Anyone who’s practiced magic for any length of time has heard the phrase “As above, so below.” It sums up quite neatly an idea called sympathetic magic, first widely discussed in George Frazer’s The Golden Bough.
Sympathetic magic is based on two principles: first, that “like affects like,” and second, that two things that have been in contact with one another can continue to affect one another when separated.
It’s the first principle that I’m concerned with, the idea that like affects like, that making a change to one thing will affect something that may appear entirely unrelated.
Basic sympathetic magic is concerned with the physical realm – if I make a poppet of someone and anoint it with money-drawing oil and bury it in a pile of dollar bills, the principle of sympathetic magic says that the actual person should receive a financial benefit. A physical act produces a physical result, albeit through metaphysical means.
More complex sympathetic magic relates to the unseen, connecting metaphysical attributes and powers to things as varied as gemstones, colors, sun signs, days of the week and – most importantly for my purposes – plants. Depending on where you ask and WHO you ask, what a particular plant or herb represents in magic can be very different.
This is especially true if you practice in North America, where we started off with entirely European tables of correspondence. Some plants that are very common overseas didn’t exist here, so practitioners made substitutions through trial and error.
Slowly, North American plant tables of correspondence developed and became widely available. They’ve never been standardized, as there’s no central authority, but there’s many attributes that are generally agreed upon across traditions and in all different parts of the country.
Tables of correspondence can be found in every magical tradition, and it takes trial and error to discover which herbs or scents work best for YOU. After all, if the table of correspondence says that pine is a cleansing plant and the scent of pine reminds you vividly of the fourth grade lunchroom and makes you feel queasy every time you smell it, that plant isn’t going to make it into your personal table of correspondence.
Every single piece of literature and documented folklore on the topic could say that pine is absolutely essential to use for cleansing, and it still wouldn’t work for you.
I believe every witch, every magical practitioner, who works seriously with sympathetic plant magic needs to develop their own personal tables of correspondence. Take the published correspondences as a guide, but note what works for you and what doesn’t, and what you might want to substitute instead. In time, you’ll develop a tried and true correspondence that is yours alone, and all the more powerful for it.