I wasn’t planning on writing what’s effectively a third post inspired by my reading of Seven Spheres, but here we are. In this post, I want to develop the idea of “companion planting” further. But here we go anyway! Celebrating the formal beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere, let’s imagine the world as a Hermetic Garden Plot!
Companion planting, as I said last time, is the practice of putting two or more plants together so that their unique traits support one another. It can be as simple as planting cucumbers as a deterrent to raccoons or as complex as putting corn and pole beans together. Corn stalks provide a natural trellis for beans to climb, and then the beans capture nitrogen and deliver it to the soil, fertilizing the corn.
In the same way, methodology and models can be combined, or at least juxtaposed, to benefit one another and the person doing it. Consider methodology from other realms: in literary criticism, very few people nowadays believe that the New Critical focus on the text and nothing else is a good end result for thinking about literature. But the methods of the New Critics are invaluable to everyone, no matter what they’re doing, whether it be gender or eco criticism. So what sort of happens is that many schools will teach New Critical methods divorced from the conclusions of critics like Cleanth Brooks. That works as a platform to build up the students’ skills, before introducing them to the array of methodological and ideological approaches they might work within.
So in terms of magic, that kind of companion planting is simple: if one tradition has good means of producing talismans, and another has good means of sanctifying a knife, use both! I like to believe that the metaphor of companion planting will help with concerns over cultural appropriation, which the magical community at large is still struggling with (good! We should be!). I don’t mean “steal this stuff and profit off it.” If you plant corn and beans together, you work to make sure both of them thrive.
It’s worth getting into what I mean by “models” here. Have you ever read any Borges? Here, treat yourself, it’s short. I bring it up because the map is not the same as the territory. The territory, in this case, is the world. Our models are the way we think of it. They are not the same, and to some degree cannot be. The impact this has on magic use is subtle. If you believe the world is enmeshed in a chain that goes up from atoms or bugs or something all the way to a deity, and then you do magic, the magic works. If you believe the world is a churning vortex of energy and do some magic, the magic works. The model will have ways within it to do magic, and if you do them wrongly the magic may not work, or may not work out the way you want it to. But if you switch to a different model and do your magic in a way that was “wrong” in the first model, it’ll work! Magic’s weird!
Smarter people than me have written about this, but in part magic is about persuading yourself to move into alignment with things the way you want them to be. And being able to switch models is a very good way to go about doing that. Aside from every other advantage, it’s practice: move between models, move between situations.
I think the primary boon that companion planting of magical models provides is one of resiliency. No single model is perfect. It just can’t be. Every model makes an assumption that can’t be proven. They often rely on that assumption to function. But if you have another model that doesn’t assume that same part, then you don’t need to flail around trying to rebuild an entire system from the ground up.
The Great Chain of Ecosystems
Here’s the part where I just try to mush together these two models that we tend to think of as either competing or mutually exclusive and see what happens.
So what if each link on the Great Chain is an ecosystem? It’s totally ahistorical, nobody thinks this that I know of, but what if there’s an entire Jupiterian ecosystem that we tap into when we do Jupiter work? That would include things in the material world that sympathize with Jupiter, like the Big Boss’s favorite incense or stone. This is a little too simplified, I think, but the idea that all the different pieces of Jupiterian stuff used in a ritual all work together in some way is appealing: the incense creates atmosphere, the stone creates a firm foundation, the libation moves the nourishment through the system, and the candle flame provides the heat energy the system uses to do the moving. Each thing is reliant on the other things to do its job properly.
This helps with substitutions, too: we often agonize over whether we need that candle or if we can do without it; whether the libation should be alcohol or water, and how to dispose of it; and if the color of the candle will make or break the ritual. Within the Hermetic system, we’re given the correspondences, and people have done magnificent work figuring out substitutions from first principles. Polyphanes, of the Digital Ambler, frequently suggests people can use lab-grown crystals in place of “naturally formed” crystals, for instance, because they work the same way. Easy, that one. But if the ritual calls for an item and you can’t substitute it at all, what do you do? Let’s say, for instance, that you live in a place where you can’t burn a candle at all no matter the color. Many university dormitories have this rule, and while you could certainly just break that rule, maybe you don’t want to. Or maybe you’re not in habit of keeping candles around because they’re against the rules and even if you’re willing, you don’t have time to get to the store? Well, if you imagine the ritual itself as a kind of temporary ecosystem, what is that candle doing? It’s providing heat, the energy that life forms use to move, digest, and act in the world. How could you provide that heat in another way? Do you have a warming pan, one of those ridiculous 120 watt bulbs? Think of it like a grow light.
Let’s go from the other direction now, beginning with an ecosystem model. Do you know how windbreaks work? Wind can erode the ground just as water can, and often the two forces work together to desolate an area. This is very common in worked ground that’s not carefully maintained, because the best way to grow a plant is to open up the ground, soften it, and apply fertilizing agents that soften it further. So if you’re growing uphill of a river, the water and the wind will work together to rip apart the soil over time. In this case it’s mostly water, but in other areas, say on top of hills, the wind is a more significant factor. In both cases, you plant trees and other plants that have stable, firm root systems. This hardens the ground, so to speak, while also trapping moisture into the soil. Less moisture and nutritive soil washes away, because it’s held in place by the downhill plants, which allows the uphill soil to work better.
So why would we work with Saturn in the Hermetic system? Someone asked me that recently, on the Hermetic House of Life discord server. This model of windbreak plants is one answer. Saturn provides the structure necessary for the nutrition of other planets, like Venus or Jupiter, to stay in place. That doesn’t just answer a simple question, is offers a very different model of how to go about working with the planets. Just as Rufus Opus tells us, the different planetary energies provide different benefits to the practicing magician. We can imagine Venus as fertility, Jupiter as direction, Mercury as clever cross pollination, Mars as pruning, and Saturn as the wind break, the terraces that we build to hold our plants in place safely. The terraces limit how much we can grow, sure; if we didn’t have structures, we could sow seeds everywhere. But if we sow seeds everywhere, more of them will die, through direct competition, lack of resources, and the slow erosion of land and loss of even more resources. Building limits into our Hermetic Garden Plot allows us to maintain things longer, and grow bigger, healthier plants (which, in this case, would just be the things we’re looking for in our magical workings and theurgy I suppose).
I really thought this was going to be done in two posts, but I’m at the end of part three and looking to see at least one more coming! So look forward to that, I hope!
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