In the Wise Woman Tradition of Herbalism, the focus is on nourishing wholeness. There are many medicines — many ways to heal.
We are all medicine when we give of our wholeness to the earth;
and in return, the medicines it shares with us are diverse, and magical.
Coming home to the plants themselves is one of the deepest medicines, where they share with us their presence, and their knowing. This is a story of connection, offered freely by plants that I love, who supported my emergence from grief.
In the late 1990s, after a journey of about ten years in the Wise Woman Tradition of herbalism, I was building a life of renewed engagement with the green world after a move from another city, when our beloved Craftsman style home cracked along the middle, as a result of contractor fraud. There was no fighting the contractor in court. He was already being sued by another customer, and our engineer advised urgently that we move, as the crack was over a suspended gas line in the basement. So my husband and myself shoveled the stuff of our lives into boxes for a mini storage; and with bodies that were already injured in unrelated incidents, made the move to a rent home.
It was clear the house had been loved. It was the childhood home of the woman who leased it to us, and she assured us that pesticides and herbicides had not been used on grass or gardens. The grass was thick and lush, denying entrance to what some call weeds, and without the distortion that poisoned properties tend to have, so we believed her words were true.
A high brick fence walled the backyard, creating a womb-like safety where healing could happen. There were a few trees; and forsythia, quince and crepe myrtle near the corners; shrubs I had loved from childhood, and their presence was comforting. We had brought a few perennial roots from our former home, and planted them in the cold of late winter, in hope that they would bring us comfort too, but mostly, there was just the grass.
The practical matters of recovery dampened our grief. When not working, my greatest solace was walking the large walled yard in a circle, over and over, wrapped in a warm, red woolen cape, still stunned by loss; searching for hope in that mostly empty space. I touched the shrubs as I passed, but they were dormant in the weeks where late winter holds its breath before the world awakens. Most of all I missed my medicinal weeds, and entertained plans for planting them all as the season changed. I couldn’t see them growing in that manicured, dense lawn.
Herbalists are partial to their weeds.
They are the nourishment of life, and the foundation of healing.
In sacred ceremony as the moon changed and Imbolc approached, I set my intentions for renewal. The backyard seemed cold and empty, and I craved wildness in my life. The full force of my loss settled on me, that we had lost our home, our hope for a way of life, and for me, even my weeds. My mind wandered among images of the plants I had lost, and my wistfulness seemed like echoes in an empty room. I felt very alone.
Some time after Imbolc there was a little snow, then some rain. My silent circles continued in a world that seemed grey. . . except for that bit of green near the rock in the corner…? Heartened, I knelt to pull the stone aside, and a strand of chickweed draped itself across my fingers. Pulling the rock further I saw yet more, drinking from a puddle left by the rains. Chickweed, the great soother, the star lady, had come into the healing space that held me.
That is no great thing, you think. Chickweed grows everywhere. True, it does. Yet it was the greatest comfort, this promise of spring when the world was bare. That’s one of her gifts too, for she heralds both gates of winter: before, and after.
In the weeks that followed as we began to weave order into lives that had been thrown into chaos, what stands out is moments snatched for circles in the yard where the chickweed had come to my new home. The moon cycled, and I took a little compost from my pile, and scattered it on the lawn, asking with heartfelt appreciation that the spirits that foster all life be present in my yard. At least I could rebuild here. The connection I felt was tentative, then deepened, flowing. I wondered… Are they listening? Would they hear? I had no idea what form the answer would take.
Stop. In the heart’s darkness there is a seed, and the will to regenerate.
No better guides are there for this than plants.
Who came first? I don’t recall, but nearly overnight the rosettes and clusters of small leaves made their appearance on the thick grassy lawn. (The carefully cultivated lawn where I had been assured weeds did not grow!) Dandelion, the wise survivor. Shepherd’s purse, the guardian of blood. Violet, the heart healer, coming to heal mine. I was astonished and elated.
In the next weeks more plants came. Plantain, the wound healer, and supportive to organs under stress. Mullein, friend of lungs and bones. And poke. Not really surprising, that; as poke has followed me where ever I go. So what? These common weeds come to many lawns. Well… except for dandelion, they weren’t taking root in my neighbors’, though they could have. As it turns out my neighbors didn’t use herbicides either.
When the owner of our new abode came to visit us near summer’s end, she was first surprised, then a little dismayed, until I reassured her that I would not leave the weeds for her. Gradually, I shifted from circles in the yard to sitting with the plants, each one; and eventually they gave of delight in themselves, then for brews and tinctures and salves. But deeper medicine flowed in the quiet connection, and my gratitude that they were there at all.
First harvest was nearing, and the backyard had transformed with rich and heady energy. Leaving it one afternoon, I came to stand under the oak tree in the front yard, just to be. Glancing down, I saw the most improbable plant of all — a small stalk of wheat, about two feet tall at the foot of the tree, head still green. It’s origin was a mystery. We were in center city, and not near field or farm. I am attuned to the Divine Feminine that is reasserting her presence in our planet, and this special touch from the heart of nature told me in no uncertain terms that I was held and would not fall.
Plants are conscious, responsively sentient, and inspirited, as are we.
Our spirits, and those within plants, do not live in linear time and space.
The plant kingdom senses us. Our relationship with plants began when our species emerged to walk in this world, and they are keenly aware of us. The place where we touch is beyond the confines of the physical realm; and they hear us when we ask with sincerity to come again into relationship with them, or for help that they can give.
When you ask for their gifts — their quiet company, their wise memories, their knowledge of the Gaiafield, or their healing for our psycho-biological selves — release the request, then allow; and let the medicine be what it is.
Be certain, they are listening.
Ancientsong is an herbalist, culture shifter and teacher. Holding a vision of the earth as sentient and sacred, she weaves intuitive practices with the art and science of herbalism. Her vision of healing with herbs is both personal and planetary: A way to intimately reconnect with our wild inner nature and to the magical life-web of the planet in a dance of reciprocity that can heal both. Her website is www.brightcircleherbcraft.com.
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