When I first came to live with the hubster and his brood, I was at the end of an incredibly stressful decade of moving from place to place, relationship to relationship, and personal crisis to personal crisis (Hi kids, can you say Saturn return?). Most of these moves involved living in shabby apartments in poor areas of cities where, if there was anything green growing, you would have to move a bunch of trash to get to it, and you probably wouldn’t want to touch it because stray dogs and cats had probably gotten to it first. I had been trying to learn about herbs for several years; I had learned a bit, but what I knew didn’t involve recognizing very many plants. I didn’t know for sure what Mugwort looked like, didn’t know Plantain or Cleavers either. I could have identified Lavender and Dandelions (probably, although I might have been fooled by the almost-look-alikes), but that was about it.
So the hubster’s little raggle-taggle acre in the country was pure heaven. Oh my goddess look–green things! Everywhere! Oh crap I don’t know what ANYTHING is.
There was this tree at the edge of the property. Not a very big tree (at the time), but in the spring it had these delicate white blossoms, and the bees came to them in droves. But I had to be careful if I wanted to cut some–sharp, hard thorns. I watched as spring swung in to summer, and the flowers were replaced by hard little green berries. I felt powerfully drawn to this thorny little tree, even though the hubster (back then, the boyfriend) complained about getting stabbed by her when he tried to mow around her. I didn’t know what kind of tree she was, but I knew she was powerfully magical. I could feel love and protection coming from her, but also sensed a fierceness about her. She was a tree to be respected. She was a tree that kept company with faeries–and not the sweet little flower faeries, to be sure.
Finally I visited the Tree identification guide at the Arbor Day Foundation website, and discovered to my great delight that my mystery tree was a Hawthorne. All of what I sensed about this tree was confirmed, once I had a name, and could do some book research.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but Hawthorne was a gateway for me to the whole concept of working with the plants that grow around you for healing and magic. I don’t often talk specifically on this blog about my spiritual path, and I almost never talk about magic. But I can’t discuss Hawthorne without talking about both, because I knew her as a sacred and magical entity before I understood her effect on the physical body.
So now I have to take a side track for a bit, and talk about my beginnings with my spiritual path. I came to my path during those same turbulent years in which I stumbled from one difficult situation to another, after having parted ways with my childhood faith shortly after college. I did what many people do when they start exploring neo-paganism; I read books by Scott Cunningham and Gerina Dunwich and Laurie Cabot, and they all told me I needed lots of accessories to be a pagan, and also, the herbs I would need to be a good pagan were mostly from very very far away, or at least from somewhere hot (for example, you CANNOT be a pagan without white sage!!!! Even if you live in the moldy Willamette valley where it’s almost impossible to keep the stuff alive over the winter. Or do I just have a black thumb?).
Back to the subject at hand then! The more I learned, and the more I got in touch with spirit and myself, the more I began to feel that the plants we use for ceremony (and magic, if we choose to practice it) are best when they grow close to home, just like the plants we use for medicine. How could I understand the magic of a plant that I’d never seen when it was alive? How could I truly understand the energies of a plant that I couldn’t even RECOGNIZE if I came face to leaf with it? Hawthorne is the perfect example: I read about the tree’s magical nature in many places, but until I stood before her I couldn’t feel that potent energy. Now I know her as an amazing spirit ally.
So around here, it isn’t just back yard herbalism, it’s back yard magic too. I use plants that grown on my property for smudge or loose incense–Mugwort, Garden Sage, Red Cedar, Lavender Foliage, Rosemary, Roses, etc.–and for any other part of ceremony. I rarely do what I would call “magic”, but when that seems appropriate, I call on the friends who grow around me for that too. And they participate eagerly; they probably think it’s all a great game.