I had the chance to review a book recently that I thought is deeply inspiring, not only because it includes so many visionary and profound voices, but because it delves into the interplay of subjects with which I have a strong fascination: tarot, ancient archetypes, magic and herbalism. This book explores the deeper meaning of the yarrow plant and juxtaposes it with the tarot card of the Magician. I thought it quite funny that as I was writing this review I decided to surf Facebook for a minute and saw that someone had literally photographed the Magician card and asked what people thought of its meaning. These are types of synchronicities that tend to happen when one starts to work in these realms.
Numen Naturae, The Magicians Wand, carries the voices of ten different unique authors and their thoughts.
Jennifer Stickley starts this compendium with her chapter on archetypal herbalism. In this fascinating chapter she explores how we have the capacity to make a deep connection with plants via a “phenomenological, experiential, and living relationship.” The term she uses for making this connection is via ones “gemut”, a Geman word that loosely translates to a blending of feeling, thinking and will that is centered around one’s heart. Stickley describes the capacity for this connection and how she has worked with numerous plants to make this more intricate and deep connection as a way to enter a relationship with a plant’s essence, its spirit and “phenomenological messages, or teachings.” She goes on to describe her work with yarrow, and how she sees the plant teaching her about “protection, boundaries, clarity, direction, precision and discernment.” She also writes about how this relates to the Magician archetype from tarot and how yarrow acts as a type of magician or alchemist; helping us to “develop our will, our sense of authority and mastery of knowledge or skill.” Great start.
Reverend Teri D. Ciacchi writes the next chapter and talks about the practice of creating a consecrated circle for doing magical work. Ciachi then goes on to write out a meditation to ground one’s energy in preparation for ritual and spellwork. She guides us through visualization and breathing techniques to connect us to celestial and chthonic energies. The next part describes the work of “Cross” work, – “establishing and extending a resonant heart field in our own bodies.” And finally she describes the process of establishing the energetic boundaries by casting a circle. In her words “The Magician attempts to take a personally held belief and intention, charge it with desire, and move the desired outcome out and away from themselves so that the goal materializes in the consensually shared world.” This whole piece is central to this book as it describes the practice of creating the space to do magickal work.
The next piece is written by Pomegranate Doyle and she goes into depth about the meaning of the different symbols found in the Magician Card of the tarot. In this beautiful explanation she describes how the Magician stands in authority and in relationship to three realms- the “shadow, waking life and the heavens” and carries certain responsibilities and “birthrights.” She then goes on to explain the importance of the different objects the Magician carries- the knife, the cup, the pentacle and the infinity sign. Doyle relates how each of these important sacred objects relates to “inalienable” rights such as the right to state clear boundaries, the right to passion, to deep knowing and to personal authority and self-love. She also describes how each object relates challenges as well and the need to wield that authority and personal power carefully. But ultimately she views the card as an invitation to “create a world of earth and passion, to be the holy chalice, choosing your heart’s desire, to be the star of both earth and heaven.” Powerful words indeed.
The next chapter is written by Michael Howard and he delves into the history of the tarot and the Magician card. He has some very interesting insights about the card’s origins. He notes that originally the card was associated with a “Bagatella” – a conjurer of illusions. It is also associated traditionally with “fast talking entertainers who attract crowds” and those that sell unctions and potions- with potentially dubious effects. In this way the card’s origins are associated more with the more deceptive charlatan than a powerful magi. Howard’s chapter is filled with interesting insights such as these and he leaves the reader in the end by saying “The Magician is a mixed bag. Of ill-repute and a purveyor of poisons in Renaissance writings, the historical imagery also suggests both a conveyor of wisdom and a healer in the medical sense.” The chapter is key in that it helps us understand the shadow side of the Magician and not just as someone who is a powerful shaper of worlds.
The next chapter is by Kathryn Waterfield and she delves into the idea of the Magician as an archetype. She talks about the relationship of the Magician in juxtaposition to the previous card- the Fool- and says that while both are associated with the “trickster” archetype, “The Fool is unconscious, the Magician intentional” and “The Magician has transformation as its goal.” The Magician card is associated with both the planet Mercury and Hermes and she explores this archetype as someone who is a “uniter of splits and opposites, the bridge of worlds, the bringer of true newness.” In her description, the Magician is associated with the crossroads, the work of crossing boundaries, moving between this world and next and the sacrifice that is entailed in making those transformations. She writes that “If we wish to foster the appropriate state of mind, then the sacrifice is a most significant piece of that nurturance.” She views the Magician as an archetype that points us to paying deep attention, to attend to our experiences and “see through the happenstance, chance, or chaotic events to the quality of discovery that your mind can produce.”
Paul Levy writes the next piece and explores the idea of the world as an intertwining dance of subjective and objective reality as they “reciprocally co-arise and condition each other.” In this way, we play a role in having “reality shaping powers”. Indeed we are all Magicians with the potential of directly influencing and shaping reality. He then goes on to describe how discoveries in Quantum Physics have shown that the laws of the universe are malleable and mutable and that the very act of “observing the universe literally creates the very universe we are observing.” He speaks of magic as the idea that we can “connect with ourselves and each other in such a way so as to create something “supra-ordinate to” ourselves.” He further talks about how language is a medium for transforming our world, literally through spelling out words we cast a spell. Essentially the basis of reality is changeable and we enter this world as potential magicians, capable of influencing, dreaming and shaping the very terrain of life.
The next piece is an interesting interview with Eric Purdue. As a practicing magician, Cassandra wanted to interview someone with practical experience of that type of work. In the interview Purdue, with his usual sense of good humor, explores traditional Renaissance notions of astrology, alchemy and magic. He discusses the idea that Magic is the work of bridging the natural world, the celestial world and the divine world together. “Through the action of the magician doing magic, you are taking these correspondences between natural objects such as stones and plants- with the same correspondences that go through the celestial world, then with those same correspondences that eventually go to the highest world, the divine world, the First Cause.”
He continues on with an interesting train of thought as he explores the role of magic and purpose of ritual. He describes some rituals as extremely complicated, which begs the question if magical practices are for the privileged with a lot of time on their hand or if there is “a certain level of devotion to make sure you are dedicated enough to follow through” as Johns puts it. Purdue goes on to theorize about the path of a Magician – and sums it up simply as “someone who is well-learned and who has many years of experience.” I thought that it was particularly interesting and amusing that Purdue says the role of magic is “to make life easier.” He then describes the dual nature of a magician as containing an element of the “trickster” archetype and even partially a charlatan. All in all a fascinating and enjoyable walk through Purdue’s learned, experienced and humorous brain.
Cassandra Johns writes the next piece about “The Nature of Protection.” Through the lens of her work with Yarrow, she writes that the plants “primary function is to teach awareness, specifically an awareness of Self.” She writes that “Yarrow helps to teach us to nurture our instinct and intuition as guides.” She writes how Yarrow has a special relationship to healing issues in the blood and digestive complaints and then writes that physical healing can be mirrored in emotional statements such as “Its in my blood” and “listen to your gut.” In that way Yarrow helps us to develop an internal instinctual landscape and greater discernment.
She then goes on to explore the role of Yarrow as a plant that can be associated with the Magician card of Tarot as a plant that “teaches us to connect with the divine outside of ourselves and inspires our understanding of the innate divinity within.”
The Magician archetype is seen as related to someone who sits at the crossroads between these two worlds, as “occupying doorways and thresholds”, crossroads and borders, and that both the Magician and the plant Yarrow deals with this notion of liminality and boundaries. Yarrow helps us to differentiate, to determine what to integrate and and what to release or to push away. Through understanding one’s self deeply, including our shadow parts, there comes a greater ability to discern and create healthy boundaries. From this work, Johns writes that Yarrow also has the capacity to help us work through trauma and abuse that is inflicted on us, to regain a sense of “self-sovereignty”. This is a beautiful piece that integrates the Magician card and yarrow seemlessly.
Next up Jonathan Hadas Edwards writes about how the latin name of Yarrow is Achillea millefolum, named after the famouswarrior Achilles, “best remembered for his vulnerable heel.” Yarrow has long been known as a styptic in the case ofwounds and Edwards connects yarrow to the idea of working through our wounds, our “weirdness” and our “limp” that we try to hide to become successful in the world. Edwards likens Achilles wounded heel to how we all carry a “limp” that often comes from traumatic events, challenging initiatory experiences that drive us down into dark shadow states. He writes here about another mythical man named Phylocetes who also was wounded in the foot after being bitten by a snake. He is abandoned but is able to find the courage to “cut open the dirty wound and face the corruption that could kill him.” From these stories he describes how these wounds that lead to limps truly illuminate that “our affliction is a sacred wound secretly connected to the hidden gold.” In his piece, Edwards states that “yarrow teaches us to honor our wounds and to heal them; to walk our walk, limpingly if necessary, as we learn to dance.”
In the last piece, Scott Kloos writes about developing devotional relationships with the “spiritual beings embodied within plants” and that each plant “is a living embodiment of great spiritual teachings, and each plant carries a distinct flavor of consciousness.” In essence each plant has the capacity to work through and heal the wounds and “blockages that keep us separate or that inhibit our full expression as humans.” With Yarrow, Kloos writes that it can “cut to the core of truth”, that “There is no bullshitting with Yarrow.” This plant holds people to a standard of integrity and to give up addictive ways of being that are not congruent with one’s true nature. He views it as particularly helpful for those who are born extremely sensitive and open and therefore may easily experience fear and feeling unsafe. He writes that the root of the word Yarrow is “yare, which means well guided, as in a ship with a good rudder.” In essence yarrow helps develop that internal rudder, that sense of being “well grounded and centered in who we are.”
This is a fantastic book for those who are interested in the intersection of herbalism, magic, and the deeper archetypal meaning and lessons held within the tarot, yarrow and the plant world all around us. Johns has assembled a group of brilliant thinkers who are able to explore these subjects with depth and care. Excited for the next book.
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