Jesse Wolf Hardin's Earth Magic
Plant & Seed
“ Show me a seed, and I’m prepared to show you a miracle. “ — Henry David Thoreau
Our relationship to any aspect of the living world depends upon our subjective identification with it, and the degree to which we recognize or “grant” it sentience: the ability to feel.
As a society we find it easier to attribute consciousness to humans alone, while even some Pagans and “Nature lovers” usually grant sentience only to those “higher life forms” that most obviously inspire, influence and animate our beings.
The power of archaic symbols is evident in their continuous use in distant and disparate cultures, on different continents, at around the same time. These include the sacred spiral, “skeletonized” animal art, the Earth Mother, the pyramid, the four directions, and the dwelling place of aspiring shamans: The Universal Tree of Life. Stories of a great unifying tree are told by a large number of primal societies, who generally situate it at the “center of the world.” It’s an amalgam, a composite of every vegetal form in existence. It can be accessed through the branches in any available forest, since the roots of one intertwine with the roots of every other, the roots of tall grasses exchanging hormonal and electrical signals with sunflowers and barrel cactus and florid vine. Linking the tissues and processes of each are mycorrhizal fungi assisting the transmission of chemically encoded information from individual to individual and species to species. Together they make up a circumglobal mat of interconnected plant forms, creating a continuous field of vegetal consciousness.
It is the plant’s desire to communicate with the animal world as well.
Flowers instruct insects to spread their pollen with a display of inviting colors and enticing smells. Fruit trees enlist the help of an expressive language of sugar and flavor, but it goes much further than that. Herbalists and wildcrafters have long taught how to locate, identify or narrow down the likely medicinal uses of a plant by reading its “signature.” For example, a curandera may recognize the antibiotic or diuretic properties of an unfamiliar herb through careful observation of its color, leaf configuration, surface texture, and the specific environment in which it grows. When indigenous healers are pressed as to how they know these things, a common reply is, “the plant told me.” And indeed it did!
To morally justify the wholesale alteration, depletion and suffering of the natural world, such a society must convince itself that the world cannot feel. And likewise, any recognition of the sensitive life force in plants and other lifeforms must surely lead to a more generous and compassionate way of touching, effecting and impacting them. When one becomes conscious of a plant’s pain, every “harvest” is undertaken with the focus on gratitude and prayer, every bite becomes communion. And every forest or meadow endangered by greedy development becomes a personal call to respond.
Experimenters Cleve Backster and Paul Sauvin independently attached increasingly more sensitive polygraph electrodes directly to the leaves of various houseplants in laboratory tests. Surprisingly the graph needles jumped whenever a burning match was placed directly beneath any leaf of the tested plant. What’s more, there were indications of a fear response before a match ever came near them, while they showed no reaction if the experimenter merely pretended to light one. It was as if they could sense his intentions through a reading of his projected energy. Plants Sauvin raised from seed became increasingly more sensitive to his moods and needs as their interspecies intimacy developed. The most dramatic response he ever recorded coincided exactly with the times he had an orgasm with his girlfriend, although whether out of learned jealousy or vicarious joy no one can say!
With every species of plant driven into extinction, the Earth sacrifices one of her sensory organs/organisms, another link in the associated patterns of information that serve as her memory, and we lose another important instructor and inspiriteur. Plants are the metastable “yin” aspects of composite Gaia-- a transcontinental mantle of green wisdom awaiting the deliberate quest, the quieting mind, the surrender to stillness and commitment to place necessary for us to truly understand and “grok” their flowering gnosis.
It’s far easier for children, who up until a certain point remain limitless primal beings, fully conscious of the spirit in things green and growing. Before the arrogance of adulthood dulled my senses, I luxuriated in whatever suburban foliage I could find. I would take great pains to avoid any contact with the monotony of bone-jarring concrete, ever trying to leap the flat driveways that separated each square of living lawn. In military school, I took refuge in the concealing arms of a giant avocado tree when it came time for organized sports or bizarre, pointless marching back and forth across the walled-in lot. Respect came naturally for the way that “weeds” punctuated and reinhabited the sterile, colored-gravel yards of the too-busy. I was inspired by how quickly bushes trimmed and formed into perfect squares or inglorious cartoon caricatures recaptured their ragged, nonlinear shapes. Later the budding delinquent in me fell in love with the way leaves would lay claim to a freshly raked sidewalk, seeming not only alive but willful in the no nonsense way one might expect from heroes or outlaws.
Let’s admit it: we love plants. We love them because they bloom life in the compost-heap of death. Because they get energy from light, feed on our exhalation and breathe oxygen into our lungs. We have to love “weeds” because they’ve been labeled by society, and so have we. Because they’re irrepressible, swallow all the herbicides any pricey golf course can throw at them and still come up smiling. We love trees that live five hundred years, and plants that graciously return to the soil they came from in but a single splendid season, in a summer of no regret!
We’re wild about wildflowers because nobody planted them or paid for them, and they’d be content to shine their colors with or without human audience. Wildflowers know that flattery is often accompanied by swift moving shears, and we love them for teaching us that. We love plants because of the ways babies and old people touch them, and the look they bring to a lover’s eye. We love trees for their cooling presence and gnarly exposed roots, making offerings to the deities of dirt. We love bushes for hiding us in their calm hollow centers when we need to be alone. It makes us happy to pinch the bulbs of beached kelp, and lick the interior of honeysuckle blossoms. We love the way briars spread their blackberry propaganda through the entrails of sugar-buzzed birds.
The seedy grin of the sunflower. The vulva-like folds of the Datura’s blossom, essential ingredient in the witches flying potion. We love the way oranges make our tongues tingle, and how we feel after eating a bowl of fresh sprouts.
We likely love live plants as much as we distrust artificial ones, because the real ones can feel. It may tickle us the way cholla cactus and stinging nettle teach us where to step, and this pleases other lifeforms as well. We love dandelions because they’re feral and tasty and proliferate in the glass-strewn lots next to abandoned tenement houses. We surely thrill to see them poke their cheery blossoms up through the cracks in uptown sidewalks. We’re enamored with luminescent lichen because they eat and excrete rocks, and nobody’s that bad!
The bottom line is we love plants because they are beautiful and essential, because we depend on them for shelter, food and air.... but it is really so much more than that! They’re noble cotravelers on this great voyage of evolution with us, strange wizards of wonder, teachers of rootedness and resolve. We are inextricably related. We are family and kin.
And thus from atop beds of grass, from beneath the leafen arbor we tumble forth? offspring of Gaia, inheritors of the Green. In every seed a miracle, and each of us a seed: the seeds of possibility and passion, reparation and responsibility, wholeness and healing. Precious seeds of hope.
*Jesse Wolf Hardin* is a teacher of Earth-centered spirituality and nature magick, living seven river crossings from a road in an ancient place of power. His latest effort is _Gaia Eros: Reconnecting With The Magic & Spirit Of Nature_ (New Page 2004), a book acclaimed by Starhawk as "a must-read for those who want to worship nature not as an abstraction but in ways sensual, practical, and transformative.” When not presenting at conferences and festivals he can be found hosting seekers for retreats, quests, events, workshops and resident internships at their enchanted wilderness sanctuary: Animá Center PO Box 688, Reserve, NM 87830 email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit Jesse's website by going here http://www.animacenter.org/
©Jesse Wolf Hardin 2005 Reproduction in any form is prohibited without express written permission from the author.