“Mugwort is like the sun’s shining in the dreamworld.” — Harold Roth
In his book Thirteen Pathways of Occult Herbalism, Daniel A. Schulke expounds on the Path of Embodiment (Eνσωμάτωσησ • Ensomátosis). Schulke says:
“To embody a plant mystery is to become it, to ‘make flesh’ of its teachings by living them as reality. We observe that certain plants assimilate and emanate specific powers, not only from the symbolism that humans have applied to them, but through their behavior, morphology, ecology, and chemistry… Through the Pathway of Embodiment, the herbalist understands that each plant represents attributes or powers to which he or she may be apprenticed, and thereby assimilate, a kind of totemism.”
In turn, Schulke suggests a committed plant practice entailing singular and focused devotion, study, usage, and kinship-development with a single plant. Ideally, this takes place over the course of a year — particularly, a year in alignment with the natural life-cycle of the plant itself. Involved are the acts of ingestion, prayer, observation, entreaty, petition, cultivation, etc. This should occur on a daily basis. The notion behind such green union — Schulke harkens to Hieros-Gamos — is deep transmission and integration of green gnosis through a singular tutelary source. Such knowledge can then be used broadly, outside of the context of the single plant alone. On top of this, kinship — as with any relationship, and especially so with plant spirits — requires initial contact, acquaintance, and bond formation. This cannot occur overnight.
In light of my personal deep reading of Schulke’s work, I have decided to select this pathway as an inroad to the study of occult herbalism. As earnestly as I can, I have been working with, embodying, and using a readily available and common plant for my region. I am speaking of Artemisia Vulgaris, or Mugwort. On top of the praxis of Mugwort allyship, the herb has many folkloric and witching associations that serve as nodes of entry for understanding my craft more deeply. I have been grateful to have bestowed much wisdom from the honorable Artemisia itself, and I have also been initiated to the deeper mysteries plant knowledge as an whole.
This, in many ways is an onus of the Path of Embodiment: Through pointed study of a single herb, more may be revealed about the entire herbal realm than could with the shallower but quantity-laden study of many plants at once.
Mugwort is an herb that thrives in liminal spaces. It tends to grown along waysides and trails, ditches and outcroppings. Apropos is the large patch of Mugwort I found growing at a four-way crossroads within my local state park. As Corinne Boyer notes in Under the Bramble Arch: A Folk Grimoire of Wayside Plant Lore and Practicum, these spaces are fonts of real and symbolic power. With this in mind, understand that these liminal spaces manifest in the physical realm as well as the subtle realm of dreams and mantic vision.
Consider American Poet and ethnobotanist Dale Pendell when he says, “As dreams are the healing songs from the wilderness of our unconscious — So wild animals, wild plants, wild landscapes are the healing dreams from the deep singing mind of the earth.”
Now consider how these physical landscapes produce plant allies that actually allow us to transverse the very dream landscape of the psyche that Pendell relates to the worlds of the wild.
In his book The Witching Herbs Harold Roth describes the powerful dreamwork uses of Mugwort. Mugwort assists in dream recall. This, like many magickal assistance, has a payoff — the important aspects of dream and vision may be better recalled, but all the white noise, floating psychic debris, irrelevant material, etc. is also recalled. In turn, the wise will be keen to learn the art of sifting.
Roth also describes the elemental forces of Mugwort, later relating them to this particular quality of dream recall. A dynamic quality is present: Mugwort is ruled by the element of fire (🜂). The herb embodies the projective, fiery Yang of traditional Chinese medicine. However, Mugwort also has a lunar (☽) quality, which informs its provenance as a dream herb. The plant is sacred to Artemis, its Latin namesake (Artemisia vulgaris).
Traditionally, Mugwort is picked at Midsummer, the liminal space where the light and dark halves of the year meet. Likewise, Mugwort meets us at the crossroads of the light half of waking consciousness and the dark half of the dreaming. Roth says: “The very yang/Sun quality of these herbs fits with how mugwort so much lightens sleep that all dreams are remembered. Mugwort is like the sun’s shining in the dreamworld.”
These qualities are just one of the many ways one can learn deep occult principles from the herbs themselves — How elemental forces, ruling and secondary planetary energies, etc. interact to create qualities like dream recall. Mugwort teaches us how the fiery aspect manifests in the lunar and nocturnal dream world in the form of shining a light of remembrance, or dream recall.
Consider a plant like Belladonna (Atropa belladonna). Whereas the Saturnine (♄) associations of disorientation, lost time, and even possible death experienced under Belladonna’s influence, a Mercurial (☿) aspect is also present in the visionary quality of the experience. Belladonna’s presence in the historical witches’ flying ointment also hearkens to mercurial notions of travel and flight. Which planetary aspect rules, then? For Roth, this is dependant in many instances on context and praxis. In the case of Belladonna, the plant is definitely Saturnine in its rulership. Yet, to the extent that Belladonna is used for its visions or sabbatic flights, it can be considered to be ruled by Lunar or Mercury forces in this instance.
The point here is not to fossilize planetary rulership into absolutes. Rather, it is to understand how occult forces are dynamic and adaptive. The plants, Roth says, teach us the nature of correspondence in a way that our best-loved and relied-upon planetary tables cannot.
Roth takes these qualities a step further by expounding on how the herbs themselves can work in conjunction. He uses Vervain, which produces brightly vivid dreams, as a potential co-worker with Mugwort.
“Look, for instance, at the way mugwort — which, in different places is connected to Fire — is also connected to Moon, from the lunar goddess Artemis to its physical effect of helping one remember dreams. This hints at interesting possibilities in terms of interactions between vervain and mugwort. Does mugwort help us remember the vivid dreams that vervain tea can engender? This is an area ripe for witches’ experimentation.”
My own experiences with Mugwort have bestowed me deep engagement with dream recall. Mugwort’s propensity towards dream recall has bestowed me with the capacity to tease out the most mantic facets of my nocturnal visions. I think about this as a symbiosis — a shared space in which the Mugwort spirit, or consciousness, commingles with my own. This is a sacramental moment of communion with the herb. It must be respected, not simply instrumentalized as as a petrified effect born out of molecular reaction.
When I consider all of this I find myself asking, what can such praxis allow us to return to the green realm, and to the working herb itself? Here, the wisdom of the green path teaches one to give back to the herbs rather than simply asking oneself “what can I gain from this herb and its use.” The corollary here is “What can I give the herb?” Proper respect, cultivation, respect for herbal taboo, and offering all serve as inroads for this act.
Pendell himself expressed that it was the plants that gave us consciousness. To the extent that this is true, the plants are like green gods, whose own consciousness is the Secret Fire from which we derive our own flame of awareness. To acknowledge this is to be oriented to an ethics inherent in green path. It is a calling to give back, celebrate the vegetal world, respect and care for plant allies, and transform green gnosis into service towards all living beings.
• Boyer, Corinne. Under the Bramble Arch: A Folk Grimoire of Wayside Plant Lore and Practicum. Troy Books. 2020.
• Roth, Harold. The Witching Herbs: 13 Essential Plants and Herbs for Your Magical Garden. Red Wheel/Weiser. 2017.
• Pendell, Dale. Living With Barbarians: A Few Plant Poems. Wild Ginger Press. 1999.
• Pendell, Dale. Pharmako/Poeia. Mercury House. 1995.
• Schulke, Daniel A. Thirteen Pathways of Occult Herbalism. Three Hands Press. First edition. 2017.
• Chart of the three hand yang channels, Chinese woodcut. From Cai ai bianyi (The Mugwort Gatherer’s Companion). 1805. Image via Wellcome Library. http://www.wellcome.ac.uk. @wellcomecollection. Unless otherwise stated, all content on the site is © The Wellcome Trust and is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Public Domain Mark 1.0.
• Composite Family Artemisia vulgaris (Common Mugwort). c.a. 1895-1935. Image via Harvard University Digital Collections [https://digitalcollections.library.harvard.edu/catalog/gra00006c01407]
• Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) and wormwood (Artemisia absinthium): entire flowering plants. Coloured etching by C. Pierre, c. 1865, after P. Naudin. Image via Wellcome Library. http://www.wellcome.ac.uk. @wellcomecollection. Unless otherwise stated, all content on the site is © The Wellcome Trust and is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Public Domain Mark. [https://wellcomecollection.org/works/haady8r9]
Thesaurus thesaurorum (Wellcome MS4775). c.a. 1725 (?). Image via Wellcome Library. http://www.wellcome.ac.uk. @wellcomecollection. Unless otherwise stated, all content on the site is © The Wellcome Trust and is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. [https://wellcomecollection.org/works/nc2fz6ee]