Women + Plants = Witchcraft?

Purdue University enthnobotanist Myrdene Anderson

From the Society of Ethnobiology website comes the saga of the battle between ethnobotanist Myrdene Anderson and the city of West Lafayette, Indiana.

Instead of a chemically treated and ritually mown lawn, she wanted plants and trees. And she ends up being accused of giving her neighbor cancer . . . through witchcraft!

To me, as an anthropologist, that assertion about my property being a fire hazard sounds close to wishful thinking, with more than a hint of witchcraft accusation. In evidence of my influence, a certain neighbor accused me of forcing him to exterminate 13 possums in a single evening, and another accused me of causing her cancer and its recurrence, although I guess not its interim remission. In 1996 a local conceptual artist depicted my yard in a gallery installation themed around “local notables”. I wrote an accompaniment: “sight on site; sight on sight”, underlining the fact that gaze is a voluntary act, rather different from most of the other senses.


By 1995 I was already deeply involved in searching out other cases of late 20th-century witchcraft accusation. Most cases around the U.S. involved women, anomalous in some way, often gardeners, and sometimes being attacked while they were perceived “down”. I mentioned my father’s 1988 death, but I could also have mentioned that of my stepmother in 1994, whom I had earlier brought to Indiana. Some of these women victims of neighborly hate had also just lost someone significant, one her own mother as a suicide in their joint home.

Ultimately, though, it comes down to petition drives and getting the right lawyer.

On Dale Pendell (1947–2018)

Every plant is a teacher
But as in every crowd
There are always
A few loudmouths

–Dale Pendell

I went to town this morning and drinking my Americano at the coffee house while reading the comments on Kocku von Stuckrad’s memorial to Michael Harner.

But then the screen went all blurry, and I had to stand and walk over to the big window that looks out on Main Street, watching the cars and trucks go by.

Dale Pendell is gone too.

Dale Pendell reactivates the ancient connection between the bardic poet and the shaman. His Pharmako/Poeia is a litany to the secret plant allies that have always accompanied us along the alchemical trajectory that leads to a new and yet authentically archaic future.

—Terence McKenna

If you are a plant person, a “doctor of the poison path,” a student of entheogens, or an herbalist, and you do not have these three books — Pharmako Gnosis: Plant Teachers and the Poison Path, Pharmako/Poeia: Plant Powers, Poisons, and Herbcraft, and  Pharmako/Dynamis: Stimulating Plants, Potions, and Herbcraft — you are missing out.

They combine poetry, organic chemistry, alchemy, ethnobotany, mythology, plant shamanism, and art.

If a forest fire were coming at my house, I would grab these three and leave the rest of the ethnobotany/entheogen texts for the flames.

And now there won’t be any more. But as Gary Snyder wrote, sometimes “books are our grandparents,” and these can be yours and mine.

There is more about his final illness on his blog. Here is another tribute:

He paced back and forth, his delivery measured and careful. But this was no timid circumspection. His slow pace tried to give space to the spontaneous, to create deeper spaces for his risk-taking to dive into. At the time I was getting more and more into James Hillman, whose fidelity to the ‘Western tradition’ (not to mention his sobriety) is both edifying and frustrating. Dale rooted around in the same ancient Greek soil as Hillman, but also branched out into Native American shamanic conceptions of ‘soul’, and traces of intoxicated wisdom submerged in Western tradition. I was hooked.