The following article is excerpted from the anthology Verdant Gnosis: Cultivating the Green Path (Rubedo Press, 2015) edited by Catamara Rosarium and Jenn Zahrt, PhD.
Congress with spirits has been sought by some humans since the beginning of human history. Shamans, goēs, witches, sorcerers, mediums, and many other titles for those who practice what has come to be called magic, have sought the aid of intelligent forces to assist in their pursuits. This practice continues today across cultural divides, traditions, and currents, and though the act may take on myriad forms, it still moves on, unabated, evolving along with us, and yet staying close to its unimaginable origins.
For the practitioner of herbal magic, the act of having congress with the intelligence of plants is of equal importance. Intermediaries are frequently sought out to aid in the communication between plant spirits and humans. Plant teachers, and communicator species such as Ayahuasca, have in the last several decades become a holy grail for seekers who wish to have congress with spirits, and communicate with a plant. The number of tours to South American jungles and articles in major magazines on the subject shows now more than ever the intriguing notion and possible importance of plant/human communication.
The plant magician, healer, and sorcerer all seek congress with a living embodied spirit, much like themselves, but a green feral kind, with an intelligence that remains a mystery to us. A mystery, if perpetuated, brings the gifts of healing, divination, wisdom and growth, as well as darker needs and power.
Since 2006 I have written on the subject of bioregional animism, a conceptual gift from the land to me that I shared with others, attempting to help them establish communion with their larger biotic self, the life-place, or bioregion in which they live their daily existence. A foundational concept within bioregional animism is in that of the genius loci, the spirit of place, an intelligence composed of the entire biotic community within a specific bioregion. As the human body is composed of flora and fauna and innumerable cells, each informed by the others and working in synergy, one might also find that entire ecosystems are living sentient bodies composed of larger intelligent bodies of various kinds.
The genius loci is the spirit of the bioregion or life place itself. Its animated intelligence is the collected soul and mind of all that composes it within the bioregion and that which at the same time animates and gives mind and soul to those living within the bioregion. Every human, plant, microbe, snail, and four legged animal is one with the genius loci that comprise the bioregion itself. All within the genius loci are at the same time autonomous aspects of that whole. Within the practice of bioregional animism, one works to find inner oneness with the larger self, the land that animates us, and to work in synergy with it/as it.
What then is the viridis genii? The translation of viridis genii is the green spirit which is there for the collective autonomous force that animates the green world within the bioregion, the soul of the forest, swamp, desert, and prairie plants, and all of the green growing things composing the genius loci. Every tree, fern, blade of grass, whether native or introduced, that grows within the natural boundaries of a bioregion, collectively makes up the intelligence of the viridis genii. The viridis genii is wise beyond words. There is not a single herbalist, alchemist, or even scientist that has not gloried in wonder at its vast intelligence and wisdom. Though it be called and known in other ways, morphogenetic fields, the glory of god, evolution, or attributed to some pagan deity from some other far off land, its glory is still known. What is important however to the wortcunner, the magical herbalist, is again the congress with spirits, and in this case specifically plant spirits.
From a bioregional animist standpoint, being a relational ontology, we relate to this larger composite intelligence that is the viridis genii as a person, not a human person, but an other than human person. We are not anthropomorphizing the viridis genii, but instead recognizing its innate personhood. Animism recognizes that humans are not the only persons in the world after all.
The viridis genii is a different person to all of us, just as I am a different person to everyone because of the nature of relationship itself. Magical herbalists come from a great many other worldviews and perceptions of the spiritual and physical world, and thus have different ways of relating to the viridis genii. Therefore the viridis genii will have different ways of relating to these individual practitioners of the green arts. Some may relate to the viridis genii as the one, and inseparable from the genius sanguinarius, the blood spirit—flora and fauna interwoven—but that is beyond my scope here. Regardless of how our relationship with the viridis genii takes shape, if we relate to it as a person we can meet with the genii and commune with them so that the genii will in return commune back.
Again we return to the practitioner of magic’s desire to seek congress with spirits, as practitioners of the green arts we understand the importance of communion. How is the viridis genii met? How does one seek congress with them? Many paths exist, many ways within the green arts, and many traditions and practices, but here I share from the perspective and experience of the bioregional animist. By relating to the viridis genii as an other than human person, we accept that persons communicate and are intelligent. Through relating to the viridis genii as a person we take our first steps towards contact. The next step is through relating to the other than human person as we would with other persons: from a place of respect. The viridis genii is also much larger than we are, and it gives us that which we need to live. Our homes are often made of it, our clothing, our food, the paper on which we write, the medicines we take to live, our very bodies are here and composed of this amazing person. We owe our life to it. It is a teacher, a healer, and has lived on this planet far longer than humans, far longer than even mammals. It is our elder, and so we also relate to this person with humility.
This humility is very important in establishing congress, communicating, and communing with the viridis genii, and eventually working with this spirit. Out of respect we do not force this genii into our bottle. Instead, with humility, we invite it.
The Genius in the Bottle
The bottle is not a trap; it is the vessel in which it can travel, it is a spirit house for the genii—the bottle is a home for it. We begin by blessing and washing our bottle approximately a quart in size. This bottle is also, in a sense, symbolic of ourselves, for we too as practitioners of the green arts wish to be a vessel for the spirit of the green. So we go to places of pure water, the water that nurtures the green spirit and the plants that compose it. These can be the sources of rivers, streams, deep artesian wells, lakes that are used for a water source because of their purity. Rainwater can be collected in purified and sanctified vessels, or snow can be melted from the tops of mountains.
Many water sources from around the life place should be visited with the same intention of pilgrimage and with respect and humility, for these water sources are also persons, persons we all require for our very lives. Humble offerings of gratitude and reciprocity are given to these water sources, and a small amount of water may be collected from each and then combined within the vessel. No more than a third of the bottle should be filled with this holy water to which we owe so much.
Offerings can be traditional from your path, and or can be the simple offering of one’s hair. Too grandiose an offering lacks humility in the relationship of giving. The offering of a goat, for example, will probably not be required. One’s spittle, urine, or other bodily fluids can also be offered as an act of returning one’s water back to the source, a completion of the circle of sacred reciprocity. These offerings indeed must be humble and slight.
Next visit the study of the alchemists, the distillers, and those who emulate natural process as the praxis of their tradition. Here we require access to the aqua vitae—the water of life, alcohol, EtOH, also known to many as spirits. Alcohol is essential to many who work within the green arts. It is well known, though some do not work with it and choose other methods. Ethanol is revered not only for its preservative properties but for its ability to work as a solvent, however vegetable oils may also be used in the preparing of this genii in a bottle. The reason why vegetable oil is not used in this formula is because water and oil do not mix. The vessels for the genii are itself a life place and must include the water that animates us all. Spirits are added not only as a preservative, but also because of the power and magical cycle of life and death inimical to the creation of alcohol itself.
One should therefore ideally collect a plant that is high in sugar that grows within the life place, and request that the genius viridium concentrate itself with this plant you are harvesting. This evocation of the green spirit is of utmost importance and should incorporate as much of the knowledge and wisdom of your particular path as a practitioner of the green arts. Again give humble and respectful offerings to these plants. Your goal is to call and invite the green spirit into one’s harvest prior to harvesting it. Make sure the tools for cutting or digging also be cleansed and sanctified in your way.
The plants can be edible roots, fresh leaves, vegetables from one’s garden, grapes, berries, corn, and wheat; other plants high in sugar will do. Honey can also be used if gathered from one’s own hives, as an additive to the fermentation. If honey is used, the bees must be asked permission and also given offerings prior to the extraction of their honey, for they are the pollinators and a great part of the green mysteries. Wild yeasts can be cultivated and or attracted for the fermentation of the plants and added to water, preferably waters gathered from sacred pure sources, again with accompanying offerings.
Once you have collected your plants, then purify and sanctify a small gallon to five-gallon demijohn as your primary fermenter. One would do well to learn the fermenter’s arts prior to attempting a wild wine, beer, or mead. With practice, one will learn the art and enjoy it immensely. The importance of this act lies in the plant’s death and release from its physical body into the universal solvent that is water—that which once gave the genii living form now contains its spirit.
Next we have the illicit act of distillation, where we separate the spirit of the host from the universal solvent that is water. The alcohol created by the fermentation of the vital sugars within the plant now carry the evoked green spirit of the life place. One purifies and sanctifies one’s alembic and asks for the water to now release the spirit of the green one directly into one’s vessel. Heads and hearts are acceptable for the spirit vessel, for this will not be consumed. If the fermentation took its course well, and if there were sufficient sugars in the plant chosen for fermenting, there should now be enough spirits to fill three fourths of your bottle. The head and hearts are received only. Once the heart is finished distilling, the heat is turned off and what is left within the alembic is given back to the land as an offering after it has cooled.
This is not intended as an instructional guide in the art of distilling or fermenting, as distillation can be relatively dangerous if not done with adequate knowledge and equipment. Know that in many parts of the world, especially the United States where this article is written, that the art of distillation is illegal and controlled, and must be done at the risk of one’s own freedom. It is recommended that prior to doing this work, that one has learned enough and gained enough confidence in the art to see it through.
Once our vessel is full of heads and hearts of the green spirit and recombined with sacred waters, we give the green spirit a body. While carrying the vessel into the life place, request the genius viridium to guide you to plants that you may ally yourself with to make the foundation of its body within the spirit vessel. Listen to nature, listen to the land, pay attention to how you feel and what you think. This is your guidance. Especially listen to your passive thoughts. This is the birth of the genius viridum fetish bottle that will be your guide and tutelary spirit within the green world that is your bioregion.
When you feel led to a plant, ask its permission to harvest. Again, if harvesting with tools be sure they have been purified and sanctified in your way. Invite the plant to live within your spirit vessel and be the body of the spirit within. Give a humble offering in your way to the plant, and harvest only a small amount of the plant to place within the bottle. This bottle will get filled within your lifetime with all of the plants growing within your bioregion that you are drawn to work with, or that introduce themselves to you, so be mindful of how much of the plant is added. Feel free to dedicate a full lunation to this path, or even a full year harvesting plants that can only be harvested seasonally or within particular eco-niches within your bioregion.
Additional methodologies can be venerated during this process of creating the body of the genius viridium. Plants can be harvested during specific corresponding planetary elections, and all added during specific beneficial and corresponding astrological times, remembering that wise old adage, “as above so below.” Another possible methodology would be to add for the base body of the fetish seven plants, each with correspondences to the seven planets, harvested on the days and hours corresponding with the plants’ ruling planets. Plants can also be harvested and added during a year’s time on specific venerations of the equinoxes and solstices.
The wisdom of the possible method of adding seven plants to represent all corresponding planets is not to be ignored, for one would have a complete body representing every corresponding field in which the plant world may aid us in our lives. For the cunning distiller, or master of the alchemical process of making herbal spagyrics, a few drops of spagyric of each plant can be added alternately. As always with magic, the possibilities are endless and only limited by our knowledge and imagination.
Finally one is to ritually seal a drop of one’s own blood within the bottle, though some may feel that this action is outside of their accepted beliefs and practice. For those who feel the addition of a drop of their blood is not required, I would insist they meditate deeply upon the subject prior to making that decision. The addition of one drop of our blood cultivates a pact, marriage, or synergistic bonding with the spirit in the bottle. The act symbolically links one to the genius viridium, allowing us to work as one.
Relate to the genius viridum, once the vessel is complete, as a great teacher, a great healer, a living sentient being, and guide. If one establishes a communicative level of depth with the spirit, one can learn a great deal. It may request additional plants be added to it for you to work with over time, or a great many that one already works with. It will be an intermediary in plant spirit communication, granting all plants that are added to the vessel over time its powerful voice that is now heard within the initiate to its mysteries. For the very act of creating this spirit bottle is an initiation and entrance into the green intelligence of the bioregion you are an intimate part of.
The bottle should be kept in a safe place, an altar, or a shrine dedicated to it. Candles may be burned to venerate it along with locally harvested aromatic plants. Small vials can be taken with it when wildcrafting, or performing healing work in another area. Also, work can be done to learn healing songs, rituals, or methods to evoke the plant spirits added to the bottle to aid in healing or magic directly without need of their body, i.e., the plant itself. In every respect of the word, however, it should never be treated as an object or tool that is used, or a source of power the practitioner of the green arts can wield. It should always be remembered. It should always be related to as a being of much power that is one’s elder, teacher, and guide. It must be worked with and not used, or the strength of the relationship between human person and the other than human person that lives within the bottle will diminish until that sad day it leaves its house altogether. Then we will no longer hear its voice or feel its guidance, and we will have disrespected a great opportunity to be a part of the green mysteries themselves.
Verdant Gnosis: Cultivating the Green Path (Rubedo Press, 2015) features selections by international authorities—from professional plant alchemists, shamanic herb-masters, to bioregional animists—sharing their wisdom about the spiritual path of working with the mysterious intelligence of the plant kingdom. All the contributors to Verdant Gnosis will be speaking at the inaugural Viridis Genii Symposium in Damascaus Oregon, July 31 – August 2, 2015, a new annual conference dedicated to plant magic, mysticism, and medicine.