Plant Animism and Communication

“… originally believing in the existence after death, of the human soul. This belief had its root in the ‘animism’… and held its place in the remnants of ancestral worship… Their barrows, dolmens, and stone-circles point distinctly to their reverence for the dead, and their belief in their continued existence in another sphere of nature, from which they visited, helped and admonished their living representatives.” – Alexander Mackenzie, The Celtic Magazine Vol. IX, 1883 

Before we dive into plant communication, it’s important to recognize where the basic idealism of this comes from which is a generalized Native or traditional belief in animism. Animism is the basic belief that everything has spirit, or a part of a spirit inhabiting it. In all things, there may be a physically visible and a non-visible spiritual element to it. Underneath all religions is a subset or foundation of animistic beliefs. The soul or consciousness typically goes on after death and moves from one organized physical container to the next, through each life.

There are many cross cultural beliefs the world over that are very similar such as the idea of water and rivers being sacred as well as the soil and earth, the sun and moon and a focus on a natural and sacred relationship and respect with the natural world. Bodies of water often had to be crossed spiritually in order to make it to the Otherworld and ‘boatmen’ had to be paid with various fees to get across where you needed to go in order to meet the rest of your spirit family. The natural landscape as well as sky and starscape often included an array of various deities and energies and were oftentimes considered gods or goddesses in their own right. 

Stories were created and retold again through millennia that related to these various gods and goddesses and explained the manner in which their being or even death led to the creation of a landform or body of water. Again, everything has spirit and layers, where some energies are ‘higher’ than others. Nonetheless, there is a basic understanding of things having their own life force, identity and basic rights in the fact that they simply exist.

mushroom in close up photography

Everything has value and a purpose. None of this is to promote any sort of homogeneity between traditional belief systems whatsoever, but rather just to say that our basic human experience seems to have led to similar foundational beliefs and universal truths based on experience as well as spiritual intuition. Many of these beliefs were also likely as already mentioned, encouraged by psychotropic plant medicine which allows us to connect on a deeper level to our surroundings, both physically and spiritually.

Taking this idealism a step further, we can assume that if something has spirit, it is actively aware of its situational surroundings. In this way, spirit fuels evolution in direct response of it’s awareness of its own needs or even possibly future needs. The inhabitant’s next born kin may hold some trait that makes it able to survive better or more easily. For some animals and plants, evolution occurs very slowly but in others, evolution seems to be able to occur more quickly. This is currently happening in Africa where elephants are rapidly evolving to being born without tusks in order to prevent being murdered for their ivory. It rips at my heart to think of elephants mourning over their tuskless dead, internalizing the reasoning they were taken and being in such agony that their very dna adjusts in response.

The spirit is aware and the body remembers and changes accordingly through each generation. This is both enthralling and terrifying to think how much deep and terrible trauma impacts us, destroys us and yet ultimately fuels our growth to be stronger. What is being tested here if not for our empathy and our capacity for love along with our very survival as organisms, not just for our own kind but for the entire world’s inhabitants down to the rich life sustaining soil beneath our feet? 

One of the first and most important things we can do when exploring this path with plants is to open up our intuitive mind. This can ultimately be very challenging because our intuition calls into question everything that has been taught and cemented by not only our rational mind but our cultural norms. Following our intuition at worst can feel outright scary but as I’ve grown into it, I’ve realized my intuition has very rarely led me astray. Sometimes the idealisms or reasoning is not spot on, but the feeling is.

a white flowers on a woven basket

Similarly, symbolism in our dreamscape is often not literal but there is a message there to be gained nonetheless. For example, we may dream of getting into a car accident with our children and we are fighting to save them. This likely isn’t a literal premonition of a future event that we get in a car accident but rather a short story displaying the symbolism of our love for our children and the fight within us in protecting them and hoping to make sure they stay safe. This is our body’s way of internalizing and processing our emotions in a universally understood language through symbols and feeling. 

As another example, we may get a negative feeling from a partner or a friend and immediately start analyzing all the various reasons they may be mad at us or are thinking of leaving us. We start painstakingly going over everything we’ve done to try to figure out why something feels off. Then, later we will come to find out the truth that something was wrong but it had nothing to do with us. Again, the feeling of something being off was accurate but the reasoning was not. It still doesn’t change the fact that when we focus on our intuition and feeling, there is a subtle energy layer that can be tapped into and utilized almost as a sixth sense. 

Similarly, and as this relates to plants, an herbal ally rarely gives up its medicine in neat perfectly coherent idealisms. More often what happens is that our relationship deepens over time, as life events arise, through darkness, dreams and half conscious meditations. Through using our senses, raw engagement, deeply honest self reflection and whispers of our ancestors, plants slowly reveal their unique meaning and importance for us. This slow evolution and unfolding of relationship is in stark contrast to how we’ve been taught to see and view plants. Often, I used to approach herbal plants in such a way that I’d ask what does this plant do? What properties make it medicinal? How can I use it?

silhouette photo of tree and grass during golden hour

This is clearly not any way we would approach another human being or hopefully animal. Instead, now as I sit with plants or pass them, I visualize in my mind admiration and I send this their general direction in the universal language of telepathic thought and energy. Every good relationship, even one with plants must begin with respect and admiration. I’ve mentioned taking the plants into me through herbal medicine. This is as true when you’re simply walking through your herb garden or foraging. Using all of our senses, when we sit with plants we can first simply enjoy their presence and take them in. There doesn’t need to be any questions or effort to communicate at all initially and instead we can simply radiate a sense of shared being, recognition or peace in our presence with them.

When we are ready, we can begin to explore a deeper relationship of reciprocity and communication. There is a playfulness in these interactions and an innocence that I’m incredibly grateful to have opened to in my sphere of possibility. At times, I’ve felt I was tapping back into the magic of my own childhood and an innate sense of wonderment and inspiration of the natural world. I’ve found that I do get responses from plants whether I’m welcome or not, whether there is an attraction or a repulsion and sometimes simply, an indifference to my presence all together. Regardless of the response, there is some inner work to be gained in all scenarios and sensations.

I find that I’m drawn to the plants where there is an attraction in times of need, when I’m very sad or lonely. I find that I’m drawn to plants where there is a repulsion when I’m feeling strong, curious and ready to engage in more challenging internal work. As with anything that we find triggering, it’s important to ask and understand why and how we can work with these emotions until ultimately they are put behind us. There is likely something about that plant that is bringing up some past negative experience that still has not been remedied and made inert within our consciousness. 

Through many of these experiences, we may undoubtedly at some point feel silly and that we’re merely projecting our thoughts onto the plant. This is of course possible, but regardless, this communication is still serving as a tool of deep personal inquiry, feedback and understanding of our own consciousness and experience. Our visions, feelings, dialogue and all of it are of course going to be unique to us. However, we can’t discount that it may also be that our imagination is indeed interpreting and somehow making sense of the plant’s energy or spirit and is communicating.

old house with flowers on wall

Many plants seem to have central themes once the core of their energy is reached and similarly shared experiences will be noticed out of multiple people’s unique meditations or dreamings with a plant. I’ve found a great way to further get to know a plant is by ingesting it as an alcohol tincture just before bed. Often our dreams will relate to it and lend some keys that further our exploration and relationship. These experiences all work as a mirror to equally deepen our own self discovery but also the plant’s energy as well.  

Another important note to make in regards to dreams is this… our dreams act as symbols into understanding ourselves and our experiences but also they act as a way to process our day to day experiences. What we fill our time with, what we engage in is also likely going to fill our dream space. If we want to be dreaming of plants and herbs or understanding them better, we must be engaged with them on a deeper level than simply passing them in the yard or using them in our herbal medicine.

Lay with them, talk to them, think of them. Aside from communicating appreciation, we can leave offerings to the plant, ask permission to take a harvest, discuss garden changes, discuss the weather or simply touch them gently as we pass. What you decide to leave as an offering in exchange for a harvest is very personalized. For me, I tend to leave other plant parts, goat or rabbit manure, and old herbal tea leaves or compost. I use scissors to harvest from my herbs as I see it as a quicker and easier means rather than ripping and sometimes haphazardly pulling at the root system. Again, I see all of this attempted interaction as playful above all else but there is meaning in these interactions even if only for ourselves when we are feeling skeptical.

Throughout all of these experiences and experiments in communication I would highly suggest keeping a journal, particularly near your bed if you are taking tinctures before going to sleep. Through this writing you’ll have a nice organized space to organize and interpret or make connections between your inspirational thoughts, experiences or dreams. Oftentimes, it’s only after a bit of time has passed that we begin to fully understand the symbolism or meaning held within a particular experience. 

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