The Green Man and the Garden (or, Wake the Witches)

I flinch at the sharp, unexpected pain underfoot and lift my sole, stepping free of a lone, triangular scale from a pine cone with its barb-like point. Noting the others littered abundantly around, I toss a few into the garden compost bin and then squat again to continue pulling weeds in the afternoon summer warmth, sweat dripping down my forehead. Surrounded by a riot of lanky white daises and wild strawberry plants, the contented hum in my body oversings the occasional pricking discomforts of being barefoot on the earth. Goodness, all of it.

My mate and I have begun yet another new chapter in an ongoing life of roving and roaming, and despite the upheaval of moving house and this latest, extended period of transition – waiting a month for our things to arrive while sleeping on the floor of an empty house, cooking with a single pan – my core buzzes gently with delight. Not only for the spacious and light-filled residence that now shelters us in Central Oregon, with an enclosed backyard for our two English Whippets (‘the boys’), but particularly for this small, gently sloping patch fenced with a gate.

Escaping from a year of strangely domesticated soul-exile near Palm Springs, California – an artificial world of swimming pools, lurid green golf courses, very posh cars, cosmetic surgery, and the constant drone of air-conditioners – what I most hungered for was a tactile, old-fashioned, hand-turned life. A house that feels like a sanctuary. And while chickens and a return to beekeeping might have to wait a bit longer, I yearned for graceful trees, flowing water, rugged wilderness near to hand, and the chance to plant a garden once more. An opportunity to tend some gentle green friends and, in exchange for that care, harvest their edible gifts for our table; something more than the few sturdy plants in clay pots on our patio that I nurtured in the Coachella Valley, mostly helping them to survive the searing sun. The desert holds a harsh beauty and stark allure but it’s an inhospitable place for plants, except those succulents, cacti, and truly hardy beings that have adapted to severe, drought-like conditions. As it turns out, I’m not one of them.

Wild daisy and winged visitor

Nearby, a cardboard flat with a few commercial black plastic containers from a local garden shop, containing a few ‘starts’ ready to be transplanted. Having passed the summer solstice, in this climate zone and elevation where winter comes early, already it is late in the season to grow much from seed other than perhaps some herbs and leafy greens, like the parsley, cilantro/fresh coriander, kale, and arugula/rocket I’ve purchased to sow. Barefoot for my daily ‘earthing’ time, perspiring on a fine day, my soul laughs with gladness and gratitude to have hands and feet in the dark earth – soil that has obviously been enriched and composted by some previous, unknown soul with a penchant for gardening.

Behind the low fence that keeps the dogs out, the spindly volunteer daises have mostly claimed the territory. Because I find them such cheery beings – as well as that I’ve no illusions the space will be any sort of proper vegetable plot or potager this year – I’m content to let the majority of them stay for now. There’s an errant hollyhock or two, a bunch of mint rabblerousing in the corner, and some dear little succulents too with miniature yellow and pink flowers. I’m clearing just enough space for a couple of courgettes/zucchini, some cherry tomato plants, a lemon cucumber vine, and a few chili/chile pepper plants. The ground-hugging wild strawberries are equally interspersed with dandelions, and these too can remain, the latter in particular, given that I dine on such common ‘weeds’ almost daily in a salad for lunch. Unbeknownst to many, dandelions are the MOST nutritious leafy green we can eat (ahead of kale, even), bursting with vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and a host of other minerals and trace elements. [Read “A Bunch of Dandelions: An Autumn Cleanse for Health,” the Soul Artist Journal, 2015]

Fresh wild dandelion greens, organic local blueberries, goat cheese, pumpkin seeds, in a spicy vinaigrette

Mostly I have been forced to purchase these bitter greens the past few years, not caring to gather them from lawns and roadsides where Heaven only knows what has been sprayed or how many creatures may have urinated on them. Yet it is well-documented that wild and foraged foods are notably more nutritious than their domesticated cousins which have been bred largely for palatability and sweetness. Also, as a healer, I tell you that uncultivated foods have a higher ‘life force’ (prana, chi, ki, mana, etc.) than traditional crops, and are particularly healing for our modern, dulled, far-from-primal bodies. Eat the wild to thrive. 

Recalling previous gardens I have enthusiastically set out, only to abandon them sooner or later when our painted gypsy caravan rolled on, sometimes in less than a year, I’m ignoring the nay-saying voice in my head that whispers, what folly and foolishness to plant anything here. Never mind. While it is true that as nomads we do not own this latest house, that it is really just a landing spot for our return to the Pacific Northwest, I need to do this thing; not simply because of some innate imperative to leave each place better than I found it, but to connect with my physical environment and Gaia as a practice. Moreover, as a relationship. My soul is most content when tethered by a golden, luminous thread directly to earth. It is part of who I am as a healer and Green Man, that benevolent Old World archetype of the Sacred Masculine.

Or, as a Green Witch of sorts, which I think mandates having a garden, even if only a modest collection of healing/magical plants and herbs grown in pots in an urban setting.

Yes, I’ve done this before: sinking tentative roots in a place and planting some green, leafy beings to also anchor down into a shared, earthly dream. So be it. Onwards, following an elliptical trajectory as we spiral through the Cosmos, spinning on this glue-green jewel of a planet through changing seasons and tides, offering beauty and goodness to the ‘more-than-human’ world as we pass along, hearts in hand.

First fruits on the vine

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I’ve long wrestled with whether to openly call myself a witch. It’s a generally misunderstood term, especially in America, summoning popular but mostly misguided images of hook-nosed hags in pointy hats, brooms and cauldrons, potions and charms (for love or more nefarious intent), black cats, Halloween, and Satanic cults. Personally, I’ve never been drawn to Wicca, a modern pagan religion that many witches follow, with various hierarchical levels and so-called initiations. To each their own, but none of that rings true for my spiritual path or the ways I work with the forces of nature and the Universe.

It was during our years living in England that I met my first real witch: a pretty, blonde, middle-aged woman who was initially our neighbour in pastoral Kent, and has since become one of my dearest friends. One day, over a decaf cappuccino, she rather nervously informed me that she was a hedge witch, a revelation to which I responded with raised eyebrow and leaned in closer, having no idea what such a thing was but immediately intrigued.

Conflicting stories abound regarding the origin of the term ‘hedge witch’: they could fly over the protective hedge that encircled many ancient villages; alternatively, they lived near or against the hedge, on the outskirts of settlements with the other unwelcome peripherals, practicing their arts mostly in seclusion; and/or, they engaged in spirit flight and journey into the Otherworld, with ‘hedge’ being the boundary not only of the village but of the physical and spiritual realms. Historically, they are solitary practitioners, especially adept at communicating between spirits and people, and often serve as a mediator or messenger between such realms and beings.

Ancient stones and moody sky

My friend has gifts of ‘second sight’ and intuitive knowing passed down from her mother and grandmother (which arguably makes her a hereditary witch, but distinctions often overlap), as does her brother, including the ability to see spirits and the deceased. Electrical things often stop working in her presence (especially credit card machines), wristwatches too, and there is a curious tendency for fire alarms in buildings to go off for unexplained reason when she’s around. Though it did take her a while to ‘come out’ to me, not being the sort of thing one generally proclaims to strangers or those newly met, we ‘clicked’ almost immediately, both of us sensing something unusual and spooky (her term, which I’ve long since adopted) about each other.

Despite my own gifts of ‘sight’ and communication with other realms, I certainly didn’t consider myself a witch, partly because I mistakenly thought being one meant I had to be a Wiccan, or perhaps even female. Whereas the gentle Green Man, that bearded and leafy visage with whom I was just becoming familiar in Britain, an embodiment of the Sacred Masculine, felt much more in alignment with my wild, nature loving soul. [Read “Meet the Green Man: Archetype for A Wild Soul,” the Soul Artist Journal, 2015]

Almost no two scholars (or witches, for that matter) agree on the origin of the term ‘witch’. A popular etymology claims witch is related to the English words wit, wise, wisdom [Germanic root *weit-, *wait-, *wit; Indo-European root *weid -. *woid-, *wid], thus a witch was simply a wise woman or man. Several academics and historians discredit this hypothesis, however, and opinions flourish, though it does seem largely agreed that the Old English spelling was wicca (masculine) and wicce (feminine), hence the name of the modern Wicca religion.

On the ramparts of a German castle

The Witch exists in nearly every culture and time epoch. In mythology, she often represents the dark, powerful female side that cannot be controlled, yet simultaneously woven in this imagery is the traditional folk role of healer. As for how the European tradition of benevolent wise-woman transformed into something more sinister, dozens of posts and Internet discussion threads can be found, but largely it was the medieval Christian church and its widespread vilification of women (and particularly those with gifts of power) that changed their fate. A dark bit of history, most certainly.

Regardless of the past, at least a half-dozen common types of witches exist today, each with a slightly different definition or inclination, as well as some that cross over into other categories (e.g. witch, shaman, shamanic practitioner, and pagan/neo-pagan all can easily overlap). In general, whether solitary or part of a coven, one could say a witch is a practitioner of folk magic, which is now commonly identified as ‘magick’; the addition of the archaic ‘k’ partially to differentiate from entertainment, trickery, or faux magic (i.e. pulling rabbits out of hats), versus working with internal, external and elemental energies for transformation. I’ve seen witchcraft defined as ‘a pagan folk religion of personal experience’, alongside many differing descriptions making it distinct from magick, black magic, ritual or ceremonial magick, and more. To make things even more confusing, irrespective of how such energies may be used (i.e. for light or darkness), these days there are Traditional Witches, Kitchen Witches, Hedge Witches, Green Witches, as well as Eclectic and Hereditary ones.

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Of the many things I miss about living in Britain – a surprising number, apart from the seemingly endless months of cold, dreary weather – in addition to afternoon tea, and having a bonafide witch as a neighbour with whom I went on witchy ‘walkabouts’ in London or elsewhere, I relished the deep-rooted heritage of Celtic traditions, druidry, folk magick, and witchery ingrained in the overall culture. Indeed, the land itself, from Neolithic barrows to circles of giant standing stones.

Our cottage near Haslemere on a sunny day in summer

Partially to assuage that Old World longing, though social media is a conflicted affair for me, I selectively ‘follow’ a lovely bunch of individuals on Instagram; nearly all of whom are healers or artists in some regard, a good number of them in Europe. I’m connected to several in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales who proudly identify as witches or druids (these are different, by the way) and collectively they live and document an intimate, enchanting connection with their landscape. We are kindred spirits, no doubt, the edges of our lives worn smooth with gratitude, even for the challenges. Their IG posts are almost entirely centred upon nature and its changing energies, phases of the moon, pagan sabbats (holy days or holidays), home rituals, and the abundant gifts of shifting seasons. It’s a daily dose of visual beauty and nourishment for my soul, keeping me pleasantly bound to a place that I adore and miss, and oddly (or not) it does feel like a virtual community of other like-minded healers and unconventional, non-mainstream, wild souls. Bless us all.

Unlike a hedge witch, the kitchen witch is a relatively nascent identity. Given previous work and schooling as French-trained chef, along with my focus upon healing foods and brews, at times I’ve half-jokingly referred to myself as such. Years ago, those naturally pure, synergistic oils, lotions, balms and ointments I created in the kitchen for my (former) business, Deva Botanicals, might further support such an identity. And if the tall bottles of herbal infusions currently in my fridge are any indication – emerald green Nettle, coffee-dark Chaga, effervescent homemade kombucha – perhaps there is still a solid argument for calling myself a Kitchen Witch. Alas that I don’t have a hearth or even a proper fireplace, to be a Hearth Witch instead, but maybe someday, at the next house (here envisioning a rustic stone cottage in the tangled woods or upon the windswept edge of a wild moor, suitably Old World witch-like, a raven or owl perched nearby).

Homemade, healing brews of nettle, kombucha, and chaga (a medicinal mushroom similar to Reishi)

Yet as a healer who has long worked with plants, a practice that evolved from being a trained aromatherapist to engaging instead with the energetic/spiritual nature of plants (e.g. Plant Spirit Healing by Pam Montgomery, Plant Spirit Medicine by Eliot Cowan, Sacred Plant Initiations by Carole Guyett, and others), as well as shamanic ceremonies with plantas maestras, I keep leaning towards green witch as an appropriate epithet.

‘Green Witch’ seems specifically focused upon nature-based and earth-oriented practices, and reading the following description from a popular website, this rings true for me: “Green witches usually practice a traditional form of witchcraft in which the earth, trees, herbs, plants and flowers are consulted for their medicinal and magical value. They will grow their own herbs or wildcraft them, and are very good at making herbal remedies…. Usually, the spirits of nature, the dead (that of humans and animals) or the Fey have a large part in Green traditions.” (excerpted from Aldora Dawn, kitchenwiccan.com)

Certainly, I don’t need a label or definition for what I do or who I am, nor the eclectic/inclusive spiritual and healing path I follow; almost everything with a recognizable, accessible name feels too limited or merely two-dimensional. Most of the time, when I desire a convenient handle, I simply identify as a medicine man (or occasionally, curandero), which I feel  incorporates the shamanic aspect of my work (including my abilities as a clairvoyant, clairaudient, etc.) as well as the ‘other’ realms I’m frequently in contact with. And while it may draw a blank stare, awkward smile, or still be widely misunderstood, I don’t think ‘medicine man’ carries the same cultural stigma or judgments as ‘witch’ does, particularly in the strange lands of America.

In referring to myself, I’m not even going to touch ‘shaman’ – a hugely misappropriated term these days, something I’ve spoken about in a couple recent video interviews (posted on my SoulQuests website and YouTube channel) – despite my ongoing training and initiations on such a difficult path.

Barefoot ‘earthing’… and wild strawberry plants

That said, circling back to being barefoot in the garden, there is something that ‘medicine man’ doesn’t necessarily encompass: contact with physical/natural environment as a practice and relationship – an element perhaps most closely aligned to druidry as a path or identification. And while ‘Green Man’ embraces this aspect, that eco-friendly archetype and nature’s husband feels like it misses my ongoing, real work as a healer.

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I’ve no interest in using magick for influence, power, or personal gain, only for healing.

My kitchen isn’t adorned with bundles of gathered herbs hung upside down to dry (I confess to brown dandelion roots on the windowsill, desiccating for future infusions), yet I like to think that our residence, wherever it may be on the globe, whatever its roofline or what the walls are made of, feels like a healer’s house. A haven for body, spirit and soul; free of television, radio and WiFi, a quiet oasis of tranquility, full of organic and fresh foods, and an abundance of good vibes. It is a place where stories are told, music and poems listened to, and the breath may be taken fully – especially now that we find ourselves on the side of a hill with an expansive vista. This new house sits alongside a rather noisy road, yes, but I do my best to practice ‘radical acceptance’, as Buddhists might call it, and rather than focusing on the disruption (mostly when windows and doors are open), widen the view instead to appreciate the tall pines and junipers right outside whispering gently. Light and shadows playing across the floor. Sparrows at the bird feeders. Or the garden below the upper deck: my dear little patch of cheerful daisies, tiny strawberries, mighty dandelions, and the new arrivals of vegetables and herbs.

Now, I just want some Nettle (another powerful plant ally and healer) growing along the fence, so that I don’t have to use purchased and dried leaves for my infusions and tea. And perhaps more Lavender… yes, always more lavender.

Dear lavender, one of my most favourite plant beings

Call me Green Man. Green Witch. Medicine Man. Healer. Clairvoyant. Mystic. A soulful cook. As long as I’m following a path of the heart, it’s really all the same. For now, I am barefoot in the garden, mostly in the cool of evening beneath a clear sky, a breeze tousling my hair, communing with the gentle beings around me, visible and not.

How many times I have written that we are ALL indebted to the plants, because not only are they healers but they give us everything we use and depend upon, including the very air we breathe. Indeed, while the plants are certainly here to help us heal and evolve, and they do so willingly if we simply ask, for my own practice, I hold that I am in service to them – not the other way around as most people think (including many healers). It is part of walking the Beauty Way, another manner of asking and living the question: how may I help?

To tend a patch of land, whether we call it a garden or not, can be an act of sacred reciprocity, a way of giving back to Gaia. The ancestors, even. Too, gardening as a spiritual practice yields its own gentle insights about our interwoven connections, along with a timeworn metaphor: what are the ‘weeds’ to be pulled in our life, and what needs more care and attention to flourish or bear fruit…?

A well-traveled Green Man visage, now affixed to my garden gate

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By the time I post this piece, it will be Lammas (or Lughnassadh), first of the three pagan ‘harvest Sabbats’, the traditional time of amber ripened grain being scythed in the fields and brought in. High summer, it is a celebration of first crops and giving thanks for abundance, followed in the coming months by Mabon (the autumnal equinox) as the second harvest of fruit, and then Samhain (All Hallow’s Eve), the final ingathering of nuts and berries.

Time, too, to make an offering to this land where I now find myself, a gift of something beyond the usual acts of watering, weeding, and spoken gratitude that form a daily rapport. A simple ritual beneath the Waning Gibbous moon, perhaps, with burying into the soil a gold-dipped leaf I’ve carried for years, along with a sprinkling of organic cornmeal and tobacco in Native American-style. I’m not fussy with ceremony; improvisation reigns here.

Beautiful midsummer evening outside our house

Light hangs late in the sky, the air is perfumed with resinous juniper, and a pastel purple ribbon stretches across the horizon. Aspen leaves rustle in conversation as they shimmer like fine green coins, while my ear catches the susurration of pine trees just beyond the terrace, as well as the lilting, chirping conversations of quail scurrying across the grass towards sheltering bushes.

“Blessed be” is a neo-pagan/Wiccan acknowledgment and greeting, used both in ritual and everyday exchange, wishing good and positive things for a person. I offer it as a modest prayer and blessing for ALL of us, human and other.

Friend, here’s hoping that wherever you are, whether in the confines of a city or in some wilder, greener locale, that there is something which connects you to the larger story and a deeper sense of yourself. A fiery sunset or twinkling stars, a few brightly shining flowers in your neighbour’s garden, a meadowlark’s song, the dinner on your plate, or a smile in the eye of your lover or child. May you find a path, either traditional or entirely of your own making, that stitches you into the ongoing, cyclical story of seasons and the gifts they endlessly bestow. Once you’ve found such a practice, it doesn’t really matter what you call yourself so long as it rings true and authentic in your heart. Nor does it matter what others think as you travel the journey to soul and personal transformation, searching for your unique gift and giveaway to the ‘more-than-human’ world.

For each of us, the real work is to become ever more authentic, ever more vulnerable in what we offer to our tribe, whomever that may be.

Oceans are polluted with plastic and rising. Forests are burning. A homeless person is camped out and huddled at the street light. It’s a good time to be an eco-spiritual activist in whatever manner feels most appropriate to you. The planet needs healers… and deep healing. Every day, there’s important work to be done in service to something greater – all around us, and right under our feet – and the Soul of the World.

Wake the witches, I say. No spells, rituals, or broomsticks required, simply our courageous and compassionate hearts.

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A newly purchased sign for our house, courtesy of GrayVervain (on Etsy)

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