small and bending over and shrinking back and begin showing up more fully in the world.   The sheer amount of energy the plant brings surging through the body can be overwhelming for some people.   And while it is locally abundant enough in many places for a respectful wildcrafter to make enough medicine for hir own use each year without depleting the population, it is not common or prolific enough to support commercial harvesting -- and indeed commercial harvesting in some places is threatening the plant's availability for local, traditional medicinal and ceremonial use.

But for me Devil's Club brings the protection and support I need for the work I am doing here on this land.

I won't speak here of the exact ways I work with the plant -- the intimate particulars grow out of a personal relationship with the plant, and would not be the same for you as they are for me.  

The plant that will bring the right protection for you is growing in the forest or swamp or prairie or desert around you waiting for you to come asking with an open heart.

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