- Set apart for worship or veneration.
- Space devoted entirely to a specific purpose.
- Regarding religious objects, rites, or spiritual practice.
I am a sacred gardener. Through this activity I have gained pleasure, sensual delight, and metaphysical insights, and witnessed a miracle or two. My garden draws energy from daily spiritual practices as a yogini, Green Witchery, and modern day Hoodoo. To assist others who may want to engage in sacred gardening for conjuration I have developed some ideas and items useful for crafting a conjurer’s garden. Naturally, these garden designs ideas share my spiritual grounding and creativity in a single vision, inviting you to utilize your background as well when it comes time for your garden’s actual layout.
Conjure (kŏn'jər, kən-jŏŏr')
- To summon using supernatural power.
- To influence or effect by metaphysical means
A sacred garden is typically imbued with animals, spiritual objects, flowers, and trees designed to conjure or invoke energy of specific deities, nature spirits, elementals, deva, ancestors, and varied other orders of beings. By conjuring deity and knowing the language of flowers, trees, certain deities, and elements, a magical garden is within your reach. This article is designed to share some ideas with you so that you, too, can create a magical garden, and perhaps learn some new things about the rich traditions of continental African and African diasporic beliefs in the process, thereby expanding the scope of your current practice.
As symbolized by seeds, bulbs, and the egg, spring is season of great potential. It is time for tilling soil, revealing hidden secrets, dusting off memories, trying to meet promise, and harness the messages of ashe.
We plant seeds, both metaphysical and physical. Growth of herbs, flowers, trees, and other plants render the opportunity to cultivate many redeeming qualities within the self as well, such as increased patience, increased awareness of your local region’s climate and seasons, knowledge of the moon’s cycles and how they relate to gardening, creative visualization, and appreciation of the beauty of your garden and the fruits of your labor during harvest season. Tip: refer to Llewellyn's Annual Moon Sign Book for specifics concerning moon position and significance of astrological happenings and how they relate to proper planting times and good harvest days this year.
The Conjurer’s Garden
In many parts of Africa there are elaborate planting rituals with specific musical renditions, praise and invocation songs, and focused dances designed to stir plants to fruitful yield. Many West African ceremonies or rituals begin with an offering to the deity Elegba to assure success. Identified with St. Anthony and St. Michael, Elegba’s colors can be red and black or black and white—his symbolic caminos, or paths to knowing him, are canes, staffs, and pipes.
To begin your conjuring garden it is important to recognize Elegba. He owns the crossroads and controls fortune and misfortune—he represents death, an integral element of the wheel and planting season. As a trickster, Elegba can present difficult options during vision quest. It is wise to devise a way of paying tribute to Elegba before beginning your sacred garden; do this reverently at the nearest crossroads to your house.
You need Esu for conjure gardening as well. Esu is a Yoruban concept representing the energy rising out of Yangi, ‘sacred red rock,’ allowing people to communicate with Orisha and Orunmila (a remote yet omnipresent creator). Esu lives in consecrated rocks. Often I use charged river rocks to honor Esu. I also honor Orisha Oshun because she is specific to the rivers, water banks, fresh water, beauty, and the arts. I invoke her energy while honoring her by mulching the garden with river rocks and pea pebble.
- Horseshoe on House or Tree
For good luck in your venture, you will probably want to place a horseshoe on your property in or near your garden, doing so with veneration, focus, and intent. The horseshoe embodies energy of the warrior Orisha and gods of protection such as Ogun. This set of gods is associated with metallurgy and metalsmithing. The horseshoe must be placed with cup shape facing upward to catch the good luck, otherwise you are simply catching and spilling away abundance. Metals such as a horseshoe pay tribute to African metalsmiths (which are respected as shamans) and to the venerable history of African American smiths, while adding an important layer of shielding and protection around the garden.
- White-Washed Fence or Tree
White represents one of the most important bodily and spiritual functions in holistic healing. White represents the "otherworld," the spirit world, from which we conjure energy. The color and concept called funfun in Yorubaland is a metaphysical designation; it is possible for spirits of many kinds (animal, spiritual, natural, and elemental), ancestors, and humans to potentially interact in this conceptual zone. A white washed fence around the garden or a white washed tree on your property is a way to cultivate this potent West African idea, affording the opportunity to engage and harvest "white spirit world" energy.
- Garden as Spirit-Animal Sanctuary
Your fence can attract and retain energy of physical and spiritual creatures beneficial to your garden by creating a symbolic sanctuary.
- Ants—Welcome ants to your garden and leave appropriate offerings in front of ant hills to be carried off to spirit world. Ants are capable of forging a road between humans, ancestors, and spirits. Working with ants is an immediate and fun way to begin crossing over to the spirit realm from the garden space. A visit from army ants is considered a blessing and a sign of the need for more offerings.
- Bees— Bees are symbolic of fertility, renewal, and fecundity. Mande people consider bees to be harbingers of blessing; they associate bees with longevity, and getting stung is considered lucky. Your garden won’t go very far without bees, so make the space pleasing to them.
- Birds—Birds appear to disappear into the heavens, and therefore they are thought of as spiritual messengers and spirit animals. Believed to take offerings and sacrifices to ancestors, deities, or spirits as intended, birds are watched and listened to closely—admired as some of animal kingdom’s best oracles. A bird’s presence in the garden suggests sustainability, stability, safety, and life. It is wise to have bird feeders and a bird bath in or near your garden to welcome these heavenly creatures.
- Crocodile—Brokers of power and mystical forces with great energy, the crocodile is also an oracle. Crocodile jaws symbolize the ability to consume negative energy; represent the water spirit and collect sacrifices and offerings left in moving water. The crocodile is celebrated because it carries sacrifices to ancestors and spirits through bodies of water. Images of crocs on tiles, statues, as a bowl or woven rug motif, etc., should be added to the conjurer’s garden so that it becomes a place where oracular messages can be received.
- Mouse/Rat—Mice and rates are highly respected messengers to several African groups, who believe that because of their natural closeness to earth that mice and rats have metaphysical powers. Mice can be made to feel welcome in the flower garden using food offerings.
- Porcupine—The porcupine quill is symbol of a brave warrior, shielding against evil or disturbing spirits. The porcupine is considered a wise animal in West Africa, and therefore porcupine quills are welcomed in your garden as symbols of intelligence. Porcupine quills refer to weaponry, suggesting the ability to ward off evil sorcery. Porcupine statues, plaques, woven cloths, and quills can be added to the garden.
- Snakes—Several qualities of snakes are admired, including its ability to survive both on land and in water; its ability to camouflage itself and blend quietly into its environment; its ability to hunt and eat much larger, more powerful prey than itself; and the potency of its venom, which demonstrates very strong nyama. In Haiti’s Vodou there is a lwa called Damballah. Eldest and chief of lwas Damballah is primordial serpent deity who created our planet and the deities who rule it. He is of such antiquity that he does not even need to speak to be heard; like DNA, he is at the core of our being.
- Toad—Toads are looked upon as mystical creatures because they transform as part of their core being; toads also aid the healer’s spiritual work with forest medicine.
- Turtle/tortoise—Turtles represent the feminine and fertility rites. As creatures of land and water, turtles are considered quite adaptable and smart. Turtles and tortoises are in the shape-shifter spirit animal family.
Most of the animal figures can be made using stoneware and fired so they are weatherproof. They can also be represented in tiles or set out in mosaic if you are crafty. Stores such as www.sacredsource.com, as well as other outlets specializing in African symbolism, sell sacred icons as statuary, but make sure what ever you select is weatherproof.
Stoking the Conjurer’s Garden
- Job’s Tears or Prayer Seeds (Coix Lachryma-Jobi)
One of the most important plants you can draw from is Job’s Tears, also called prayer seeds. Harkening to a healer’s art called “medicine string,” Job’s Tears are species of grass; the part of interest is the seed (actually the plant’s fruit). The plant grows in marshes and has a place in “Secret Doctor” medicine for protection and prayer and in Hoodoo as wishing bean. To create your garden and plant your hopes, carry three concealed beads for luck or throw seven beads in a fresh water source. Seed magic has a venerable African history, recorded back to 5th Dynasty of Egypt, where bodies were found adorned with seed necklaces. Wearing seed jewelry is important while planting. In Ancient Khemet such jewelry was used against evil on mummified bodies and worn by the living to ward of illness.
- Handful of Conjurer’s Tools
You can look in Richter’s Catalog or online suppliers to find seeds of these plants—essentials to the conjurer’s garden.
- Deer’s Tongue (Frasera speciosa; Liatris odoratissima) has a scent similar to vanilla and is thought of as a lust-inducing aphrodisiac that also helps quell gossip.
- Devil’s Shoe String (Viburnum alnifolium) is a stringy barked stick that is used to help get you out of trouble.
- High John the Conqueror Root embodies the spirit of a heroic, courageous, fearless survivor of slavery. Carrying this magical root on your person in a mojo (piece of colored flannel) or sprinkling the powder from it on your money is thought to bring good fortune.
- Queen Elizabeth Root (Orris Root, Iris florentina): A potion from a specific type of iris is easy to obtain from this flower. Iris yields an inviting, tempting, attractive root which is pulverized and used in love binding formulas. In hoodoo Queen Elizabeth Root is believed to enhance the power of individual herbs and to generally strengthen any mojo or potion it is added to.
- Rose (Rosa spp.) When selecting potential roses, seek out the old-fashioned scented types rather than the more neutral tea roses. Roses are beautiful, and like the lotus they suggest female genitalia in the height of passion. The blush of the rose is often likened to the blush of a bride or a sexual partner during orgasm. In parts of Africa and the Middle East holy temples are spiritually cleansed entirely with highly potent Bulgarian Rose Water. The Presence of the rose enhances the spiritual frequency of the sacred garden.
- Poetic Flowers and Exotic Trees
When you close your eyes and visualize your magical garden, I’m sure it is now filled with intriguing conjure plants, images of oracular animals, auspicious insects, and mystical birds. Your mind may also reverberate with a rainbow of colors, intricate shapes, and alluring fragrances of herbs and flowers. When choosing flowers for the conjurer’s garden, refer to this excerpt derived from the extensive language of flowers—it speaks of what each flower, tree, and organic fertilizer represents:
- Algae heralds good fortune and prosperity.
- Balm of Giliad Commiphora opobalamum is preferred, but you may also use Cedronella canariensis. This has been an important spiritual flower to African Americans for hundreds of years for its connection to spirituality and its powerful metaphor for survival.
- Banana (Musa spp) Along with fig, coconut, and tamarind, the banana is one of the most important cross-cultural African spiritual trees. The leaf is used to assure fertility and encourage vitality and good health (good for indoor or outdoor gardening in warm conditions).
- Bergamot (Citrus aurantium var. bergamia) inspires confidence and gives energy.
- Blood is an important magical and practical substance when used as a libation for good fortune. Goat’s blood can be used for such libations, as well as for sacrificial work and as a fertilizer.
- Calendula (Calendula officinalis) brings brightness, success, and well wishes.
- Coconut (C. nucifera) is a tree of love and has a myriad symbols in African belief systems, including cleansing, purity, greetings to the gods, goddesses, and ancestral spirits.
- Daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum or Bellis perenis) speaks of true love unfettered by appearances.
- Fig (Ficus carica) represents fidelity and chastity. A good indoor tree specimen comes from Ficus spp. that can be brought outdoors in warm conditions.
- Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis sylvatica) Well, you won’t will you?
- Gardenia (Gardenia augusta) is beloved by African American southern gardeners. Gardenia is one of the only perfectly balanced scents around; it contains a top note as well as the middle and base note. Can be worn in the hair, place near the bed, or carried in a bouquet.
- Honeysuckle (Lonicera caprifolium) speaks of marriage.
- Hollyhock (Althaea rosea) represents fertility.
- Iris (N.O. Iridaceae) represents strength; the root of Rhizoma iridus is used to make Orris root powder.
- Jasmine (Jasmimum officinale) eases anxieties, and is also romantic and narcotic; the brew is deeply relaxing.
- Lily (N.O. Liliaceae) represents purity.
- Magnolia (Magnolia acuminate; M. virginiana) are of love goddess and planet Venus. In Hoodoo, putting a few magnolia leaves under the bed, mattress, or pillows is thought to insure fidelity.
- Mango (Mangifera) conjures fertility, community, and smooth family relationships.
- Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), also called Brideswort, is a traditional flower given to brides to wish them luck and calm their nerves.
- Orange Blossoms (Citrus sinesis) draw commitment (can be grown indoors or outside).
- Pineapple (Bromeliaceae) is easy to grow from a Pineapple fruit top. Cut off, leave a little of the fruit, remove the lower leaves, and let dry for a few days. Put in water until roots appear. Plant in a pot in potting soil, and you’ll have your own pineapple tree. In Puerto Rico and elsewhere this tree represents friendly greetings and convivial warmth.
- Red Carnation (Dianthus carophyllus) represents amorous love.
- Red Tulip (Tulipa spp.) speaks of love.
- Roses (Rosa spp.) represent sensuality, beauty, and joy.
- Sweet Myrtle (Myrtus communis) is considered the top love draw herb, and helps conjure fidelity and joyful relationships. Can be worn by a bride with a veil or carried as part of the bridal bouquet.
- Tamarind (Tamarindus indica) is a tree of love, sensuality, sharing, strong magic, and community.
- Tobacco leaf (Nicotana) sends salutations to the ancestors, family, and community.
- Indigenous Tree Energy
Pine, holly, and oak renew and empower us in the woods, in the home, and within the body. For shade, wisdom, inspiration, and medicine, you want to situate your garden near a tree. Here are some, which grow well in most regions of the United States, to consider:
Holly’s deep green, leathery leaves and bright red or white berries brighten the spirits; holly has numerous recorded uses among early African Americans along the southeast coast, particularly in Gullah medicine. They are well-appreciated trees during winter’s celebrations of Yule and Christmas.
- Conifers (Evergreens):
Evergreens are a metaphor for the interaction between departed spirits and their living community. Pine (Pinus spp.) and Spruce (P. Picea) trees in particular play a key role in traditional Southern US burials. Other trees to consider adding:
- Black spruce—with its mellow, deep woods scent.
- Cedarwood—spiced evergreen, deep and powerful
- Fir needle—fir is somewhat brighter and sharper than cedar but not acrid
- Juniper berry—deep fruit mixed with evergreen.
- Plant Lwas
There is an awe-inspiring tradition of bringing together plant energy with divinity and spiritual and personal energy called Vodou. Vodou affirms relationships between cycles of life, the crossroad of nature, ancestors and spirits. Vodou vision of spirits understands them as the intelligence of energy present in humans, nature, and thoughts.
Mysteries can be understood through spirits, goddesses and gods known in this path as Lwa. Lwas are intermediaries between Bondye, very remote, omnipotent God and humans. The lwa were once mortals and share some human characteristics, including strength, vision, ego, capriciousness, and fickle emotions; they can be demanding and sometimes tricky. Two who you want to salute with your sacred garden efforts:
- Gran Bwa—helps you connect to ancestral roots or spiritual home of Vodou. Offerings of basins of water, leaves, roots, branches, or flowers are welcomed. A drawing of ‘tree of life’ is a good conduit to Gran Bwa. A tree sapling can be planted on Gran Bwa’s behalf. Gran Bwa energy exists at each magical point of every tree. Ask Gran Bwa to enter heart, arm, and legs through a ritual dance on your tilled soil.
- Gran Ibo—Those who find magic and wisdom in the swamp and its plants need to know Gran Ibo, lwa of swamps. She understands "language of plants" and is holder of ancient plant knowledge—all the way from its roots because that is where knowledge is held. Everything natural, including trees, roots, leaves, pods, flowers, bark, insects, animals, bird, reptiles—all find their way through difficulty by attuning to wisdom held by Gran Ibo. Sacred swamp plants and trees include: lotus, orchid, swamp oak, sandalwood, and magnolia.
- Water Features: Bringing it All Together
I saved the best for last. One of the most important ways you can make your garden sacred and capable of conjuration is through water and water features. Water has an important seat in African diasporic magic and indeed in hoodoo. We utilize sacred waters in baths, blessings, soaks, libations, teas, floor washes, on the altar, and more. In your Conjurer’s Garden this translates into water falls, bird baths, koi or turtle ponds, and the appreciation of rain. I recommend collecting rain or lightning water in barrels or buckets to be used to feed your seedlings and saplings as they arise. Rain usually brings more gentle energy of the female fertility deities, whereas lightning water brings change, swiftly ushering in transformation.