Almanac • June 2021 • “Through the Steaming Woodlands”


Tuesday, June 1st, 2021 •

File:Mars symbol.svg

The almanac series trudges 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 — also offered is an astrological sightment from Scorpio Selene.

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. This card, which is a kind of Eight of Cups, 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 deals with the cup which holds the materia of the Great 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).

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 plant, 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 comfortable 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 rather, 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 reads). Baneful psychedelic folk is also appropriate. You can listen to the first track Diana here:

Get lost in 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:

In light of my Poison Path and green explorations… I’ve been experimenting (somewhat ironically) with non-toxic iterations of the Unguentum sabbati: the famed witches’ flying ointment. As a person in drug and alcohol recovery, this presents some obstacles. Such iterations of the flying salve are few and far between. It is wiser to let the bolder folks do the tropane alkaloid fieldwork, as Dale Pendell himself opined. How then, does the sober one sacramentally consume the material of the green allies and fly to the sabbath?

The answer is that I’ve been working with non-toxic (read: non-intoxicating) visionary and dream ointments from Belladonna’s Botanicals in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A wondrous consideration for folks who (at least these days) prefer to stay away from the stronger psychedelics, empathogens, stimulants, etc. These, however, are also offered by Belladonna’s Botanicals. However, is deeply cautioned to use extreme discretion when using other available ointments containing Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaraic) Atropa belladonna (Deadly Nightshade), Datura stramonium (Thornapple), etc. Hopefully, as I gain more experience, I can work on some pieces with experience reports, dreamwork writings, etc. I’ll spare these for now.

Gates of the Underworld flying ointment for astral work. From Belladonna’s Botanicals in Philadelphia, PA.

A dedicated astrologer and student of the arcana, Scorpio Selene has offered up an astrological reading — or, as she often says to me, a sightment — for the Venus in cancer:

Venus in Cancer ♀♋ 1’18°

Venus moves out of witty Gemini and into creative and sensitive Cancer (♋). During this transit the masks are lifted as to whether your needs are being met — and if you’re meeting the needs of others. This is all about balance, pleasure, connections and safety. In tarot the correspondence for Venus in Cancer is the Two of Cups, which resonates with unity, love, compatibility, happy couples, potential soulmates, relationships, harmony, balance, equality, attraction, connection, choices and mutual respect. Mars (♂) is also in cancer, so this transit is highly balanced for both parties.

As we move through eclipse season and the multiple retrogrades (☿♄♇) this will allow us to go deeper and find harmony within ourselves, even during the chaos. It’s time to start showing up for ourselves. Start saying yes and really meaning it and start saying no when we are setting our boundaries.

Having/setting boundaries and working through any issues you have in relationships or friendships will be a pattern over the next few weeks. You’ll notice people being more upfront and raw with their emotion. If there has been something that’s nagging at you, now is the time to deal with it. We are all deeply craving love and nourishment on some level and we deserve it. No, this does not mean letting your sneaky exes back in… it means appreciating it for what it was, but continuing to move on into your future for a new beginning.

Push the things that make you happy and get your creative juices flowing, make the home more comfortable… allow yourself to feel these rushes of love and empathy before Venus moves into the fire of Leo (♌) on the 27th of June. You can find peace and happiness in self love, pleasure, art and creating and strengthening connections with others. With the 4th house being the natural ruler of cancer this could also mark a big milestone in terms of moving home, marriage, pregnancy and childhood healing.

If you’d like to use this time to heal relationships, family or childhood traumas, then now is the perfect time to make steps with the Sun sextile Chiron (the wounded healer). This is shining light on exactly where the energy came from in your life, and at what time. Almost as if someone has jumped into your body and shown you an image of that exact moment. It can be frightful. Healing is possible, but you have to first accept it for it is and surrender. I would suggest working with the water element and moving through things slowly while still holding a safe space for yourself just like the crab.

— Scorpio Selene

Scorpio Selene resides in the U.K. She is an occultist, writer, and trained astrologer.

Onward with the Great Work…


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

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

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.

Venus reclining upon a fish in the sea; Cupid flies above her holding an oyster shell and pearls. Engraving after P.C. Tremolière.c.a. 1720. Charles Tremolière. Via Wellcome Library. @wellcomecollection. Unless otherwise stated, all content on the site is © The Wellcome Trust and is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Public Domain Mark.

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

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