Through the Rose Gate

Here you will find a weaving of spirit and medicine stories; and tales of friendship with the Allies — the plants who teach us.
I will share thoughts of stepping softly on the planet that I love, along with what I have learned from and about the herbs;
and of making medicines from the earth. I will offer recipes that nourish, and strategies for healing hurts; and for reconnecting our deepest selves to the Green World that holds us. Come, visit my world beyond the Rose Gate.

♦

In a cabin amid pine trees I turned the wheel at Winter Solstice of 2017, and closed a chapter of my life. Looking to the future I renewed my dedication as an herbalist. From small beginnings as a folk herbalist and over two decades of immersion in the Wise Woman Tradition of herbal medicine, I have come to a landmark in my journey, and my training. Continue reading “Through the Rose Gate”

Many Medicines

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

The words we choose as we think about things matter. Our thoughts, and how we frame them, both reflect, and help us define our belief systems. When we let someone else create the relevant stories in our lives, we cede our power over to them. Now at a time when we have done that en masse in the area of our health, we are as a nation, the sickest we have ever been, and more so than any other industrialized nation, in spite of spending more per capita on health care than any of them. The cultural story that has been most co-opted in modern times is the story of Medicine — things that connect us to Life, and heal us deeply.

Many Medicines

Have you ever danced with abandon on a carpet of grass, while birds sang and clouds scudded by in a blazing blue sky? Did you feel the flowing medicine of being connected to all the life around you? Have you ever opted to enjoy downtime with a cup of tea, instead of taking drugs for a tickly throat, and felt the medicine of tea, and warmth and quiet pour through you? Two days ago in an organic food store, a conversation that began with smiles between two strangers, ended with a hug as we acknowledged the Spirit Medicine that had just connected us, through a conversation. Kindness between two people is incredible medicine.

Herbalist Susan Weed talks to us of “Seven Medicines” that speak to diverse wellsprings of healing. (1)   My own list is similar, and the wells of what heals us are deep: Story Medicine, Spirit Medicine, Earth Medicine, Plant Medicine, Energy Medicine, and more. Your list may vary depending on your background and beliefs, but what is important is that we have a list, and that we acknowledge that there are many kinds of medicines that we can engage in for healing. Any of them can be potent enough to shift the course of illness.

How did it become just about the drugs?

Dollar sign made of pillsMedicine was not always a commodity. Before the creation, funding and monetization of the AMA and our current medical system in the USA, non-drug medicines were primary. But in making health care a commodity instead of treating it as a fundamental human right in our country, the role of the “other” medicines was deliberately diminished, cultivating a culture of dependency, where patients were told they should rely exclusively on doctors and drugs for their physical well being — and that was the only well being that mattered!

The Story Medicine of early “doctor shows” and endless drug commercials worked, for awhile. Now, what passes for health care in our country revolves around symptom control at best; and at worst, is a system for fixing parts piecemeal, and generating repeat business. It is a revolving door of symptom relief using drugs or surgeries that cause further damage, where the patient pays dearly each time. Compassionate and skilled doctors are at the mercy of an infrastructure bent on maximizing profit, and uncaring or greedy doctors are allowed to thrive in our “health care” system.

The question surfaces:  “Would we need so much palliative care if we ate and lived in alignment with foods and cycles that our bodies already know?”

Drug-and-Machine medicine is sometimes lifesaving — but there is always a price to pay, in one domain or another. This can be fiscal, in debt that can be devastating and life changing for an entire family, or in organ failure caused over time by a drug that eases a challenging symptom at the expense of damaging an organ. Or it can be from collateral damage caused by a necessary intervention, such as when my appendix burst. Then, surgery and very strong antibiotics probably saved my life. The price? $10, 000; and I had to rebuild my microbiome, that precious colony of extraordinarily diverse organisms that live in our intestines and are collectively part of our digestive, endocrine and immune systems.

Sacred Medicines — Nurturing Health

True medicines help us deepen our connection to our bodies,
and to the forces that maintain its life.

Rest and herbs were once prescribed first, and the role of simple foods and clean water were paramount in nurturing health. People cultivated time apart to be in silence with their own thoughts. The medicine of aligning to the earth, sun and moon in their cycles were so important that personal and cultural life revolved around them. Attuning to Spirit played a role, and yes, there were miracles sometimes, from all of these.

The way of Earth Medicine is not just about taking this herb for that symptom. The deeper work is in aligning with the foods and plants our bodies evolved with, to nurture health, and restore health when it is lost. Symptoms are our bodies way of talking to us, and we can allow them, and focus instead on what’s causing the symptom. When we heal the root cause, the symptoms frequently diminish, or cease on their own.

Story Medicine can help us align with our inner knowing about our body’s capacity to heal. Food and Herbal Medicines nourish deeply, giving the body what it needs to heal itself and maintain health. Spirit Medicine reminds us that we are greater that the physical self that we see, and are a part of all life. And what of Nature Medicine? We are nature. Sitting or walking in nature reunites us with the environment that we came from, and that our cells remember. There we are connected again with signals from all the life around us that energize our bodies and spirits.  This is so reviving that it is incorporated into the healing systems of Japan and other countries.

Choosing Your Medicine

We do not need permission from anyone to choose the medicines we need. What Story Medicine do you tell yourself about your body and it’s ability to heal?  Your cells sing a story of vitality and regeneration — Listen!  Can you hear? What are your other best medicines? Are you connected to the earth through foods and herbs your body loves? Do you sleep enough? (It is one of the most profound medicines, reducing the risk of heart conditions, gut permeability and so many other illnesses!)  When is your sacred time – your time apart for reflection and spirit?  What comforts you?  How do you connect with the heart flows of the people in your life?  All of these bring potent healing.

As you heal with food, herbs, sleep, energy, inner work, or just time aside for the pampering comfort of a warm candlelight bath, you will surely find yourself needing drug medicine less… and less…

Welcome friend, as you return to the First Medicines.
Remembering them is a little like coming home. 

 

1.  http://www.susunweed.com/herbal_ezine/January05/healingwise.htm

Medicine from the Earth

Why are so many people attracted to herbal medicine? And why at this time? Why do this at all, when it might be easier to take a pill and override the place in us that calls for true wholeness, settling instead for a veneer of symptom relief? What is the hold that the plant world has on our hearts, calling us to remember….?

A Call From Our Spirits

Shining leaves

 

It is a voice that will not be silenced, because the call comes from within us, to reunite with something we miss…. that we know we have lost.

For many of us there was a moment where we entertained the possibility: “What if I could align with the medicine that plants offer us? What if I knew how to use that?” And, “What if there was a deeper medicine, one that was made up of intuition and the breath of trees, and a knowledge of the land? And so began a renewal; a remembering and reconnection to medicines, folk ways and body knowledge that was swept under the rug when the decision was made last century to replace plants with patentable drugs.

It wasn’t all sweetness and ease. The story that followed was / is a tale of the struggle to put the “Pandora” of herbalism back in the box. There were street actions, petitions, campaigns for the right to choose one’s own form of care, arrests of doctors and herbalists, and a steady campaign of misinformation from the pharmaceutical industry, in an effort to dislodge the notion that we might heal ourselves using whole foods, and plants that grow near us.

A Call From Earth and Sun

But something greater than the reach of massive drug companies is at work here, and it is alive, and intelligent. It is the other voice that will not be silenced, from the plants who have patiently awaited our return. We evolved as partners in a vibrant dance of food, medicine and wonder, and without that partnership our adventure here fares poorly. For the plants, our time apart to journey with processed and synthetic foods, pharmaceutical drugs and machine medicine has been an eye blink. For us it has been long enough to learn that without our ancestral foodways, pain, metabolic distress, obesity and neurological decline are the results.

sun and nature

 

We are made of sunlight distilled by plants, energizing a vital force within us that no formula of dead chemicals can replace. We do not even begin to know the full range of chemicals in the plants that feed and heal us, but nature has provided abundantly for the synergies that we need from the green world, packaging chemicals that work together in a single leaf, flower or root.

Renaissance

It seems we have heard the call to come home. Disillusioned by a sick-care system founded on greed, we remember, like strains of an old song, the call of life within and around us. We find ourselves turning to dirt, and the allies that grow there, reaching out to learn again the connections that nourish wholeness.

Homecoming

The awakening continues in wave after wave, as we link hands around the planet, and turn again to simple medicines made from land that we tend. Why herbs? Because we need them. Why now? Because the earth calls us to remember the ancient covenants between people and plant; and remembering how to partner with her heals both of us.

Between Worlds

 

 

 

 

TRobinhe winter birds are gone now, and the daffodils poked their infant green into the light of the grey days sometime around the last new moon. It often happens this way — a hard freeze, a night of no moon, then sudden stiff green tips barely seen in the near frozen dirt, and a burst of excitement — a sigh of relief even — in knowing that the cold will give way to green again.

The robins have returned. They came in right before the big freeze, and I think we lost a few. More than birds perhaps, from the smell of decay that comes from between the wooden fences that are back to back behind our yard; some small creature fallen to the cold. But everywhere there is life too, and this morning I heard the robins for the first time since their return.

February sits on the cold fence between the inner work of winter and the sunny, wind-lashed exuberance of spring. Part of me longs to linger by the fire, in inward spaces of medicine spirals and planning for the year. Winter holds for me a depth that is hard to describe. It is a place of deepest knowing of self, sometimes in hard ways, and of nourishment and heady magic. In some ways it is like walking between the worlds for a whole season; a place where the heart can be healed, and seeds of transformation fall on the fertile essence of spirit, waiting….

FireplaceIt is hard to leave those deeps. But we are long into winter now, and its hold weakens as an urgent energy tugs at my heart with the longer light, two months growing now. I too, am on the fence, in a tug of war between the firelight cocoon of still dark iron-cloudy days, and the imperative of buds on the trees, where the ravens have also returned. They all risk the wrath of winter’s last word, defying the waning chill, and leaden clouds, but there is no resisting the call of new life; not for them, not for me.

For a week twelve seed packets have rested on my altar, absorbing my love and gratitude. They are this year’s medicine, all plants that grow in my state. The medicine will come from watching them grow, and delighting in each new leaf shoot. It will come from the care given, and the teas, tinctures and ointments gifted by the plants, and from the process of making all those too. Some of these additions I could easily find in fields and woods here, some not so easily — they hide. But planting seeds is a pledge to the future, and a rainbow bridge of relationship to the plants we love.

Spring wins the tug of war. My prayer plant has new shoots, telling me it is time to begin my starters. The fire fades as I take up my packets on this very cold day, trusting the voices of the daffodils and tree buds, that is it time.

Seed Packets

Honoring:

Eclipta…Self Heal…Motherwort…Lemon Balm…Saint John’s Wort…Lobelia…Gravel Root…Burdock…Bergamot…Violet…Nettle…Pleurisy Root…

And giving them welcome.

 

Imbolc 2019 Awakening

Prelude – Eclipse

Coming to Imbolc this year is a little like waking from a dream that began at Solstice. It has been a year for inner work, but then, winter has always held some of that for me. It is in the places of ebb, of darkness and softness, of sitting wrapped in a cushy blanket by the fire with a cup of tea in the dim light of the cold days, that I prepare for the busy activity of the year to come.

But this year was a little different. Interleaved with moments of quiet, there was an acceleration of sorts. It began as a building sense of pressure in the weeks before the recent lunar eclipse, when the energies of the alignment called many of us forward, to expansion. For weeks I noticed thoughts and attitudes that no longer serve bubbling up to be released, even as I gathered into my heart the threads of new magic that are sparkling their way into my life.

Park in winterNow there is a pause after this recent snap of bitter coldest winter, when seeds think of waking, and some trees are already in smallest bud. The work of the Eclipse is done, and the magic begun then will unfold amid sun, rain, and new weavings of light, as the gardens of spirit and earth grow in tandem.

Herbalism is never separate from the cycles of seasons. The more we are connected to the plants, the more we are connected to what sustains them when they grow, or sleep or die. The cycles of sun, moon, day and night are the rhythms of life that our cells are attuned to, and our cultural disconnect from that world has left us longing for what it gives us when we align with it.   Working with plants or animals makes those rhythms real to us, and we know again that our own ecologies are part of larger ones. No matter what our cultural lens, the sacred points on the Wheel of the Year are, for many herbalists, their way of keeping pace with the earth.  There is meaning at each point in the journey.

Three Fires

In the ways that I know through my ancestry, Imbolc is the feast of Brighid, Keeper of the Sacred Fires, and of the healing waters. Today I will light three candles to celebrate this time of winter’s end: One for the fire of the hearth, the place of food and community. One for the fire of the forge. This year that was the Eclipse, a not-gentle fire of transformation where so much promise was seeded. And one for the fire of inspiration, the poet’s song that calls to our creative hearts to abandon the theater of “power-over”, and manifest the new in life affirming, collaborative ways.

As our world changes and we navigate terrain that is laden with the emotional and cultural debris of the failing paradigm, we are immersed in transformation whether we will or no, and it is time. But Brighid’s other gifts are those of the hearth, of food shared, and there is compassion there for all those on the journey with us. And of inspiration — our ability to breathe life into something greater than we have today, and to create from our deepest selves something far more wholesome than what is dis-integrating around us.

I am thinking of you, my companions on this journey, as I sit by my fire, drinking a tea to nourish spirit and nervous system after the unusual intensity of this deep winter. I’ll share my tea with you. It is relaxing and rejuvenating, and holds the promise of intentional dreaming.

A Winter Tea

Hawthorn – 3 parts leaf and flower or rough equivalent of berry elixir
Scullcap – 2 parts,
Lemon Balm – 1 part
Mugwort – 1p
cinnamon – just enough to warm and gently spice

Use 1-2 tbs per cup of tea in a glass jar or teapot.
Boil water, but let it sit for a minute once it has boiled. (Scullcap’s virtue is destroyed by boiling water.)  Pour over your herbs; cover and steep for at least an hour. Rewarm if desired, and add a little honey – this one is a little bitter, but oh, so nourishing.

Hawthorn heals the heart on all levels, physical, emotional and spiritual. Scullcap is healing to nerve tissue and promotes relaxation. Lemon Balm is relaxing too, and eases sadness if we are in a struggle about letting go of old patterns. And Mugwort, ahhh. It is a tonic nervine with a bitterness that both grounds us and moves energy, making room for what we want to embrace in our lives. Cinnamon brings the formula together, and adds flow, while warming the mixture.  I hope you will enjoy it, as we enter the dance of freeze and thaw that is part of February’s pattern, and emerge from winter’s darkness into the promise of the year.

Winter Solstice 2018

Of Darkness, Holly, and the Spaces Between Stars

I had planned to post this on Solstice, but life happened in unexpected ways, and I needed more time for thought. A friend died, and thinking on the part of our journeys we had shared, I found myself walking the roads of our times together, connecting the strands of life that lay between in new ways. Winter Solstice is always a time for reflection on the year past, and the one to come. But this year the need to go inward was urgent even before that loss, and exchanging clamor for the sigh of winter trees, I sought renewal in a corner of my state among the hollies, oaks and pines that I know as friends.

We arrived at the woods at sunset, and there was little time to gather symbols of the turning year. This year only a sprig of holly, a small fallen pine branch and my favorite crystal marked my altar, on a hearth by the fire that was, for a little while, the only light.

There is an aspect of darkness that can be fearful, or speak of anger, hurt or sorrow, and sometimes we must journey there to heal the parts of us where those things are held.  But there is another dimension to darkness that holds peace, and deep wholesomeness… a place where seeds wait, and life is born.  This Winter Solstice seems like a cauldron that holds healing and renewal.  Starhawk’s chant, learned long ago ran through my mind as we unpacked:  “What is lost to the night? Fear is lost to the night…”.

Time of silence. Time of darkness.

As we stood on the threshold of our little cabin, the earth seemed to pause while the last sunlight faded from the sky, as if swallowed by the brooding dark of the longest night…. “What if the sun does not return? And what guarantee is there that it will?” our ancestors might have wondered uneasily as they kept the vigil of the long night that was at the heart of winter. But such is the energy of this night of the year that old griefs, or the mired events of months gone, seem to diminish as we consider what the light will hold, if…. when… it returns. All things are possible here.

The stillness of the cabin seemed to embrace us, as we rested between awareness of the year that was, and the hidden potential of the unknown future. Waves that precede the event horizon of true magic flowed between and around us; and words, wise for the new year, came unbidden, suggesting a way forward into the new. We are still part of the wild dark, of night in the woods, and the spaces between stars are within us. That silent darkness is a stillpoint that gives rise to our greatest creativity. One of the gifts of Winter Solstice is in the moment when we allow ourselves the stillness of within-time to visit the deep wells of those places. There is a current that runs through all life, and half of it is carried in darkness. That current energizes the potential for all that we may do.

Outside, this Winter Solstice was held in moonlight, awash in a magical field of illumination that seemed to energize both the release of things no longer needed, and new intentions brought from our hearts, echoed to any spirit listening as the presence of the holly by the cabin seemed to lean closer, reminding of the Winter Doorway.

I love this tree, perhaps more than any other save one, for it’s subtle but multidimensional energies, that stand as a gateway into the story of deepest winter — a story of memory, stillness, allowing and hope.  It rules the cold, dark part of the year, yet into that dark it brings a gift from summer, as if to light the way.   The essence of its amazing scented blossoms call to our own higher energies of Light, bringing forth compassion for ourselves and others, and a more loving way of being in the world. This tree is both a way-shower and a portal guardian, akin to hawthorn in that regard, but her energy is very different. Where hawthorn is said to guard the gates of Faerie, a path fraught with danger for the cavalier or arrogant, Holly’s doorways lead to a lighter realm that feels more protected.  And it seems to facilitate a connection to the land it lives in.  If you listen to holly with an open heart, you might perceive the presence of the nature devas of the region. They are willing to help us attune to them, if we are humble and receptive. When we are not, it is hard to hear them at all.

Our holly, American Holly or Ilex opaca in the Aquifoliaceae family grows mostly in the southeast of my state in hill country bounded by rivers, and bottom lands. One place where I find them is in a wide region of shale, where they thrive along with pines and oaks, in spite of, or maybe because of the rocky terrain, in rich nutrients laid down by centuries of leaf fall. Historically the leaves of this holly have been used as an eyewash, for skin sores, and internally as a tea substitute without caffeine, or for colds and flu — notably winter ailments. The berries are toxic, used internally very rarely by skilled practitioners, and with purpose.  They can cause severe purging with attendant electrolyte imbalance. Holly guards the treasure of her seeds with the boundary magic of prickly leaves, yet its flower essence can overcome our defensiveness and sudden angers, bringing light into the spirit, and helping us to express at a higher octave.

As ruler of the winter part of the year, holly’s evergreen leaves and bright berries speak of the hope of returning light, and fertility in spring. Yet for that to come, the seed must lie in darkness, carried in the womb of earth until warmth and longer days signal that it is time to grow. Holly teaches us of patience too, as her seeds may take up to three years to germinate. Even so with our own dreams.  Just because they do not come immediately to fruition does not mean they will not blossom, in time.

Winter Solstice and the cold weeks ahead call to us to plant the seeds of our tomorrows in the still darkness within us, letting them rest in the place of potential, while we nourish the soil that will give birth to our dreams. The ancestral stories of winter offer much to that nourishment, as does Holly flower essence. Once we have planted the seeds, our most creative moments often come when we turn off the noise, and sit in the silent dark, sending love to the place in us that was birthed from the spaces between stars.  It is a place where magic lives.

Samhain 2018

THE ANCIENT ONES
By Patricia Reis *

From the beginning,
We have been with you.
We are the ancient ones
And we remember.

We remember the time when there was only Love,
The time when all breathing was one.
We remember the seed of your being
Planted in the belly of the vast, black night.
We remember the red cave of deep slumber.

The time of forgetting,
The sound of your breath,
The pulse of your heart.
We remember the force
of your longing for life,
The cries of your birth
bringing you forth.

We are the Ancient Ones
And we have waited
and watched.

You say that you cannot remember that time
That you have no memory of us.
You say that you can not hear our voices
That our touch no longer moves you.
You say there can be no return
That something is lost,
That there is only silence.

We say the time of waiting is over.
We say the silence has been broken.
We say there can be no forgetting now.
We say listen.

We are the bones of your grandmother’s grandmothers.
We have returned now.
We say you cannot forget us now
We say we are with you and you are us.

Remember Remember.

* By Patricia Reis MA, MFA.  Used by permission.  Her website is here.

Continue reading “Samhain 2018”

Autumn Reflections

Autumn is a time for remembering… the weed walks, the plants, how they have been in my life this year; moments of green stability in a world that is rapidly changing. The plants do not hate or fear. And though they give freely of themselves to be our companions and medicine, the reason for their existence does not revolve around us.

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They are expressions of the life force, just as we are, dancing their days in the wind; being themselves in they fullest way they know how. They deal with the challenges of their own lives. Here that is scorching hot summer sun, the bugs, too much wet-dry-cold-hot, and people wanting to pick them.  And they communicate what they learn between them, as conditions change.  They contribute to, and are a part of the other lives around them, filling niches in ways that we rarely pause long enough to observe, and learn, but that may be critical for some of those lives.   They are far older on this planet than we, and are willing to teach us ways of being in the world that we have not even thought of yet, or maybe have just forgotten.  They have lived through many climate changes in their long, evolving history;  and may be our next, best guides as we navigate the consequences of what we have done to our home.   All this is part of their medicine, and they share. Sometimes we make them part of us through breath; or eating and drinking their nourishment. And sometime just sitting with a plant is medicine  enough — perhaps the best of all.

 

I am remembering the plants of this year — sudden discoveries such as that wonderful stand of Horsetail; the Solidago that came as if to my wish, blown onto my fence line; the amazing profusion of our local mugwort, Artemisia ludoviciana, lining the fence rows in the countryside; the Peach, Pines, Borage and Yellow Dock; and the startling growth of mistletoe on the rare river alder. All of them are part of this year’s medicine, though with some I picked no plant, and made no tea or tincture.   Just finding the hidden, sandy place of the horsetail with it’s dappled sun was magic enough, and the mistletoe went to ceremony, for a druid circle at Lammas.   The alder is too rare to harvest any part, but she was a brave spirit, and left me inspired.

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Second Harvest — A Moment of Balance

In the transition from late green-golden summer
into fall, we stand for a moment in both worlds.

In a dance with light and dark, the memories of hot brightness are still fresh, but the woods are quiet, their noisier denizens gone now; and there are hints of yellow in the leaves. And each day, dusk comes earlier. As we cross the threshold into the time of fading, the part of me that has been clinging to summer turns away, relinquishing the long active days for the dimming light and the hues of second harvest.

At this time of year I sense the whole of the prairie and light woodlands more than I do their individual plants; a harmony of earth, water and myriad fading green life forms, in a way that I do not know how to describe. It is as if the energies of the region hum in unison as they prepare for dormancy and sleep. Now we gather the fruits of early autumn, in the second harvest — a harvest of colors. The herbs of the season linger from late summer…. Goldenrod, Gumweed and Mugwort.  They call with the color of yellow, remembering summer sun embodied in their medicines; now set aside to help us in the winter cold. Continue reading “Second Harvest — A Moment of Balance”

Late Summer Sweetness

soap-berrry-treesIt was surprising how fast it happened. Though the days are still warm, hot even, the nights are cooler now, and after a wetter than usual summer there is dew on the grass some mornings. But it was how fast the leaves began to change that surprised me. I have several comfort places where I walk amid trees and fields to renew my spirit. One of them is a park filled with juniper, oak, elm and soap berry trees, and now the soap berry leaves are turning.

The saponin rich berries have been going translucent through late summer, and four days ago, between one day and the next, there was a promise of yellow in the green leaves — only a hint.  I think of soap berry as a “signal tree”, one of the first that heralds the coming of autumn, so that was no surprise. But in just two days the green was nearly gone; and yesterday when I walked there, some of the trees were full golden in a part of the grove.

The sumac are turning too, leaves bright red, promising cooler air to come. The deer have withdrawn deeper into the trees, and life in the little wood slows, softening in the dappled sun as the heat eases. The stifling hot of summer has shifted to a bright clarity, and the goldenrod, unobtrusive for so long, is just now bursting into tall stands of beauty.  This is one of my busiest time of the year for medicine making…. the time of the late summer flowers and seeds. Continue reading “Late Summer Sweetness”