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Herbalism as a Worldview

Yesterday I wrote about my journey into the practice of Spiritual Direction. While on that journey to become a Spiritual Director, I was introduced to herbalism.

I was in the first year of my Spiritual Direction training program at Oasis when my small group went out for a contemplative walk. On our way to the circle of benches at Kenbrook Retreat Center, where we would be meeting up with the larger group, one member of our group began leading an impropmtu plant walk. I am so sad to say that I don't remember her name now, thirteen years later, but her passionate sharing and enchanted storytelling changed the trajectory of my life.

She picked a leaf from the ground and held it in front of us. "See the ridges on this leaf? How they are sharp and pointed? These fang-like leaf margins look like something...can you guess what it is?"

She was an engaging and dynamic teacher. We were all entranced, awaiting her response.

"They look like lion's teeth! Teeth of the lion! Dent de leon! Dandelion!"

I was absolutely awestruck. This little yellow flower, this wish carrier, so yummy fried up and battered in the spring, had folklore attatched to its name. A new and deeper dimension of the possibilities of my relationship with plants suddenly opened before me. It was such a powerful opening that it felt like a breeze came whirling through an open door.

She went on to tell us stories about redbud trees, which she called Judas' Tears, and dogwoods whose flower petals make a cross, pure white but tipped with red to symbolize the bloodshed of Easter, the same time of the year that dogwood blooms. And Judas wept with such fervor that he wept blood, just like the red flowers clinging to the trunk of the redbud trees. Even though I wasn't calling myself a Christian anymore, this archetypal story of the sacrifice of the king to ensure the ongoing life of his people was a story that was deeply rooted in my spiritual life. And now, deeply rooted in the blooming green beings around me. I was starting to glimpse a bigger picture here. Maybe our mythology is actually born out of how we read the story of the land in the cycles of seasons, rather than the other way around?

Another door opened to me. The door of the movmement between the mystical and the mundane. The light of Spirit began to be revealed to me through the green of the plants-what Hildegard von Bingen called Viriditas, the greening power of the Divine. I could feel a huge and ancient repository of connection between the Divine and the natural world that was pressing up inside me, eager to emerge into consiousness.

I began to study herbalism through the HerbMentor program by Learning Herbs. I attended local plant walks and medicine making groups. I converted my vegetable garden to an herb garden and slowly I developed relationships with the plants around me. I learned their folklore, their native region, their growing behaviors, the way they bring their medicine to the landscape and then into the ecosystem of the human body. My study of herbalism gave me a vehicle to integrate my work as a healer and Registered Nurse with my work as a Spiritual Director and mystic. The plants were the key. The place where the mystical and the practical share equal footing. I had found my path.

I have studied with Sajah Popham, Calyx Liddick, Erika Galentin, jim mcdonald, Matthew Wood, Paul Bergner, Sarah Corbett, and so many more gifted herbalists. I have learned so much, and the more I learn the more I realize how little I know. The plant world is so vast, so nuanced, so complex, and despite my decade of intense study, I have barely scratched the surface. I continue to be wildly enchanged by the Viriditas of the plants, their greening Divinity, that holds everything together. They hold our stories, our medicine, our food, our clothing and shelter, and the sentient spritual gnosis of the Earth Herself.

As I look back on my journey to this point in my life through this series of blog posts, I am struck that my path has been laid before me through relationships. People have come directly into my path to hand me parts of myself. To show me the way. To guide my footsteps towards my destiny. I am so grateful that I had eyes to see and ears to hear and the heart to understand and humbly follow the nudges set before me.

This is also how I see the plants working. They tend to show up for people, right on their path, right at their doorstep, ready to guide us to our destiny. If only we have eyes to see, ears to hear, and the heart to understand.

I do see herbalism clients, but also very minimally at this point in my life. If you are looking for support from an herbalist and can't find an appointment with me, or feel called to work with someone else, I recommend checking out the registry for herbalists on the American Herbalists Guild website. I offer a few herbalism classes on my website, and the teachers I have listed above are all continuing to teach in their own schools of learning!

If the plant path is calling you, you are blessed indeed.


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