I’m at a writing retreat (in Carmel, CA… which is breathtakingly stunning). Next week I’ll give you the lowdown and skinny, but since I’m writing 24/7, I thought I’d share some of what’s flowing through my pen.
This is a bit that got cut from the larger manuscript. Writing is kind of like pruning—sometimes you have to cut off something beautiful because it doesn’t fit the overall shape. Luckily this blog is a vase on the dining room table, the perfect place to show off an individual bloom.
If you only go to Dublin, to the cobbled streets lined with shops and Indian restaurants, performers and foreign tourists, you may not see a single hawthorn tree. And truthfully? You most likely won’t care. You’ll do a pub tour, sit where James Joyce drank, have a Guinness, hear a fiddler…
As you wait in the airport writing postcards (the ones that will be delivered a week after you arrive home, and that’s if you can find a stamp before your plane departs), you may notice the straggly tree that stands sentinel over each postcard-worthy Irish well, small bits of cloth tied to its branches. You may wonder, briefly, why you didn’t notice that tree on your travels. And then your friend will arrive with a Starbuck’s latte and your thoughts will move on.
But if instead you do what I did, and get on the slow bus from Dublin to Mullingar (stopping for important things like shouting hello to Aunt Mary’s second cousin or examining the spray-painted patterns on the coats of the sheep as they cross the road), you’ll see the ubiquitous hawthorn rambling in hedgerows, defining the fields, and attempting to keep the cows from the neighboring pasture.
Occasionally you’ll see a lone tree, twisting and turning itself into fantastical shapes. This is a Faerie Tree, a portal to the other world.
The Irish are superstitious about these trees. It’s terrible luck to cut one down. Every town has a tale of someone who tried to get away with clearing a hawthorn to make way for a garage or chicken coop. In these tales, the lucky ones end up in the hospital, the not-so-lucky in the graveyard.
In more recent times, foreign developers who were foolish enough to cut down a hawthorn found their projects mired in paperwork and conflict. This is how the faeries did in DeLorean (I feel like I should include a link for you but I trust you can look up this story yourself. Simply type DeLorean, Ireland, and Hawthorn into Google and you’ll find a few renditions of the tale).
Hawthorns are related to roses and like roses are medicine for the heart. In the years since I’ve returned from Ireland, I often turn to hawthorn to heal the heartache we call homesickness, the ache I sometimes feel for that island that was only briefly home for my body but will always be home for my heart.
In ancient times healers interpreted the curative properties of plants by examining their structure and shape, from the color of the leaves to the habits of its growth. This is called the “doctrine of signatures”. It is the way that the plants communicate with us bumbling humans who don’t speak the language of wind and rain.
And while our modern minds don’t like to give in to this sort of magic, it still whispers to us. When I show photos of plants to clients or friends they are invariably drawn to the plant that is right for them, as if something in their deep subconscious remembers a time when the plants were our allies in healing not only our bodies, but also our spirits.
I’m certain that somewhere in our collective unconscious we recognize the patterns that the plants represent in the same way that we recognize traditional archetypes like The Mother or The Whore. You don’t need to think about it: you are one hundred percent certain that The Mother makes a mean chicken soup but that her dirty martini is less than grungy.
It’s the same with the plants: on some level we know what they’re about, what patterns they are trying to show us. After all, we share breath with them—their inhale, our exhale.
When you are feeling stuck or overwhelmed, drawing back and looking at the larger flow, the big picture, gives you options you hadn’t thought of before… which is the root, I believe, of our love affair with tarot and oracle cards. They are bits of perspective without the “I told you so”.
Healing is all about seeing patterns, whether they are the slow repeat of your own emotions or the cosmic patterns of earth and sky. Anything that returns, that reruns, that replays, forms a pattern.
An obvious one, and one of the first you will learn if you set off to be a traditional healer’s apprentice, is the cycle of the seasons. This cycle is represented by a wheel, sometimes called the Wheel of the Year. While many traditions say the Wheel begins in the East with the rising sun and the rebirth of Spring, plant medicine people start elsewhere.
If you were to study with a medicine woman, you would know that before the young shoots can poke their green heads out of the soil and stretch toward sun and water, they must first be something else.
They must first be a seed. (And you can read more about that here.)
The seed of my book has cracked open and I am watching in awe and wonder as it unfolds.
Thank you for being here. For reading, for commenting, for letting me share.