We are seemingly besieged by invasive species. We live in a world out of balance; things are going haywire. Or are they unfolding in the most perfect ways that we cannot yet comprehend?
I’ve had teachers I respect on both sides of that argument, and it makes me think of the Taoist proverb I learned as Good Luck, Bad Luck, Who can Say? A farmer in China loses a horse, but gains two more horses when the first horse returns home with friends. Good luck according to his neighbor. His son breaks a leg on one of the new horses. Bad luck? The army comes drafting able-bodied young men, and the son is exempt from going to war. Good luck? Each moment of seemingly good luck led to bad luck, and each bit of seemingly bad luck led to good luck. What really is good fortune? Who knows how it will unfold and what the ultimate result will be? All we know is that everything is unfolding, twisting, and turning in new and unpredictable ways.
“That is ridiculous!” is the thought I imagine many people reading this are having, as there is no way the ecological damage from invasive species could lead to good luck. We can predict some of the damage and devastation to occur, but our predictions are only as far as we can see, and many things are around the corner not yet seen. We are in the cusp of a new age. Chaos shakes up what will happen next, creating the new baseline. Species have always migrated, and while some naturalize easily, some don’t. We can have similar issues in human cultures clashing, from migration to invasion and colonization. While the idea of everything staying in its own territory and keeping the balance is a nice sentiment, there has always been movement, conflict, and compromises. We have to consider that perhaps the new balance might not include humanity or very much of anything resembling our current society. Or perhaps it will. Who can say?
I’ve been working more and more on the land as our community. The Temple of Witchcraft gained five acres for the development of sacred sites in 2011, and we have cut paths and made gardens, constructed circles, and built wells.
And I’ve been acutely aware of the damage from invasive species in this area harming the balance and beauty of the forest. Chokeweed, or Asiatic bittersweet, tears down trees. Knotweed threatens to take over. The emerald ash borer decimated the ash trees, and humans in the forest are under threat of poison ivy and virus-bearing ticks and mosquitos.
One of my teachers constantly taught “all things serve the Goddess whether they want to or not, including you.” She meant that all events that happen, and all beings involved in those events, have a purpose in the greater scheme of things. We can guide manifestation through our free will, but it all fits the bigger unfolding picture we cannot always see from a limited human view, much like our “good luck/bad luck” story. We participate in the unfolding, but we do not dominate and control all things. The Goddess’ story is not limited to a human lifetime, and it is not from a human perspective alone.
Another teacher said repeatedly that who and what shows up is who and what you are meant to work with spiritually at this time. The natural things that cross your path—even the “pests”—are your teachers and allies. If you repeatedly run into something or someone, make friends and learn.
I remember talking to another member of our community deeply devoted to environmental justice who would talk passionately about planting native species, tearing out invasive plants, and the requirements of permaculture. Then in a class, reporting on her homework, she was stunned to find out that all of the plants that intuitively attracted her attention for spiritual communication work turned out to be invasive species run wild, not native species. She wasn’t happy as it contradicted her conscious philosophy, and she soon dropped out of class participation all together. But it was a great lesson for me to remember, and affirmed the point of view from some of my own teachers of working with who shows up and remembering that all things have a purpose.
In my own journey I find it helpful to look more deeply at the natural allies that show up, doubly so if they are invasive. These are the ones who have shown up uninvited, unwelcome, but who most likely hold something spiritually or energetically critical in the long-term for humans or for the environment itself. We just can’t see it as we have been responding to it solely as an invader or ignoring it all together. We need to look to its medicine, its message, and its function in hopes of finding balance inside of us as we seek environmental balance outside of us. There is no in/out really, as we are all a part of the environment.
Here are some that have gathered my attention and some of their spiritual meanings from research and experience:
Ticks—Ticks have grown so numerous in my area, and I hear that from so many people. When I was a child, you could run around in the forest with no worries. Ticks were only found on dogs and cats in the deep woods. Now, with the growing concern of Lyme disease, the ubiquitousness of ticks makes outdoor excursions a burden. I feel like many of these “invaders” are asking us, “Do you really want a relationship with nature? How badly? Prove yourself to us.” The basic relationship of the tick is the draining of blood from living creatures, much like the mosquito, another disease-bearing insect. Spiritually it’s the lesson of being drained, or draining, vital energy. Look to how much we are draining nature. Why can’t nature drain from us? The bacteria of Lyme disease has many effects, but an overarching one is inflammation, the flaring and irritation deep with us. Looking at how humanity treats the land, it can sound like justice, yet it is also a call to learn reciprocity and take responsibility for a physical and energetic draining, and recognize when we are drained. While many think things like ticks, mosquitos, and wasps serve no purpose, they all have vital roles to play in the food chain. They bring nutrients down from larger organisms to smaller organisms, particularly when they are consumed by ground birds. Mosquitos feed bats, and wasps help the cycle of decay. Parasites can seem unwholesome, but force us to see our place in the systems of food, nourishment, and resource, and acknowledge when we have broken those sacred links.
Knotweed—Known as Japanese knotweed or Asian knotweed, Reynoutria japonica, Fallopia japonica, andPolygonum cuspidatum are fast growing and difficult to remove without the use of toxic chemicals applied at the right moment in the growth cycle. Yet they are also a food and a medicine, as research shows their benefit for both treating Lyme disease and as the source of resveratrol used for cardiovascular, or heart, health. While we might hate the weed, its medicine calls us to heal the heart, literally. Healers see the energy spiraling of the root, and its hollow stem facilitates spiritual travel and communication. Its magick and medicine encourage group consciousness and telepathy, helping link us together in a larger perspective. Its healing energies provide a cure for our feelings of being separate from others, of being alone and disconnected from community.
Poison Ivy—Poison ivy is the plant of boundaries, and my herbal teachers said it would grow where humans were not welcome, protecting a space for just wild nature. The flower essence of poison ivy helps us with itch and irritation, and is specifically used as a remedy for those who allow their boundaries to be violated and do not stand up for themselves. It also helps us understand and transform the trauma of boundary violation and embrace the hardest experiences of our lives as a part of our own journey, shaping us into who we are today. It’s not an easy magick for most of us.
Bittersweet—Asiatic or Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus, as opposed to American bittersweet Celastrus scandens or the completely different and very magickal bittersweet nightshade Solanum dulcamara) is another invasive plant. While the American bittersweet can kill saplings, it is not as devastating as Oriental bittersweet. All bear some resemblances, hence the confusion around their names. American bittersweet is used in the treatment of venereal disease, to induce vomiting, and to heal tuberculosis. In flower essence healing, Oriental bittersweet is used as a remedy for feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, and specifically for being torn down by others or by yourself. Markers for this magick are when you feel smothered, invaded, or your shadowy thoughts and feelings are dominating and dragging you down.
Bamboo—Bamboo offers us the medicine of determination. My first wand was unknowingly made from bamboo, decorated with many crystals for my earliest classes studying with Laurie Cabot. I think I imprinted the magick of determination and the ability to achieve the seemingly impossible from those first acts of magick. Use the flower essence of bamboo to face challenges.
Purple Loosestrife—Purple loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria, can be found growing near all the waterways and stagnant roadsides here in New Hampshire in late July into August. It has a beautiful color, yet it chokes out so much other growth. If you look at the flower stalk up close, it’s a chaotic whirl of flowers, and its essence is for those who feel their life is out of control or under someone else’s control. It’s an aid for those who need to control the chaos of others or those who wish to invoke chaos into a situation. In herbal medicine, the root is used as a remedy for eye issues, which brings up the symbolism of how we see clearly—or not—during times of chaos and uncertainly. Are you perceiving things clearly? Can you ride the chaos and change? Purple loosestrife can help you.
Dame’s Rockets—Dame’s Rockets, Hesperis matronalis, and has escaped the garden into the wild, taking over with its beautiful violet lilac flowers. They release a wonderful scent at night and are used as an essence to help communicate with spirits at night. They have a playful, child-like quality that helps clear us from our adult stresses and stimulation, to find our simple joy and creative intuition. It helps bring us into a sense of peace and be able to work with others more easily in groups and community.
Multiflora Rose—I was sad to learn that multiflora rose is invasive, first mistaking it for a native berry bush, yet when I learned how it is used as a flower essence, I could better understand why it showed up here and all around my area. It’s an essence for balancing the busy patterns of the outer world and daily responsibilities with the needs of the inner world, encouraging rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation. It is useful for people who tend to favor the outside responsibilities of others before their own well-being and cannot say “no” to helping others even to their own detriment; it assists in creating appropriate boundaries of responsibilities and desires. Inversely, it can be used by others who “hide their light” and do not share, join, or say “yes” to anything beyond their own needs and desires, often due to fear and self-esteem issues.
Work these invaders into your magick, medicine, and in some cases food, whenever you can. Explore them in herbal magick. Try making their flower essence. Learn their lessons. Integrate their messages, and you will help transform our collective relationship with them. Look at how so many of them address common issues and maladies besieging us in our growingly complex modern world. Perhaps these plants and animals are not coming to harmfully invade, but rather to share their healing aspects. As we work with them, gather them, and use them in our world, their harmful influence upon the environment around us could diminish.
By embracing their otherness, we can transform their role in a new balance where they will naturalize, diminish, or take over. Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows in the long term, but by working intentionally with these plant and animal spirits as allies, we will be more aligned with what is and can proceed from a place of wisdom rather than in unconscious reaction when we do take necessary action.