Shamanic Herbalism & Sacred Plant Medicine
I’m posting here the essay about “getting” herbs that Henriette referenced in her blog post the other day. This is an introductory piece to Shamanic Herbalism that I wrote for my students. I’ll post more in-depth information and insights on the same subject soon.
Entering the Green World: Shamanic Herbalism & Sacred Plant Medicine
by Kiva Rose
If it is the highest and the greatest that you seek,
the plant can direct you.
Strive to become through your will,
what without will, it is.
Come with me into the juniper woodlands, into the green world where the garden still grows wild. Feel in your body the wild canyon gales of the sacred southwest, the river lapping at your feet and the soft mud rising up between your toes. Move with me as if the mother were holding you to herself, as if you are being embraced by emerging light and damp earth… as it is, and as you are.
Know in your bones, in that small, hollow space between your ribs that you are the beloved of both land and water, born to feel the ecstasy of the fecund earth as well as the death throes of each being. We are all living extensions and sensory feelers of the body of the earth, of our mother Gaia. We are the poets and priestesses of this fertile, verdant wildness. There is nothing so fulfilling as the love of the land, of being not so much filled, but opened, as a conduit for the force and rush of energy and light, this is what we are born to be, and an integral part of each our individual purposes and callings.
Look! The plants are all around us, the brilliant orange flowers of Yerba de la Negrita, the fierce spikes of Agave and grandmotherly arms of the ancient Cottonwoods. these vibrant green beings are some of the very first peoples. Not only do they provide the air we breathe, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, but they have the ability to provoke a wide range of feelings, reactions and states of mind. From the tongue tingling tastes of plump mango fruits to the gently protective properties of milky oat tops to the sensual evocation of the red rose to the reality shifting shamanic powers of the salvias and the poppies, the plants move us, tantalize us, heal us and sometimes irritate us like nothing else.
Shhhh, listen… deep within us, somewhere much deeper than ears or skin we can sense and hear the songs and speech of the green ones. Since before the first ceremonies and the first healers, we learned from these ancient teachers, and dreamed of their subterranean world of roots and soil. As with our ancestors and the indigenous peoples across the world, we use the plants in medicine, ritual and pleasure.
…there is other music in these hills, by no means audible to all… on a still night, when the campfire is low and the Pleiades have climbed over rimrocks, sit quietly and… you may hear it –a vast pulsing harmony– its score inscribed on a thousand hills, its notes the lives and deaths of plants and animals, its rhythms spanning the seconds and the centuries.
Understanding and connecting with the plants begins with opening our awareness to their energy and presence. Simply noticing that they are there, whether the dandelions in our apartment parking lot or the leafy shade of ancient oak trees in the city park, they each have individual personalities and energies. Each possesses its own mode of healing and signature song.
There are many ways to meet the plant spirits. They may come to us in our dreams, speaking in the symbols and whispers of our dreamtime or they may grab us in their thorns, holding us fast and waking us to their language and presence. Still others may lure us with their lovely ephemeral scent or the mutter of the wind in their leaves. Whatever way they catch our attention, it is up to us to look closely, to feel fully and listen attentively. We cannot expect any teacher to instruct us over the chatter of our own voices and minds, and the plants rarely shout.
All forms of art require a dedication to focus, and none more than the shamanic arts. Before we can learn to hear we must learn to be silent, to quiet our minds and allow our bodies to sense the intricate, active world around us. The best times to hear and fully feel the spirits of many plants seems to be dawn and dusk, the traditional times of the emergence of the faery folk, ancestral spirits and wild animals. During these between times our senses are more aware and the boundaries between the physical and the spiritual fade and blur. Take advantage of these brief magical hours by venturing outdoors to spend quiet time with Gaia and her plant children.
Two of my students accompany me out into the early morning woods. Dawn is emerging in a lavender mist as we lay together on the cool ground, listening with our whole bodies, and with our expectant spirits. When we become still, we are able to hear the rhythm of breath, the beat of life, the hum of song, the intricate pulses of the plant world, the drinking and eating, breathing and opening into sun and air, withering and rotting back to earth. We must be fully attentive to feel the energy of the plant pressing against us, entering into us, sensual as a lover touching flesh, sharp as a knife slipping under skin, warm as wine spreading through the river of our veins.
Sacred Plant Medicine
People (like soil, bears, butterflies, and monkeys) have made their medicine by percolating water through plants, eating them whole, soaking them in water for teas, or rubbing them on their skin… for we, like all other life, have long been inextricably interwoven into the fabric of the plant world.
We, along with many of our relatives, from the elephants to the bears to the birds to the ants, have used the plants as medicine. We have healed our wounds, eased the pain of our dying, aided our births and traveled into vision and ecstasy with the help of our green allies.
It is only recently that we humans have forgotten and destroyed much of our knowledge of the ways in which our ancestors used the plants to heal, this has happened primarily through cultural annihilation and assimilation. We must begin again, by salvaging the remains of our great, great grandmothers’ knowledge. By watching the animals around us. By learning from each other and by asking the plants for their help. And we must teach our children what we learn, passing on through story and shared experience, as well as inherited cellular knowledge, the power and beauty of herbal healing… so that we will not forget again.
At the same time, we must also remember that the plants are just what they are: plants, and not humans. And that while they are often happy to help us when we ask, it is not our interests that they are most concerned with, but the wider web of plant, animal, fungi, bacteria, with the beloved body of Gaia who is the mother and Creatrix of us all. Knowing this, we enter into relationship with the plants respectfully, prayerfully, humbly, remembering we are but one part of the living, feeling whole.
Into The Green World
Only through the earth may we be as one with all who have been and all who are yet to be, sharers and partakers of the mystery of living, reaching the full of human peace and the full of human joy.
In my hands, the vibrant violet blue flowers radiate the cooling calmness of the Salvia clan, she is a lush plant, her bright green leaves standing out in stark contrast with the Summer’s dusty grasses and withered wildflowers. She grows throughout this riparian canyon, with riverside watercress and up against the prickly cholla cactus. I gather her slowly, mindfully, cutting the flowering tops from the stem with a quick snip, and thanking her for her medicine. Even after I place the Salvia gently in my woven basket, I can feel the life of the plants still in my hands, feeding me not only oxygen but something undefinable in scientific terms: magic! And I can still hear their songs weaving through the mountain air. We are all, whether aware of it or not, nourished and affected by their spirits as well as bodies. By the fertile beauty of their dying, by the fierceness of their flowering and the radiant fullness of their fruiting.
Join me, on this journey ever deeper into the green world… into the wild garden.