Of Fantasy and Flora

One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about writing a fantasy book is crafting a framework for magic. While magical elements manifest in a myriad of ways in my book, the main system involves plants.

When I began creating the parameters of my magic system, I researched how cultures in our world, across time and space, have used plants in shamanic ceremonies and herbal potions.

Many people of past and present believe every plant holds a unique energy, or potential. Rosemary for wisdom. Lavender for tranquility. Roses for love. In shamanic ceremonies, hallucinogenic plants are often employed to connect the seeker with a transcendental sense of self.

I combined this research with my own imagination and experience of flora. When I’m in nature, (whether on a walk in a park or deep in the wilderness), I feel a sense of calm. Stresses fade as my mind dwells in the sensory stimuli surrounding me.

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Millions can attest to the healing and restorative powers of the natural world. Wilderness therapy proves to be an effective, long-lasting treatment for those suffering from PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Most of us have a story about discovering peace and contentment in the wild.

Yet there’s also violence in the wild world, even for the seemingly immaterial understory. Sucker plants kill their hosts. Oleanders poison. Nettle stings.  

As with nature, so with the magic in my book: the potential for harm and healing depends on need and intent. The plants offer their unique properties to the practitioners. It’s less about how the plants are used, and more about why.

Nature and magic intertwine in my book because I believe the world we share remains mysterious, despite advancements in the sciences. From shamans in Siberia to herbalists deemed witches in medieval England to certified botanists, we have always sought to understand the power of plants.

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We build upon the knowledge gleaned across continents and centuries. We use plants to craft cures for plagues and poisons for prey. Yet still we live largely ignorant to the potential plants contain. Innumerable species of the Amazon, for example, elude our microscopes.

The magic system I create honors our genius and innate connection to flora. Yet it also acknowledges the capacity we all have for violence—for humans, this often involved a lethal pairing of ignorance and hubris.

Yes, magic creates for the immersive experience us fantasy readers crave. But really, magic offers thematic implications: the meaning behind the magic matters above any spectacular stage effect. For me, this involves exploring the connections and disparities between humans and the natural world.