"I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
"Everything we write
will be used against us
or against those we love.
These are the terms,
take them or leave them.
Poetry never stood a chance
of standing outside history.
One line typed twenty years ago
can be blazed on a wall in spraypaint
to glorify art as detachment
or torture of those we
did not love but also
did not want to kill.
We move but our words stand
for more than we intended
and this is verbal privilege"
The nature of plant knowledge is similar to that of other magical lore. Those new to the Craft, tasting the liberation and vitality they are feeling in enduring ways for the first time in their lives, want to share everything so that others can be free too. They assume the magic they have found is so pure and so powerful that it will transform the hearts of those who engage it, leaving no need to fear for its abuse.
That was what I believed when I began writing and teaching about Ghost Pipe. Connecting with plants made you a better person, so all knowledge should be out there, free for the reading and finding. (At that very time I was stalling from beginning to pursue training in the Feri tradition because I was struggling with the vow to hold certain knowledge and practices close and not speak of them publicly.)
The years that followed gave me a more nuanced understanding.
Yes, absolutely, the plants are there for all to encounter. Just like the gods and the elements of nature.
But as with gods, there are some plants, and some aspects of their being and their medicine that are best shared by the plants themselves alone, when and how they choose to share them. Or, by a seasoned practitioner with a trusted student after years of working together. Not because that knowledge belongs to an elect few, but because it loses meaning outside its context.
As my teacher Karina says often, not everyone needs to know how to use a chainsaw.
Many of us who teach hold this to be true about poisonous plants and profoundly mind altering plants, because of the dangers they might pose to people using them without the knowledge of the proper time and place and manner.
It is equally true of rare and fragile plants, because of the danger people might pose to them by using them without the knowledge of the proper time and place and manner.
I understand why knowledge of a plant like Ghost Pipe spreads like wildfire. We live in a time when people feel cut off from the living world, and finding out about a strange, beautiful plant that taps into the mind of an entire forest brings a stir of recognition of the kind of connection the deepest parts of ourselves know is possible, even when we so seldom experience it in our lives and our worlds.
And I understand why so many feel the need to harvest the plant for themselves or buy the tincture from someone else. We live in a culture that has objectified and commodified everything. And in which the sense of our entitlement is magnified and the sense of our impact on the living world is diminished -- my own included, or I wouldn't be here writing this mea culpa. It can seem like the only way to access the magic Ghost Pipe represents to us is to hold something made of the body through which that magic moves.
I am not saying nobody should use Ghost Pipe as medicine. I am saying it should be used only when no other medicine will do, by people with enough knowledge to know that no other medicine will do, who have also cultivated a deep relationship with the plant.
For those who have come here seeking knowledge about this plant, here is what I suggest you do instead:
go to the forests, the fields, the deserts, the mountains
find strange and beautiful beings
make intimate relationships with them
and hold their medicine as close as you would the hidden pleasures a lover's body brings.