MAGIC PLANTS USED SYMBOLICALLY IN GERMANIC HEATHEN HEXOLOGY
An excerpt from "Heiden Hexology, Essays and Interviews, 2012" by Hunter M. Yoder
Originally published in THE JOURNAL OF CONTEMPORARY HEATHEN THOUGHT, One, June 2010
I am frequently asked about the relationship between Hexology and the plants, or die blantz in Pennsylvania Deitsch. My approach to die blantz and their magic is similar to my approach to the runes, a learning experience. After spending time with herbalists and entheologists, and a bit here and there with the hoodoo root doctors, the plants breakdown in the following ways: as herbal remedies, as hallucinogens, and as powerful intentional agents. The latter is the subject of this article.
My introduction to Deitsch herbalism occurred around 1968 when I was apprenticed to a certain Bumbaugh, a name that even today makes the Xtian new age brauchers cringe. He was a crusty old guy with a penchant for making amorous overtures to the ladies who came into his establishment. Bumbaugh ran and lived in a kind of all purpose county store that was as dark and crusty as he was. Antiques, old books, herbs, and the occasional animal pelt were his stock in trade. All this thinly veiled what he really was and really knew. Bumbaugh knew die blantz.
Bumbaugh’s primary interest in the blantz was commercial and he started me out with collecting ginseng and goldenseal in various remote areas in Berks county to sell in his store. Despite his business approach, he had knowledge regarding the Deistch version of witchcraft known as Braucherei, a Christianized form of the original Hexerei. His nickname, Mountain Bummy, was a reference to a most well-known Braucher named Mountain Mary of Oley Valley, an especially haunted region in Berks county. This was the area my ancestors came to from the Alsace-Lorraine district of Europe.Ginseng especially caught my attention with its secretive ways. We found it in the nearby Blue Mountains. Its root is in the form of a man and it has a wildness that is commercially far more desirable then any cultivated variety. I also read about it in the early editions of Foxfire and was determined to cultivate it myself. Plants usually have their own ideas and this was my first test of wills with nonhuman consciousness
Blue Asherah, 2007
As I was walking the wood with Bumbaugh and opening to plants as conscious beings, I was also learning from my friends the Claypoole family of Lenhartsville. The father, Johnny, was the unlikely heir apparent to the famous Hexologist Johnny Ott, who had, in addition to his well known hex signs, hotel/restaurant/bar in Lenhartsville called the Deitsch Eck Hotel. Claypoole was Irish Catholic from Philadelphia, but Hexology has a way of manifesting itself in unlikely ways and so it was that the torch was handed from one Johnny to another. I went to school with Mark and Kevin Claypoole. The family was large as Irish Catholic families can be. Johnny would put everybody to work for the various festivals. The biggest was the Kutztown folk Festival, now called the Pennsylvania German Folk Festival. Both Claypoole and Bumbaugh had prime locations at this lucrative venue. Bumbaugh was a well known fixture at the Saturday farmers’ markets such as Renningers and had his used books, antiques, and herbs there. The festival created a special exhibit area for him trying to capture the inevitable authenticity the ole guy exuded. Johnny mostly did the summer festivals including the Philly Folk Festival and would go off in these events with his VW Microbus crammed with psychedelic hexes.
The third component here in my formation along with plants and hexes, is my introduction to art. My mother was a painter and I inevitably created most of her stretchers that I made from wood that floated downstream after the Spring floods on the Saucony creek that flowed though our farm. She took painting lessons in Allentown at the Baum School from a teacher named Martin Zippen, landscapes, still lives, portraits, that sort of thing. She took me along and I got a free evaluation from Martin who concluded that I had very little talent. My father viewed my painting career a different way. He gave me a brush, paint, and a forty foot oak ladder and told me to paint the barn.
The PA German bank barns are famous as they are large. A highly evolved functional form of architecture, they featured a bank barn meaning that you can drive up to the second story via a banked ramp with corrals on either side with doors that rolled open on all sides. The doorways could be large as 12’ by 40’ in the back. In the front was the extended fore bay which was cantilevered out beyond the basic structure to provide a covered area to park implements tractor cars and tie up the animals, horses for shoeing, and hang the carcasses during butchering. This one also featured an attached milk house and granary. Painting one of these monstrosities was no small feat. But being continually in the scheisse haus so to speak for one reason or another, usually involving coming home at cock’s crow on school nights, there was little room for negotiation. I covered it with hexes…..and so it begins.
If you grow certain plants you realize that they have a will of their own and your idea of gardening might differ from theirs. Your idea of where things should grow will differ as well.
Plant energy is a very good one, positive connection to the living universe which is actually a lattice of interconnected energy fields. Speaking or having a conversation with a particular plant is a bit more specific however. The conversation can occur externally, the human as nurturer and grower or internally if the plant is ingested. If ingested, the human has relinquished some of his control and the conversation can be a test of wills as the nervous system is directly interfaced with the plant reality. Using a plant recreationally can be like taking one of those vacations where you get lost high in the mountains or desert and face a struggle for your life.
For me, of all the plants that have been used as herbal remedies, as entheogens, or for intentions, the family Solanaceae stands out with datura, belladonna and henbane. These three plants talk the loudest and are the most willful. Some time the three uses are not so separate and it all blurs together depending on the individual 'user'
My experiences with datura, belladonna and henbane have been externally as a grower/nurturer, their unusual behavior and historical usage in witchcraft and most importantly their geometry has led me to use them in the Hexology.
Pa Deitsch lore speaks of The Elder or Sambucus canadensis, or as they say, Hollerbier after the goddess Frau Holle. The bush like tree is planted behind the house as a guardian, for she is a goddess of home and hearth as well as the goddess of the underworld. She is depicted as an old hag and her presence protects the house. She does this by grounding out negative energy and directing it underground. She prefers wet rich habitats and her roots reach down into the water table. Stone farmhouses in southeast Pennsylvania were always built on lower ground just off the flood plain locations so that the hand dug wells were not such an ordeal to create, and perfect for this guardian.
Male energies in magic plants exist as well. However maleness in a plant spirit is not quite the same as a male spirit of an animal. Common Mullein or Verbascum thapsus with his erect candle like flowering stalks is masculine in the sense that a lightning rod is masculine. Again in Deitsch lore, the candle of a common mullein is carried in the back pocket not to conduct but to prevent accidental lightning strikes.
Another not native to Pennsylvania but an interesting male energy is the Huachuma, or San Pedro cactus, Echinopsis pachanoi, or formerly, Trichocereus Pachanoi that is employed in High Andean Shamanism. This one is a tall erect cactus that is masculine in the sense of an old wise Grandfather. It is the 'cactus de cuatro vientos' the sacred cactus of the four winds, and it grows amazingly well in the Zaubereigartens of southeast Pennsylvania along with other South American power plants.
If you listen you will hear plants talk. One in particular that speaks loudly and clearly and can be extremely demanding is Valerian, or Valeriana officinalis. While buying herb seedlings at a farmers market, a robust valerian plant instructed me to, "pick me up and take me home!".....so I did and she has multiplied 100 fold for me. The children of this plant have not lost the willfulness of the ‘mother’. More recently, one became unhappy that it was not first on the list to be watered and demanded attention. In fact, she screamed for attention…and got it. Plant spirit is often surprising. This particular willful prima donna is used often as a sedative and to ease nervousness and stress.
Plant spirits, facile as they are, also possess the ability to change sex. Arisaema triphyllum or Jack in the Pulpit is a very strange plant that I met very early on in childhood. Once wandering into a part of the woods I had never been to before I encountered "Jack" who promptly spoke to me and told me to "get out!" These come either male or female but if in the close proximity of another of the same sex can change the following year to an opposite one to insure success in fertilization. They do not have bulbs but 'corms' and the leaves are trifoliate which makes them useful in the Hexology as we use three because, as taught from antiquity, "three's the charm".
Geilskimmel Fertility Hex
Most recently, I encountered "Jack" on the Hexenkopf, a strange piece of rock outcropping or the technical term is a mountain pillar in Northampton County, PA where my tribe, "der Stamm" was holding a Walburgisnacht ritual. This place historically was a place "Hexes" or witches would congregate in Colonial times in Pennsylvania. Not a part of the Appalachian Mountains which are nearby, it is a distortion in the time/space continuum. On this occasion after shepherding all but one of the tribe off the Hexenkopf and back to the safety of their cars, I returned for Patricia Hall, who had stayed behind to listen to the place. The walk back up off the road is a relatively short one, and one that I had made several times that day without incident since I was really the only one to know the way. Unexpectedly as I was returning for her, I became lost and knew that the place was playing tricks on me. It has the strange effect that nobody can hear your calls even if they are nearby. Such was the case with Patricia, who even saw me pass by but thought it was someone else and so did not call out to me. Knowing the Hexenkopf and its ways I used my mind and circled back onto her location at the rock altar. Upon our retreat from the mountain we encountered, "Jack". I was unhappy with the mountain for trying to take her from me, so I pulled Jack, a part of its consciousness, out of the ground to take home......Jack screamed and I involuntarily let go at first, but succeeded and stuck him in my pocket. Later we planted him in one of the gardens we keep.
The turning point in my Hexology was my reintroduction to Datura Stramonium. This occurred in of all places, Brooklyn, NY. I knew her from my childhood. It is interesting that to children the names of plants are not important. Playing amongst them is the thing. This lady is infamous but hugely important in shamanism, and I was determined to find her again.
As I wrote in my blog, "Frank Blank in Brooklyn:
"Red Hook, NYC's version of a Stalinist-Leninist State, or perhaps NYC's version of Mao's "Great Leap Forward" A grim reminder of what happens when Big Brother controls all aspects of its citizens lives. An example of what billions and billions of dollars achieves when flushed down the toilet, right you got it....a clogged sewage system. From the Projects to the Red Hook recreation area, to the razor wired pedestrian bridge over the BQE into the public school which sure looks like prison. You paid for it I paid for it, we all did......it might as well be a federal penitentiary, you get the unique view of the world through a high security fence. The occupants are....pretty vacant....all employed by the state...wards of the state, permanently damaged and in the business of self replication in a backdrop of a commercial warehouse zone with heavy trucks filled with hard toxic sewage, recycled paper and a pervasive odor of smoked fish/ a known carcinogen in the air. even in the new Brooklyn’s spectacular real estate development miracle you can still get down to basics in a porto john in red Hook, where the homeless still can chill and shoot up in peace.....my kinda place. Be careful though, red Hook is the most police enforced zone in the 76th precincts' jurisdiction. They fund their personal retirements on the summons written here. Oh yeah this is where you go to take your drivers road test in Brooklyn. So amongst the garbage and deserted lots and places the park employees forgot to sanitize I found an old friend from my childhood......Datura Stramonium growing free and unknown to this mindless crowd. God bless the United State of my mind.”
Her smell was her signature, not a rancid or funeral parlor smell as described in books, but an undeniable presence. I dug her up and took her home to my garden.....what a mistake.
I grew her successfully and indulged a bit in smoking her leaf with my Rabbi friend who lived next door. We both had unfortunate consequences with this adventure so the following year I was determined not to grow her again. This plant likes me and she came back on her own without me planting seeds and she has never left! In fact she has worked her way into my heart and into my art. Her five pointed pinwheel flower is a no brainer for the center of a Hexafoos. In the Deitsch dialect she is called Geilskimmel, which is a curious reference to horses. From my childhood on the farm, I remember that horse could become foundered if it ingested the datura, called "jimson weed". Her willfulness can only be experienced if you try to grow her. She will grow when and where she chooses. A force of this nature is useful in hexology.
I have used her so often that she has been stylized into a symbol. As such I have integrated her into other more familiar aspects of hexology, especially the raindrops. Rain drops are used traditionally just as that, both as water for the plants, the crop on the farm, and spiritually as a manifestation from above or in the Braucherei or Xtian context as a spiritual cleansing. I prefer to use used droplets in the context of Hexerei as sperm and blood. Coupled with the "Geilskimmel" I have created in effect the beginnings of a bindrune with the combination of nature spirit and traditional hexology. The third element is the rune or bindrune in the center of the hex to complete and seal the intent. Ingwaz works well with Lady Datura.
Once Datura Stramonium and I established our relationship, I was determined to find other plants specific to Hexerei. The Black Henbane, Hyoscyamus niger, also known as Niger Bilsenkraut became immediately apparent and I purchased the seeds from a French Canadian witch and grew her. True to form, she was very particular and would germinate but not grow to fruition as normal plants would. This one is trickier than and just as willful as her sister Datura. The flowers are striking. She has the usual inverted pentagram shaped flower configuration with a spooky dark veining on the petals, unique among all flowers to my current knowledge. We experienced success at last with this one at the Downingtown, PA Zaubereigarten which is Patricia Hall's place and has that gingerbread cottage in the middle of the Black Forest feel to it. So it was no big surprise the Niger Bilsenkraut would flourish there. What I could not grow, Patricia did. It liked her first, Hex that she is, and me next, male that I am. And so it goes with these deadly ladies.
This same season, the Belladonna Atropa seeds, earlier planted, flourished along with the Datura Stramonium under a bed of 12 foot sunflowers. This sunflower variety has significance to the Deitsch culture via the Chihuahua desert in northern Mexico. The Mexican government invited Canadian Mennonites to come to Mexico and settle a desolate, dead section in the state of Chihuahua, which was inhabited by the Tarahumara, an indigenous tribe whose ceremonial usage of a small native cactus, peyote was made famous by the French author, Antonin Artaud's book, "The Peyote Dance". The Mennonites transformed the Chihuahuan Desert they settled upon into a garden and exchanged seeds with the Tarahumara. These were the snow white seeded sunflowers under which the much darker Belladonna prospered.
Belladonna flowers also appear as an inverted pentagram along with Datura Stramonium and Black Henbane. So it is easy to see how these guys have been viewed as agents of the devil in the monotheistic religions. Dämmerschlaf or Twilight Sleep, was a well known combination of the Belladonna and the Opium Poppy, the effect was a dream-like waking state. This was prescribed by doctors in child birthing to deaden pain in Victorian England. The tropane alkaloid, scopolamine can be found in the honey of bees when they drink from the flower. Even the sting from a bee who has ingested the flower's nectar, can have a hallucinatory effect. Our experiences growing her have been a mixture of luck with an early success with her this season, and being tricked by her look a likes, namely pokeberry and nicotiana rustica. Just when we thought our consciousness had been lifted and the blinders pulled from our eyes with this one, she reverted to confusing us. So it’s been joy mixed with confusion although we have enjoyed a very good season with her this year.
Belladonna Hex, 2009
These pentagrams or star like images are essentially feminine in nature. Feminine energy is an endless resource and only requires a directional impulse and a coupling. The
more intense the coupling the better the power the hex has. Usage of plants,
special plants in a stylized manner is just another way the Hexologist can tap into
the universe of feminine energy. And so I use Datura Stramonium, Black Henbane, Belladonna. The willfulness of these plants can be used not by imposing the magician’s will but by allowing their unpredictable nature to equal out the discordant psychic energies in a creative
natural way. This will always work in a positive way. The natural universe is
always seeking the most direct route to resolving dynamic energy inequalities.
As a Hexologist, I prefer to work with nature and let it decide. My job is only to pose the question, not impose my will. If the question is a good one, there will be an answer. The need
will activate your subconscious mind and what is sought is usually right in
front of your eyes. Is it magic? It’s Hexology.