Flight soundtrack, Anthrax,
VGS was the target.
Into the house of Storax
Along the wooded market.
Comradery in darkness
And Ointments of night,
Truth bright as starkness,
Another nocturnal delight.
In the early days of my witchery, I was obsessed with plant magick. I consumed any and all books on healing, hexing, spirit journeying and entheogens. The plants of magick always held my attention as their mystery is in plain sight...only those sensitive or curious enough to access can find. In my fledgling years I experimented with any and all ways of connecting. I made teas of mugwort and chamomile for lunar workings with my coven or to induce prophetic dreaming. I produced sachets or gris-gris bags for fertility and money with patchouli, green rice and other potent materia magica. I was lucky enough to have a teacher who’s consort took me into the mountains of Shasta every August, to gather under the auspices of full lunar light wild mugwort, pennyroyal, desert sage, mullein and rose hips. We fed the dragons of this volcanic land, springs given offerings of honeyed-milk and strong spirits, the trees sentinels of our gratitude. We made fluid condensers, witches’ candles, herbal charms to hang in our homes. I wanted to go further, explore deeper mysteries of poisons and witching herbs associated with baneful workings. At one point I remember, in my inexperienced and adventurous mind, grinding up morning glory seeds to make a powerful tea in an attempt to recreate spiritual awakenings. Needless to say, I was lucky there was no kidney failure as I vomited and shit my brains out for 8 hours. I never saw any visions as the poison slowly worked its way through my body...but I learned a powerful lesson in entheogens: leave processing to experienced professionals.
When I became a mother I left behind these dangerous and magickal plants; the fear of my daughter accidentally handling or ingesting them changed my praxis and attitude. I worked with more accessible and safer ingredients, which I discovered were equally as potent. I learned the necromantic ways of yarrow, the purifying power of basil, how a plant’s healing can be accessed through flower essences and other more subtle measures. I became more sensitive to their communication as I grew my witches’ garden in containers, placed high to be out of reach from small fingers. Now she is older, becoming much wiser than I in her magickal explorations, and I have begun to revisit these old friends. In only the last few years have I kept plants again; many are fairly harmless but potent allies in witchery.
In an attempt to immerse myself in the verdant current again, I attended the wild and weedy adventure of Viridis Genii Symposium. Sorted into cabins named after various herbs, much as the houses of Hogwart's in the Harry Potter series, I was happy to know most of my room mates already. Situated right next to the market, and conveniently the bathroom, we had full access to all the wonderful wares and craftspeople at our very doorstep. It was almost overwhelming to see the creative arts made available, and even being created publicly over the course of our weekend. It felt like we were all on a journey together, sharing space and knowledge of our common passion.
The first morning included a walk through the nearby woods and then the keynote speaker, Karin Di Giacomo, a Hermeticist and Herbalist. Di Giacomo was an excellent orator, especially considering German was her first language. Personal, kindly and brimming with knowledge of the greenways, it was easy to fall into her charm. Exploring the terms Mysticism (experience), Gnosis (sharing of information) and Magic (action of will) throughout her talk was refreshing ,as most presenters generally tend to assume everyone’s definition is the same. Di Giacomo spoke about these perspectives to approach when getting to know plants... the various levels of intuitive connection. It really came together when she shared as an example Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum), found to be rich in German folklore, especially surrounding the making of summer wines. A bag was passed around and I stuck my nose right in. This was to be a recurring theme of the entire weekend: scents and smells intoxicating my spirit.
The first official lecture was given by Brandon Weston, who shared local lingo and methodology of folk medicine in the bioregional landscape of the Ozark Mountains. The nature-based resources for healing came from what residents call ‘yarbs’, practical herbal application for remedies of physical ailments. There are also more ‘faith-based’ herbal medicines that can sometimes include the employment of talismans, counseling services and physical paraphernalia such as feathers and stones. I found this to be especially of interest to me as I have ancestors from the region; one being my Great-Grandfather who was a well known faith-healer.
Later in the day was a very entertaining and confirming (for me) lecture by Daniel Schulke, the topic being Phytognosis: knowledge passed on to practitioners through interaction with plants. I found this to primarily be a great sharing of ethics and experience from Schulke, who shared real tales of caution and insights from his decades of work. Some truths he shared included reminders to recognize limitations in both plants and humans alike, the power of First Vision, using discernment when sharing /using information given by the plant..
The next morning’s 2 highlights for me were lectures presented by first Ella von Castel, “Ars Moriendi: Verdant Allies in the Kingdom of Death” and Vex Blóðstjarna, “Verdant Versipellis: the Arte and Role of Flora and Entheogens in Shape-Shifting”, both of Ars Feralis. Von Castel reminded me of all the beauty surrounding funerary rites in Ancient Egypt while exploring different herbs associated with them, which also included several multicultural connexions. Some favorites she discussed were juniper (Tibet), sandalwood (India) and the blue lotus (Egypt). Blóðstjarna’s topic was even more fascinating, including strange stories of lycanthropic tomatoes and beer wolves. His presentation style was easygoing and funny, which made me want to listen for longer than his allocated hour. But really, this was true for all the presenters.
By far the lecture I was entranced with most was with Julia Semproniana of Occvlta, who traveled all the way from the Pyrenees to present at VGS on the topic of thorns. I think it was especially important how Semproniana explained the difference between witchcraft (maleficum) and folk magic, which tends to be more in defense of witches (beneficum). Witchcraft is, in fact, practiced by spirits and not humans within the cultural context of this region. Typical of many European traditions, there was a lot of overlapping with Catholic folk praxis; which included the remembrance of Christ’s crucifixion thorns when worn as a protective amulet (briar rose) and tool of cursing (blackthorn).
There was also afternoons filled with hands-on workshops, for those of us who paid in advance. In addition to Di Giacomo’s lecture I attended her workshop, in which we created spagyrics based on the elemental expressions of certain materials; this subtle alchemy had both practical and metaphysical results. For example, a fire remedy was created with motherwort and oil to create a spicy, upward energy for action of will. The oil was key to this infusion as it feeds fire...so does it naturally draw out the effective plant properties. The other workshop I took was dealing with plants and other materials associated with second sight, facilitated by herbal-folklorist Corrine Boyer. We started with a great discussion of plants which help in communication and assistance from ancestors/human dead; those made in offering of safety, and for clarification/discernment with them. Afterwards we were able to apply this knowledge in the creation of a fumigation blend and a scrying powder for communication with the Dead.
I did skip out on a few lectures, being my first year in attendance and the fun distraction of a scavenger hunt. I was sorry to have missed some sensual, hilarious and amazing presentations/workshops. It was already overwhelming the amount of information exchanged over the course of one weekend, among both the scheduled lineup and the interaction with other patrons.
In making these formulas of Elements, of Necromancy… I found the process so much simpler than my own. No need to be consecrating this tool or that part: the herbs brought their own magick that did not need dedication at every step. It reminded me to work with what is already in my own landscape, and not some faraway land... someplace romanticized by novelty and nostalgia that I will probably never experience. I have no blackthorns or yew trees near me, but there are thousands of invasive blackberry bushes and mullein stalks standing like towers everywhere. Our ancestors brought with them the knowledge of our Ancestral Folk when they immigrated, but had to adapt their practices to this New World to what grew here.
Magick just accepts whatever qualities are already naturally inherent in the materials being used. Everything in the natural world contains all four elements, with one or two being dominant; but everything in this world is already perfected in both it’s raw and decaying existence. It was at the end of this weekend I realized that we, living people, are built this way as well. No matter the imperfections, any attempt to change the undesirable nature of our Selves erodes at the magick already present. The potentiality of power is diminished by an overbearing person; much as a large obtrusive plant can take nutrients and sunshine away from others. Even in the shade of enchanted forests, a moldy dog turd can be an unusual fungus...in the right light, beauty and magick is found.