And all that has yet to fall to the Conquest
Let’s begin with the basics. The four elements. Earth, Air, Fire and Water. The Ether, of course, the fifth, is what becomes of the transmutation, transformation and revelations of the other four. It is also their source, as that which is in ‘the ethers” manifests into this world along the observable spectrum of density. All matter contains the four elements and from these is made alive. Because of this we say “The Earth is Alive” and all elements are encompassed therein. The elements are not alone and separate but they are in relationship.
It’s a poetic resonance.
What we now call herbalism can be tracked. We have brought forth the basic, elemental patterns of the universe through the multi-cultural healing traditions of the world that once did, and maybe still do, remember that they used to belong. They belonged to something that was wild and unpredictable but profoundly sane and creative. Creative in this sense includes the merciful and absolutely necessary force of destruction. Life. Death. Rebirth. Death is not the enemy of life but merely its complement. Polar, perhaps. We are polar beings. Life and death are lovers and one without the other becomes non-existence. Isn’t that what we’re all afraid of?
Not death. But matter collapsing in on itself into nothingness.
We belong to life and death.
Earth herbalists are herbalists that have found themselves called to align with the old ways that existed among the commons and within the community. This was a place and a time when the center was where all people met instead of a place where only a few are allowed. There was still a communal wildness. It’s the same wildness where the tree of life grows up from our delicate, lighted strands of DNA. These depths are embodied and wrapped in bone.
This is the place where the seeds were sown before and after humans went into debt. Before we took too much. Wild seeds strewn by the wind. Penetrated by the point of the bee and ripened. These seeds left to die within the soil, watered.
A seed dies so it may become something else.
Enticed upwards with the blood that rises to the surface seeking light, breath, and motion being carried by the spiraling vortexes of friction and pulse. And at some juncture were gathered by our grandparents hands. Planted. Farmed.
Notice the way the skin wrinkles around your knuckles and the shape of your fingernails. These bones know how to sink themselves down beneath the garden and reach for the underworld. These hands know how to curl around a root and pull, upwards. Gathering.
An herbalist of the Earth also uses their hands to offer up.
And throw down. Clumps of hair pulled in grief, crying. Tears fall back.
Blood drips and descends.
With these we give thanks and praise and bring balance to injustice. With these we can bear to see the lie.
This justice is not political or corporate or economic or even social but a justice that justifies. It puts right. It makes right relationship will all things including the good and the bad and the deleterious flaws of our current world. This justice knows that these Old Ways are no longer in the Old World but are here and now and this is precisely where they must be expressed. Made manifest. Made new. And this is possible because these ways are not really old but have proceeded also in the current that flows behind linear time moving with us.
Earth herbalists reach into the current, behind the world and beneath or, some would say, within, and feel for the thread of alignment and truth. These threads are palpable and pulsing. We use them to knit our own beat and pace with the seasons as Earth journeys and turns her face towards and away from the courses of the Sun. We become world travelers each day that we rise and fall to the horizon, all the while listening, heart open and vulnerable to the way the light plays with the shades of the green world drawing chlorophyll up along the vascular sine waves of each plant that stands up before the dawn and agrees to step in time with us. Each of us, plants ourselves, turning carbon into flesh instead but still no more than Earth, Air, Fire and Water that needs no laws, regulations, religion or even social support to allow these elements to take their places within our own bodies as they are the natural order. This is self-organization and self-healing and it cannot be stopped.
For healing to occur within an individual or a family or a community or entire culture the natural healer within us must be released and allowed. This healer resets our dynamic authenticity that gives meaning, intelligence and purpose to the elements within us. These forces are not actually distinct, separate entities or qualities, but one entire living system that shapeshifts or morphs into what appears different in each form but is merely a re-arrangement of the same essences. We Earth herbalists must identify how these arrangements are acting in instances of imbalance. This is a practice of discerning patterns and it is a practice. An art. Always in the making that admits and yields to the mystery that will never be proven nor disproven but can be felt, and danced with and sung to.
Mostly, we are the intermediaries. The people of the middle road. This is the road of plant magic and we help build the bridge between plants and humans, humans and plants. We do not stand between but humbly lay down the crossing blocks so that each person who seeks this contact, this connection can walk the path and back again and again. It’s a discourse.
It is not enough to bring magic back to the world but the world must also be brought back to magic. It is magic that realizes matter as the living temple of the spirit and not its prison. It’s the magic that seeks to enliven every sacred, solid molecule with electromagnetic motion of the ether’s where the mind is in service to the compass of the heart and spirit and body are in sacred union.
This, here, is our place among the people. This is the place where the root doctors and the folk healers and the long tortured witches did their part to feed the village heart by constantly and consciously perceiving the world and it’s cosmos as a living organism with each element in sympathic correspondence with the living plants, animals, rocks and all the other sentient beings. It’s not simply “take this” or “this herb for that”. It’s learning the language of the plants so that we can feed them beautiful words. It’s learning the language of the green world so that we can praise it. So we may know how we are oriented in the evolutionary process that innovated us. That which dreamed us into being.
It’s about connection.
All the while we will make pots of tea and plant gardens and teach our neighbors how to dig up dandelion root and make a tincture. We eat with the seasons and follow the phases of the moon.
We make offerings. We give thanks. We don’t take too much. We give herb walks and share our Nettle patches. We make handouts and graphs. And yes, there are the soul maps to where the most sacred plants settle into our solar plexus or our pineal gland.
We taste many blossoms. We harvest. We make plans based on the weather.
We rest when it’s dark and lay in the sunlight. Or maybe dance all night.
And most importantly, plant many, many, many seeds.
Amen, so be it.
From a descendant of the tribes of Europe,
Whose clan was from a land where she will never belong,
With those dead cheiftans still living as ghosts
In my twisted strands well wound
With old swords and sacred grains
Like great grandmothers and their salty spells
No one says anymore
Yet I breath, drink and eat
So I ask how I may honor you?
An orphan, with no seed jar from my ancestors.
But might I be your witness?
Might I sit with you, quietly and still, unarmed, vulnerable?
And sing you a love song?
May I put my ear to your ground?
I do feel the heartwood beating when I lean my heart against these birch trees and maples,
May I lean some more?
I feel as though I am empty
Though I have lots of tears to offer you,
They come from rivers I have never met but that were ordained by ancient, since murdered Gods
And may I leave a strand of my hair?
To you, and your wild Manitou
That hunt my homeless, colonial soul
No matter how many times I run from the fear of what I might destroy or take too much of,
I pray I leave you no violence.
To your antlers and coyotes and berry filled bellies, I must admit that I'm not sure how to stop the conquest
Even here, alone, in the woods.
And these hands to you
Seed planters always.
Amen, so be it
I wonder if the butterfly longs,
flitting back and forth,
searching for that
or is she
aware of the moment to moment
only inhale and exhale
pause and release
moving to that pulse
wings opening to receive the call
of the flower's breath on the wind.