'That tree is talking to me” said John Smith. “Well, you should talk back,” replied Pocahontas, also asking of the tree, “Grandmother Willow, what is my path? How am I ever going to find it?”
“... Listen, all around you are spirits, child. They live in the Earth, the water, the sky. If you listen, they will guide you,” said Grandmother Willow.
Pocahontas is a well known historical anecdote surrounding the colonial settlement at Jamestown Virginia in 1607 and Disney’s film version of the story included a character known as Grandmother Willow. This was an ancient Willow tree that could predict the future, interpret dreams and read the souls of those who crossed her path. This character indicates just how long botanomancy has existed as a form of divination, and is a nod to the Native American Indians’ belief that spirits reside in nature’s flora and fauna and can be used as a form of divination.
The most recognisable divination method is one we have all used at some point in our lives – plucking petals from a daisy reciting, ‘he loves me, he loves me not’, hoping that as the very last petal approaches, the pretty flower will prophesise that ‘he’ in fact ‘loves you’! That, along with the blowing on a dandelion seed and making your wishes known to the Universe, are the most famous forms of botanomancy today.
Plants have long been called upon to provide glimpses of the future. The reason being is that they are living organisms and thus have closer ties to human life than many other divination tools. It is said that plants have the ability to more accurately predict our future as they closely mirror our genetic make up.
The term botanomancy derives from the Greek word ‘botano’ meaning plant or herb and ‘manteia’ meaning divination. It is the practice of using plants for divination, primarily by the burning of the leaves, herbs or tree branches and interpreting the smoke that is released. This is only one form of botanomancy, there are numerous ways you can make use of Mother Nature’s gifts to foresee what awaits you in life.
For centuries in various cultures, plants that had hallucinogenic, poisonous, and narcotic effects on the human body were used to produce visions and to assist the seer with the divining ritual.
According to Gerina Dunwich’s book Herbal Magik: A witches guide to Herbal Enhancements, Folklore and Divination (New Page Books), the ancients believed that all herbs and plants possessed spirits, good and bad. In the case of the mind-altering and poisonous plants, they believed a demon resided in them.
Poisonous plants like belladonna, which are highly potent, were used by sorcerers to lift them to the astral plane and witches used them to assist them with clear psychic visions.
Most cultures used the native plants and trees for their healing and magic properties to cure disease, ward off misfortune and see the future.
Ancient Greece and Rome connected their gods and goddesses through their native plants and trees. Myths surrounding plants were prominent. For example, Ancient Greek mythology tells the tale of the Sun god Apollo who pursued the nymph Daphne relentlessly. The nymph was not at all interested in Apollo’s plans to woo her. One day the Gods granted her respite from his endless propositions by turning her into a bay tree. The Oracle of Delphi who was Apollo’s priestess chewed the bay leaves from this tree as part of her ritual to foresee the future. The Greeks still refer to the tree that bears the bay leaf as Daphne.
Numerous references to botanomancy can be traced back to as early as the Old Testament in the Bible, seen in the burning bush. A bush became a flaming oracle through which God spoke to Moses. Later Moses parted the Red Sea and struck water from a desert rock. Another example is when a balsam tree told David to begin the attack on the Philistines.
Pagans too developed various methods of botanomancy to harness the power of plants, flowers, leaves, bark and herbs and the magical energies contained within them. These have long been used for healing, divination and connecting with deities.
The Druids would cut down mistletoe on the summer and winter solstices, where bonfires became part of the ritual and celebration. It was believed that this plant held special healing and divinatory powers that were most potent on these auspicious day.
The Druid priests worshipped the spirits of the trees, especially the oak tree, and they believed that to communicate with the spirits of the trees they would have to burn their branches and interpret and decipher the messages the smoke and ashes released.
In ancient Egypt, myrrh played a vital role in the religious ceremonies in order to communicate with the gods. The fragrant aroma of burning myrrh was believed to please the gods. It was burned daily at midday as an offering to the Sun god Ra and in the temple of worship to the goddess Isis.
The traditional form of conducting botanomancy used vervain, brier, and the leaves from sage and fig trees as they were all considered potent oracular plant forms. Questions would be etched into the branches prior to burning. These would then be burnt and omens would be interpreted from the emitted smoke. Occasionally the sounds of the crackling flames were also deciphered.
In ancient Greece, the petals and leaves of roses were used to foretell the future. The petal must have a concave shape in order to illicit a yes or no answer to the diviner’s question. Hold the concaved rose petal in your hands, meditate on your question, and when you feel ready press both hands together in a clapping motion. Open your hands to reveal your answer, a broken petal is a ‘yes’ and a whole petal is a ‘no’.
If you would like to know who your soul mate is and when you will meet them, sleep with some ivy leaves, mistletoe or myrtle under your pillow and you will dream of your future partner.
For general prophetic dreams, place ash, bay, or dried buchu leaves mixed with lavender essence under your pillow before you go to sleep. Be sure to keep your dream journal beside your bed to jot down your dreams upon waking.
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme are the four main divinatory herbs to use in the following divinatory exercise:
Long ago, witches would sprinkle incense on a fire and interpret the smoke to predict the future.
λ If the smoke drifts to the right, the answer is a ‘yes’, and if it drifts to the left it is a ‘no’.
λ If, however, the smoke breaks up and dissipates this is a warning to take care of your finances.
λ If the smoke moves upwards in clusters, this is a sign of financial gain or you will enter into some kind of new enterprise which will be positive and fruitful.
λ If the smoke is narrow at the base and thick at the top, it is a warning to move forward cautiously, be wary of the people in your life and be careful with money.
λ If the smoke breaks in two, this denotes that you should slow down and take some time in making your decision, as you may be taking on too much and be overwhelmed, which is not allowing you to think and see clearly.
Use the following guide to decide which plants and herbs you should work with to conduct your botanomancy reading:
Sorrel and vetiver for any questions relating to love
Bay and rosemary career decisions and working with the law
Garden mint and feverfew is for family matters
Fennel and parsley give insight on travel and communication
Basil and dill help with questions relating to money
Sage and thyme deal with education, assistance with learning and making decisions, and passing examinations
Coriander and mugwort are used for questions relating to health
St Johns wort and rue answer your fertility concerns
Another form of botanomancy is to simply interpret the first plant of a specific kind that is seen in the spring. For example the following trees bring with them the following omens:
Aloe To see this rare plant in the spring indicates good fortune for the seer.
Fir tree To see a fir tree in an unusual locale denotes future challenges.
Lily this is a sign that celibacy will befall the seer.
Nettle bush means there will be challenges ahead
Daffodil While it is said to be bad luck to see the first daffodil in spring, the observer will curiously earn more gold than silver throughout the coming year.
Hay To see a fresh load of hay is a positive omen and denotes good things for the observer.
Try this spell to open your third eye and activate your herbal intuition:
What you’ll need
λ An altar and tall purple candle
λ A lighter or matches
λ Dried lavender, thyme, dittany and 3 bay leaves placed in a flame-proof dish.
λ A small container of salt.
λ Small dish or bowl of water
λ Lavender oil – you can also add purple crystals such as an amethyst to your alter.
Light your altar candle and set fire to the herbs in the flame-proof dish so they emit smoke.
Relax and focus. Visualise a gold light forming around you, extending out from you into the Universe. Acknowledge the five elements that are within you – Earth, fire, water, air and spirit. Imagine all of these elements and their energy as a bright, white light flowing through your body. Take some deep breaths and focus this light in the centre of your chest at your heart chakra, making a ball of light in your chest.
Anoint your candle with five drops of lavender oil. Lift the candle to your crown chakra and circle it three times, imagining it leaving a circle of psychic purple light above your head.
Return your focus to the ball of white light in your heart chakra. Imagine this energy shooting up to the stars through your crown.
Exhale, cross your arms over your chest and visualise the golden light drawing in from the Universe once more.
Prediction’s Deputy Editor Gemma Birss looks to the heart of this ancient tradition and shows you how to connect with your inner Druid…
When you go for a wander in the forest and lose yourself in its leafy labyrinths, or gaze up with awe at the endless sky, or marvel at the sweet humility of a daffodil, or feel the sacredness in everything that surrounds you, then you have some idea of what it is to be a Druid. If you have ever sat by a mountain stream and allowed your thoughts to be washed from your mind and carried away by the tumbling water until there is nothing left except a deep humbling connection to the sublime divinity of nature, then you have tasted Druidry. Although relatively little is known of the Druids and their practices, there is something of Druidry in each of us and their wisdom echoes a truth that resonates through many pagan traditions.
Druids have taken many forms over the ages, from the wizened Getafix in the Asterix comics to the mysterious robed figures that gather in a ritual circle at Stonehenge to hail the summer solstice. So what is this ancient belief system?
Well, it’s easier to say what it isn’t. Druidry isn’t a religion. It isn’t organised and it doesn’t have one central authority or sacred text. It isn’t categorised and there isn’t a great deal written about it. There are no set rules on how to be a Druid, and no checklists on who should be one. In fact, Druidry is a mysterious cocktail of ancient history, folklore, mythology and spirituality. It’s a way of life that allows you to delve into your psyche, connect to your truth and push the boundaries of reality until it becomes exactly what you want it to be.
To understand modern Druidry, lets take a peek back in time at our mystical forefathers, the ancient Druids. With no written accounts from the ancient Druids themselves, the only information we have on them is jigsawed together from descriptive fragments washed up from ancient Greek, Roman and medieval texts.
Druids hail from far beyond our written history, but around 1500BC, they came to Britain as important spiritual figures. The Druid’s role was deeply respected in society. In pre-Christian times, Druids were the intellectual, political and spiritual elite fulfilling roles as physicians, sages, doctors, astronomers, lore keepers, judges, mystics and teachers.
Druids recognised a wide variety of nature deities and Divine entities. The names of these nature gods and goddesses echo familiar pagan deities like Brigit the goddess of fertility and fire, Epona the goddess of horses and the Green Man who presides over nature. Similarly, Druids celebrated the eight seasonal festivals that feature so strongly in the Wiccan traditions. This leaning towards a more nature-informed culture corralled Druids off into the pagan pen and thus made them easy fodder for the uprising of Christianity.
When the Roman Empire invaded Gaul (France) around the 1st century, Druidism was suppressed in favour of Christianity and was all but written out of history by the 7th century. The Druids’ powerful positions in society fell away, but they continued to nurture their spiritual beliefs quietly in the background as Christianity ran its course.
In the 18th century, the remnants of ancient Druidry sparked back to life and we saw a resurgence of this tradition, which has morphed into something intimately personal and unique to whoever practices it. Through the chrysalis of time, Druidism has developed its own variegated flavours to become what is sometimes now referred to as neo-Druidism.
Currently there is a relatively small amount of practicing Druids in the UK, with a number of orders scattered across the country. The members of these orders dress in ceremonial robes to meet regularly, read ancient Celtic verse, practice rituals to honour the Earth and the changing seasons and generally connect with like-minded souls. These groups generally mark the eight pagan festivals – the equinoxes, solstices and seasonal movements – which are celebrated either en masse at sacred sites like Avebury, Stonehenge and Glastonbury Tor, or in smaller groups in a back garden or a front room.
Although its exact definition is nebulous, modern Druidry generally springs from a deep reverence for nature. For Druids, all nature is sacred. It is the physical manifestation of the Divine principle. And this Divine principle is all around you. Just take a deep breath in, right now. That air you just drew into your lungs? That was the embodiment of the Divine. Observe your fingers holding this page. There it is again, divinity, expressed in the cells, molecules and atoms of your skin, muscles and bones. The Divine expression of nature is the main principle that inspires Druids and informs their spirituality. Of course, it’s far easier to be inspired by the awe of Mother Nature when you’re surrounded by it, so if you’re thinking of meandering down the Druid path, book yourself on plenty of out of town trips!
While every plant, tree, animal and bird is sacred in Druidry, some aspects of nature are particularly important. The oak tree (the name Druid derives from the Celtic word for oak) and mistletoe are particularly venerated. Not only is mistletoe said to enhance fertility and contain an antidote to all poisons, but it is also the symbol of life in the winter months. Druids would cut the mistletoe from the sacred oak trees at Yule in order to bless it.
The hind also receives special attention in Druidry. To have a red female deer appear to you whether in dreams, meditation or in real life is an auspicious foretelling of happiness.
The salmon is known as the oldest creature, and is also revered as the wisest in Druid traditions. To seek the salmon of wisdom is to connect to the collective consciousness of humanity.
The second driving force in Druidry is a great respect for the ancestors; not only the foremothers and forefathers of Druidry whose thread of wisdom has woven through time to reach us here and now, but also the inspiration, wisdom, knowledge and talent of all individuals who have come before us and who have paved the way to where we are now. Druids acknowledge the imprint left on our world by our ancestors. They acknowledge that our ancestors have a great deal to do with our current state of being. For many, Celtic mythology plays a major part in being a Druid and is integral to its traditions. Celtic symbolism features strongly in Druidry and some of their gods and goddesses hark back to their Celtic roots.
Druids believe in life after death. The soul is immortal and does not die with the body. Between incarnations, the soul goes to the Otherworld which exists in a parallel dimension. We visit this etheric place in meditation, when we sleep, and when we journey while in a shamanic trance. References to this Otherworld are woven through Celtic mythology, which informs many Druid traditions.
There is no central authority for Druidry. Like Wiccan covens, Druids may belong to a clan, which is a group of like-minded people who meet for sacred rituals and festivals. The largest modern Druid clan in the UK is probably the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, which celebrates a love for nature, wisdom and creativity. The bard is the singer, artist or writer, and embodies your creative aspect. The ovate refers to the shamanic healer and lover of nature within all of us. The Druid is the sage – the fountain of inner wisdom that flows through each of us.
These three aspects of the order perhaps give insight into the flexible nature of Druidry. By refusing to be categorised, Druidry is adaptable to every individual, teaching us to love and revere nature, respect our ancestors and to essentially be true to ourselves.
Gemma Birss’ novel Gift (O Books) is out in September 2012