A Druid’s Handbook to the Spiritual Power of Plants by Jon G. Hughes
‘A Druid’s Handbook to the Spiritual Power of Plants: Spagyrics in Magical and Sexual Rituals’, by Jon G. Hughes, was published earlier this year by Destiny Books, a division of Inner Traditions International. It was originally published under the title, ‘Celtic Plant Magic: A Workbook for Alchemical Sex Rituals’, in 2003 by the same publisher.
A Druid’s Handbook to the Spiritual Power of Plants is ostensibly an exploration of the nature-based magical practices in alchemy and Druidry, with example ‘Druid sex magic rituals’ that plant complexes and incenses are used as part of. The book is split into three parts. The first is a comparative study on the alchemical plant workings: the ‘spagyrics’ process. Spagyrics means to divide and bond again, which is a principle shared with the Druids when they carry out plant magic for the purpose of making mendicants. The second part is a textbook on how to identify, harvest, and make plant complexes according to Druidic lore, and the final section runs through rituals, in this case sex rituals, where plant complexes are utilised.
The book was written as part of Hughes’s seven yearly time of reflection, which is a customary part of his particular Welsh Druidic tradition, which he has been following for 20 years. During his reflection he intended to learn about other magical lineages that use plants in their workings, and this is how he came to study alchemical spagyrics, with the intention of furthering the knowledge base and practices of the Druids.
‘Throughout its existence, one of the most durable and invaluable aspects of the Druidic traditions has been its ability to adapt to the needs of the people it serves. If we add to this its willingness to accept and assimilate new ideas without abandoning its essential traditions or its vast store of knowledge, we can begin to understand why this arcane tradition has survived unscathed for so many years.’ (Hughes 2014, 9)
What aspects of the alchemical workings of the ‘Inner Circulation’ are adopted into his practice, if any, remains to be seen because Hughes doesn’t name them in the text. There is acknowledgement of the similarities and differences between spagyrics, part of the workings of the ‘Inner Circulation’, and the preparations of a Druid making plant medicants, which Hughes delves into with great detail throughout the core, handbook section, of the text. I can imagine this handbook to be a most helpful companion to someone aspiring to follow the Druid’s system to making herbal remedies, and this offers the impression that Hughes has written for an audience beginning their practice. To then delve into what aspects of alchemy could be incorporated into the Druid’s practice is really beyond the scope of the book.
The essay on alchemy is fascinating and leaves the reader considering the Druids as alchemists with a gentler approach to the substances they work with. Again, one receives the impression that Hughes has written this for a reader who is not well versed in this very large area, though, saying that, one feels satisfied that a learned reader would enjoy it too. What the initial essay does is plot the rise of alchemical science in three different areas of the world – Europe, the Middle East and the Far East – and illuminates the key principles; that of transformation and perfection and the strategies employed by alchemists to achieve this, namely, the workings of the ‘Outer Circulation’, which works with minerals and metals and the ‘Inner Circulation’ that works with plants. With both of these, the esoteric (inner elixir) and the exoteric (outer elixir) are handled.
The core of the book is a systematically laid out technical guide for identifying plants and all their parts, and categorising them into two classes: flowers and trees. Herbs fall under trees because they have multiple layers on their stem, which are peeled back, as if peeling bark off a stick. This is part of the first separation step, which gathers the different ‘cardinals’ of the plant. Each plant and its cardinals are further categorised by the sun or moon. Flower petals come under the sun sign (Priest), along with any other exposed part of the plant, and those initially hidden fall under the moon, which is also the sign of the Priestess. There are many diagrams to explain the different plant parts, and a comprehensive table of plants that details what sign they come under, and what medical properties they have.
Whether to harvest a plant by day or night depends on the sign it falls under and the gender of who is harvesting it. Once the plants have been steeped to provide their essences in a way that follows Druidic plant lore, so that both the physical body and the spiritual are energised, they are then united in the ritual setting, at night if a priestess, during the day if a priest, while the plant matter itself is used as incense. Hughes explains that by carrying out the preparations in a ritualistic manner, working in accordance with the sun and the moon signs, harvesting and preparing plants in a particular fashion that makes up the Druidic plant lore, ensures that the hidden part of the plants, the esoteric bodies, are fully energised.
Not working with the magical side of the elements, Hughes says, is the primary area where alchemy and Druidry veer off from one another. Hughes explains that this side of the workings was very much present in alchemy but as other sciences emerged over the years, some disciplines like chemistry arising from alchemy itself, Alchemists have laid the spiritual / mystical workings to one side, in order to be taken seriously by other scientific disciplines.
‘Western Alchemy has, since the Middle Ages, progressively shed its mystical and magical aspects in favour of a more scientific approach – in other words, abandoning the inner elixir for the outer elixir. Although retaining some of its spiritual elements and continuing to acknowledge the transmutation of base metals into gold as a metaphor for spiritual elevation and enlightenment (the outer elixir as a metaphor for the inner elixir) it remains preoccupied with chemical experiment and the science of transforming and elevating matter.’ (Hughes 2014, 40)
In conclusion, it is fair to say, there are some very interesting elements in A Druid’s Handbook to the Spiritual Power of Plants. It is a useful guide for someone who would like to start preparing plant complexes and would like to do so by following a spiritual/magical system, especially if the Druidic path tempers their taste. I found some areas to be a little repetitive though, and while I am sure this is because the book is primarily a handbook that a student can refer back to time and time again, it did make the reading process a little labourious. For a dedicated student, however, I can see this text being most useful.