Plant Medicine- Ancient and Modern
As inherently creative beings, we aspire to meet or exceed ourselves in all we do. Part of our joy and satisfaction in any given creative field, is to push the boundaries and bring our work beyond where others have taken it. We are drawn to evolve and grow as individuals and as a culture.
As a craftsperson for many decades, I have always felt that as creativity flows through me to my work, I am somehow connected to, drawing from and contributing to, a greater whole. As healers, artisans and makers of plant medicine, I believe we all contribute to a larger movement and body with our work, each bringing their own unique vision, experience, wisdom, knowledge and insight to our craft and our culture.
Not that long ago, most products we could purchase were made locally, individually handcrafted, using designs, standards and methods of production that were handed down for generations. Nowadays, in our capitalistic paradigm, most of our needs are met with affordable, mass-produced, identical, standardized reproductions readily available to all, including our food and our medicine.
In this world of mass-produced medicine there is often no discernible difference between a high-quality and a low-quality product. In fact, qualitative differences in mainstream medication are close to nonexistent, since standardized factory production and testing methods assure medicinal chemicals are molecularly identical on all shelves worldwide. Qualitative differences, at least in our mainstream medicine, seem to exist more in our perception of company branding than in physical fact.
Herbal medicine and supplements have become billion dollar a year industries adopted by large corporations, increasingly processed, standardized, and marketed in the same manner as our medicine.
In the case of artisan herbal products and the “Apothecary arts” where we relate to our work as an art, a craft, or a personal expression, we are not bound by the same limitations that simplify manufacture and maximise profit in the process of mass production and high volume distribution. As individuals and artisans, we have the opportunity to explore qualities, and standards of quality that are not practical for the large corporations and automated production lines. We are free to express our own knowledge, perception and worldview, our philosophy and life experience, while we draw from the accumulated wisdom of our common cultures and civilization to create unique products. On that path, we find we are not alone.
- What is it that creative individuals can give us that production lines and multimillion dollar corporations cannot?
- Where then do we, the herbalist/apothecary, artisan compounder, natural perfumer, craftsperson working closely with nature, fit into this picture of modern mass-produced medicine and consumption?
- What can we bring to our field that chemically identical commercialized products can’t?
- How can we better serve those around us?
- How can we contribute to the development of our craft? Our culture.
- What standards of quality can we integrate in our products? Aspire to.
We can’t compete with mainstream manufacturing in volume of production or sales, global reach or profit margins. Even though we may secretly aim for world domination, there is a logic and comfortable living/working/growing zone we often find, serving a small community that knows us and depends on us. Individually we may be just one herbalist, plant medicine person, plant healer, natural perfumer or any kind of nature oriented craftsperson, with no perceptible far-reaching impact, but as a group of like-minded people around the world, we must wonder how we collectively affect or contribute to our craft or art globally, if not to our culture as a whole.
“The third principle is the recognition of natural cycles and the veneration of plants. Mayan healers talk with (as opposed to just talking to) plants, as do many herbalists in other traditions. Sometimes with the help of his “Way” (Its soul-animal companion), the healer is chosen by certain plants and they develop a very special relationship. These particular plants then especially aid the healer in treating the sick, particularly in difficult cases” Mayan Medicine
Ancient medicine, though we like to call it primitive medicine, was, in many cultures around the globe and throughout history, a complex craft/ art and science, tied closely to local doctrines, philosophies, world-views and belief systems. every plant and medical material was a living being, a unique entity with its individual character, personality and spirit. Each plant and animal, rock, lake, mineral or mountain could be engaged in meaningful discourse. Healing, medicine and life in general were approached with consideration to much more than the materials and their molecules that we have reduced it to today.
Each living being interacted with and was influenced by the environment at large and each affected the environment, including the cosmos to which all things were bound and in which all things evolved and grew in an interrelated and interdependent matrix of stars, planets, and nature. Nothing existed in isolation from the whole, and the whole was in constant dynamic evolution and growth.
Medicine was prepared and administered on an individual basis, often with astrological, spiritual and constitutional considerations to the patient, the dis-ease , the plants, the land, the medicine, and usually, the spirits/ancestors/Gods. All were part of a dynamic cosmic balance as were the ill or wounded. There was nothing impersonal about it, nothing stood apart from the whole unaffected, and there was nothing primitive about it considering how these concepts are now echoed by modern physics.
Just as important in this world-view, was the Shaman, priest/priestess, elder and medicine maker, who was the communicator and mediator between the human individuals, society, and the intangible world of energies,entities and spirit. Animism and Shamanism are two sides of one coin. One does not exist without the other. .
Alchemy and Astrology-Mystery schools and Secret societies
Alchemy and Astrology have existed in western and eastern society for millennia. While Shamanism and Animism were mainly buried or excised in the wake of conquering religions and armies, western Alchemy and Astrology went underground as early as the time of ancient Greece, and along with Sacred Geometry, formed the basis of Mystery schools and later secret societies that kept their precepts alive and carried them forward from one generation to the next hidden from the world at large. Indian and Chinese cultures had their own corresponding sciences. Chinese and Indian Astrology and Alchemy continued to exist in their respective cultures through the millennia without the same resistance and need to hide themselves. Their influence can be seen in Taoist Yoga, and methods of plant preparation in both traditional Chinese medicine and Indian Ayurveda.
Modern science and chemistry borrowed heavily from traditional Alchemical processes before discarding both Alchemy and Astrology as superstitions, old wive’s tales, and unsubstantiated using the tools and methods of measurement modern science had invented for itself. We never prioritized development of tools to measure what we could not perceive on a physical level, just as we have not prioritized development of alternatives to fossil fuel.
We continued to strip the material world of all spirit and meaning, intangible essence and content, which were elements as fundamental to Alchemy and Astrology as the actual materials and processes themselves. We managed to create a purely material world where each identifiable atom and object exists in isolation. In a vacuüm.
Both Alchemy and Astrology have gained some acceptance and interest in recent decades. Once studied, one can detect telltale signs and symbols of Alchemical, Astrological, and Sacred geometry, woven quietly and secretly into texts, illustrations and architecture of the last few hundred years, often in surprising and remarkable places. Positioned for those “with the eyes to see”, they patiently bide their time till we are ready to reexamine and integrate their ancient wisdom in our collective consciousness.
The material world
Material devoid of content and spirit was essential to the development of modern chemistry, science and medicine. It simplified the process of measurement and standardization, duplication, reproduction of results and mass distribution and was fertile ground for the birth of both industrialization and capitalism.
With thousands of years of our monotheistic religions systematically eradicating all signs of spiritual “competition” and any belief in intelligent life or spirit other than the “one god” from cultures they/we conquered, we have become disassociated and severed from the heartbeat, rhythm, and living spirits of nature and the inherent relationships between us.
This dissociation has allowed us to prosper on a material level, but left us with a discordant relationship with nature and the planet.
It is safe to say that the course of our evolution as a western society has taken us increasingly further from a holistic worldview and that we have separated material from spirit to such a degree that we see ourselves not only as the center of the universe but also as the only beings in our cosmos blessed with consciousness. We believe we are very special. Maintaining this simplistic world-view and consensus allows us to treat all other things in the world as raw inanimate materials to feed the machines that sustain, clothe and heal us, permitting us to remain impersonal and efficient, with little regard or fear of consequence.
The sheer volume which we process our Plants, minerals and animals as raw materials is unprecedented in our history. We treat everything around us as resources with equal indifference, detachment and little consideration beyond fulfilling our immediate needs and making a big enough profit to continue doing so. This is especially shocking when we witness the terrible treatment of our food animals, the decimation of our forests, the rapid growth of new diseases and shifting world ecology.
………From razing and logging old-growth lumber, planting vast tracts of roundup ready monocultures where rainforests stood, to factories that yield thousands of tons of pork chops, hamburgers, milk or eggs per year, it is evident we have divorced ourselves from nature and spirit, and from our place and potential as responsible citizens of the Planet and cosmos.
The silver lining A planetary brain, heart and spirit.
On the bright side, with the quick growth and easy access to the internet, we have created what could be seen as a globally shared brain that wraps itself around the world connecting us all. We all draw from it and add to it with each click and query. It is an accurate reflection of us, as a civilization and society containing ever growing records, (memories), of our cultural past, our current attitude and knowledge, our shared and evolving wisdom, ethics, aspirations and dreams as a race. Changing from moment to moment it is a real time reflection of who we are and provides a functional communal brain we all use. More than just a group organ of intellectual capacity, this phenomenon also reflects our sentiments and ethics as a whole, and through consensus, may just help guide our global decision-making as a single entity and global culture.
With interest in “alternative” spirituality booming, the past few decades we have seen a great growth in the study of ancient belief systems and cultures. Shamanism, Astrology, Animism, Alchemy, Medical Astrology, and other ancient traditions and technologies from our common past are resurfacing.
Science is re-examining traditional medicine from around the world and identifying new molecules and compounds that are expanding our repertoire of modern medicine. These “new” compounds are just a small example of the treasures we can mine and integrate from our past.
Now, more than ever before, we have the opportunity and the call to re-examine, re-experience and re-integrate ancient knowledge back into our collective consciousness, to weave it back and adapt it into the fabric of our present lives and our global society. Even to seek within our past, solutions to our modern problems.
Shamanism and Animism are an increasing influence from our own American cultures, a world-view and practice we did not succeed in completely eradicating, which I believe are exerting a growing influence on how we think and look at the world in the west.
Paganism in many forms has grown and blossomed and is gaining greater acceptance in the western mind bringing with it increased research and practice of traditional and folk magic from around the world, mystery schools and ancient technologies. We are picking up and raising babies we threw out with the bath water in our haste to simplify, standardize, conquer and control the material world.
Animism and Shamanism-Alchemy and Astrology
As herbalists, artisans and plant people, using our “New global brain”, we have access to a growing body of ancient knowledge and material we can work with, explore and integrate into our craft.
I have found the two duos, Shamanism/Animism, and Alchemy/Astrology offer particularly rich and timely resources for our work with plant medicine and herbalism.
Applying these ancient technologies to my work as a herbal apothecary and plant medicine compounder has consistently elevated the quality of my work and products in tangible ways.
- I see more vibrant colours manifesting in finished products.
- Fragrances that are clear, crisp and enduring.
- I see shelf life extended by years when I compare my old methods to the new.
- I see increased efficacy and an increase in clear tangible results from the products.
There are less tangible effects as well, but I will reserve those for a future post.
So, is this ancient human magic even accessible today? Do we still have the senses to experience more than tangible molecules around us? Can we relearn and reclaim the old mysteries and secrets we hid so well from ourselves? Is there something to them besides old wives tales and primitive superstition?
The answer for me is YES, and we won’t know till we explore, study and experience these things for ourselves.
On the most relatable level, I see higher quality products in the work of artisan producers who have meaningful personal and intimate relationships with nature and the plants they work with. Passionate relationships. Love affairs with plants. Knowingly or not, they are stepping into the realm of Shamanism. Coupled with years of experience, as their relationship with self, nature and plant friends grow, so does the quality of their products continue to grow. Add to their skills a new brain loaded with information and old wisdom for all who desire it, and we have an evolution of modern day Shamans and Alchemists, plant whisperers and plant magicians. Those who can guide Genies into bottles and raise their plant medicine to new levels of excellence while growing themselves and the world around them.
Though not an overnight evolution, I sense a movement and direction unfolding. Because we will most definitely continue to grow and evolve, the only question is what direction will our growth take. If I was to make a prediction, I would say this exploration and reclamation of our ancient relationships with plants and Nature, and reintegrating old technologies in ways that work for us today, is the direction modern herbalism and plant medicine is going. The stars are the limit.
Alchemy, Astrology, Shamanism, once called magic, are just different technologies. Technologies that bring the medicine so closely in line and in harmony with the plant and its inherent frequency, they resonate together. Described in the past as art working with nature, traditional Plant Alchemy provides the tools for cultivating such an understanding and practical methods of working with, refining, and raising the energies of the plants, and the products we create with them.
It is only natural that the plants energies /presence would be drawn to take up residence in the product. By applying the techniques and theories provided by Alchemy, understanding the language and code, the rhythms and cycles of Astrology that reflect the organization of all things on the planet, and by developing deep, meaningful relationships with Nature and the plants we work with, we earn a deeper understanding of nature, ourselves, the cosmos and everything in between.
Looking from a distance, I see a growing number of individuals working with plants who have incorporated some of the old ways into their herbal work. They are drawing growing communities and followers. There are grassroots movements swirling like eddies around them. Standing further back, I see these eddies blending with those of other like-minded individuals in other fields. Between them all is a common thread that seems to weave itself through our western culture and society bringing new perspective and inspiration, a wind of change that has influence much broader than any one or handful of us could ever reach.
It is something new, yet old and familiar. It is magical and practical, we can’t see it clearly, but we sense it poignantly, and we follow it. We know when we turn the bend we will see that others have followed it too.
The issue of quality in our Artisan herbal preparations..
- Can we harmonize our work with the innate rhythms and resonances of astrological matrix we exist in? The Sun, the Moon, the planets and stars?
- Can we work with an understanding of the hidden mechanics of nature and Plant alchemy to raise and refine, harmonize and potentize the energies of our products?
- Can we cultivate and deepen our relationships with Nature, the energetic beings and communities of plants, animals, minerals, rivers and mountains, the spirits of the land? Can we learn from them, work with them? Invite them to be a part of our work and products?
- Can we contribute in our own small ways to our global mind and evolving consciousness through our work as individuals? Facilitate growth towards a more compassionate and aware civilization?
- Can we stand and mediate between two worlds and channel new life into what was perceived as empty material?
- Is the ancient job of community healer and shaman now again available? Have we come full circle to find it is time for a modern incarnation of the Alchemist and Astrologer, the Shaman, Priest/Priestess, the teacher, elder and plant whisperer, the healer and medicine maker?
I think many of us hear the call. Though we each walk our own path to a deeper relationship with nature, our past and future, and we each contribute our own unique gifts, I see many of us walking to the same veiled destination, and as we each explore our solitary path, following the inner voices that lead us, we add our own small voice to the many others that are together changing the landscape of our global intelligence, ethics and culture. We aren’t as isolated or as different from each other as we think.