Grandmother Belladonna has appeared as a slight fae woman with a dark purple gown, dark brown hair and pale white skin, colors that seem proper as she exists somewhere in the flux between life and death. A spirit with watery and Saturn energies, her relative quiet should not be mistaken for a retiring nature; she is dangerous because she is seductive and tempting, relaxing away defenses and good sense until death closes in.
Most people are safely able to approach Belladonna, though she seems to have her own ideas about who she is willing to work with, when, and in what way. When angered, she expresses her displeasure very clearly; such experiences leave a lasting impression. (I speak from experience; she was unhappy about my attempts to sprout belladonna seeds a few seasons ago. There is nothing quite like having a plant spirit yell at you.) I have slowly begun a working relationship with her, beginning with growing several plants from seed.
Datura /Sacred Datura/Jimsonweed/Thornapple
(Datura inoxia; Datura metaloides; Datura stramonium)
Species of datura were known in Europe after contact with the New World in the 16th and 17th centuries, though there is reference to a plant believed to be D. stramonium in the Old English Herbarium, a Latin text circulated in England by the ninth century (1). In Europe datura was sometimes used in the brewing of beer, like henbane. In North America , datura (D. metaloides and D. inoxia) had a tradition of ceremonial use, particularly in the southwestern United States , Mexico , and Central America . The plant was said to have a feminine nature (though was given the masculine name Toloache) and considered a malicious counterpart to the peyote spirit (also feminine). Even so, several cultures made use of datura's psychotropic nature and it is considered sacred for good reason.
The datura spirit has a dual nature almost to the point of being two separate beings. One is the active protection and the other is more stationary and holds the wisdom. The protective aspect, who I have seen in the form of a four-footed wolf-like beast, is the side most often encountered by those whose experiments with datura go badly (which seems to be the case a good 80% of the time). Fast, vicious, and speechless, this spirit is ruthless in tearing apart the physical and mental health of trespassers; permanent mental illness and death have been the results of some bad datura trips.
The other spirit (or the second half of the spirit, depending on your perspective) is Queen Toloache . Tall, white, and imperious, she speaks little though hers is the only voice you will hear. During my early work with the datura plant and spirit I was struck with the unexpected qualities of passion and even fertility in spite of it being such a virulent poison; it was no surprise when I discovered that datura has a reputation as an aphrodisiac. This seeming contradiction is also embodied in love Goddesses, whose favor is fickle and who have the equal ability to bestow joy and madness. Love can easily turn to obsession, the shadow side of that emotion. For this reason, I associate datura with love Goddesses, who always remind us that love is a weapon and a poison as well as a blessing; datura is the side of that blessing that carries a blade. Like love Goddesses, datura is very much a lady; she loves to be courted with music and song, and appreciates genuine efforts made to win her continued attention.
It is my firm opinion that Datura seeks you out, not the other way around. In the months before my first experience using datura , I saw the plants growing in unexpected and random places; that night my dreams would be visited by the spirit and images of the datura plant. This happened several times before it was the right time to get to know the plant one-on-one. Datura guards herself and her powers jealously; trespassers who enter her spiritual territory are shot on sight. You have to be invited into her realm and are in her control once you arrive; reckless pride has no place in working with this plant and spirit. Experimenting with datura leaves you at Queen Toloache's mercy (which is little mercy at all, since she lets her Protector take care of most concerns) and what assistance medical science can provide.
Father Redcap (he told me he didn't like the distinction of Grandfather, and corrected me) is the direct ancestor of our modern image of the red-capped gnome. A diminutive spirit with a merry animated face, bright eyes, and possessing a distinctive red hat, Redcap is one of humanity's oldest plant allies. He is tricky and very clever, sometimes racing on ahead, sometimes sitting still and considering you with a mind that can find just about anything you wish to know; I think of him as a spiritual search engine or research librarian. He won't just give you the answers you seek, but he will help you find the path to locate them yourself. He can be grumpy or antisocial at times, perfectly playing the role of a grouchy old man who is stingy with his wisdom and consideration.
Like all mushrooms, fly agaric exists in a twilight space between life and death (or, as I think of it, between death and rebirth). He embodies the transition and that which transitions; it is this power that associates him with Odin. Redcap's powers suspend a person between the Worlds and cause the body and everything relating to it to be entirely forgotten for a few hours. Or a few years. You never know with Redcap. The spirit can be quite kinetic, contrasting with the physical chemistry of the mushroom, which totally removes the desire to move, and even the recollection of movement. It's the mind that accelerates and amazing things can happen under the touch of Father Redcap.
Father Redcap can be very friendly and outgoing, and it is tempting to let him convince you that he's not dangerous, but any force that can lead you to forget yourself as completely as fly agaric can is not to be ever underestimated; he is a true trickster in the most classic sense---a beguiling teacher who will lead you wide-eyed into territory beyond your control and then laugh at your struggles to go back the way you came. But he is a teacher and is willing to educate some people in the proper ways to work with his powers; keep in mind that even his willingness to help you won't keep you safe from his tricks and teasing.
This is a spirit with qualities and temperament similar to Mugwort , also appearing like a small elderly woman. Unlike Mugwort , which has some watery, lunar, and secretive elements, Grandmother Henbane is more direct, more bright and solar; Henbane is clear in her wishes and has a precise and discerning nature that expects those wishes carried out exactly. She is a matriarch among the Solanaceae plants and expects to be treated as such.
A bit haughty, Henbane has no patience for games or for verbal parlance. She expects to be deferred to, and rightly so. Physically, the henbane plant has several potent alkaloids present in all parts, including the seeds, which have poisoned children on occasion. The distinct odor keeps most people away, as does Grandmother's attitude; she will be very clear about her willingness to work with you, and without that any work done with the plant risks her displeasure. Some plant spirits can be courted but Grandmother Henbane can't be teased out of her shell or won by sweet words. She does have a dry sense of humor which is expressed through the use of henbane in the brewing of pilsner beer; she will not punish every fool who drinks too much of something with her plant children as ingredients, but she will laugh at how much they suffer at their own hands.
Henbane as a plant has a long history of ritual, magical, and shamanic use. The spirit sometimes favors those who work in such disciplines, though without her specific word one way or another, Grandmother Henbane will offer no assistance or protection towards those who experiment; similarly, she will not necessarily seek to punish. Henbane, with the true wisdom of grandmothers, knows that letting children learn on their own is sometimes the best way to teach them.
It is a bit strange to call the marijuana spirit "Grandmother" because she has appeared to me in such a youthful form; despite appearances, her aura is ancient and there is no question in my mind that she is one of the most powerful plant spirits known to us. With kaleidoscopic eyes, blond air, and prismatic colors that shift all around her form, Grandmother Marijuana is a multifaceted and complex being. Most entheogenic plant spirits dislike addicts and experimental users with feelings that range from Mugwort's indifference to Datura's outright anger, but Grandmother Marijuana seems to treasure her users in a strange way. However, she is offended when those who ought to know better disregard her instead of taking the time to speak with her directly.
Considered against a mentally healthy human, Marijuana may appear a little schizophrenic; she is at once supremely joyful but carries sorrow and paranoia at the same time. She can be flighty or easily distracted, but can also pursue with single-minded focus. Marijuana is complicated and also completely pure in her simplicity. In my mind, she is the flip side of datura's nature; also personally associated with love Goddesses, Marijuana is the delight that love and passion can bring, as well as the disconnection from the world around us that love can inspire, and the desire to capture that exquisite high one more time. Marijuana is the honeymoon phase of the love affair, with all the advantages and pitfalls thereof. Many plant spirits experiment with form, appearing to us in a guise that best suits the side of them we are encountering. Marijuana has as many faces as cultures who make use of her, so you may not automatically encounter the face I or anyone else has described. This is just one more way she (sometimes he) can be many things to many people.
Marijuana (both spirit and plant) well illustrates the difficulty of the spirit worker who works with sacred plants, at least in the United States . Illegal to grow, possess, and use, marijuana carries legal ramifications the same as heroin and other hard street drugs. It is one of the herbs of choice for those wanting to get high in the name of spirituality, and is included in the debate about what part psychotropics play for serious spiritual practitioners. Marijuana stands somewhere between recreation and spirit work, indulgence and enlightenment; placing it too far on either end of that spectrum ignores the potential it has for the other end as well. Where does one draw the line, especially when acquiring this herb (with whom one has a serious relationship) supports the industry that exploits it? Growing it places us at risk because it can draw the attention of forces we can't control, thus putting that work at high profile. For myself, I am always given the marijuana I need to do my work; I have never purchased any and it is part of my respect to Grandmother Marijuana that I will not support the street drug industry that injures her children. I will not grow it because that would put part of my work under another's control (that of law enforcement). Marijuana has given no instructions about these things and I am satisfied with how I have handled it thus far.
Marijuana, even as dead and dried plant matter, has spiritual properties that bring joy and pleasure. She heals mind and spirit, offering blessings of rest that are uniquely hers. She can open the heart that is weighted with sorrow and brings light to minds that feel dark; she stimulates the senses and calls us to enjoy the world around us for all its complex, imperfect, and confusing beauty.
Botanically speaking, mugwort and wormwood are very similar, considered "sister" plants and both of the Artemisia genus; they are sometimes confused for each other. Chemically, mugwort lacks the thujone content of wormwood, so the psychoactive properties haven't been conclusively proved by science. However, mugwort's spiritual potency is such that people are affected when it is an ingredient in incense, steeped in wine, or just by having it around them (hence its reputation as an herb to aid in dreamwork ).
Where Wormwood possesses a masculine spirit, Grandmother Mugwort is feminine and full of classic Crone energy. She is wily and will lead you in circles before giving you a clear answer; she can be a bit of a tease, appearing ornery one moment and crafty the next. Her secrets are given up only at her discretion, though she is not generally picky about who gets to use her plant children. She is of the opinion that we learn best by seeing for ourselves just how big a mess we get into, and she generally won't interfere when people seek to add her power to something they are doing. Having her direct permission to use her powers seems a bit more rare , and is a special thing.
Mugwort has a variety of magical uses, including aiding in dream work, divination, protection, and the creation of magical tools. She also adds a layer of refinement to some workings, particularly those relating to cleansing and banishing since she has a scrubbing effect that clears out all kinds of energetic and astral clutter without the brute muscle that other herbs like rue or agrimony have. Simply put, she doesn't need the muscle to get the job done and she does so with a great deal less fuss. I have used fresh sprays of mugwort as miniature flail to cleanse the body's energy field; the slap of the leaves and twigs had a very pronounced effect.
Grandmother Mugwort has always appeared as an elderly woman all hunched over and wrapped in a shawl. She has long grasping fingers and hands that are fast and clever; she herself is quite fast, though she may cultivate the illusion of being little more than a feeble old woman. Meeting her, that illusion is quickly banished; Grandmother is quick, intelligent, insightful, and very, very wise.
This is a tricky spirit to discuss, as she has had so many faces to so many different people. She can be fae, childlike, haughty, vicious, seductive, healing, joyous, or secretive. I don't think anyone but her addicts see Madame Poppy in her fullness.
Poppy has been at the edge of my awareness for some years now, waiting for me to get around to working with her. According to her I am well into her path though in my mind I have barely begun. I think she's tricky that way; Poppy distorts reality by blending perspectives together until it's difficult to say where one begins and the other ends. Dancing with her I'm not really sure who is leading.
She has a purple presence, thick and insulating. It has a cloying quality that sticks to your aura and even clouds your nose with scent. It's possible to sense Poppy from a great distance even if you have never been in physical contact with her.
More of Madame Poppy's faces are revealed when one tries to examine the spirit of her resin, the spirit of her plants, and Poppy herself. In her resinous and processed forms you see her strength and power, as well as her darkly seductive nature. In the plant and in derivatives directly from the plant you see her childlike face, and her joy. As for Poppy herself - I think she guards her heart very closely. She is one of the most powerful debt collectors of the Green World and she goes about her business with exacting ruthlessness. Poppy is also very healing; this plant is the source of many of our most important modern medicines and to ignore her health benefits is to ignore a very important side of her. Unfortunately those with the skill to heal with Madame Poppy are few indeed.
Another North American plant, skullcap is part of the mint family and has been used in traditional medicine as an antispasmodic and relaxant, and has a reputation of inducing visions. Like Belladonna, the danger of Grandparent Skullcap is her ability to lull you into relaxation so deep that you place yourself in the spirit's hands; unlike belladonna, skullcap is not poisonous, though it has a strong spiritual potency. While some of the Grandmother or Grandfather spirits of many entheogenic plants have a fairly distinct masculine or feminine slant to them, the ruling Skullcap spirit is not quite either in my experience, though sometimes she tends a bit towards the feminine; for this reason I refer to Grandparent Skullcap, but use feminine pronouns. I have not spoken with anyone else who knows Skullcap, so I can't say for sure if this is a personal perception or part of a larger pattern.
The spirit living inside a single skullcap plant is generally easygoing and friendly in the manner that all mints tend to be; Grandparent Skullcap is not. She can be quite threatening, offering challenges and making her expectations very clear; Skullcap has been the only plant spirit who has demanded binding oaths from me to earn the privilege of her willing assistance. The price of becoming her formal student has been worth it and learning Skullcap's unique perspective and how to work with her is invaluable to me.
Skullcap has been little explored by medical science, and likewise by those interested in entheogens and entheogenic spirits; I have not found any information about the nature of this spirit from any traditional or modern sources, so can only offer my own ideas. Skullcap seems tied into the "flow" of the Universe, the watery, river-like paths that carry potential and remove the mess that accumulates in the wake of realized potential. She is also connected to the Threads, those subtle tensions that stretch and connect forces across time and potential; Skullcap draws power from the space between and around the Threads and can offer information about them both directly and indirectly. Because of her between and behind nature, I personally associate Grandparent Skullcap with Loki's mother, the Goddess Nal/Laufey . Despite having a basic nature that is so close to the subtle movement of the Universe, Grandparent Skullcap is also quite direct, especially when unhappy about something or giving instructions; she is not a retiring spirit and will be up front about her thoughts and wishes. Crossing her would be a very bad idea.
The first plant spirit I had a firm working relationship with, Grandfather Wormwood is earthy practical spirit who taught me the correct way to approach and work with entheogenic plants and their spirits. Wormwood is a true patriarch in the way Grandmother Henbane is a matriarch; he is very wise and knows much more than he lets on. I have seen him as a bearded, green-tinted, tree-man that reminds me a little of the Green Man images appearing in art and architecture.
Most entheogenic plants aren't tasty, but wormwood is in a class of its own; it is one of the most bitter plants known and even a few sips of weak tea brewed from the dried herb can be almost too much to handle. This bitterness is part of Grandfather's lessons; life isn't always very pleasant, but sorrow and bitterness have to be accepted as part of the experience. Wormwood has purgative qualities, serving much the same function as grief does by clearing out what no longer belongs in the body; continuing the comparison with grief, wormwood has toxic qualities that aggravate the body when too much has been ingested in too short a space of time. It is an herb with moderate physical effects and potent spiritual ones.
Though generally practical almost to a fault, Grandfather Wormwood has a joyful and healing side that is evidenced in wormwood's inclusion in absinthe; wormwood is the ingredient that gives the drink its (in )famous effects, carried by thujone , a constituent also found in varieties of sage and a few other plants. Absinthe drinkers were featured in many works of art in the first part of the twentieth century, often depicted sitting and staring into space. Drinking wormwood tea, it becomes clear why they were depicted thus. Wormwood enhances the senses just enough that everything seems brighter and richer; you just want to relax and take it all in. Wormwood gives a feeling of well-being, peace, and down to earth contentment; it makes you wonder why you haven't thought to sit still and just look at things before.
Wormwood, both plant and spirit, are beneficent, healing, and above all practical; beneath the apparently straightforward personality is a deeper and more complex being that will always be many steps ahead of you.
1. Pollington , Stephen; Leechcraft Early English Charms, Plantlore and Healing 2000