Communing with the Spirits of Nature
The natural world around us is a place of beauty and continual dynamic interaction, one in which all things are interrelated in a delicate and ever-changing balance of forces. We can come to know the world around us in a different way by forming harmonious relationships with the Spirits of Nature. These are the Spirit Beings that exist in all of Nature no matter what name is given to them or what etheric form they take. Some traditional communities even believe that every element of Earth is the physical expression of ancestral spirits.
We can commune with these spirits, and they can teach us in so many ways, whether the spirit of a plant, tree, animal, or mineral. Science has shown that plants can perceive and will respond to environmental cues, such as when there is a threat. Like humans and animals, when a plant’s nervous system becomes overwhelmed, they will “faint” or shut down.
Researcher and leading polygraph expert, Cleve Baxter termed these characteristics “primary perception,” as opposed to extra sensory perception, because the plants’ responses were something more fundamental, below the usual senses of humans and animals.
Closely related to the Nature spirits is the actual spirit of the plant—the essence or Life Force that is expressing itself through and as the physical form of a particular plant. This notion is no doubt easy to agree with, but what about the plants’ intelligence or consciousness? As in the story told by Malidoma Somé, the Dagara people of West Africa believe there are three levels of intelligence on the planet. The most intelligent beings are the plant beings; the second, the animal beings; and in third place are us human beings. In other words, plants are the most intelligent beings on the planet. We can assume that a plant has consciousness even though it’s unlike what we might typically think of as consciousness. In the western world we revere our human brains as the pinnacle of intelligence and consider ourselves to be the most highly evolved species on the planet yet have a blind spot in assuming our consciousness is also superior to that of other beings.
On February 2, 1966, Mr. Baxter, made an astounding discovery. It was one of those findings that a scientist comes across while looking for something else. In his case, there was a plant sale near his office and his secretary brought in a couple of plants. He saturated them with water, curious as to how long it would take for the moisture to reach the top of the plants, particularly with the dracaena cane since the moisture had to climb a long way to the top and to the end of the leaves. He placed electrodes that measured the galvanic skin response (one part of the lie detector machine) in several places so as to measure the resistance. When the moisture reached a particular electrode, the resistance would drop and be recorded since water is a conductor, not a resistor.
He noted something unusual on the chart that looked more like what would be expected if a person were taking a lie-detector test, even though moisture hadn’t yet entered the leaf. From this discovery he got very curious as to how the plant might react to a threat. He had the image of burning the leaf that he was testing, and not having verbalized the thought, touched the plant or the equipment, the pen jumped off the chart. Then he got some matches from his secretary’s desk, waved a lit one by the leaf a few times, but the reaction was already so intense that it didn’t make a difference. When he took the matches back to the desk in the other room, the plant calmed down.
He realized something quite significant was happening and from there on dedicated his time and attention to looking further into this phenomenon. He conducted various experiments that showed that plants perceived and responded to human emotions. Rather than calling this capacity extrasensory perception (ESP), he called it primary perception, since plants don’t possess the same sensory apparatus as us humans. Primary perception is something that takes place at a much more fundamental level. Others began to call this “the Baxter effect.”
In an article entitled, “Man in Partnership with Nature,” (), Jeff Frank writes:
“Mr. Baxter proved scientifically that plants could think and respond! A Consciousness! . . . . Baxter did months of research and found plants respond to threats as well as healing peaceful thoughts. Plants love to listen to easy-listening music and classical music (but no heavy metal) and seemed to be attuned to animal life. The plants could actually tell when a human subject on the polygraph machine was lying! Baxter found out in stress conditions, as when it is being cut, a plant will “faint” so it can’t feel any pain, it goes “flatline” on the machine. With fruit, the plants wish to give up its fruit only in a loving ritual, a communion between the eater and the eaten, a Sacrifice. Baxter said, “It may be that a vegetable appreciates becoming another part of another form of life rather than rotting on the ground, just as a human death may experience relief to find himself on a higher realm of “being.”
After his initial discoveries there was considerable interest and further replication of his results by others, yet the western scientific community generally reacted with derisiveness which led to Baxter’s work being ignored. On the other hand, when Baxter encountered Indian scientists, Buddhist or Hindu, he remarked that, “instead of giving me a bunch of grief they said, ‘What took you so long?’ My work dovetails with many of the concepts embraced by Hinduism and Buddhism.” It also dovetails with what the Findhorn community was discovering at about the same time, what quantum physicists have been telling us, and research on DNA.
For most of the time we humans have been on the Earth, plants have played a significant role for us in many ways, not only as an essential part of our diet, but also for our health and well-being. In fact, many of our medicines today are plant-based, either directly through herbs, flower essences, or homeopathy, or else by pharmaceutical companies extracting specific ingredients from the plants for medicinal purposes. The most widely known pharmaceutical is aspirin, related chemically to a compound first extracted from the leaves and bark of the willow tree and the herb meadowsweet.
Information from the World Wildlife Federation’s website gives us some idea of the extent that plant medicine has contributed to our lives:
“The World Health Organization estimates that up to 80 per cent of the world’s population relies mainly on herbal medicine for primary health care. In China, traditional medicine is largely based on around 5,000 plants which are used for treating 40 percent of urban patients and 90 percent of rural patients. In 1991, more than 700,000 tons of plant material was used for the preparation of medicines in China, of which 80 percent were collected from the wild. In India, where traditional health care systems are very strong, 400,000 registered traditional medical practitioners are in practice, compared with 332,000 registered doctors (BGCI Fact Sheet).
In industrialized countries, plants have contributed to more than 7,000 compounds produced by the pharmaceutical industry, including ingredients in heart drugs, laxatives, anti-cancer agents, hormones, contraceptives, diuretics, antibiotics, decongestants, analgesics, anesthetics, ulcer treatments and anti-parasitic compounds. Around one in four of all prescription drugs dispensed by Western pharmacists is likely to contain ingredients derived from plants.”
The point here is to consider the extent to which plants contribute to our lives, particularly our health and well-being. As we continue to revise our collective relationship with Nature and the Earth, the direct use of plant medicine and the use of herbs is increasing. There’s another way of working with plants for health and healing: plant spirit medicine.
Plant Spirit Medicine
Shamans develop a friendship with the various plants that inhabit the territory where they live and work and thus have such a level of intimacy that the plant itself will communicate its properties. The communication takes place in the dreaming, whether that is through a shamanic journey, meditation, vision fast, or induced through other plant medicines. For the purposes of shamanic and Earth Magic work, “the dreaming” is another term for the altered state of consciousness and perception stimulated by these various methods. The ability to move in and out of the dreamtime – what we also call non-ordinary reality (NOR) – is the practised art of the shamanic practitioner and the Earth Magic practitioner. Another way to view this is that we move from this dream, called ordinary reality, into the other dream just across the veil of our usual consciousness.
It’s in this place that you can go to meet the plant spirits and there find out about the healing properties of the plant. The spirit may come to you as an image, sometimes like one of the Nature spirits, or may speak to you directly without an image. The plant spirit may trigger a sensation or feeling in your body or thoughts in your mind, or a combination of these. Again, we find the four channels of receiving spiritual information—visual, auditory, kinesthetic, or cognitive.
Eliot Cowan, herbologist, shamanic practitioner, and author of Plant Spirit Medicine, suggests that, as you befriend a plant by getting to know her, the spirit of that plant alone can help you with your healing! In other words, as a healer, you can invoke the spirit of the plant without your client necessarily having to ingest any of the plant!
As Cowan says:
“Plant spirit medicine is the shaman’s way with plants. It recognizes that plants have spirit, and that spirit is the strongest medicine. Spirit can heal the deepest reaches of the heart and soul.
There is nothing exotic about all this. Don’t be misled by talk about the Amazon. If you want to meet the most powerful healing plants in the world, just open your door and step outside. They are growing all around you. If you don’t believe me, or if you have a taste for romantic locations, you can try going elsewhere. But, if you stay there long enough, it comes down to the same thing: dealing with the local weeds. . .
Plant spirit medicine does not diagnose or treat any illness. I am not holding out any herbal preparation as a cure for any disease. . . . the practitioner of plant spirit medicine, in assessing which plants to use with a given person, pays no attention whatsoever to any symptoms that person may have.”
As a way of connecting with a plant spirit, here’s an exercise that you can do. Don’t worry about doing it just right. If you don’t get anything the first time, keep trying.
EXERCISE: Talking with the Plant People
Do a walkabout in your backyard, neighborhood, park or any area that has vegetation and is relatively quiet and secluded. Take a notebook and pen with you, some tobacco or cornmeal and, if you have a field guide to plants native to your area, take that with you also (although not essential). Slow down and pace yourself, walking about three-quarters your usual pace When you find a plant of any variety that you’re drawn to, sit nearby. Thank the plant for calling you over, offer a pinch of the tobacco or cornmeal to the plant, setting it at the base.
Once you’re seated, close your eyes and turn your attention inward for a few moments and tune in to your breathing. Without effort, regulate the rise and fall so that you create a pleasant, rhythmic breathing pattern, one that’s like a small ocean wave. Notice yourself slowing and deepening your breath. Feel the rhythm of your heartbeat. Feel the ground upon which you’re resting.
When you’re ready, open your eyes and for just a few moments observe the form and dimensions of the plant. Note its colors, the shape of its leaves, branches, trunk, and where it roots into the Earth. When you’ve captured the image of the plant in your mind, close your eyes. Notice any sounds around you. Tune into the plant. Ask the spirit of the plant to teach you. Notice any sensations or impressions that come to you, no matter whether they make any sense. Look, listen, and feel any intuitive information that comes to you. Ask what medicinal purposes, if any, it has. Like communication with any other spirit being, the information will come through any of the four channels of perception.
Be patient. It may take a while for the plant person to communicate, and she may communicate in visual symbols, through your feelings, or a small voice in your mind. It’s likely that you won’t learn everything you want to know about the plant all at once, so be prepared to spend more than one sitting with her. Whatever you get, record it. It may not make sense right away but will later or with subsequent sittings. If this is something that attracts you, you’ll want to do this frequently and record what you get each time.
After you’ve meditated and communed with this plant, write down any impressions in your notebook or journal. One caution: Don’t taste or eat any of the plant as there are quite a few poisonous plants no matter where you live. If you’re interested in finding out more about the plant, you can take a photo and either look it up in a book about native plants or talk with a botanist about it.