Article original d’Angelina.
The Garden of the Gods
Urgently moving beneath our feet is the embodiment of life itself; in all its various cycles and stages of evolution and destruction. The beauty that emerges from the depths of our world is not always obvious like the towering tree or the beautiful lilly, and it is not necessarily a pestilence, as dandelion and hedge morning glory are often believed to be. The green world is more than the plants and trees, the low shrubs and creeping vines. It is more than river water, fungi, ocean spray, yellow dune grass or soft emerald moss. It is the entire function of the world, of nature. It is the sacred balance between the sun, our atmosphere, the rotation of our planet, the position of our moon, the ocean pulled by the moon, the seasons controlled by the tilt of our planet as she warms her broad, round face against the light of the sun. The world as the system of nature we are dependent on is mistress of functions, cycles, rhythms, random order and evolution of life. In this way, she is EVERYTHING that matters in the end for our species of animal, and all others she has spent the last few billion years working at.
To the typical animist; emanating and pulsing within all living things is some kind of life, a soul, a spirit, anam, flame, spark- something alive in its own mysterious way. To many pagans and perhaps traceable through the reasoning of anthropology, the cultural entities we’ve called on through history may have began their existence as embodiments of nature, given their humanity by mankind. Agricultural deities, seasonal deities and gods of natural functions are a part of every old mythology, and I personally believe this speaks to our deepest animal roots. Nature and how she works is divine. The green path is not merely an interest in pretty flowers or a talent for working the garden- it is a spiritual understanding and reverence for all the aspects of nature that we draw our lives from. Stone, sea, herb and tree- it is the foundation for life as we know it, and in this way, green witches are stewards of the land.
The definition of green witchcraft in the eyes of the wider pagan world seems to be the object of some confusion. I can’t speak for all green witches, but I do know there are some definitions out there that don’t do this green path justice or outright confuse it with new-age or contemporary movements like neo-wicca and wicca. Despite what you may read in popular literature sold at major book-chains, green witchcraft is not necessarily the « path of faery and faery magic », nor is it some sort of blend of ceremonial/high magic and wicca.
While I think Moura is an excellent author and I’ve appreciated her books in introducing me to some interesting ideas, I would classify her literature as green wicca, not green witchcraft. The reason for this is simple: there are no set laws, rules, regulations or dogma in green witchcraft- which is not a specific religion as much as a practice, and for some of us, a lifestyle. Her books reflect a level of wiccan liturgy that is not universal or widely used in greencraft. For example, green witches in general do not automatically adhere to duotheism, which Moura broadly assigns to GW. Though it may refer to her tradition, it doesn’t quite apply to all traditions of greencraft.
The Green Tradition of Witchcraft sees the aspects of the Divine All as separate and united as Goddess, God and Both.- Ann Moura, Grimoire for the Green Witch, p.5
Arin Murphy Hiscock, author of The Way of the Green Witch is another popular author I appreciate, and I think she has a more realistic view of non-wiccan greencraft than many popular GW authors:
A green witch usually works alone, interacting primarily with the natural world. Historically, a green witch lived apart, using the energies of plants and trees around her to heal others. Those who needed her services traveled to see her. These days, a green witch is more likely to be living in the middle of a city or in the suburbs, and her garden is likely to be small. –Arin Murphy Hiscock, The Way of the Green Witch, p.1
The arbitrary « wiccaning » of greencraft is probably due to a poor understanding of witchcraft itself or an unfortunate amount of non-acceptance of non-wiccan witchcraft which makes it hard to market literature geared towards the broader world of practice. One thing I am certain of in my own research and my own practice is that green witchcraft is not comparable to wicca, it does not come from the same sources, it does not include laws, rules or spiritual beliefs unique to wicca and is definitely not ruled by the same religious cosmology. The path is more abstract than that.
The Rules of Conduct
1. Be careful what you do
2. Be careful who you trust
3. Do not use the Power to hurt another, for what is sent comes back
4. Never use the Power against someone who has the Power, for you draw front he same well.
5. To raise the Power you must feel it in your heart and know it in your mind.
[Words repeated through my maternal line since 1890] – Ann Moura, Grimoire for the Green Witch, p.8
Respectfully, I don’t think these statements are representative of green witchcraft- which has no particular moral compass. Spiritual morals in the craft of any kind is up to the individual or their tradition. And if the above statements were meant to apply solely to her line of tradition, I don’t believe it’s accurate to attach these neo-wiccanesque beliefs to green witchcraft itself.
Simply put, green witchcraft cannot be defined in a religious context or compared to other traditions: it is energy work or « magic », devotion and spiritual stewardship that revolves entirely around nature, the phenomenon that effect our planet (the moon, sun), the cycles of our seasons and the medicine (both spiritual and physical) that comes from plants.
The green witch does not have a passive interest in « magical herbalism »; they have an intense focus on the lore of the trees, the animal story tellers in the wild, the sacred uses of minerals and waters, and the spiritual medicine of baleful herbs. They typically also have a desire to seek healing from plants in the garden and in the wild, and devote to the rhythmic movement of ever-changing life. The seasonal markers; solstices and equinoxes would hold more value to a green witch than the cultural festivals of the Wheel of the Year, though through circumstance and personal interest, some of us, myself included, do incorporate a wheel of the year in our own individual way (my wheel has many spokes). This is something in GW that I fell in love with, your freedom to choose the way we practice this natural energy without restraint, laws or made up dogma. In whatever way the earth’s heartbeat speaks to you, that is the way to go.
Folkloric Witchcraft and the Forest Doorway
In my path, green witchcraft is a folkloric tradition of witchcraft- combining our primordial relationship to the green growing world with supernatural or « magical » practices that usually reflect a devotion to the spirit world through the doorway of nature; shapeshifting, crossing/traveling, walking the land, spirit flight, spirit-aided healing, cursing, etc. The door to the otherworld lies along the Ghost Roads, which cross each other in sacred lines along the land. It is a place of power that is utilized by green witches who are keeping-the-weald, performing a devotion to a piece of land, sacred grove or natural spring. The otherworld mirrors our own, and we are a pale reflection of that otherworldy beauty. I believe the otherworld, a place we are so intrinsically drawn to, is the pure truth of things which illuminates our own world. We are reflecting the light like the moon to the sun, and oh how beautiful the otherworld must be if our own lush land is so exquisite.
For the Fae-world is the fire, and our world the pale luminescent halo of the fire…
The Fae-world contains the pureness of things, the reality of things, the perpetual pure fountain that is matrix to things, and everything that spontaneously leaps from the unseen into the seen is only a passing simulacrum, a ghost, a fraction of its source. -Robin Artisson, The Ressurection of the Meadow, p.82
Through nature, some of us find a swifter and more spiritual root to the inner darkness, the illumination of the soul and the otherworld. Folklore and faery tales from around the world encompass tales of how the otherworld may be reached through travel in the forest, or getting lost in the woods: be it Goldilocks, Gretel or the Golden Key, each found their way to something magical. The mystical relationship between the other-worlds and ours has not disappeared.
Forging a special relationship with some piece of land or aspect of the garden is important to me and other GW’s I know. It can be called protecting the grove, meadow-watching, guardianship, tree-tending or, for me, keeping-the-weald. Every forest has a heart, or sacred wells of energy that may want or even need protection from the every-day person who lacks any respect for the forest… and that’s a lot of people. A green witch may have some special plot in the woods or special tree in the garden that they clean, feed offerings, till, tend, prune- any number of caring. This isn’t done in expectation of receiving some power in return, it’s done to protect the beauty of that place and revel in its bounty. This draws from our roots in worship of sacred groves:
Amongst the Celts the oak-worship of the Druids is familiar to every one, and their old word for sanctuary seems to be identical in origin and meaning with the Latin nemus, a grove or woodland glades which still survives in the name of Nemi. Sacred groves were common among the ancient germans and tree worship is hardly extinct amongst their descendants at the present day. -Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough
Tree and grove worship takes place in the history and myths of many cultures; from India to West Africa, from the coastal people of the Northwest to the indigenous people of Japan. It’s easy to see why we value trees, meadows and sacred springs even today. They are wells of life, wells of knowledge, the spiritual fountains of the land.
The native peoples of European lands knew the sacred had manifested most profoundly among them as the tree-beings, their benefactors, and therefore a great magic was associated with them and paramount importance given to their well-being.– Rosa Romani, Poppy Palin, Rae Beth, Green Spirituality: Magic in the Midst of Life, p.12
Part of being a green witch is becoming as skilled in wildcrafting as you’d like and being familiar with the land you live on. Wildcrafting for medicinal herbs, edibles, and materials for magical practice will always be more powerful than purchasing ingredients through a middle-man because it forces you to take responsibility for your actions and to face the plant you are crafting from, or killing, face-to-face. There is a lot of honor in facing your prey. Americans and most first-worlders are so far removed from the gory reality of death or the end of life in general that the idea of going out and facing our prey is incredibly repellant on any level. I don’t share this view the way I did as a teenager. Now, I craft my own supplies or buy from other witches who collect/obtain their herbs respectfully.
There is something primally satisfying about eating something you grew in your own garden or dug from the wild. There’s something deeply captivating about drying and brewing your own teas, boiling herbs in animal fats for your own salve, grinding powders from flowers you collected with permission from the earth. It takes skill, time, and education to be able to masterfully wildcraft, and it’s an ongoing process. I am still working on it myself.
Inner Roots and the Spirit Roads
The Green Path in witchcraft is not something I believe you can learn only from books; it’s experiential, requiring trial and error, practice and patience. I don’t believe that it is wholly good or wholly bad- I believe it is reflective of nature- neutral and incapable of choosing one extreme above the other. Nature functions as destroyer and creator, a cycle of life that is not evil because a hurricane destroys a city, or good because sun warms our crops, it is simply pure in its balance of endings and beginnings- life and death. Experiencing greencraft means a lot of things; studying plants and plant lore, learning to wildcraft, knowing your environment and the animals there, applying the beauty of herbs to your rituals, communicating with the flora and fauna, offering some sort of service or sacrifice back to the earth, being a part of nature rather than living apart from nature.
We all have our own interests and skills on the Virid Road, in the Green Woman’s Garden. Some of us bridge the green garden with the kitchen (kitchen witchcraft) and bind these compatible practices into a factory of creation. Some of us see the personal garden as a microcosm of the great garden and seek to make it as whole as we can. Some specialize in physical healing, others in spiritual hexing. Some of us master divination through plants and their spiritual guidance. Some traditions of greencraft follow the road of the pharmakeia, others follow the seasons and the tides of magic of the wheel. Some are more spiritual and intuitive in their knowledge gathering, while others start with medical science and work with the biological functions of a plant before seeking the spirit. Green witchcraft, in essence, describes the collective nature-venerating practices that modern witches feel drawn to- from the wisdom of the ancients to the concerns of the future. There is no « one » green path, there is only the ideology of connection to the divine and spirits through our progenitor; earth.
Though green witchcraft is a magical practice, it can manifest itself as a religious practice and a private tradition. A green witch may be a polytheist, or an atheist, a worshiper of nature spirits (which for some involve the fey and the dead), or worship cultural deities who represent functions in nature. Shamanism, particularly plant shamanism is often utilized (with care and respect), because who better understands animism and the spiritual calling to plants than the shamans of Siberia, the curanderas of Central America, the ayahuascero of South America and various other spirit-workers and soothsayers in the indigenous world? Shamans (in the common non-cultural use of the term) are those in some tribal cultures who understood the spirituality of the herbal world, not just the magic. They are not witches, though witches have always combined their indigenous/shamanic practices with their own necromancy and energy work. The shaman is a mediator between spirits, and plant spirits are among the most revered for their abundant healing and harming abilities.
The spirits have a special place in any animistic faith, and green witches are by nature, animists. The spirits of the world who were once living and those who have never shared the fleshy form are still a part of our world, and many of us believe that they move with us as we pass between worlds. Faith in the spirits has a unique place in earth-worship, because we are tying the seen and the unseen together by worshiping the invisible through the visible realm. I honor the spirit of the tree by feeding honey to it’s branches, milk and wine to its roots. I honor my ancestors through nature by walking along crossroads and leaving gifts for the beloved dead there. Through the doorway of the land, we pass into the otherworld and back again, never forgetting to serve both worlds through nature.
Mentioned, with thanks:
- Green Spirituality: Magic in the Midst of Life By Rosa Romani, Poppy Palin, Rae Beth
- Green Witchcraft: Folk Magic, Fairy Lore & Herb Craft by Ann Moura
- Grimoire for the Green Witch by Ann Moura
- The Golden Bough By Sir James George Frazer
- The Resurrection of the Meadow by Robin Artisson
- The Way of the Green Witch by Arin Murphy Hiscock
Beginning reads for green path walkers:
- Earth, Air, Fire & Water by Scott Cunningham
- Whispers from the Woods: The Lore and Magic of Trees by Sandra Kynes
- Mastering Herbalism: A Practical Guide by Paul Huson
- Wildflower Folklore by Laura C. Martin
- Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody
- Garden Flower Folklore (Insiders Guide: Off the Beaten Path) by Laura C. Martin
- The Folklore of Trees and Shrubs by Laura C. Martin
- Folklore and Symbolism of Flowers, Plants and Trees (Dover Pictorial Archives) by Ernst Lehner
- Earth Magic: A Wisewoman’s Guide to Herbal, Astrological, and Other Folk Wisdom by Claire Nahmad
- Wildcrafting: Harvesting the wilds for a living : brush-picking, fruit-tramping, worm-grunting, and other nomadic livelihoods by Jack McQuarrie
- Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places by Steve Brill and Evelyn Dean
- Plant Spirit Healing: A Guide to Working with Plant Consciousness by Pam Montgomery
- Plant Spirit Shamanism: Traditional Techniques for Healing the Soul by Ross Heaven
Books related to the bridge between nature and spirit world:
- Witchcraft Medicine: Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices, and Forbidden Plants by Claudia Müller-Ebeling, Christian Rätsch and Wolf-Dieter Storl Ph.D.
- Nature Spirits & Elemental Beings: Working with the Intelligence in Nature by Marko Pogacnik