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Shades of Blackness by photographer Maurice Harris
Plant Magick by Tessa Hundley is a visual and literary compendium exploring our relationship with plants, trees, and flowersArtwork by Maurice Harris

Sensuality, psychedelia, and spells: exploring the history of plant magic

Plant Magick by Jessica Hundley is a visual journey through our relationship with plants and flowers, from its ancient roots to modern-day witchcraft

The miraculous symbiosis existing between humankind and plantkind has existed throughout the history of our cohabitation of the planet. Described by scholar, ecologist, and author Pam Montgomery as an “exchange of breath”, all the oxygen we breathe is produced by life-giving plants and trees from the oceans and land who, in turn, take in the carbon dioxide we expel.  

Plant Magick: The Library of Esoterica by Jessica Hundley [published by Taschen] is a visual and literary compendium, tracing the richly symbolic history of plants, flowers, and trees in art, mythology, religion, and literature. The book highlights their shifting connotations… sometimes obscene, sensual, potent, threatening, redemptive, transcendental, deathly, or healing. They speak of the perpetually cyclical nature of life… of birth, death, decay, and rebirth. 

But they’re not merely emblematic. Plants possess potent properties linked with mystical, psychedelic experiences and healing. Works created by artists experiencing higher states of consciousness have existed through generations of indigenous art as well as being essential components of healing, witchcraft, and ceremonies of new life and the end of life. 

As part of the Library of Esoterica series, Plant Magick examines the long history of our fertile relationship with plants. Below, we speak to author Hundley about ancient rituals, feminine power, and surreal visions, and much more. 


“Humans have been associating elements of nature with deeply symbolic meanings for thousands of years… Eve eating the apple from the Tree of Knowledge, Persephone’s pomegranate or the lotus representing the process of achieving enlightenment, rising up from mud through water into air. Not only plants but cacti and fungi, all are represented in symbolism within our earliest mythologies and religious practices. We also often find parallels between our own lives within the cycle of growth and of the seasons – root to stalk to bloom to decay and death,  spinning back into rebirth.  

“While plants and mushrooms are certainly beautiful, there are also many species that are poisonous and toxic to humans. And there are certain plants whose ritual ingestion is thought in some cultures to offer the experience of the death of the ego or deeper explorations of the shadow self. The poppy in ancient Egyptian mythology symbolised regeneration, but also was associated with life after death –  and it was a flower often used in funeral bouquets. Today, the poppy is still a symbol of remembrance of those who have passed, symbolically used in memorials in both the UK and US.” 


“Nearly all psychedelic experiences are directly related to the ingestion of various plant medicines,  cacti, or fungi. Ergot fungi, for instance, is one of the primary components in LSD. The visions and patterns associated with the ingestion of peyote, San Pedro cactus, or ayahuasca are just some of the plant medicine rituals that have resulted in generations of indigenous art – visionary works executed in mediums such as weavings, clay, and jewellery. Then there are all the incredible contemporary artists who credit psychedelic plant medicines as a primary inspiration – people like Alex Grey, Luis Tamani, and Mariela de la Paz

“These artists [mentioned above] beautifully express the heightened states of consciousness found during plant medicine rituals. I also love the classic 1960s and 1970s psychedelic art of the late Rick Griffin and the modern work from artists such as Alphachanneling and Arrington de Dionyso.” 


“The term ‘flower power’ was first coined by the great American beat poet and activist Allen Ginsberg. It is such a potent phrase, connoting the power of nonviolent protest, peaceful radicalism, and revolution. This iconic image by Boston [above] was taken in 1967 at the March on the Pentagon protesting the war in Vietnam. The photograph was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize that same year.” 


There are so many images in the book that conjure up the longstanding relationship between plants and magic. The ancient stone mushroom totems of Central and South America are so powerful. The chapter on trees has so much resonant imagery –  trees take on particularly resonant symbolism in Druid and Norse pagan magical traditions. 

“Among the contemporary works, some wonderful examples can be found in the ‘plant spell’ assemblages by LA artist William Lemon III and in the performance and sculptural art of Lucien Shapiro and Guadalupe Maravilla – both of whom incorporate dried flower and plant matter into their work within various mediums.” 

Herbalism and green witchery are inherently a part of almost all witchcraft practices. Within most pagan traditions you’ll find a deep relationship to plants and herbs, which are seen as potent healers, as well as ceremonies centred around nature, where the earth herself is a goddess, the source of generative power and beauty. Although they don’t necessarily identify themselves as ‘witches’, artists like Megan Boyd, Elena Stonaker, Lani Trock, and Ariana Papademetropoulos certainly embrace a distinctly feminine power within their artistic depictions of plants and flowers.” 


“We have been integrating plants and flowers into rites of passage rituals, marriage, and death ceremonies across cultures for as long as history has been recorded, and most likely longer still! The book celebrates this symbiotic relationship and explores the way we embrace plants as not only signifiers of life transitions but as methods for expanding consciousness. 

“The intent of the whole Library of Esoterica series is to celebrate traditions that encourage self-exploration and the deepening of our connections to both the world around us and to each other. With Plant Magick we celebrate a relationship to nature that is shared globally –  without association with a particular dogma – and our interaction with plants, flowers, cacti, fungi, a form of worship that’s practised all over the world.” 


“The surrealists artists are featured in every volume of the Library of Esoterica, in part because they often explore esoteric concepts in their work. In Plant Magick, the surreal works play with dreamscapes, with size and scope, as in Dalí’s ‘Meditative Rose’ [the cover image], or in the Rene Magritte works. 

“We’ve focused particularly on the work of the female surrealists, the circle of women who pushed the boundaries of the form in their own distinctly feminine way. In Plant Magick, this is illustrated beautifully in the work by Remedios Varo and the wonderful photograph of painter and theatrical designer Leonor Fini captured at a party with her fabric flower piece worn as a mask.” 



“Interacting with nature in any and all ways – tending a plant, walking through a forest, caring for a garden – all of these experiences can be meditative and healing. The hope is that, by cultivating a deeper connection with plants – whether it’s watering a houseplant on your windowsill or exploring a park or nature preserve – the more deeply we’ll be able to care for ourselves and our planet.”

Take a look through the gallery above for a closer look at some of the artwork featured Plant Magick. 

Plant Magick: The Library of Esoterica by Jessica Hundley is published by Taschen and available now.

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