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.
Most herbals feed your brain a full course meal of folk uses and scientific studies, but that onslaught of facts has never healed my heart or uplifted my spirit. It’s never made me feel like I’m meeting an old friend, connecting and belonging to a world so much greater than me.
How could I serve up botanicals so they felt like a feast prepared by a James Beard awarded chef and then laid out on a long, white-washed pine table lit by fairy lights and lanterns? How could I spark your imagination and inspire your intuition?
Turns out, I wasn’t the first person to ponder this. I came across this description, written in 1542 of a Bestiary:
A bestiary is a collection of short descriptions about all sorts of animals, real and imaginary, birds and even rocks, accompanied by a moralizing explanation. Although it deals with the natural world it was never meant to be a scientific text and should not be read as such. Some observations may be quite accurate but they are given the same weight as totally fabulous accounts… A great deal of its charm comes from the humour and imagination of the illustrations, painted partly for pleasure but justified as a didactic tool “to improve the minds of ordinary people, in such a way that the soul will at least perceive physically things which it has difficulty grasping mentally: that what they have difficulty comprehending with their ears, they will perceive with their eyes.” The Aberdeen Bestiary, Folio 25v circa 1542
I loved this idea of allowing people to perceive with their eyes and spend an inordinate amount of time contemplating the difference between the eyes and the ears as organs of perception.
There’s something about seeing— not seeing words or text, but seeing an object or illustration— which cuts out the cognitive and creates a direct channel to the felt sense of the heart.
Enter The Illustrated Herbiary:
An Herbiary is a collection of short writings about botanicals: medicinal, decorative, and whimsical. Although it alludes to healing properties, it was never meant to be prescriptive. Many observations are quite accurate, but should not be seen as superior to creative or fanciful descriptions and symbolic flights of fancy. A great deal of its charm comes from the depth and creativity of its illustrations, allowing us to see what otherwise would remain hidden. (from The Illustrated Herbiary)
What if you could learn the plants by feel? What if it could be a casual and fun and quirky relationship? What if you led with your heart and waited to see if your head wanted to follow suit (I’m all for enjoying the pictures, the rituals, and reflection and never diving in to the medicinal aspects of herbalism if that’s what feels good to you!)
I don’t care if you can’t keep a blueberry bush alive and kill every spider plant you’ve ever met.
Ultimately, the book is about the joy of belonging to a world that’s bigger and more eccentric than you might have thought; it’s about remembering how to feel so you can remember the taste of happiness. It’s about meeting a few non-human friends so you can realize that you’re never really alone. That’s what we’re all looking for right? Joy, community, happiness, and a sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves.
It’s (finally!) here! This week The Illustrated Herbiary is being born into the world.
And you can help midwife this book-baby:
- Buy the book, give it as gifts, tell your friends to give it a read!
- Review it on Amazon… this is actually another one of those things that’s more important than I knew!