Plant shamanism, nature spirits and vibrational essences.
The first stirrings of spring, longer days, and the first flowers breaking through the soil signify for many a rebirth within, where the mantle of winter is cast off and new energies are welcomed into our lives. This resurgence of the green world all around us may become a time when our awareness of the intelligences in nature increases and we may feel the presence of the spirits of trees and other plants in a new and vibrant way. Every culture has its versions of nature spirits, inhabiting the trees and the flowers, stirring in the wind and the rain. They have many names and stories attached to them, and their relationships with humans vary as much as ours do with each other. But their presence, and their sharing the world with us at the periphery of our awareness is taken for granted in many parts of the world. In the West they are commonly known as dryads and devas today. Dryads, once the name for oak tree spirits in Ancient Greece has now become a generic name for all tree spirits, and devas, the glowing spirits of plants in Indian Hindu tradition has now become a popular name for plant spirits of all kinds.
Nature spirits are wild, unfettered and sometimes mystified by our attempts to fit them in to our belief systems and hierarchies, following their own natures regardless of our
metaphysical pruning. As both Hindu tradition and our own native spiritualities teach,
plant spirits in particular hold the ‘perfect’ pattern of the plants that are their physical aspect, just as our souls do. But while they do not see themselves as separate from or superior to their physical form, they too rely on the cycles of growth and decay. They embody vitality and primal knowing; more ‘present’ and existent in ‘the now’ than many humans. If we can only free ourselves from human-centric thinking, where everything in creation exists merely for us, they can teach us about connection, and harmony with nature. From that core experience, all else may follow as surely as summer follows spring. The spirits of trees and flowers are as individual and intelligent as the more obvious souls of animals and humans. Sometimes the experience of connecting with devas is described as contacting a place of light, and indeed this is a part of reality for these beings. But it should be remembered that the realm of devas and dryads is also supremely primal, ultimately physical, a place of deep nurturing earth, the restful darkness of the mother and her endless pulsing fecundity.
The core practice of communing with nature spirits, in druidry, witchcraft, and shamanism the world over is essentially the same, and with patience and respectful intent can be experienced by anyone, regardless of belief. These are the plant spirit allies of indigenous shamans, the stone allies, the elementals, crystal spirits, and the witches familiars that have always assisted otherworldly workers and healers across the centuries. As such there are time worn paths that help the seeker build relationships with them, to attain their friendship and assistance. The experience of this alone provides excellent spiritual tuition and is healing in itself. This is because nature spirits of all kinds do not experience separation from each other and the world as humans do but are aware of their endless dance to and from the Source, and feel the connection to everything, the oneness of existence, in a way we do not. Thus, as we touch the spirits of nature around us, we take another step towards Source and this draws blessings which ripple out across the world.
To commune with these beings first we must still our inner chatter, and re-affirm our connection with the earth. Just breathing deeply is a start, and focusing our attention on a chosen tree or flower. Beginning with trees or other large plants is easiest. Often offerings are then made- as ritualised exchanges they form a pattern of communication that echoes the ceremonies of our ancestors. These can be as simple as a gift of water, or a song. Each culture has its own preferences and traditions regarding the offering. For example the Native American traditions include offerings of tobacco to the four directions in order to harmonise with the natural order, but over all it seems that heartfelt respect and tenderness are the most important qualities regarding an offering. Then, slowly, by simply breathing with our chosen tree, feeling our energy descend into the roots below, and rising to the branches above, we align ourselves with the trees energetic pattern, and as such we are echoing the pattern of the tree or plant spirit, forming a basis for communion and communication. With increased steady breathing, a meditative state can be achieved, and by stretching our consciousness out to the plant we may receive flashes of images, feelings or even words that are the beginning of our dialogue. It may also mediate other nature spirits, and deeper otherworld beings, transmitting their healing to us.Sometimes connection
takes the form of a shamanic ‘journey’ where the plant spirit is encountered in its own realm, where the primal connectedness of creation is plain and directly experienced. At other times, these realities merge with our own, illuminating the mortal world around us. Often plant spirits are more emotional and intuitive than humans, and we clothe their communications with words that we may clarify the messages we receive. What we must remember is that they are not merely furniture in our imaginations, but are as sacred and valid as our own souls, and deserve as much respect as we wish for ourselves. Thus communion with Creation becomes possible, not merely connection with the parts we perceive as ‘higher’, but the deep, holistic connection that comes of knowing the earth our mother, as well as the heavens above, and holds both with the equal reverence they deserve.
When a good connection is made and fostered, plant and tree spirits are often very willing to help us and there are many ways of working with plant and tree spirits to draw healing and positive energy. These include flower and other vibrational essences, one of the most popular and effective forms of plant shamanism. Few realise the great antiquity of this type of medicine or its magical nature. The success of Dr Bach’s brand of flower essences have increased public awareness of these essences, and promoted a technique of making them by placing blooms into a glass bowl of spring water for several hours in direct sunlight. But there are many other techniques. The best essences are made with the conscious participation of the plant spirits involved, and can be made in a variety of ways, preferably following instruction from the deva itself. Vibrational essences work in the same way as direct devic contact, by overlaying the persons vibrational pattern with that of the deva/ dryad and drawing into a more positive state.All vibrational essences utilise the unique energetic and spiritually catalytic qualities of fresh spring water to hold the ‘pattern’ of the plant spirit, thus the spring water aligns with the water in the body, infusing it with the plant spirits vibrational pattern. Vibrational essences can be made with all manner of nature spirits, stones, ‘powers of place’ and weather fronts for example, but essences of plant spirits are the most common.
Vibrational essences made using the ‘sunlight’ method advocated by Dr Bach, involves cutting the flowers first, however, using spirit contact with the deva, and working entirely with the living plant, increases its potency and positive effects. This can be done simply by placing the water in a glass bowl amidst the flowers, in the tree branches etc, in sun or moonlight for a set time, or more spirit- lead techniques. Spirit led methods were used by the seers and cunning men and women of the British Isles for centuries before the modern druid and pagan revival, and sometimes involved the healer sharing their hands with their spirit ‘cousins’ who would empower the water for healing. Some still use these powerful techniques today, including myself, though I have found different nature spirits like to work in different ways, and each essence is made differently. Communion with the plant spirits and gratitude for their assistance are the most crucial factors.
There are many other forms of plant shamanism, and ancient techniques may sometimes be blended with modern insights so long as attention is made to ensuring the continuing participation of the spirits. Some other techniques include-
Medicine pouches: various dried power plants and herbs can be blessed and placed in a leather pouch to be worn against the skin. Often these are selected according to a specific healing purpose. Chamomile for easing anxiety, oak leaves for strength, rowan for protection, for example. Combinations of plants may also be used, which may or may not include ‘totem’ plant allies unique to the individual. The plants are preferably gathered after permission has been given and after having made offerings to their spirits. It is also best to cut the herbs using a bronze knife rather than using steel as this is in harmony with the plants energy field and does it less damage as well as maximising its positive energy for your use. By wearing the magically empowered herbs in the body’s energy field for a length of time, they can be a physically manifested anchor for the plants energetic qualities. The effectiveness of the pouch is increased by continued respect for the plant spirits and acknowledging of their assistance, by simple acts such as thanking them and speaking to them regularly throughout their use. Dried and empowered herbs may also be used in spell work in a similar way, or burnt in incense mixes.
Herbal medicine and herbal baths: Just as with medicine pouches, Herbs can be consciously gathered in partnership with the plant spirits, and ‘energised’ with blessing and simple acts such as consciously stirring tinctures, teas etc in a clockwise direction. Many cultures around the world use hallucinogenic herbal brews as allies to assist in shamanic vision and draw healing, but non- hallucinogenic herbs can be equally powerful for spiritual use, as well as the multitude of herbs used to heal physical conditions. By using fresh spring water for teas, herbal baths, etc, the living energy of the water adds extra positive energy to the brew and encourages the plant spirits assistance. By simply asking these beings to help, the physical herbal matter may regain much of its energetic qualities and maximise its effects. Only a little spring water is necessary in the bath to re-energise the tap water. Tinctures in organic alcohol provide a better atmosphere to attract the plant spirit to re-enter, which again can be called by simple invocations and offerings of song, either in situ next to the tincture, or to a living example of the plant, which will then direct some of its energy to the tincture, if it is respectfully asked and thanked.
Aromatherapy: Oils may be energised in the same ways, with blessings and invocations of the source plant spirits, which is enough to add a spiritual dimension to any healing massage. Adding energised oils and vibrational essences to baths with fresh spring water as described above is also an effective way to maximise the plant spirits assistance. Burning energised aromatherapy oil in burners is given extra positive energy if diluted in some fresh spring water and even more so if vibrational essences are then also added. In this way there is a union between the elements of spirit (the essence) earth (the plant) fire (the candle) water and air, as it evaporates into the atmosphere. This can become a very simple but effective way of working with plant spirits in the home to transform the feel of a room as well as give great healing energy to its occupants. It can harmonise all those within the room for greater domestic bliss.
Body work, posture and walking meditation; Amazingly, science has proved in the last few years something we all know; that merely spending time in nature is good for us and being in close proximity to plants and trees hastens the recovery from illness and eases the symptoms of many chronic conditions. It is particularly effective on the state of mind, and restores optimism, and relaxation. Simply put, we are natural beings and when we return to the natural environment our inner harmony is restored and our dis-ease is soothed and corrected. Walking meditation, where the emphasis is on being present to the moment, the mind focused simply but wholly on the experience, can be used to remind the body of its place in the natural world. The physical sensations; the breath in your lungs, the air on your skin, brings the environment into greater focus and aligns the human spirit with the surrounding spirit beings in the area, and the healthy flow of energy within and without is maximised. The same occurs using tai chi postures, or other energy raising techniques near trees, and asking them to assist in harmonising improving your health. By echoing the trees connection to both earth and sky, stretching out to be fully present here and now, the dryad’s energetic pattern may overlay our own, drawing it onto health and strength.
Working with plant spirits is a part of our ancestral consciousness, they are our primal spirit allies as well as being darlings of the new age. Individual experiences of them vary as do the ideologies and beliefs attached to them, and for some they have become part of the saccharine imaginings that have also demoted the powerful ‘shining ones’, the Sidhe of our Celtic ancestors, into the tiny glitter clad poster- girls of new age gift shops. To many they have become glossed over with pseudo- Christian beliefs, and thus it has become their duty to help us, even their penance as they try to ‘ascend’ to the position of angels in a hierarchy entirely of our imagining. Perhaps it is better to consider the dandelions breaking through the path, and the oak trees expanding through the centuries and let them draw us into a broader sense of consciousness. Their primal healing gifts, which once led humans to revere them and honour them as beings of great sanctity, has not been diminished; they remain as supportive of us as they are of bees in the blossom, and the birds in the branches. They help us not out of duty, but out of love and compassion.
First published in Avalon magazine. Spring 09. copyright Danu Forest 09