Monday, October 28, 2013

Plant Spirit Work

Mandragora Spirit by Johnathan Blackthorn
This post by me originally appeared on the Samhain's Siren's group blog on October 10th, 2013.

Before pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies, before doctors and people in lab coats, people sought extra help with their healing from herbalists. They may not have called them “herbalists” back then- some were called “granny”, “bruja”, “curandera”, “strega”, or “cunning man”- but these healers were wise and knowledgeable about plants and their actions in the human body. Often they practiced what we now call magic(k) in addition to herbalism.

Many of these healers lived somewhat apart from the hustle and bustle of the village- allowing them time and energy to commune with plants and learn their secrets- though cultivation, wildcrafting, listening to plants, and experimenting with them to make medicines. And these generations of healers from across the globe, now called herbalists, have left us a legacy of amazing information. Indeed, to really master herbalism, one must study for years to get a basic grasp and then continue your education for a lifetime. There are tens of thousands of plants, just as there are myriad maladies to help cure.

I started out as most do- a dabbler called to heal myself and my friends. I made simples and teas, created poultices, and cured yeast infections. The more I learned, especially as I got into plant spirit work, the more I was fascinated and wanted to know. I personally believe that plants taught us what they could do- and those that knew how to listen became the first healers.

To listen to plants is not easy to relearn (I say relearn, because children do not seem to have a problem doing it- I distinctly remember my son, Rowan, even before he could speak to me in words, telling me to water a neglected plant by tugging on my shirt and pointing at the houseplant and making the sign for water (he was taught ASL as a baby).

When I was in herb school in California, we went out into the mountains to listen to plants. As I lie under a manzanita bush, I distinctly got the message “I was first” and saw strange strobe-like flashes of pictures of manzanita and madrone traveling across hard desert and clay before any other plant life. As they traveled, other plants befitted from them taking root in the hard terrain and breaking up the soil- so they followed and sprung up in manzanita's wake. After my “vision”, I did research and sure enough- this is what botanists believe happened. I was tickled and astonished the clarity of communication.

Recently on a hike with my apprentice, the wind rustled through the trees and I got a feeling of euphoria and joy- coming to me from a very specific tree. “This is how we move” said the tree. “You move from within, we move from without. ” The tree was delighted to be moved in this way.

We can remember how to talk to plants, though a series of conscious decisions. Taking a cue from the generations of herbalists before me, I try and live part of my life apart from the hub bub. Apart from other people, machines, and electronic communication. This is not easy to do when you live in a city, run a business, have a part time job, are a parent, and go to grad school! Not easy at all. It requires deliberate effort and choices.

I have told my apprentice as we begin this work: to listen to animals, one must lower their energy several notches. To listen to plants, you must go even lower (and by lower, I am not referring to hierarchy, I am speaking to vibrational frequency. Plants vibrate at a lower frequency than non-human animals and even lower than human animals. So to “hear” them, you need to “shift down”, too. I am still crafting language around this skill and truth, so this may not be the clearest explanation to you reader. Sorry for any confusion the language may cause.)

Cultivating this skill requires no distractions, stillness (in mind and environment) and the skill of knowing how (which comes from years of practice). I can do it at will when I have time, space, and no distractions, but it took years to be able to do this on command. Now I can make small spaces for this skill frequently, rather than needing hours at a time as I needed when I first started (although hours at a time is a luxury I would take!).

Rowan, helping mama wildcraft.
How do I work it into my busy life? I sought a part-time job that was within walking distance of my home. (Driving requires a brain wave state that is the antithesis of what you are cultivating. And it takes hours to “come down” out of that state.) I walk to work every day, taking back alleys alone. I drop my son off at the babysitter's and give myself 20-30 extra minutes to get to and from work. The alleys of Clintonville (my neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio) are lovely- overgrown and lush with “weeds”, crows and goldfinches, squirrels and murals. I have flipped over a flailing cicada, done augury, and wildcrafted red clover, melissa, dandelion, and plantain to and from work.

I do media fasts. In order to keep people up to date with my blog and business on social media, I queue up blog posts to self-publish, so I do not have to manually post frequently. Being on the internet is not being present with what IS- right in front of your nose. 

I send my three year old son, Rowan on playdates when I make Boline recipes or process ingredients each week. This a time for me to be hands-on and commune with my ingredients, so I can make the best possible product. I can infuse my remedies with intent and add my intent to the will of the plant to make the medicine stronger.

I have a sitting practice that reminds me of stillness and being present. And I grow and wildcraft many of my ingredients. My family does a red meal rite weekly and feeds a tree/the ancestors. We thank the animals and plants that doe for us to survive. And so much more that connects me in a real, daily, tangible way to the gods, the earth, its cycles, and all of creation.

Boline Apothecary is my small artisinal project that helps heal people through seasonally available remedies and body care. I hope you and yours enjoy what I make, with the knowledge that it is a labor of love.

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