A Cherokee story was told to me by a medicine man.
Native tales hold power and need to be shared in a specific way. Since this story is not mine to tell, I’ll paraphrase it for you and maybe, if you’re lucky, someday a person of Cherokee decent will tell you the tale whole, the way it’s meant to be shared. The short version is this:
A long time ago, on the land right under your feet, people understood more than we understand today. They translated the murmurings of the four-leggeds and the calls of the winged ones. The buzz of a bee had meaning, as did the glub, glub of the salmon swimming upstream to spawn.
Most important for us here and now, those long-ago people understood the whispers of the green world. The gentle twisting of flowers toward the sun had meaning as did the way the wind whistled through the slow-growth forests hugging steep mountainsides.
For reasons only the Cherokee can share, we lost our ability to communicate . . .
. . . And we have searched for this lost language ever since.
Understanding the languages of nature is a universal human obsession.
The ancient Greeks developed the Doctrine of Signatures, a complex code designed to reveal a plant’s medicine through observation. Everything from the color of a flower, to a plant’s growth habit, to its favorite location and soil type, was used as a method for deciphering its gifts to humanity. So a plant which could survive in the desert, for instance, was seen to have the Medicine of moisture.
The Victorians crafted a language of flowers assigning each bud a meaning — blue violets for faithfulness and vervain for enchantment. Each posey that was gifted contained a secret message encoded in its petals.
I wrote The Illustrated Herbiary as a codex which gives you a window into the unique gifts of the flowers and trees, a key to understanding their whisperings… though there is a very simple beginning to this relationship between human and plants:
Plants do something that neither animals nor minerals (nor fairies or unicorns, for that matter!) can do– they enable our breath. Plants exhale oxygen, which we inhale; we exhale carbon dioxide, which they inhale.
Their exhale, our inhale. Our exhale, their inhale.
An invisible dance, a necessary exchange.
The first thing we do upon arriving in this world is inhale and through that in-breath we come into our first contact with the plants and the green world.
Another word for inhalation is inspiration.
Ultimately that’s the magic of plant medicine: it inspires you to look at your life through a different lens, so you can tap into the collective unconscious as well as your own intuition and self-knowing.
What was your first conscious experience of the green world? Share with us over on Facebook.
What if you belong to a world more magical than you realize?
I asked myself this question over and over again during my studies in Ireland.
‘Cause, truthfully? Despite being drenched in Irish myth and mystery, I didn’t believe in magic at first. So my daily what ifs became an exercise in the willing suspension of disbelief which over the course of many months (maybe even years!) shifted my locus of knowing from my head to my heart.
So I’d asked myself What if the world is synchronous and serendipitous? What if the land is sentient and the stones have stories to tell?
I grew up in the world of the head and for a long time confused feelings with thoughts. But contrary to popular belief, the head is not an organ of feeling; it’s an organ of thinking. The brain is uniquely designed to store and sort information, to reason and rationalize. It needs feeling like a snake needs sneakers.
But I (and probably you!) need feeling. I long for the scent of jasmine blooming at dusk and the feel of linen against my skin (I know silk sheets are supposed to be the ultimate luxury but I’ll take linen’s slight nub, the washed feel of warp and weft, any night of the week). My tongue wants salt and spice and the sweet bite of chocolate, and my eyes want the soft spaces where sea merges with sky.
When I engage my senses, my heart lightens— it fills my throat, my eyes tear up, my stomach tickles a bit.
I can guarantee you I have never had this feeling crouched over an encyclopedia in some fluorescent lit library.
These thoughts were tumbling around my brain as I scribbled out the proposal for The Illustrated Herbiary three years ago. (more…)
An interviewer recently asked me “how did you dream up The Illustrated Herbiary?”
It all started with a blog post that looked a lot like this one!
As a writer and creatrix, I’m also noodling ways to help you engage with your inner-wisdom, your intuition, and your deep rooted connection to the collective unconscious. As a plant person and herbalist, I’m also searching for inspiring ways to connect you to the green world around you and to introduce you to the plants in easy and personal ways.
Could the plants be used as an oracle system? Would it be accurate? Would it be lush, and yummy, and make your soul sing? I decided to find out!
The results were spot on and we all had a lot of fun discussing their accuracy on social media, so I thought today we’d celebrate the origins of The Illustrated Herbiary— the Flower Power Oracle! (more…)
Trust your intuition, my heart whispered.
You’re being paranoid, my head replied. He said there were no tomatoes. He wasn’t confused. He even asked if you had a nightshade intolerance. He gets it.
A detox is not a diet.
Getting comfortable in my own skin and with how I perceive my body image has been one of my challenges this lifetime. So every spring, as I come off the liquids-only day of my yearly, oh-so-gentle detox, I repeat the mantra “A detox is not a diet. A detox is not a diet.”
My inner teenager, who danced with bulimia and diet regimens enforced by both my mother and my doctor, can never be skinny enough. She looks at pictures of my raw-boned ancestors and cringes, wondering why she didn’t inherit my mother’s bird bones and Audrey Hepburn visage. (more…)
Seasonal sadness—the slow sinking into darkness—is not a new phenomenon; the low light of winter has been bringing people down since the Greeks inked the myth of Persephone.
It goes like this:
Persephone was walking on a hillside with her friends when she came across the most beautiful flower. She was captivated by its bloom and its sweet smell, and she paused to be with it, her heart full of joy.
The flower was a narcissus, grown by the Goddess Gaia, at the request of her son Hades, who was in love with Persephone.
As Persephone paused to smell its sweet blooms, the earth opened in front of her and Hades, God of the Underworld, swept up through the chasm in his golden chariot.
He abducted Persephone and returned with her to his home in the roots of the earth… I do wonder sometimes about this abduction. Perhaps he simply charmed her and she made the choice many fool-hearted teenagers make and ran off with her latest crush. But either way, Persephone’s mother, the Goddess Demeter who reigned over the green and growing things of the earth, reacted in the way of mothers who are angry and terrified. Demeter searched for Persephone but she was not to be found.
So Demeter wept, her tears salting the earth, ’til nothing grew and the bleakness of winter rolled in.
The Gods on Olympus became concerned. And Hades was called to task and told to return Persephone.
But Persephone had broken a cardinal rule: she had eaten the fruits of the Underworld. And so a compromise was reached: Persephone would spend half the year with her mother and half the year with Hades in the Underworld.
When Persephone is with Demeter the world is green and lush but when she descends to the Underworld for her time with Hades, the green world dies and we slide into winter.
There is so much to learn about our own nature and seasonal depression from the myth of Persephone’s descent.
Persephone became entranced by a narcissus, a flower whose name springs from the same root as the word narcissist. In other words she became entranced with herself. The descent into the Underworld was a descent into her own being, her own soul. And because of the compromise struck between Hades and Demeter, this was a journey that Persephone would take cyclically, year over year, journeying deep into her being for the winter months and returning to the world above through the summer. This is the cosmic yin/yang, the slow breath in and the long exhale.
Interestingly, when shamans journey to gather information from the spirit realm, they journey down into the underworld. This is true of shamans from various continents, from lineages not known to each other until modern times. This construct of going down, returning to roots, is universal in tribal practices. Similarly in ancient Greece, the oracle at Delphi sat on a tripod, over a chasm deep in the earth, offering divination for the future. Our ancestors knew that to know yourself you needed regularly-scheduled time in the underworld.
We are in the time of the descent. The plants are sending their energy down, into their roots, and we too are sending our energy down, into the core of our being. It is a time of self-reflection and sometimes sadness as we mourn, like Demeter, the loss of summer.
Our culture has forgotten what the Greeks knew of cycles of seasonal sadness. In today’s America we ask ourselves to be steady and stable and not give in to the descent. We call it depression.
From a seasonal point of view, it’s appropriate to descend at this time of year. It becomes a problem only if you don’t also rise as the energy of the sun returns (or, of course, if you’re more than just a bit down and are considering doing harm to yourself or others).
Allow yourself space to ease down into winter.
Some of us respond more strongly to this season’s lack of light than others, which can make the descent a rocky and uncomfortable journey.
The plant world has comfort to offer:
- Try a combination of Lemon Balm and St. John’s Wort* to ward off winter blues.
I love this combo! St. John’s Wort blooms at the Summer Solstice, capturing the sun’s light in her petals and making it energetically available to us as we descend toward the winter solstice and need a hit of sunlight to brighten our mood.
* St. John’s wort will interact with SSRIs, so be mindful if you are on anti-depressants or seizure meds.
- Be sure you’re also getting enough Vitamin D3 (found in Cod Liver Oil as well as in pill form) to supplement what you don’t get from the sun in the winter.
Your doctor can do a blood test for you if you want to know your Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D’s co-factor (what you need for proper assimilation) is Vitamin A. Both are in Cod Liver oil but if you are taking your D in another form, be sure to get your A as well.
- A full-spectrum light can also help to ward of the winter blahs. Be sure to keep it where you will use it often (like on your desk).
Want my Late Autumn Self-care Shopping list for more suggestions? Get it here!
Choosing to descend, purposefully stepping into the darkness, lets you take back your power as we enter the time of the longest nights.
Let me know how you are doing with the seasonal changes in the comments below.