The following is excerpted from A Druid’s Handbook to the Spiritual Power of Plants, published by Inner Traditions, Bear & Co.
The ancient Druids used the variety of plants and trees available to them in a unique way, employing not only the physical benefits that the plants may provide, in the same way as many other herbal traditions, but also the spiritual attributes held within the plant. This was, and still is, achieved by two principal and inseparable techniques: first, the gentle extraction and refinement of the plant’s physical benefits in the form of “complexes,” and second, the spiritual energizing of these complexes in order to release and focus the natural spiritual attributes of the plant. These arcane techniques are, by definition, quite detailed but by no means beyond the capabilities of the average reader. We shall then begin our exploration of these techniques by looking at the refinement process, the first stage of preparing our complex.
An Introduction to the Refinement Process
The objective of our work will be to craft the cardinal essences, which, during the course of our ritual, will be combined to produce the specific complex that we require for our needs. Part of this process will also produce the incenses that will, in conjunction with our complex, enhance and energize our ritual. For the purpose of our exploration, we shall be looking at some of the specific complexes and incenses used in the working of sex magic rituals.
To begin our understanding of the materials and processes involved, we need to define exactly what each of these various components is and the part each plays in our ritual, but perhaps first I should explain exactly what the ritual is.
I am often asked to explain the difference between the ritual, the working, and the ritual working, and the only really accurate answer to this question is that it depends entirely on the context in which the words are used and on the individual using them. Some practitioners and adepts speak of ritual workings, others of working rituals, yet more of workings in the preparation of rituals. For my part, I can only explain the way in which I was trained to use these words and therefore how they will be used throughout this book.
The ritual is the enactment of a predetermined sequence of events in a stylized fashion, with the intention and expectation of producing an accurately defined outcome. Therefore, if I and a number of my Gathering decide that we wish to undertake a particular ritual in order to project and bind a particular spell, we come together and enact a predetermined sequence of events designed to achieve that particular spell’s projection and binding.
The next time we wish to achieve the same results, we will repeat the same sequence of events, and in this way—by repeated enactment—the sequence of events establishes itself as the ritual.
The ritual may, and often does, seem quite theatrical in its enactment, and this is deliberate on behalf of the priest or priestess facilitating it. The purpose of ritual in this context is to coordinate the activities and progress of the members of the Gathering, which happens quite naturally as the participants eventually become familiar with the sequence of the ritual. In the same way that the ritual facilitates the physical progress of the Gathering’s activities, it also synchronizes the Gathering’s spiritual and emotional progress. In the case of the sex magic rituals we’ll be looking at later, it also synchronizes the progress of sexual arousal and works toward the desired collective orgasm.
The theatrical-like presentation or facilitation also plays a role in the collective understanding of the ritual, allowing the priest or priestess to communicate not only by verbal means, but also through the nonverbal communication or body language of the facilitation. This again is extremely important in sex magic rituals, where switches in focus between the sensual and the spiritual elements need to be clearly emphasized and communicated at the appropriate times to the Gathering as a whole.
The working is a more commonplace activity that is frequently very unceremonious indeed. It refers primarily to the activities undertaken in the workshop in preparation for the ritual or in the manufacture of compounds, potions, complexes, ritual tools, and so on that may be stored for future use. There is, by definition, no direct element of magic or of the spiritual in these activities. Most workings are conducted by the Druidic priest or priestess, adept, or practitioner in the isolation of his or her workshop or the seclusion of a forest grove. On such occasions the priest or priestess may be accompanied by his or her assistant, apprentice, or student—workings provide ideal opportunities for the aspiring practitioner to learn the craft.
The fermentation of essences, the grinding of compounds, the filtering of liquids, all these “manufacturing” processes may be called workings. Only when there is the requirement of some form of magical or spiritual element in these workings do they become ritual workings—that is, a working that includes a ritual as a part of its process.
A typical example of this is the cleansing of ritual tools and equipment. There is, of course, the physical cleansing of the items involved, but to complete the cleansing the item must also be spiritually cleansed. This is done through a brief spiritual cleansing followed by a further spiritual energizing, yet another spiritual element.
So this cleansing activity when viewed as a whole consists of both the physical working and the cleansing ritual. It may therefore be called a ritual working.
The Gathering, in its form as a collective noun, is a group of practitioners assembled for the purpose of enacting a ritual. It is also the name given to the period at the beginning of an assembly when the participants come together, or gather, for the ritual.
Having covered the definitions of these more general terms, it is now worth returning to our original objective in order to define some of the less familiar terms it contains.
As we will discover later, each individual species within the plant kingdom yields two or three cardinal essences. Each of these unique essences contains some part of the energy and attributes inherent in the species. The processes involved in the extraction of these cardinal essences and how these essences are subsequently used are explained in greater detail in part 3.
At the appropriate point in the ritual, the cardinal essences produced from each plant are brought together to form the complex. It is this complex, in its newly reunited and highly energized condition, that becomes the first of the prime elements at the core of the ritual.
These cardinal essences are extracted in the form of liquids and, once combined in the form of the complex, are used mainly as libations, or potions, or applied to the skin. In order to use all of the potential energies and attributes contained in the specific plant, we must also release the potential contained within the solid material remaining following the extraction of the liquids.
These plant solids are dried, reunited, and heated on charcoal as incense during the ritual. The heating of the incense frees the potential of the solid plant material, and it is this releasing of the plant’s energies and attributes that forms the second of the prime elements at the core of the ritual.
The concept of extracting and using the potential curative properties and beneficial attributes of species within the plant kingdom is by no means unique to the Druidic tradition. Similarities may be drawn to many areas of ancient and modern herbalism, the more modern practice of homeopathy, along with the ancient practices of the alchemists as detailed earlier. There are, however, as we have seen, fundamental differences that make the Druidic tradition stand apart from the other practices mentioned.
Having already looked at the more ancient forms of herbalism and alchemy, we now will look at some of their more modern counterparts. A number of modern alternative or complementary medical practices speak of harnessing the curative properties and beneficial attributes of plants. The most common and widespread of these is without question homeopathy.
Homeopathy shares a number of its basic principles with some of the oldest medical practices in the world. Along with acupuncture and ayurvedic medicine, it is based on the belief that the body has the innate ability to heal itself. Homeopathy, however, is a relatively modern practice. Developed around 1796 by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann (1755–1843), homeopathy was hailed as a new medical science. It is based on two fundamental principles.
The first principle of homeopathy is “Like cures like”; the second is the Doctrine of Infinitesimals, that being the administration of the smallest possible dosage. The first principle is based on Hahnemann’s belief that certain medicines induce the same symptoms in the healthy body as they appear to relieve in the sick person. This can be closely compared with the much more ancient theory of correspondence as practiced in both Chinese and Indian herbalism. The second principle was of Hahnemann’s own invention; he called this the Doctrine of Infinitesimals. It can be understood as “the smaller the dose, the more likely it is to be effective.” He believed that the process of dilution actually refined the original substance, making it more pure and therefore even more potent.
In his Organon of the Healing Art, Hahnemann explains that in the healthy person, the body is held in balance by the spiritual vital force, which he calls the Dynamis. This vital force rules over the spiritual body, which in turn maintains the equilibrium of the physical body. The purpose of homeopathic medicine is to help the body’s vital force restore itself to balance and, by doing so, allow the physical body to use its natural ability to cure itself.
Homeopathy continues to be controversial, and skepticism has grown even greater since recent scientific analysis suggested that homeopathic remedies appear to contain no active ingredients whatsoever. All the same, homeopathy remains a relatively popular form of alternative medicine, and its advocates provide regular reports of its medical successes.
It is possible to draw some parallels between Hahnemann’s homeopathy and the way in which the Druidic tradition deals with plant remedies. To explore these similarities in greater detail is beyond the scope of this book, but the reader may gain insight into these similarities by further research on this subject.
By the early part of the twentieth century, the British physician Edward Bach had developed some of these principles to arrive at his famous Bach Flower Remedies.
Edward Bach (1880–1936) developed his range of remedies from a belief that they are infused with healing energies absorbed from the flowers from which they are prepared. He maintained that all disease is the result of imbalance between the soul and the mind and that his flower remedies redress this internal conflict.
The Bach Flower Remedies were originally created from dew collected from a variety of flowers that Bach considered to have healing properties, the dew having absorbed the healing energies of the flowers upon which it had formed. Bach simplified the overly laborious task of collecting this dew from the selected flowers by introducing the process of floating the same flowers on a bath of water in sunlight, thereby extracting their healing energies in a more productive fashion. This energized water was then further diluted with brandy to produce the cure as it is now sold. The remedy is then once more diluted with a high proportion of water or wine before it is taken.
This method of preparation is very similar to that in the Druidic tradition, and it is no surprise to discover that Bach spent much of his time in the north of Wales searching for new ingredients for his remedies and exploring Welsh folk traditions and the ancient herbal cures of the Welsh culture. One does not have to stretch the imagination too far to envisage that Bach would have come into contact with the Druidic tradition during his wanderings and absorbed the ancient Druidic techniques into his burgeoning theories.
He then appears to have married this Druidic technique with the more conventional homeopathic theory of the Doctrine of Infinitesimals by diluting these energized waters with large quantities of brandy. Bach also aligned some of his techniques and theories of the administration of his remedies with those of conventional homeopathy, arguing that his Bach Flower Remedies redress an imbalance in the body’s equilibrium, thus allowing the body to cure itself. In the case of Bach’s remedy, it acts on the emotions rather than on the physical body.
So whether Bach created a new form of treatment or effected a union among the three existing traditions of Druidic remedies, homeopathy, and alchemy is for the reader to decide. Whatever the case may be, Bach Flower Remedies continue to be very popular and may be purchased in most countries of the world. They are used extensively as an alternative therapy in the treatment of stress-related ailments, for which they appear to be particularly appropriate.
In comparison, while Druidic practice shares some of its methods for extracting the vital energies and attributes from the plants it employs with both homeopathy and Bach’s techniques, it does not subscribe to the two basic principles of homeopathy and Bach’s Flower Remedies—namely, “Like cures like” and the concept of the Doctrine of Infinitesimals.
One of the greatest aspects of the Doctrine of Infinitesimals is, of course, its infallibility. If Hahnemann’s theory is correct and dilution equates to purification and an increase in potency, then it is the right thing to do. If it is not, then at least the remedies are so dilute as to be harmless.
In stark contrast to Hahnemann’s theory, Druidic plant lore tends to advocate the concentration of its essences and complexes as a means of focusing the attributes and increasing the potency of the plant’s natural benefits.
The process of arriving at the plant complex and incense begins with the correct harvesting of the part(s) of the plant we intend to use. This seems to have little relevance in other traditions, but to the Druid, knowing the provenance of all the materials he or she works with is essential. The process of harvesting is so important to the Druid that it is actually enacted as a formal ritual. As we shall see, the first step is the identification of suitable donor plants, establishing a rapport with them, and ensuring their suitability (and willingness) as donors.
In Druidic lore there is no argument for using bought or found source materials. It is not just the simple question of whether fresh or dried plant material is more effective; it is a much more involved principle than that. It is fundamental to the effectiveness of any of the plant’s derivatives that the location, environment, general health, approximate age, and even the compass orientation of the part of the plant used is precisely known before it may be utilized to its full potential. It is also essential to know that the time, date, and method of harvesting are appropriate and that the harvested plant has been correctly preserved between its time of harvest and when it is used. This is why most Druidic priests and priestesses insist on harvesting all of their materials personally. Only in this way may the plant material be guaranteed suitable for its planned use.
As many of the complexes yielded by the plant will be used internally or on open wounds, cuts, and abrasions, it is essential that the highest standards of hygiene be maintained throughout.
Following its harvest, the plant material will be cleansed either in a fast-moving stream or in a bath of moon-cleansed water. There are no scientific cleansing agents used in either of these processes. The ancient Druids had no “scientific” understanding of hygiene. They did, of course, have experience of the effects of poor hygiene, but had no real understanding of their cause.
Purists would argue against the need for proprietary sterilizing agents, particularly at this early stage of the process, as it interferes with the natural essences and attributes of the plant. But as always, the choice is yours. If your plant materials are harvested from a clean, unpolluted environment and the stream used for initial cleansing is pure, you may consider this sufficient, as the purists do. I suggest you read through the rest of the details of the plant’s treatment before making your decision. These involve soaking in alcohol and fermentation, and you may decide that these processes prove sufficient for your needs. Alternatively, there is a range of natural, herbal sterilizing agents that you may choose to use.
However, the need for sterile vessels, bottles, and equipment for the refinement of the complexes and incenses is unequivocal—not only because of the health hazards involved in using unsterile equipment but also because the refinement process itself involves the controlled use of certain bacteria, which will undoubtedly be impaired by the introduction of uncontrolled bacterial agents.
The traditional sterilization methods taught to me are immersing the vessels in rapidly boiling water for a few minutes or baking them in a hot oven for half an hour before use. These methods are equally effective; use the facilities you have available to you at the time.
As far as workshop cleanliness is concerned, the Druidic tradition has nothing to say on the matter. Many of the workshops I have seen and used are a long way from what I would call hygienic. Often they are in corners of sheds, outbuildings, or spare rooms. Very rarely are they designed specifically for their Druidic applications. The ancient Druidic practices survived despite these conditions, but you may choose to plan a suitably hygienic environment for your activities from the outset.
When asked about the standards of hygiene required for the safe practice of Druidic “workshop” activities in general, I always refer people to the standards required for the commercial preparation of food. These health and safety standards are normally defined by law, and copies of the standards may usually be obtained from your local government authority. Adherence to these standards will ensure that the products of your workshop are risk-free.
Most of the plants we shall be using are common to all the northern European countries where the Celtic races are found. (This is why they have their place within the Druidic tradition.) Many of the plant materials used in the wide range of schools of alchemy vary significantly from those found in the Celtic nations, due mainly to their very differing climates and natural history. There are, however, many similarities to be found.
Depending on where you live, you may have to vary the materials to suit your own natural resources. I have deliberately selected two very common plants to illustrate the complex refinement processes, both of which may be harvested in most areas without undue stress on the environment. However, should you decide to use other plants for your initial experimentation, or widen the range of plants you use as your skills develop, make sure that they are an abundant, renewable resource within the areas from which you harvest them. Never harvest plants you know or suspect to be classified as endangered species. Remember that as Druids we are striving at all times to be in harmony with nature; therefore, we should harvest only what we are confident that nature can restore without difficulty. If in any doubt about the classification of a plant you intend to harvest, contact your local conservation organization.
Morals and the Law
As Druids we have a moral obligation not to interfere with the processes of nature; harvesting, in whatever form, may seem to contradict this principle. We must remember, however, that we are also part of nature ourselves and our very existence depends on our consuming her bounties. As we are at the top of the food chain, and as we are endowed with a sense of reason and intelligent thought, it behooves us to exercise a high degree of responsibility for the future conservation of our planet and everything that exists on it.
Responsible harvesting for food and other essential needs in a way that does not endanger or disturb the balance of nature is necessary for our continued survival. It is with this in mind that I urge everyone who uses natural resources in his or her work to exercise the utmost responsibility in harvesting, both in the quantities harvested and in the methods used. Since the beginning of its known history, conservation has been a prime principle in Druidic lore. The Druidic rationale for conservation is based on two simple philosophies.
The first is a great respect for nature. Druidic lore acknowledges that the gifts of nature are provided unconditionally. Druids (for the most part) never actually cultivate their resources but instead harvest them from their natural habitat during the season in which they naturally become available. (I say “for the most part” because I have known some Druids who feel comfortable in planting specific species of plants into wild environments in the belief that it is the growing process and the atmosphere that imbue the plant with its attributes. I believe that only naturally occurring specimens, which form part of the natural cycle of their environment, hold the true attributes of the species.) It is, however, this powerful respect for nature that underpins all the harvesting methods used in the Druidic tradition.
The second criterion is the belief that for everything that is taken, something has to be returned. This act of returning may, on many occasions, be a ritual of symbolic action. We see this in most Druidic rituals where “offerings” are made by spilling wine or scattering bread onto the ground, or in the symbolic return of ashes to the earth or the leaving of “gifts” at ritual sites following Gatherings. (See my book Sexual Practices of the Druids for more about “taking and giving” as fundamental to all Druidic rituals.)
In Druidic lore, nature is seen as self-sufficient and self-renewing, the greatest and most complex manifestation of the collective energy, much akin to the anima mundi, or World Soul, of the ancient alchemical tradition. To interfere with nature’s works or to deplete her resources would be contrary to all that Druidic lore holds dear.
This philosophy was explained to me in very simple terms as I began to learn the Druidic tradition as a young boy. “You cannot keep taking from a pot without putting something back in or eventually you will starve” is what I was told. And by way of proof, I was introduced to the fermentation processes we will be looking at later, in particular, the perpetuation of what I now know to be the yeast culture, which is never used in its entirety and always is fed (or replenished) for the next occasion of its use. I can remember a number of times when searching for young leaves and branches hearing the words “Remember the yeast” being spoken over my shoulder. “If something is not left, there will be no renewal.”
Taken together, these two principles form a sound conservation philosophy. Respect and renewal are excellent watchwords for your relationship with the rest of nature as a whole.
In addition to these moral principles of nature, there is also the law of man to be taken into account. Trespassing, harvesting plants from privately owned property, harvesting endangered species, taking plants from national parks and reserves, growing and/or using “illegal” plants, causing damage to hedges and fencing—all these are criminal activities that may result in prosecution, fines, and even imprisonment. Be aware of the status of the area from which you harvest. Take advice from people who know the area, talk to rangers, study local maps, do whatever it takes to become familiar with the sites you visit. There is no need to break the law.
With a little patience and perseverance, you will always find a suitable donor plant for your needs.
Another aspect that many herbal practitioners often overlook is their legal responsibility for the safety of the products they produce and the methods they employ.
Wherever you live, there is no doubt that you will be held responsible should anyone or anything suffer from the products you prepare or the methods you employ. A mild case of poisoning may put someone off work for a few days, and that’s your fault! A simple allergic reaction may cause skin irritation; that’s your fault! Inhaling incense fumes may cause an asthmatic reaction; that’s your fault! A participant may hurt herself during a Gathering; that’s your fault!
Are you getting the picture? It is your responsibility to ensure that everything you make and everything that you organize is done in the safest and most considered fashion possible. Leave nothing to chance. You owe that much to yourself and to the other members of your Gathering. Here are some guidelines:
Never be tempted to use yourself or anyone else as an experimental vehicle for your workings or products. This is irresponsible and illegal!
Never use any ingredients if you are not entirely certain of their effect and safety.
Never use any plants you know to be poisonous or that you suspect may produce ill effects.
Never experiment with that which you do not know without due care and attention.
Never consider using your work for anything other than good. In that way you will set the scene for responsible and considerate actions and avoid any of the tribulations of malpractice.
Always work safely and within the limitations of your knowledge and experience. I was taught, “Never use anything on anyone else that you would not first use upon yourself,” and “Never wish yourself anything other than good health and vitality.” Put these two pieces of wisdom together and you have the building blocks of the Druidic Code of Practice.