Sunday, July 24, 2016

Ghost Pipe: A Cautionary Tale

Thank you to Renee Davis for the Facebook post that pushed me to stop procrastinating on writing this.  And to Howie Brounstein for telling me many of these things in is inimitably loving way.

"I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods 
meeting the unmarked strip of light— 
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise: 
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear. 

"And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell you 
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these 
to have you listen at all, it's necessary 
to talk about trees." 

-- Adrinenne Rich "Revolutionary Road"

I thought it was enough that I didn't give the names of the forests where I found it.

I thought it was enough that I told people to take only the aerial parts and only a few from each stand and not share their harvest spots and only use the medicine when nothing else would do.

But none of that matters to the plant whose populations my writing and teaching served a role in decimating.

I thought it was enough that I had the plant's permission to teach about it.

But plant's don't know  much about our culture's desire to take things and have them for our own.  So it was never really informed consent.

I told myself it was ok because William Cook had written about Monotropa uniflora all the way back in the nineteenth century and he hadn't made its populations dwindle.  But I didn't understand the impact another century of removing people further and further from the wild and from their own wildness would have.

I thought, nobody is going to read what some upstart late bloomer herbalist working with pot growers in rural Maine says, these words won't reach very far.   My false humility kept me from understanding how far my voice would carry.

I wish I had never begun writing and speaking about Ghost Pipe.

Yes, there are people who were helped who no other plant could serve who met Ghost Pipe through my writings.   And people who fell in love with the plant after I introduced them to hir and have built loving relationships with hir.   But I know enough about plants and about magic to know that I could have made this happen in more discerning ways.

So I am writing this now so you do not accidentally betray a beloved in the way that I have.


Another Adrienne Rich poem comes to mind:

"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
become responsibly
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.


Karen Vaughan said...

Beautiful Sean,

I feel similarly about chaga.

Marli said...

This post is so beautiful and tragic and loving it gives me chills.
Thank you, I was so concerned to see on-line posts about this plant, and yes chaga and so many others, the greed, and yet I do not want to be greedy and think others should leave it for me alone....leave it for ITSELF and the other beings with which it is in close communion....we can get so much healing just by sitting and praying with it. You have said so much already, I just am grateful to find kindred spirits.

Lorin Purifoy said...

I was just talking about this minutes ago - the entitled behaviors we have and in particular about this plant. Thank you for writing this.

Paul Bergner said...

We all hear stories of indigenous people who will not tell Outsiders where their stance of plants are, or their uses, or they have to ask their Elder for permission to tell. I encourage my students to BECOME those indigenous people, and not gossip about harvesting locations. Even if the person you gossip to will not abuse the stand, what about the people they gossip too? I believe that almost everyone has within two degrees of separation at least one rapacious abuser of the Earth.

Paul Bergner said...

We all hear stories of indigenous people who will not tell Outsiders where their stance of plants are, or their uses, or they have to ask their Elder for permission to tell. I encourage my students to BECOME those indigenous people, and not gossip about harvesting locations. Even if the person you gossip to will not abuse the stand, what about the people they gossip too? I believe that almost everyone has within two degrees of separation at least one rapacious abuser of the Earth.

shuvanidev said...

Thank you Sean.

IrisWeaver said...

Hoo, wow, I had no idea!

This will have me thinking about what I show, teach, and share in my foraging walks.

Thank you for the deep thinking.

Unknown said...

The planet in which we aimlessly wander about, the only one in our solar system habitable and capable of sustaining life, earth; a world taken for granted with endless supply of natural resources, more and more misunderstood as each generation becomes further and further detached from the truth, from absolute natural life, from the sixth mass extinction currently under way, because what they see and share the world with from their heard from a teen-agers mind, "Well it's always been this way"; EARTH, as we know it, is dying from a cancer known as "populous homosapien". Like the cells that cause a tumor in our egocentric selves, humans are rapidly reproducing uncontrollably and disrupting vital life sustaining systems in the body of our beloved Mother... Mother Earth.


mama mudita said...

Greetings Sean

Thank you for this beautiful and thoughtful post. While the internet and social media is a powerful force for connection and dissemination of ideas. It is also a destructive one. Some people who are not ready to hold sacred certain ideas and stories have access to a wealth of knowledge with no community to hold them responsible. It's sad to see, feel, know that a well intended action can cause harm.

i'm writing because I wanted you to know that your ghost pipe article is still accessible online, though not through your site. I "googled" it and it came up. Maybe I shouldn't be writing this here, and I'm not sure how else to get this message to you. So I will write it hear for now with hopes that I can delete it soon. Or you can?


Cat-Ivy Amorocho said...

Sean, I came across Indian Pipe almost four years ago, identifying it with the respectful Newcombs Wildflower Guide. I discovered your works and writings because of my searching the internet for resources on Indian Pipe and for that I am grateful. Soon after connecting with Indian Pipe, I created a ceremony in which I camped in the woods by myself with a patch of Indian Pipe and made a moon flower essence and a pint of tincture. I have not made medicine with Ghost Pipe since.
Thank you for this article, for bringing awareness to our words and the power of the internet. For the example of taking responsibility and owning our choices, even those made with good intentions that get mixed up with other's capitalist intentions. May our relations with the plants continue to deepen with understanding and respect.

Jessical Alba said...

My daughter suffered from autism for more than 2 years which we started experiencing in her when she turned 1 year and 5 months we all thought it will end but got even worse as days went by. We tried all several treatments and therapy prescribed by various doctors we met but to no avail, she lost total concentration and always complain of sensitivity to sound . She usually tells me she haves poor eyes contact. This were steady disorder that disrupted her entire life, even at night she slept less because of this.It was during a casual conversation with a friend that i learned about Dr Williams herbal medicine I was able to contact him on his email address. and give him all the necessary information that he needed,few day later he sent me the herbal portion and his medicine was able to restore her back to normal and she is very okay now without any side effects whatsoever. If you have autism, do not hesitate to contact him on for advice and for his product. I hope this also helps someone out there

Green said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Green said...

This is irresponsible and offensive. Symptoms can be managed, but there is no cure for autism. And in some cases, such as my daughter, she loves herself the way she is. The world has the problem with the way they view her..Does Dr. Williams have a tincture for that??? "Normal" is overrated.

Vibrant said...


Thank you for this posting. I just want to let you know of my appreciation for you having a part in my path to ghost plant. I have a deep love and reverance for its being. It has saved my life, and helped many others I have share it with. I've harvested only the top parts, only a small percentage, and have returned to the same spots for 6 years, harvesting 5 yrs there. The community is strong and well, and more prolific than when I first began harvesting. I have been selective and careful as to how I introduce the plant to others. None of the individuals have harvested there own. You have made a huge differance from my perspective, and I need to thank you for that and let you know the info you've passed to me has not caused harm to this beloved being. However, the concern around overharvest (not just of ghost plant) is a deep concern to me as well. How can we keep this from happening? How do we create a higher synergy between the human culture we are working with at this time and the land? How do we heal as individuals and as a collective faster, before we do much more damage?

Anonymous said...

I live in Canada (Alberta) and have found a somewhat good supply of this plant. I was led to the spot by providence. It is rare and needs to be protected from pillagers, but not hoarded ... for this natural medicine was meant for all.

Sun Man said...

I am wondering how the Ghost came to be. I know it seeds, but where did the seed originate?

I understand you have regrets, but it seems to me that if the Ghost has called you, it was meant to be.

God is dead.

Do you feel the beating of life in your chest?

Life is beat. Dancing in the grave.

Sun Man said...

What does it mean to be ascending?
I don't know, but
If we moon each other via a messenger
That would be ass sending

What have you been Thoth?
Is it from the thought?
Thoth... Remember the h's are silent,
It's pronounced "taught."

So it's alright to teeter.

Sun Man said...

Thought, the 6th se(a)nse.
6 feet deep.
Cursed by the dead.
How do you kill a ghost?

If the lesson is to lessen, then I need to b less.
0MG, I lost my mind. Curses are becoming blessings in disguise.
My brain cells are unlocking...
My IQ dropping...
Jail break!

Since numbers are infinite, the highest IQ is always 0.

What's the shape of (the) mind? How do you get a head?

O, I'd rather get behind. But... That's just because I love a-holes.

Sun Man said...

Maybe some people are as rare and beautiful as the Ghostflower? And also as intimidating and scary?

Would you like to hear some propaganda? Because I am the pro-pagan-DA.
Thanks for listening. It's propaganda, and I am the D in A, so I'm going to spread it like a parasite on a G-host.

Some say Satan is the source of power.
Some say God is the source of power.
Though one is powerless without the other.
The power comes from hooking up both the positive and negative wires.

Some say power corrupts. And this would be true. Because the powerful are working with both sides.

... Take Hitler for example; a dark eyed, dark haired, Jewish blooded fellow... With deep ties to the Jewish Rothschilds.
... To think that Nazi Germany was funded by Jewish bankers.
And to think a "mastermind" would really kill himself right after marriage.

Now, the topic of death...
Do we really die?
Do we live for ourselves or the Greater being which we are composed of?
When climbing a mountain in search of the answers... Are they at the top, or do they meet you half way?
O, but you are saying the top is halfway since you got to go back down as well?

What is the demi urge? Do you need to be a medium to contact the dead?

What does death know?
Kill yourself and find out.
I kill myself ��

FYI, I live on solar power.
Solar panels charge up batteries which then must be channeled through an inverter.
... Needless to say, the batteries require acid to function.

Sun Man said...

What is corrupt? What does it mean? What is the archaic correspondence? 33

What is corrupt? Is that a core eruption?


Too many faces form a scene
Of which whose sight is not so keen.
The blurring mar, the optical
Illusion of flesh; typical.

Little weeping sheep, go to sleep;
Behold your dreams in Satan's keep.
If you shake its hand, HE'LL let go;
Giving BAck a piece of the soul.

Crossing the threshold of the mind;
They'll think you're crazy, but they're blind.

Within the self,
A falling hive;
A volcano.
Dead is alive.

Cold ecstatic.
Death has arrived;
Dead is alive.

Higher knowledge is not in books;
Material reads have their hooks.
They are as a map, with a key;
Consciousness versus the machine.

"X" marks the spot of the treasure;
The tricks Set up for safety measures.
Demiurge wants to keep your soul,
Like a parasite stunting growth.

When you reach the chest, take the key
And open up eternity.

Liberate what is in the heart;
They'll call you crazy, but you're art.

Within thyself;
A gaping eye,
A stormy sight.
Dead is alive.

Soul ecstatic.
He has arrived;
Death is a lie.

Sun Man said...

Nobody wants to shake my hand. I'm a quack.

Sun Man said...


Putrid flesh
Broken wings
Fighting to be
Falling to see
Those eyes
Filled with tears
With understanding
With being

A pain to love
Crown thee with thorns
Cross through hell
It's hell to see
O Satan!

O the heart!
O the core!
O the yolk!
O Satan!

O God, put that ass on me
I'm soon to crack
O Lord, give me that ass
Watch me hatch
Watch me hatch!

O Christ, I am!
The born again abortion!

Putrid flesh
Broken wings
Falling to tree
Dying to see
Those eyes
Filled with tears
With understanding
With Beauty

A pain to love
Crown thee with thorns
Cross through hell
It's hell to be
The resurrection
The Beast


Sun Man said...

Sun Man said...

Haven't I bugged the hell out of anyone yet?


A bug landed on my brain
and is crawling about
the wilderness of thought
There is no telling
from which tree
precisely it came
slowly wandering around
until it's found
the perfect spot...

To sink its fangs in
and draw my blood
the beating red canvas
of my love

A bug has fallen to my heart
now fat as a cherry
begging to be popped
Big bang love gun
God is dead
I'll need a match
a ring of fire
The body is gone
the remains the head

The fangs stick down
drawing my blood
the beating read canvas
of my love

Do you have the tock?
Because I have the tick
My thoughts are bugged
tracked down from the crypt
Stay away from me
'cause I'll make you sick
I'll bring you to your knees
so I can inject my steeple

... It's for the people
Cry tick tickle (G-spot)

Sun Man said...

"I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

"And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it's necessary
to talk about trees."

-- Adrinenne Rich "Revolutionary Road"

I stumbled into a tree once... But more it was me doing a roundhouse kick to it out of the feeling of excitement and belonging.
I look at the tree and see the scar where my foot pushed in the bark. And I see how amazing this tree is. I must have passed it hundreds of times but never noticed just how one of a kind it was.
This tree had many faces, all speaking to me. Some male, some female.
And so I start talking crap to it. Like old friends reunited.
And this tree is just so awe inspiring, dreadful. Strange ball growths, spider webs, sap sculptures and drippings, nettings of usnea...
The tree was happy I kicked it, though I did pass through a threshold where I felt bad.
The tree, it is a fighter though. It survives when it probably shouldn't. It defies all the other trees around it.
And this tree listened to me when nobody else would.
The tree told me of how it was once a nut, and the other nuts did not believe it when it told them that they all needed to crack up, and that to becoming a towering god took deep roots to hold. But all the other nuts were scared of the underground, they heard wise-tales of pain. So they never grew.

The tree also told me that it didn't care for the slaughter of trees to make books. It told me that the knowledge of the eons is within, and books are spellbinding. Though it also showed me how books and the sacrifice of trees can be good. And that all things are dual.

Trees need the Sun.
So let's get the ball rolling.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
This is a disappointing blog. I was searching for your very memorable account of your first encounter with Ghost Pipes that I had read in the past. Search led me to this. Very sad, very sad indeed. It seems some fundamentalist conservationist fanatics have gotten into your head and squelched your creative consciousness. You had written an account of plant communion and bravery in such a poetic way and to see it replaced by such a guilt laden reversal is saddening to say the least. Wish I would have copied and pasted your original blog for future reference because it was brilliant. This is just sad and fear mongering. I'm sure plenty of guilttrippig self loathing humans will applaude this attempt at "saving nature". Honestly any self respecting forager of any species should have a simple grasp on the common knowledge of the honoring and protection of nature that must be upheld when opening up to receive the gifts of our Mother Earth. So really if anything you should just be embedding these truths into every foraging post you ever blog not singling out one plant that continues to be misrepresented as a rare or endangered species. Which it clearly is not registered as such. So my question to you is. Why did you allow fear mongering and propaganda to dissuade you from keeping your original blog post? And for clarification why I would go as far as to claim the bold accusation of propaganda is this. There is an agenda behind such conservationist fear mongering. To end all food and medicine foraging. Not just endangered species all species. Using guilt and fear to push us away from an intimate connection with nature. Eating of her. These fear mongerers would much rather we didn't even step foot in nature let alone interact with it by consuming her. Alienating us as though we aren't of her. This is an agenda that some conservationists are pushing. I am not against conservation, my mother got her degree specifically in nature conservation. I am huge advocate and have been my entire life. I have physically participated in saving a local bog from becoming a strip mall. I believe in honoring and protecting our Mother Earth. If Ghost pipes ever truly started to become endangered or even threatened your fears would be well warranted. But that is simply just not the case and instead you are helping push an agenda of alienating the populace from nature. All foraging could be banned in the near future. Perhaps even on so called "privately owned land". And if you are simply worried about certain locales that ghost pipe populations are being hurt by drought. Get specific, explain where exactly and why people should avoiding harvesting. And more importantly explain that this is a temporary suggestion to not harvest due to climate related circumstances. In the future those drought hit areas Ghost Pipes will be safely able to be harvested again. Commerical harvesting is the only real threat. Warn people to NOT BUY Ghost Pipes plant matter or tinctures, extracts etc. Unless from someone you KNOW is harvesting sustainably. I used to be much more excited about your blog until finding this. This was a serious disappointment.

Unknown said...

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