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The Plants of Saturn
Binah: Cypress, Opium Poppy The 26th Path: Capricorn Indian Hemp, Orchis Root, Thistle 15th Path, Aquarius: [Olive], Coconut 32nd Path, Saturn: Ash, Cypress, Hellebores, Yew, Nightshade "Nobody slides, my friend." —Willie Nelson
In classical Astrology, Saturn is the most difficult planet for the average person to experience. He demands maturity and responsibility— aspects of living that are the least fun in a chart or a life. Saturn is considered the Great Teacher by astrologers. We are urged to accept his lessons with as much grace and gratitude as we can muster, and to learn to evolve spiritually from the experiences he brings. At the very least, we should be able to stop going through the same challenges time and time again whenever Saturn in our chart is activated by transit or progression. Kronos, the father of Zeus, is confused in name with the Greek word for time, "chronos." So Kronos came to be Old Father Time, with his hourglass and sickle—the Grim Reaper. Ruling old things, antiques, immovable property (real estate), governments, bones, teeth, and particularly the knees (the skeleton and support of the body or the shell, the protector of it), Kronos can seem to personify the cliché "death and taxes," the only sure things in life.
The mythological associations are with the Titan Kronos, the youngest and strongest of Gaia's children, the only one willing to undertake the castration of their father, Uranus, so that Gaia's children could be born. However, Saturn also banished everything threatening. Kronos (Saturn) concerned himself with his own security, with self-preservation, with assuring his sphere of absolute influence. He did not look kindly to the future. Anything new appeared suspect.
There's the ruler of Capricorn we all know and love! To the ancient Greeks, Kronos was an influence bringing peace and introspection. Marsilio Ficino, the great Renaissance philosopher, finds Saturn to be of the greatest utility. He writes, in his Three Books on Life:
The contemplating intellect ... exposes itself somewhat to Saturn. To this faculty alone is Saturn propitious.... For Saturn has relinquished the ordinary life to Jupiter; but he claims for himself a life sequestered and divine. To the minds of those who are truly sequestered as much as possible, he is in a way friendly, as to his kinfolk.
In other words, to those devoted to the interior life, Saturn is a benefactor. Crowley writes of those whose maturity, chronological and spiritual, puts them under Saturn's reign:
Life is to them a religion of which they are the priests, an eternal sacrament of which perhaps the ecstasy is dulled, but which they consume with ever-increasing reverence. Joy and sorrow have been balanced, and the tale thereof is holy calm.
This theme, however, is stated by philosophers who can look at the highest expression of Saturn. Lévi, on the other hand, writes that the magical works of Saturn are the "works of malediction and death."
The Plants of Binah: The Sphere of Saturn Cypress, Opium Poppy
Saturn's energies are found in paths 3, 15, 26, and 32; these plants are the ones employed in all his magical works, so let us turn to the plants given in 777 for these paths. Crowley writes:
The Cypress pertains to Saturn. The Opium Poppy is connected with sleep, night and understanding.
Cypress: Cypress traditionally grows in cemeteries. In ancient Greece, it was a tree sacred to Hades, Lord of the Underworld. Culpeper writes of the cypress:
This tree is under the government of Saturn. The cones or nuts are mostly used, the leaves but seldom; they are accounted very drying and binding, good to stop fluxes of all kinds ...; they prevent the bleeding of the gums, and fasten loose teeth....
Remember: Saturn binds, dries, and brings to a stop.
Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) can live to a very great age. Wood cut from it, Theophrastus notes, is the least likely to decay.
Opium Poppy: The opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) is almost too notorious to discuss. It is an ancient symbol of Persephone, Hades' consort and Queen of the Dead. The shape of the poppy's seedpod is that of Persephone's other famous plant, the pomegranate. They are iconographically identical. Recall that Saturn's energies are aligned with the realms of the dead; further, using the opium poppy medicinally or recreationally stops pain, slows the body, and constipates. No plant has provided more utility than the opium poppy, nor is any more abused. Potter's Therapeutics, Materia Medica and Pharmacy describes opium as:
... an analgesic, hypnotic, antispasmodic, diaphoretic and narcotic. It first stimulates and afterwards depresses the cerebrum, heart and respiratory apparatus, and ... it kills by paralyzing the respiratory centres in the medulla. It stops the patient from sensing pain, it stops peristalsis, and an overdose will stop the breath.
The stimulation of the cerebrum, as well as the mental abstractions provided by its use, support Crowley's characterization of "Understanding," the translation of "Binah." These mental actions are certainly circumscribed by Ficino's "contemplating intellect."
The 26th Path: Capricorn Indian Hemp, Orchis Root, Thistle
Of these, Crowley writes: "Thistle is hard, stubborn and spiky. Orchis Root is connected with the Cult of Pan. Indian Hemp is tough and fibrous, thus used for making ropes ..." For bindings? Thistle is also a tough and fiercely self-protective plant. It is opportunistically invasive to the detriment of native species, as birds scatter its seeds across wide areas; it grows happily in the smallest, poorest, rockiest crevice. Orchis root, which is nothing but the root of the orchid, is on this list because of its resemblance to the male genitalia or parts thereof; in fact, the Greek word [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (orchis) means testicle, bringing to mind Kronos' castration of his father, Uranus. A further connection is found in the equally ancient name for orchis root, satyrion, that is, satyr's root, named for those lust-driven half-goat beings. In other words, orchis root/satyrion signifies a horny old goat, which is rather what is portrayed in the tarot card belonging to this path, The Devil. We will encounter this plant again on the 17th path.
The 15th Path: Aquarius [Olive], Coconut
For Saturn's other sign, Aquarius, we find listed olive (bracketed, to be sure) and coconut. Crowley doesn't give us any comment on olive, and any comment I may make on coconut would be as far-fetched as his own remark:
Cocoanut: this attribution is doubtful. There may be some connection with Juno as giving milk or with the symbol of the Waterbearer, because the tree gives us fruit from the air.
Or—and perhaps this is due to my just having completed research on orchis/satyrion—maybe the husked nut in its hairy shell is as evocative of a testicle as satyrion root. The rulership of Aquarius had been assigned to the "recently discovered" Uranus—for two centuries at least—and we're back to the castration of Uranus by his son, Kronos. One final and curious connection of coconut to Saturn, rather laterally through the opium poppy of Binah, is this: in the book The Seven Sisters of Sleep (first published 1860), the author describes the most common form of taking opium in Southeast Asia as using a water pipe made from a coconut shell.
The 32nd Path: Saturn Ash, Cypress, Hellebores, Yew, Nightshade
Ash: Crowley writes:
Ash is given in connection with the phrase, "ashen pale." (The real nature of the tree is more properly Solar.) In other cases, in connection with the ideas of death, melancholy, poison, etc.
The ash was given to Saturn by Lévi. This appears odd, since this tree is one that loves sunlight, grows straight and tall, and, Hageneder writes:
contains the best qualities of the most different trees: soft and firm; fast and persistent; graceful and strong; linear and round. A German saying calls Oak the King, and the Ash the high king among trees.
Poor old crabbed, cramped Saturn gives few of these qualities, except perhaps firmness and persistence. However, I believe that we can find another association for ash that relates to the planet of the 32nd path. For one thing, the ash is male, female, or hermaphroditic, with male, female, and hermaphroditic flowers on the same tree. The tarot card given to the 32nd path is XXI, The Universe. In The Book of Thoth, Crowley writes of this card:
Saturn, therefore, is masculine; he is the old god, the god of fertility, the sun in the south; but equally, the Great Sea, the great Mother ...
Yew: Like cypress, yew is a traditional cemetery tree, and is also noted for its extreme longevity. Some of the yews found in English churchyards are 4000 years old—proof, Steve Blamires writes in Celtic Tree Mysteries, that the churches were deliberately raised near to an already ancient tree. Robert Graves calls yew "the death-tree in all European countries, sacred to Hecate in Greece and Italy." It shares, with the boxwood, the distinction of having the hardest wood of any tree in the European temperate zone. Yew is renowned as the wood that made the best bows. We can speculate that the yew of Saturn's 32nd path provides the wood for Diana's bow at Yesod (and the 25th path).
That the yew lacks resin ("juice") is one reason it is not a true conifer. It is almost impossible to tell the age of a yew because it lives to such advanced years. When it does begin to die, it does so from the inside out, so that the rings that would indicate its age are destroyed. It is significant to consider that the new growth occurs within the shell of the old and even eventually takes over the original crown of the tree, making a young yew indistinguishable from an old one. By reason of this "immortality," many researchers find the yew, rather than the ash, to be Yggdrasil, the World Tree of the Norse sagas. The yew's longevity, and its toxicity, certainly earn it a place in the plants of Saturn.
There is one other curious aspect to the tree I'd like to mention in passing, related as well to the banyan, a tree of Luna. Yew is placed on the 32nd path, from Luna to Malkuth and Malkuth to Luna. Both the banyan and the yew are noted for their aerial "root" habits; branches or their offshoots grow downward to the ground, where they take root and form a new tree, eventually making dense colonies. I find in this fact a perfect consistency, presented botanically, with the actions of the Tree of Life; or, one may suggest, "phytology recapitulates ontology."
Hellebore: Hellebore (Helleborus officianalis) was used anciently and cautiously as a purgative, both of the body and of the mind. Elein is Greek for "to injure" and bora means "food." Pliny mentions the uses of the black and the white hellebore as insecticide, and as a poison for arrow tips. Leaving no stone, however fantastical, unturned, he gives his reader a list of conditions treated by hellebore that includes (among several others) insanity, white elephantiasis, and flatulence.
Culpeper notes that "since the Hellebore belongs to Saturn it is therefore no marvel if it has some sullen conditions with it, and would be far safer, being purified by the alchymist than given raw. Goat's milk is an antidote for it ... being beaten to powder, and strewed upon foul ulcers, it eats away the dead flesh, and instantly heals them: nay, it helps gangrenes in the beginning."
Virtually the entire family is noted for toxic, burning, or drying qualities. The Helleborus family is closely related to the Ranunculacae (buttercups). Botanist Thomas Elpel, writing in Botany in a Day, calls this family
... a window back in time. If you travel back a hundred million years to see the first flowering plants you will find species similar to those of the Buttercup family today.... Of all the families of flowering plants, today's Buttercups and their allies ... have retained the most ancestral characteristics.
There we have it: a primitive (i.e., old) plant family of a drying and poisonous disposition. Did I mention that hellebores prefer shady to sunny spots? That they bloom in the dead of winter around the time of the Saturnalia, untroubled by the cold, and that their blooms last for months? It's an altogether lovely ornamental plant, with glossy, evergreen leaves, growing in conditions of shade and dryness where few other plants will survive, let alone thrive and increase happily. That's a plant of Saturn!
Nightshade: The nightshade family comprises, at one end, some of the most useful and life-nourishing plants—the potato, tomato, capsicums (bell and chili peppers), eggplant, and lima bean—and some of the deadliest to human life, like henbane, belladonna, datura, and the mandrake. Tobacco is a member of the family, as is the petunia. Many of the plants have analgesic and sedative uses; others of the family will simply kill you. Some of them, prepared correctly, can cause hallucinations: famously, Atropa Belladonna, Datura (jimson/loco weed), Hyoscamus niger (henbane), and the Mandragora off. Some of these are ingredients in the classical Flying Ointment recipes of the witches, the use of any one of which is a means of "rising on the planes" that demands scrupulous attention to detail. We will be considering mandragora in more detail at Luna.
The Plants of Jupiter
Chesed: Olive, Shamrock 21st Path, Jupiter: Hyssop, Oak, Poplar, Fig 25th Path, Sagittarius: Rush 29th Path, Pisces: Unicellular Organisms, Opium "I was a free man in Paris ..." —Joni Mitchell
Jupiter's bailiwick ranges all the way from Sugar Daddy to Demiurgos. In Astrology, Jupiter is the Greater Benefic, bringer of all good things, protector of the weak, upholder of the Good. In General Principles of Astrology, Crowley writes:
Zeus, or Jupiter, is more than lord of air. He is the heir of Saturn, and the father of the gods. In him is to be found the principle of human generation and the joy of life ... Blessings flock about his feet as dogs greet their master ... And here is danger—the danger of plethora. Even Jupiter may sit too long at the banquet ... It is important for each of us to emphasize the noble and the religious aspects of Jupiter. He is in a dangerous position between the leaden Saturn and the iron Mars.
Jupiter is the planet given to higher education, to religion of an outward type (since his house, the 9th, sits at the top, i.e., the most public part, of the chart), and to philosophical speculation.
As lord of the planetary sphere of Chesed, we see him in the more exalted role of world creator, being the first sephirah encountered after the Abyss. Here, then, is found his role as Demiurge.
Lévi defines magical workings belonging to Jupiter, as "works of ambition and intrigue" best executed on a Thursday, "a day of great religious and political operations." The working should happen in his proper hours. Other appropriate works are anything involving luck or gambling, publishing, travel (long-distance), and large things. Since we're only concerned with the classical Astrology of the Qabala, Jupiter co-rules Sagittarius and Pisces—organized, outer, conventional religion, as well as the inner, far less formal, mystical sensibilities.
The Plants of Chesed: The Sphere of Jupiter Olive, Shamrock
The Olive is attributed to Jupiter because of its softness and richness.... The Shamrock of four leaves, a good-luck plant, suggests Jupiter. The Opium Poppy is Jupiterian as giving relief from pain, quiet, and olympian detachment.
Olive: Hageneder finds, in the classification "virgin" applied to olive oil, a reference to the virgin goddess Athene, who is also connected to the olive because she bestowed the olive tree on the ancient Greeks. The oil is one of the most healthful ones for cooking and eating; monounsaturated and cholesterol-lowering, it protects the heart and aids digestion and liver function—not surprising, since Jupiter also rules that organ.
Olive oil is always the base of anointing oils, whether from the Hebrew, Christian, or Western Occult traditions, and is the traditional fuel for ritual lamps. Mrs. Grieve notes that in the Bible, Moses exempted from military service men who worked at cultivating the Olive, and that the victor in the Olympic games was crowned with its leaves.
Shamrock: Crowley mentions the number four for Chesed, and "luck" for Jupiter. The "four-leaf clover" has come to be identified with the oxalis family and sold under names like "good-luck plant" and "lucky shamrock." Originally, the "four-leaf clover" was simply that, a white clover (Trifolium repens) with four leaves—a deviation or "sport" from the usual Trifolium; hence, you'd be lucky to find one. Since the clover is not dependable for producing four leaves, the oxalis became a substitute "shamrock," so that grocery stores could have something else to sell their customers in March.
Excerpted from The Weiser Concise Guide to HERBAL MAGICK by Judith Hawkins-Tillirson, Nancy Wasserman, James Wasserman. Copyright © 2007 Judith Hawkins-Tillirson. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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Introduction by Nancy Wasserman
An Alarmingly Brief History of Herbal Magick
Part One: The Planetary Correspondences of Herbal Magick
1) The Plants of Saturn
2) The Plants of Jupiter
3) The Plants of Mars
4) The Plants of the Sun
5) The Plants of Venus
6) The Plants of Mercury
7) The Plants of the Moon
8) The Plants of the Kingdom and the Four Elements
Part Two: The Practice of Herbal Magick
9) Preparing Herbs for Magick
10) On Gardening
11) The Techniques of Herbal Magick
12) Franz Bardon and Herbal Magick
Resources and Bibliography
Posted April 3, 2013