Almanac • June 2021 • “Through the Steaming Woodlands”


Tuesday, June 1st, 2021 •

The almanac series strides forward, in what is evolving into a sort of e-zine for re-paganization. This is the term a teacher of mine used to describe the previous edition upon reading it. This week I am focusing on some themes presented through my own reading, writing, and listening projects.

Much of my current personal work deals with an exploration of the pathways of green gnosis. In particular, a creative and intellectual exploration of the Poison Path, a term coined by American poet and ethnobotanist Dale Pendell. The term hearkens to the notion that “the dose makes the poison.” It describes the use of visionary and intoxicating plants & fungi for sacramental, ritual, and magickal purposes. With this in mind, gaze upon the following work:

Via Wolfenbüttel: Herzog August Bibliothek, 2004. Digital library. Used according to educational and artistic fair use criteria.

Does the above image look familiar to you? A more colorful version of it adorns the cover of Pendell’s book Pharmako/Gnosis: Plant Powers and the Poison Path (2010). The image comes from a work called Charta Lusoria, published in 1588 by Jost Amman, whose latinized name is Iodoci Ammanni.

The manuscript contains a series of 52 cards illustrated as a series of bound spreads. The suits of the deck are: books, cups/glasses, pots/jars, and ink pads. The cards are incredibly vegetal, forming verdant structures and vines. In fact, each of the suits corresponds with a plant shown: Books have roses, glasses have irises, jars have grapes, and ink pads have cattails! The pages of the book apparently feature moral aphorisms and sayings written in Latin. This card, which is a kind of Eight of Jars, depicts a Mandrake-esque figure whose branches and vines are woven into the cups themselves.

This is a very meaningful choice of art for the cover of Pendell’s work, as it is concerned with the cup which holds the materia of the green work. In particular, “Pharmako/Gnosis deals with the poison path, a term Pendell coined that is now in common use in the witching and occult communities. “Pharmako/Gnosis” falls last in a trilogy of books on visionary, hallucinogenic, empathogenic, and psychoactive plants. The other two works are entitled Pharmako/Poeia: Plant Powers, Poisons, and Herbcraft (1995), and Pharmako/Dynamis: Stimulating Plants, Potions, and Herbcraft (2009). All three books utilize cover imagery from Charta.

A digitized copy of the manuscript can be found here.

The version of the image as it appears on the cover of Dale Pendell’s Pharmako/Gnosis: Plant Powers and the Poison Path (2010)

For folks fascinated by the heritage of witching plants, look no further than Pharmako/Gnosis. In it, Pendell expounds on the Damoinicas — the Solanaceous family known as the nightshades. He begins the chapter quoting a legendary grimoire familiar to many occultists: Daniel A. Schulke’s Viridarium Umbris: The Pleasure Garden of Shadow (2005).

A deeply fascinating tome unto itself (and a formidable brick) Viridarium Umbris: The Pleasure Garden of Shadows was offered by Xoanon Publishing in 2005. Image via Harvard University Digital Collections.

This book is quite legendary, and extremely rare. I think it speaks volumes the both Harvard and Cornell University maintain copies — Cornell has an edition at their Carl A. Kroch rare manuscript library. I live just outside of Ithaca but, due to COVID restrictions on Cornell’s campus, I have been unable to take a drive to examine the material in person. I don’t feel completely fulfilled accessing the the numerous pirated PDFs of the work, as the book itself represents a talismanic work as a magickal object unto itself. Often, pirated materials of similar work (Andrew Chumbley’s Azoëtia comes to mind) contain poor scans resulting in reversed sigils, uncorrected errors, etc. In turn, copies of the limited edition work run in the thousands. Xoanon, however, has been known to provide access to its work to serious scholars and practitioners of the Craft.

I think there is something meaningful about making a book pilgrimage to see the work in person. In the meantime, I will enjoy the beautiful work on the cover of this edition, which can be seen here via Harvard University Digital Collections.

Cover of Viridarium Umbris

The description of the work via Xoanon Publishing reads:

“An extensive grimorium of wortcunning, or herb-magic, the Pleasure-Garden treats of the secret knowledge of trees and herbs as delivered by the Fallen Angels unto mankind. The book’s principal concerns are the sorcery and gnosis of the Greenwood, as arising from the varied luminaries of the Eternal Gardens of the Arte Magical. As a grimoire of Spiritual Botany, the Book is a Hortus Conclusus of text and image intended for the indwelling of these plant-spirits. The work encompasses magical practices, formulae, and mystical exegesis, all treating the respective arcana of Nature-Spirits and the powers of individual plants. Magical foci are on devotion, purity, humility, silence, solitude, and the hieros-gamos of wortcunner and plant as a tutelary relationship, in conjunction with the Mysteries of Cain, first tiller of the soil. The whole is intended as a textual reification of occult herbalism within the context of the Sabbatic Craft Tradition.”

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Cover page for “Viridarium Umbris”

In other happenings — or listenings — an acquaintance of mine turned me on to the Comus. In particular, he suggested their debut album First Utterance. I can only describe it as dark pagan, steaming-woodland music (As the line in the opening track Diana is sung). Baneful psychedelic folk is also appropriate. You can listen to the album’s first track Diana here:

Grok this lyrical excerpt:

“Lust he follows virtue close
Through the steaming woodlands
His darkened blood through bulging veins
Through the steaming woodlands…”

“…Diana Diana kick your feet up
Lust bears his teeth and whines
For he’s picked up the scent of virtue
And he knows the panic signs”

Of the group and the album, AllMusic’s Richie Unterberger says:

“Comus’ first album contains an imaginative if elusive brand of experimental folk-rock, with a tense and sometimes distressed vibe. Although there are elements of traditional British folk music, there’s an edginess to the songwriting and arrangements that would be entirely alien in a Fairport Convention or Pentangle disc. At times, this straddles the border between folk-rock and the kind of songs you’d expect to be sung at a witches’ brew fest, the haunting supernatural atmosphere enhanced by bursts of what sound like a theramin-like violin, hand drums, flute, oboe, ghostly female backup vocals, and detours into almost tribal rhythms. All of this might be making the album sound more attractive than it is; the songs are extremely elongated and fragmented, and the male vocals often have a grating munchkin-like quality, sometimes sounding like a wizened Marc Bolan. The lyrics are impenetrable musings, mixing pastoral scenes of nature with images of gore, torture, madness, and even rape, like particularly disturbing myths being set to music.”

Comus, the group’s namesake was the Greek son of Circe and Bacchus. This image shows Lorenzo Costa’s “The Reign of Comus.” Via wikimedia Commons.

Chris Blackford, in a piece entitled A Million Fleshy Things: The Songs Of Comus, writes about the origin of the name in the Greek son of Circe and Bacchus:

“This six-piece certainly lived up to their name. In Greek mythology Comus is the god of revelry, the son of Circe and Bacchus. Comus is also the title of a dramatic poem by the renowned 17th Century English poet, John Milton, and the poem’s central theme – female chastity tempted in the archetypal ‘wild wood’ of moral perplexity by the demonic enchanter, Comus – sets the tone for First Utterance, especially ‘The Song To Comus’. ‘Diana’, another allusion to Greek/Roman myth, also describes the threat of insatiable lust to virtue. Other vulnerable innocents face abusive power in songs about brutal murder mixed with Gothic eroticism (‘Drip Drip’), Christian martyrdom (‘The Bite’) and mental illness (‘The Prisoner’) – all described with disturbing candour. The acerbic lyrics and Roger Wootton’s vocals (echoes of Family’s Roger Chapman) convey terror and hysteria with alliterative force; there’s often a sense of sadistic pleasure in Wootton’s tone which gives the album a nasty, yet compelling edge. This is certainly no idealised, Hippie evocation of a mythical, bucolic past. Even Wootton’s cover artwork, as memorably grotesque as Barry Godber’s for King Crimson’s debut, suggests a darker direction. And the angular dissonance of Andy Hellaby’s bass guitar and Colin Pearson’s violin on ‘Bitten’ sounds very much like free improvisation in action, though sadly it only lasts a mere two minutes.”

The full album can be heard here:

Onward with the Great Work…


• Blackford, Chris. A Million Fleshy Things: The Songs Of Comus. “This piece is based on a short review published in Rubberneck 23 (December 1996) but is published here for the first time in this extended form (January 1999).” Beat Goes On Records. []

• Pendell, Dale. Pharmako/Poeia. Mercury House. 1995

• Schulke, Daniel A. Viridarium Umbris. Xoanon Publishing. 2005.

• Unterberger, Richie. First Utterance Review by Richie Unterberger. AllMusic. n.d. []

Image Credits:

Charta Lusoria. Jost Amman. 1588. Image via Wolfenbüttel: Herzog August Bibliothek, 2004 – Digital library.

• Cover art for Pharmako/Poeia. Dale Pendell. Mercury House. 1995. Via my personal copy.

The Reign of Comus. Lorenzo Costa. c.a,. 1506-1511. Image Via WIkimedia Commons.

Viridarium Umbris: The Pleasure Garden of Shadows. Daniel A. Schulke. Xoanon Publishing. 2005. Images via Harvard University Digital Collections. [] & []

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