A little while ago I was having a conversation with a fabulous woman, to whom I am currently teaching my Craft, about Bottlebrush. My Aussie readers will get the reference, but my international readers might think we were having a discussion about cleaning bottles. Bottlebrush or Callistemon, are a very prominent feature of the Australian landscape. And my friend had been directed to this flower by a spirit guide in a vision experience, most unexpectedly. This post is not about our collective insights into the nature of that plant specifically, as we are both still working with it and getting to know it, as it were (I find increasingly I speak in terms of all these things like neighbours I can have a cuppa with) but rather something that I noticed about how we spoke about the plant.
Something so obviously red and showy might not immediately seem masculine in nature. Certainly, the spirit that pointed to it for his own purpose was masculine in nature. As we discussed this, I pointed out that the showy parts of this particular genus are entirely masculine, being the stamens, and the petals entirely inconspicuous. Which began to make more sense.
Making sense is not really always what happens when working with the spiritual nature of anything. What a thing is in the material world is not always a reflection of its magical or spiritual nature, in a common way. Sometimes a more thorough understanding of a thing in a scientific way, as in the case of our friends the callistemon, can certainly help develop a sense of its subtle nature.
Terms like “masculine” and “feminine” are most broad and obvious. Unfortunately, they are often entirely incorrect even scientifically speaking, and entirely too crass for those of us wanting a more subtle and thorough understanding of this thing or that. But language we need, and have, and systems for categorising and sharing insights is, well, entirely what this blog is about.
List of Lists
There are lots of ways one might choose to classify the uses and “spiritual character” of anything floral, and fauna, places of power, and natural phenomenon. A cursory glance at indigenous cultures around the world, and even pagan, pre-Christian culture in Europe will reveal that very few of them had too many lists as well defined as anything that comes to us from the Classical period, and onwards in Europe. Mostly things might belong to a great spirit, or to a tribe or local clan in the sense of custodianship and understanding their myths, as in the case of Indigenous Australians. Classifying them now becomes an anthropological exercise. But next to none are listed in orders corresponding to set rules of identification outside of the individual role they may play inside a myth, like for example, the mistletoe of Norse mythology, or their healing/cursing magic or specific or prevalent function like that of peyote in Central America.
Correspondences are not simply a “European thing” either, Asia had them as well, and a complex early scientific/quasi-scientific or philosophical set of rules by which to classify things. These things, by their nature, belong to written cultures rather than oral ones.
But a written culture we have. And these rules and classifications are in many ways better preserved than oral myths which inform many of them. Here are some:
- Doctrine of Signatures
- Classical Planetary (and Astrological) Correspondences
- Classical Elements
- Chinese Astrological Correspondences
It’s probably important to note that this is a broad list. Within each various manifestations, people developed these ideas, and often several kinds of similar lists exist corresponding to time periods and theological and philosophical influences. In the modern world, we can add to this list with some of the following, which I note were derived and developed from old alchemical and philosophical traditions which give us the above:
- Chemical (Atomic & Molecular) Elements
- (Quantum) Subatomic Particles
- The Light Spectrum
- Biological and Botanical Classifications
For fun, consider how often we divide things into at least two groups:
- Male/Female (Feminine/Masculine)
- etc., & so forth…
There is nothing wrong or indeed innately correct about any or all of these spiritual or philosophical classification, and anything and everything can be classified via the most simple and rudimentary classifications. But since this is not a scientific exercise, and something entirely different, (if not greatly informed by scientific knowledge) there is no reason why these do not continue to be excellent ways in which to describe a thing, particularly since they are part of our cultural heritage as English speakers. It is, they are, part of our Tradition. And spiritually speaking, these ancient ways of understanding are woven into the fabric of our understanding: like water, earth, air and fire.
I’ve said in other places, I have no intention of remaking the wheel, but it does occur to me that the wheel has been improved upon many times, and changed in order to suit new environments.
Develop(Ed/ing), not Definitive
In a previous post I touched on D.H. Lawrence’s musing in Kangaroo that if “St. Paul and Hildebrand and Darwin had lived south of the equator, we might have known the world all different, quite different.” Notwithstanding the scientific classifications (though, I make no allowances for the Latin and Greek names), the same can be asked of every single thinker and system on the subject of the natural world and its magic!
When I first began to feel like there was something (everything) Australian missing from the classifications I was learning, there was the prevalent classification of Eucalyptus as Lunar. In accordance, no doubt, with Agrippa’s Philosophy of Natural Magic which sets out the aromatic leaves are to be classified thus. It’s not wrong, entirely, just… Well, an entire genus of all 700 plus species entirely Lunar? The Lunar Continent, maybe? In the Desert the same as on the banks of the Murray? Almost makes you grateful no-one ever thought to classify the 1000 plus acacia this way… And when it does come to something like eucalyptus, is it baneful or beautiful? Both, either, depending on how you’re using it, or how you encounter it fragrance.
Our diversity of species comes from a diversity within a genus. And for the most part, are found nowhere else. Can we ignore the things we understand now in the technological and scientific age?
It seemed to me that should the likes of Agrippa been Australian our Planetary Correspondences would look vastly different. Needless to say, astrology might be rather differently organised with fewer rams and more kangaroos. Would a cluster of plant penises dripping with plant semen, like our friend the callistemon, which also defines genus after genus after genus of flowering plants in Australia (and counting in species in their thousands) have been considered the same as the velvet petal-bearing roses of the Northern Hemisphere and Venusian? Since the scientific understanding comes later than the consideration of the bird and bee attracting, sweet smelling qualities it is indeed possible to hypothesise either way. It amuses me no end to think on how vastly different our world entire would be, our sense of masculine and feminine even, would be altered had the predominate culture grown up in Australia.
I am not a British Ceremonial Magician. And I can’t help but think some traditions would be increasingly difficult transplanted onto the continent. I am also not Indigenous. I still inherit this European culture and language, a context in which I order the world around me. But the process is not lost on me. The classifications I use are not arbitrary. If scientific knowledge as we understand it today can grow out of the philosophical and theological traditions of the past, there seems no reason to think that Australian Correspondences can not grow out of a Classical Planetary ones.
Choosing the Language
Working and writing a blog describing nature in terms of Classical Planetary Correspondences is not an accident. As I discussed with my friend who sparked these considerations in the first place, and who prefers to describe things in terms of the Classical Elements, there were options, I could have done that too. Many people skip these entirely opting instead to address situational classifications. Where a plant survives bushfire, so its nature is one of “perseverance”, a fruiting one “abundance” without reference to either element or more obvious visual signature.
For myself, the Planetary Correspondences were part of my learning Traditional British Witchcraft. As an animist, they appeal because they speak to beings, astrological bodies, functions and characteristics. And there are few more of them than there are Classical Elements, which allows a slightly more nuanced classification. But it doesn’t end there, and regularly doesn’t start. I don’t intend for this list of mine to ever be definitive. And such a thing takes time. My consideration of this thing or that is informed by all sorts of things:
- Indigenous Lore where it is available;
- Scientific knowledge, its environment and place within an ecosystem;
- Folklore and story as part of the Australian Culture;
- My own experience with the thing, in the mundane sense (if there is such a thing);
- and, practical work with the thing, meditation and divination in order to “get to know” the spirit directly.
Sometimes it turns out to be most obvious, at other times things don’t sit so well or neatly within a Correspondence, or it is a thing like Eucalyptus that I simply do not have time to work with each species directly, and does not behave quite the same way as Oak, or indeed has enough corresponding Lore I am privy to across many nations like Pine that allows me to aggregate. There has to be an allowance in my own work that in the end, the European Traditions were not constructed with Australia even a little bit in mind.
Slowly, I’m finding more and more people doing similar work. Deciding to write this blog has revealed itself as forum through which I am finding some of these people and so the process is already a winner! In Sydney NSW, Julie Brett, drawing from her study of Druidry has produced some wonderful insights into Australian Flora and Fauna which can be found here at Druids Down Under.
In the meantime, the process, whilst very slow,and sometimes difficult, has been, and continues to be, a deeply rewarding one.
P.S. ‘E’ is for a post inspired by the elements. This post participates with the Pagan Blog Project!