Maia Toll
My herbal teacher started every class with a recitation of lineage:

My name is Gina McGarry. My teacher was Rosemary Gladstar, whose teacher was Juliette de Baïracli Levy, whose teachers were the Romani gypsies.

I carried this opening recitation into my own teaching, working backwards through the generations of people who had refined and nursed the knowledge that allowed me and—through me—my students to step into deep relationship with the medicine plants.

In over eighty hours of herbal training, it was this five-minute recitation which cracked open hearts and most prepared students to step into the work ahead. Knowing they were part of a lineage of Medicine Keepers created a profound sense of trust and belonging.

For many, at odds with their families and out-of-sync with religious codes, this was the first time they felt a part of something which stretched back through the ages, anchoring them to ancestral energy.

At my first herbal conference, I briefly met Juliette de Baïracli Levy. I was awestruck not because she was a world-renowned writer on herbs and veterinary practices but because she was the twice great-grandmother of the Medicine I carried in my heart. I would not be the woman I am today if Juliette, whom I never knew personally, hadn’t shared her wisdom.

Within the herbal community, a deep reverence is nurtured for lineage and the lessons only many years of living can distill. The wisdom keepers who carry and pass knowledge, teacher to student, generation to generation, are honored and cared for. The elders at that first herbal conference had trails of young people refreshing their tea, bringing them chairs, and running countless errands.

As I watch the influx of new healers and baby shamans on my Instagram and Facebook feeds, a large part of me rejoices. Knowing that this knowledge—seeded by so many hands over so many generations—is in full burgeoning bloom brings tears to my eyes.

And yet…

As wisdom gets democratized and shared out by a myriad of voices, we lose the sense of lineage... Click To Tweet

…one which we’ve worked so hard to establish. When we don’t link ourselves into the chain of knowledge passed hand-to-hand we lack a sense of support, of groundedness, on our path.

We lose the awe and honor of being a trusted keeper of hard-won medicine passed generation to generation.

And perhaps most importantly, we lose the person who gently chides us to work harder, to learn deeper, and to explore the vast reaches of our consciousness and come into a better way of being.

It was late autumn in Ireland when I began seeing dead birds in the cow’s field. I was gathering hawthorn berries and noticed the small black bodies under the power line. I remember coming in the back door, shucking hat and boots and delivering a basket of berries to Gina.

There are dead birds under the power line, I reported. Maybe we should call the power company.

Gina looked up from where she was sorting the berries. You left them there? she asked.

Um, yes? I said wondering what the heck else I was supposed to do.

Take care of them, she instructed. It’s time you learned to deal with death.

Building a cairn for small broken bird bodies was as much a part of my studies as memorizing the Latin names of the members of the Rosaceae family.

These universal metaphors and symbols are powerful stuff. They awaken ancient knowings within us by mere exposure. Your teacher needn’t have decades of knowledge: if she shares with you a bit about the patterns of nature, your own inner-knowing will spark and you’ll find your way to deeper relationship.

This allows for democratization of wisdom: those who are but a step further on the path can turn back and help the next person in turn.

It is beautiful and a bit miraculous: the symbols are the keys and anyone can pass you a set.

And yet…

When I look at gorgeous photos of herbal mandalas on Instagram or hear a friend’s excitement about learning essential oils from the Sales Team Leader at Big Name Essential Oil Company, I can’t help but wonder:

Who will insist she bury the birds to learn the lessons of life and death?

Who will call her to task when she steps out of integrity with herself?

Which ancestors will whisper secrets as she moves into the dark forests of her calling?

How do we assure connection to the lines of lineage and pass on the tradition of honoring the elders of our sacred tribe?

Sending hugs—