The Druid's Garden

Spiritual Journeys in Tending the Land, Permaculture, Wildcrafting, and Regenerative Living

A Druid’s Primer on Land Healing, Part III: Understanding “Energy” and the Three Currents February 26, 2016

An unfinished painting of mine detailing the three currents running through a tree

An in-progress painting of mine detailing the three currents running through a tree

This is the third post in my “Druid’s Primer on Land Healing.” The first two posts explored a framework for land healing, including physical and energetic approaches (in part I) and exploring the difference between “healing” and energetic alliterative care (part II). Now that we have some idea of the work ahead of us in terms of energetic land healing, and have fully explored the word “heal” and its various permutations, we’ll turn to the other term we are talking about, which is “energetic.” If we are going to work with “energy” to heal the land, its a good idea to know what energy we are talking about.  So, today’s post is the underlying energetic framework upon which the specific rituals and suggestions I’ll describe in upcoming posts are based: the three currents.

 

Understanding “energy”

The challenge with a lot of rituals and sacred activities that you find published today is that they may often give you the script to do the ritual, but not the underlying philosophies behind the ritual. You hear these nebulous statements like “I’m going to raise good energy for my garden” but you aren’t really sure more than that. What is the energy you are raising?  Where is it coming from and where is it going?  Why are you “raising” it? I think the work can be done intuitively, to some extent, but the lack of knowledge can be problematic in the sense that it prevents us from crafting and working with specific energies present and conceptualized.

 

The Three Currents

Understandings and concepts about the energy of the heavens and the earth, and the interaction between, are ancient.  Because I’m a druid working in the Druid Revival tradition, I’m drawing material from that tradition, specifically, theories present in the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA) with some additions of my own insights and experiences. And although the names and specific principles I’m presenting here are rooted in the Druid Revival, the concepts go much further back–Pennick and Devereux’s Lines Upon the Landscape’s final chapter, for example, details specific work with what we would call the Solar and Telluric currents connected to are  many ancient sites.  In terms of source material for this post, a great source for more information on the three currents can be found in two of John Michael Greer’s books: The Druidry Handbook and the Druid Magic Handbook.  In fact, a great deal of my discussion here is based on material JMG presents in the Druid Magic Handbook with my own additions and understandings as well as synthesis with other sources. And with that, let’s take a look at the currents.

 

Understanding “Energy”

When we say “energy” or “raising good energy” or “bringing down good energy”  what exactly do we mean? We’ll get to the “raising” or “bringing down” parts in a minute—but let’s start with the energy itself.  What we (usually) mean here is energy in the magical sense: the divine spark, the energy of life, the spirit in things, the creative inspiration flowing through all living beings—what we druids call nywfre (Noo-IV-ruh); this was described in my recent post. Other traditions have different names for nwyfre, including qi/ch’I (Chinese), ki (Japanese), prana (Hindu Yoga), ankh (ancient Egyptian) or the secret fire (Alchemy) (a more complete list can be found in JMG’s Druid Magic Handbook).  Nywfre isn’t the only kind of energy out there, but it is the kind of energy we likely want to be working with for healing purposes.  So I’m keeping my discussion focused primarily on that for today.

 

So this nywfre, this concept of energy, is found in many, many, many traditions throughout the world. Its interesting that mainstream American culture does not have a word for this term and so we end up using other terms that aren’t quite it, like “energy” or “lifeforce.” Most cultures recognize this nywfre (in whatever name) as a fundamental part of being human and inhabiting the world, and they recognize the need to work with it in various ways both within and without. Its only mainstream western culture that pretends such a thing doesn’t exist. We can see this ignorance reflected in the dominant theories of medicine in the west (compared to say, Chinese Traditional Medicine or Ayurveda).

 

This energy does not manifest out of nothing—instead, it comes from two primary sources: the the light within the heavens (the solar current), the light within the earth (the lunar current), and the synthesis of the two. And this has a real biological equivalent–the sun shines down, gives plants light and energy, which is stored. The plants grow from the rich earth with her nutrients and nourishment. We eat the plants, or the animals that eat them, and that sustains us. There’s a lot more to it than that, so let’s dig a bit deeper.

 

The solar current rising at sunrise

The solar current rising at sunrise

The Solar Current

The Solar current derives from the energy at the heart of the sun, radiating through space, and down to the earth. Solar energy, being directly tied to the sun, changes based on the position of the sun in the sky on a daily basis (energy is different at noon than it is at dusk, dawn, or midnight). It also changes based on where the sun is in the wheel of the year (the energy of the sun is different on June 21st, the summer solstice, than it is at the Fall Equinox in September or the Winter Solstice on Dec 21st.) Druids and other earth-based spiritual practitioners know this today, of course, and celebrate accordingly.  And yet, this is very ancient knowledge.  The position of the other planets in the solar system also matter–Greer notes that other planets in the solar system directly reflect the energy of the sun, so astrological influences can help us understand the current manifestation of the solar current at various present moments.  This is all to say that the solar energy is ever powerful, and ever changing, in our lives.

 

The solar current is magically associated with things in the sky: the heavens and birds: hawks, eagles, or herons—I found jays to be quite strong with regards to this current when I lived in Michigan. My rooster, Anasazi, was also able to work this current with incredible effectiveness—he was an extremely solar bird, calling up the sun each day, and held much power while the sun was out!   Additionally, certain plants also can draw and radiate solar energy quote effectively—Dandelion (dominant in the spring); St. John’s Wort (dominant in at midsummer), and goldenrod (dominant in the fall) are three such plants. You may recall my discussion of dandelions a few years back and how they summon the light back into the land in early spring. Sunflowers and sunchokes are other good choices as solar plants—the names themselves demonstrate their solar connection. A good magical herbal will describe all plants that are connected with the sun (look for one that covers astrology–even Culpepper’s herbal will do this). I will say this now and follow-up on it in my upcoming blog posts—we can use these plants, these solar plants, when we need to light up dark places (energetically) and focus the solar current’s healing light.  Spreading the seeds of these plants is a delightful way of doing physical land healing work.  Bees too, are strongly connected to the light of the sun–their bodies themselves reflect its coloring and light.

 

The solar current is “symbolically masculine” meaning that it embodies the principle of projection. This project quality helps us manifest action in the world: what accomplish, what we want to do, projects and activities—this is when we project our energy out into the world for projects, activities, healing, leadership, and more.  JMG indicates that the solar current may also be referred to as “aud” or “od” in magical writings or simply “the sun” in alchemy. It is also known as the “current of knowledge.”

 

We can see the solar current manifested differently in the world’s religions—Christianity, for example, is a very solar focused tradition (a quick image search of Jesus or Angels visually confirms this: the rays of heaven, god’s light shining down, even the halo of light around saint’s or Jesus’ head, and so on). In this tradition, the ultimate goal is to ascend away from the earth and into to heaven—a very solar focus. Another very solar tradition is the Golden Dawn, reflected in every aspect of ritual, including the name. Buddhism, likewise, focuses on achieving “higher levels” of consciousness and being—these are all solar in nature. Pretty much anytime that you hear things about ascension, the light of the sun, and so on, that’s the solar energy being connected to and being drawn upon. Part of the allure of these traditions, in some cases, is the idea of escapism—since the material earth is problematic and imperfect, we can ascend and go to more perfect realms. The problem with some of this thinking is that it separates the living earth from all things sacred or holy—I firmly believe that part of the reason that such pillaging of the planet is happening is because of the emphasis in dominant world religions on solar energy as the only sacred and meaningful energy.  The earth, then, is seen only as a resource worth taking from.

 

Sun at sunset

Sun at sunset

In humans, the solar current expresses itself by associations with the higher regions of the human body: a quest for knowledge, our reason, our imaginations, our will, our language and ability to abstract, our consciousness, our logic and so on. The solar is associated with the entire upper part of our bodies—particularly the chest, shoulders, and hands (hands as those are what manifest and work). Unbalanced solar energy in humans likewise typically in the higher parts of the human (the brain, the ego, etc.) with issues of puffed up egos, pride, being too rooted in one’s head, overly logical or disconnected, cults of personality, and the like. And of course, the words “higher” and “upper” have those “elevated” meanings–so the emphasis, and privileging of the solar currents are built into the very language we use ourselves.

 

The Telluric Current

The second current, the Telluric current, derives from the energy at the heart of the earth. The telluric current’s name comes from “Tellus,” a name for the ancient Roman goddess of the earth. She was also known as “terra mater” or Mother earth; later, this was a word in Latin “telluric” meaning “land, territory or earth.” These ancient connections, then, are present in the name itself, where the currents of the land, and the deity that represented such currents, were worshiped (a tradition found in many traditional cultures around the world).

 

This telluric energy starts at the center of the earth and rises up, through the layers of the stone and molten flows, through the groundwater and underwater aquifers, through the minerals and layers of fossils, and into the crust of the earth. It takes its shape from what is on the surface: plants, trees, roads, rivers, valleys, rivers, and so on. As JMG notes, it is powerfully affected by underground sources of water (aquifers); springs and wells that come up from the land have very strong concentrations of telluric energy. This helps explain both why sacred wells, throughout the ages, have been such an important part of spiritual traditions in many parts of the world–and why its so energizing to drink their water. This also explains why fracking, that which taints the underground waters themselves, is so horrifically bad from an energetic perspective and why understanding these currents is so useful for healing work.

 

As RJ Stewart notes in Earthlight, it is from the currents of the earth that the nutrients flow from the living earth into our bodies, regenerating them. It is from the telluric that you can find the light of transformation and regeneration. The telluric represents the dark places in the world, the energy found in caves and deep in the depths of our souls. The telluric enegy sometimes is about confronting the shadows within ourselves and realizing that those are part of us too. It is about lived experience—the act of being—rather than rationalizing and talking about. In Lines Upon the Landscape, Pennick and Devereux sum this up nicely when they write, “For us, the sense of traveling through a dark and elemental landscape, pregnant with magical and spiritual forces, is no longer experienced. We have separated ourselves from the land and live within our own abstractions” (246).  Take a minute to think about the word “dark” – in modern Western culture, it is immediately associated with evil (showing our strong solar bias).  But darkness can be a place of rest, of quietude, of inner learning and knowing.  It is as natural to this world as is the sun, and its wise to remember this!

 

Roots--strong in the telluric current

Roots–strong in the telluric current

As JMG suggests, the telluric current is symbolically feminine and is frequently represented by a snake or dragon (I’ve also personally seen it represented by other land dwelling creatures, such as salamanders, mice, or moles.) The telluric is the receptive principle, meaning that it is what comes to us, rather than what we go out and get—partially, receptivity can be seen as passive, but it can also be allowing your fate or experiences to be in the hand of another.  I’m sure all of us at points in our lives have had to just “go with the flow” rather than take control of a situation or life experience—that’s receptivity. JMG suggests the name for the telluric current is the “current of power” and its names in magical lore include “the dragon current” the “aub” or “ob” and the “secret fire.” It is about the hidden realms, those within us, and represented well in the tarot cards of both the High Priestess and the Empress.

 

There are fewer traditions that work primarily with the telluric currents—OBOD Druidry is one of them, with its emphasis on the light body exercise as a primary working (bringing the light of the earth up for cleansing and blessing). I’ll note that this is my own assessment of the OBOD work; I’m not sure that OBOD specifies it as such anywhere in the curriculum, but certainly that’s how we can classify its primary practice (and I’ll note with a caveat that its been a while since I finished the Druid grade!)  Another tradition that is fully telluric is work in the Underworld tradition (see R. J. Stewart’s line of books as an example). Many forms of shamanism, where the practitioner is going down into the depths of the earth or their own consciousness to seek allies and assistance is also telluric in nature. These traditions are frequently concerned with transforming the here and now, and seeing the earth as sacred, understanding the sacred soil upon which life depends. As R. J. Stewart suggests in his book Earthlight, “The Underworld tradition affirms that universal wisdom and regeneration are not found exclusively in heavily or ethereal dimensions, but also in the heart of the sacred land, the planet, within our mother earth. It also affirms that we are all, individually and collectively, responsible for the planet, and that in transforming ourselves we transform the world.”  (16).

 

In human beings, the telluric current is associated with the “lower” portions—and as JMG notes, these lower portions are not bad, they are as much a part of us as anything else: the belly, the hips, and the feet and the entire lower half of the human body—especially the womb. Human experiences associated with the telluric include passion, love, sexuality, and power. Unbalanced telluric energy usually shows up in its lower forms in humans, like hedonistic behavior, substance abuse, and so on.  If we think about the strong influence of Christianity (with its Solar-dominant practices), and the telluric current’s emphasis on worldly pleasures and sensuality, we can see why the Telluric current has such a bad rap.

 

Awakening the Lunar Current

Interplay of light and darkness on the landscape of Western PA

Interplay of light and darkness on the landscape of Western PA

A third current can be created by consciously bringing the solar current and the telluric current together—and this is the lunar current. I’ll quote JMG here, “When the lunar current awakens in an individual, it awakens the inner sense and unfolds into enlightenment. When it awakens in the land, it brings healing, fertility, and plenty” (p. 30). Magical lore, too, discusses this current as “aur” or “or” and it’s symbol is the crescent moon as well as the sacred cup/grail, the egg, the jewel (including in the Joseph Conrad sense), and the child.  This, of course, is where our idea of Nwyfre comes in–in at least one sense, nywfre flows through the awakening of this third current, the alchemical synthesis of the other two.

 

The lunar current also helps us resolve the binary created by the telluric and solar currents—it shows us that unification is possible and art of awakening the lunar current can be part of our healing arts in magical practice.  A lot of sacred rituals healing the land can be most effective in awakening this current–and we’ll explore those in more depth in upcoming posts, now that I have this groundwork laid.

 

A way to think about the lunar current being awakened within each human is from a teaching shared by my herbalism teacher and friend, Jim McDonald. Each human being can be seen like a light bulb (not one of those new compact fluorescent ones, but the older ones with the filaments, the ones that were common for decades in the US until recently). We all have our own inner light, the light of our souls. That light radiates outward in the form of the gifts we give the world, the good work we do, the love we share with others and the land. However, in daily living in industrialized society, through the experience of pain or carrying heavy burdens, our lightbulb gets dirty, clouded, splashed with the grease and grime. It’s the sorrow in our lives, it’s the grime of industrialization, the weight of everyday living, that dulls that lightbulb, sometimes, fully obscuring our light. Some people have their lightbulb so covered, its like they had the bulb dipped in black paint. We can use various meditation techniques, ritual, and herbs (like hawthorn, the plant Jim was sharing about in this particular “lightbulb” teaching) to clear the gunk off of our lightbulbs and bring light and healing back into our lives with the unification and awakening of the currents.

 

We can see ancient humans’ deep knowledge of the currents and their interaction reflected in the ancient ley lines upon the landscape—for example in Cuzco, Peru, which means “navel of the earth” had at its center, the Inca Temple of the Sun.  It was here that the Coricancha (the emperor) sat at the heart of the temple; radiating the light of the sun outward from this temple like a sunburst was a large web of straight lines reaching into the countryside (Pennick and Devereux, 251). On the other side of the world, we see the same principles at play in China, where the Chinese emperor sat on his throne in the center of the Imperial Palace (the “Purple Forbidden City”), centered on the imperial road and with gates leading outward to the four directions (Pennick and Devereux, 251). In these, and in other ancient civilizations, the rulers, associated with the sun or considering themselves as “sun gods” or “sons of heaven” radiated via these “transmission lines” to bring the solar energy down and radiate it outward to bless the manifestation of the telluric. The sun’s light, after all, does travel in a straight line. It was this king who unified these currents for the bounty and health of the land.

 

Knowledge of the currents, and practice working with them, are some of the first steps to doing powerful transformations within and without and engaging in the land healing work I am talking about in this series of posts.  We’ll continue to work with them over the next few posts, and think about how this understanding can be manifested in our inner and outer lives. Until then, I encourage readers to consider these concepts in meditation and reflection!

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A Druid’s Primer on Land Healing, Part II: Energetic Healing vs. Palliative Care February 20, 2016

In my post last week, I discussed the different ways that we might heal the land including physical land healing, healing human-land connections, and various forms of energetic healing. Today, I want to delve deeply into the  aspects of energetic land healing, and further probe the difference between energetic healing work and energetic palliative care. I think this distinction is critical for how to develop rituals and how to work with the energy of the land in various ways.

 

To do this, I’m going to share with you a few different kinds of sites in my immediate surroundings in Western PA and look at the circumstances under which these sites might be healed. In fact, I’m picking some of the worst sites I know of physically on my present landscape here in Western PA–I figure that if we can talk about land healing at the worst kinds of sites that I know of, we can do quite a bit with smaller sites with less damage.  So here we go, with a visit to the boney dump and fracking well!

 

The Mountains of PA (Cambria County, looking out onto Bedford and Somerset Counties)

The Mountains of PA (Cambria County, looking out onto Bedford and Somerset Counties)

Energetic Healing vs. Palliative Care

As I established last week, there are (at least) two different kinds of energetic work you can do on the land:

 

Energetic Land Healing  implies that you are raising some kind of positive energy to help enliven, awaken, and rejuvenate the land. One way to think about this energy is like giving someone who is has had an extended sickness some good chicken soup and herbs that are restorative and energizing in nature, and helping set them more firmly on their path towards healing. You may help someone who hasn’t walked in a while get up and take a few steps and encourage them in many ways. This energizes them, it enlivens them, and it allows them to more quickly heal from their illness. Energetic land healing functions in much the same way, with the goal being to raise positive energy for the land to help it regenerate physically and spiritually.

 

If you go to a place in desperate need of energetic healing, you’ll often feel a deadness there, a wrongness, either stagnation like nothing is moving, or other energetic problems.  It may be very closed off and skittish, like an abused animal, withdrawing and staying far away from any sign of new potential abuse.  I usually feel these feelings in the pit of my stomach.  Our English language lacks good terminology for how this feels, but its that heaviness and sadness you feel at a site that has been severely damaged and is struggling to heal, and doesn’t want humans to enact any more damage.  The longer the abuse has gone on, and the most serious the abuse, the more you’ll feel it using whatever spiritual senses you have (heck, even people not very attuned usually can feel it at strong sites). The site, as it regrows and heals, eventually resonates differently, feeling healthier and happier as the land can regrow around it. But you’ll also see the first signs of regrowth and life at these sites.  (Most of my experience in this area, by the way, is from logged forests and poisoned rivers returning to health–its possible that different kinds of sites would resonate differently than I’m describing here!)

 

Palliative care is a very different thing.  There are places on our physical landscape that do not need a jolt of healing energy–they need the opposite.  They need to be put to sleep, to be reduced in vibration and awareness, because the pain is just too great. Sites where active pain and suffering on behalf of the land, the animals, and anything else there are good examples: and as I’ll demonstrate in the latter part of this post, poisoned waterways and fracking sites are two of those sites.

 

Energetically, sites in need of palliative care often feel differently than those in need of energetic healing.  Usually, sites in need of palliative care feel like they are actively suffering.  They are awake through a horrific experience, and they actively suffer and mourn.  For example, once I was driving to a friend’s house on a new route and I was struck with this awful feeling–suffering, pain, misery, all through my stomach.  I had to pull over, and as I did, I got out of the car and climbed up on the ridge to see what lay beyond it.  There was an enormous strip mine that was stripping the land for gravel–hundreds of acres, horrible pools of chemically treated water.  It felt utterly horrible (nearly all of these kinds of mines do, I’ve found in the time since).  I uttered a short prayer for the land, promised to return, and went home and decided my next course of action (I didn’t feel prepared that day, and I had to meditate on what to do for the mine). This was a site not in need of energetic healing (as it was actively being destroyed) but palliative care.

 

Actively destroyed sites aren’t the only ones in need of palliative care, however. The most tragic, perhaps, are the sites that are fine at present, but are destined to be destroyed or stripped in the near future.  These are the hardest cases, in my opinion, because you are powerless to stop what is going to happen and the vibrant, living beings there are trapped and powerless–fear and mourning often radiates these sites. But here, you can do something, and that something is palliative care. You might think about a forest that is about to be logged or is in the process of being logged, but the loggers haven’t yet gotten to the area where you are at. The last thing you want to do is inject this space with healing energy and light–you want to put it to sleep, to soothe the wounds, to try to provide some energetic distance between the forest and the chainsaw. I’ve found myself in the position, many more times than I would have liked to experience. I shared suggestions for individual trees here, but I will add to those suggestions at the end of this article.

 

The key for energetic land healing vs. palliative care is in the nature of the damage, the nature of the healing, and the current situation of the site. To illustrate the finer points between them, let’s take a walk through Western Pennsylvania and see two critical situations that call for very different kinds of healing responses: the boney dump and the fracking well.

 

The Boney Dump: A Call for Physical and Energetic Healing

All through the landscape in Pennsylvania you can find what is known locally as a “boney dump” (they are also referred to as spoil tips, boney heaps, pit heaps, or gob piles in other parts of the world). They are common in areas where any kind of deep mining took place, and they basically represent everything that came out of the mine that wasn’t what was actually being mined. Because theses sites are near old mining operations, they may also have water ponds designed to collect some of the worst acid mine runoff (which pollutes local streams and makes them, in our neck of the woods, sulfurous and poisoned).

Boney Dump from Google Maps

Boney Dump with runoff pools (from Google Maps)

In the photo above is a really bad boney site, compliments of Google maps–it has various nasty colored ponds and pools full of various kinds of sediment they are trying to keep out of the waterways (which doesn’t usually work) along with the boney pile itself (which you can see in the bottom left of the image as well as in the bottom right–the areas that look like a pile of gravel with only a few trees or that look mostly bare). Most of the mines around here closed in the 1970’s or so, but some of these piles are much, much older than that. In 45+ years, they have not regrown in all of that time. After 1978, the US government required that companies “clean up” old mining sites with the passage of the Mine Reclamation Act. But a lot of these sites were there long before the cleanup act took place. And even for new sites, there is the letter of the law and the actuality of the law in practice. Let’s take a look at a site that was “regenerated” by the mining company. These are photos from the same site, just on the ground.

Runoff from a boney dump

The photo above shows a runoff area from a boney dump and some of those pools; poor management means that this is never regrown because it floods each year. Trees, plants, and so on can’t get enough traction to regrow. Of course, there is no soil at all on this site, so nothing can get traction even without the floods (see next photo).

Not much grows on a boney dump (this site has been "regenerated" by mining companies 30+ years ago, and still this is all that there is here!)

This is an area that doesn’t get flooded and is relatively flat, and yet, it still has not regrown either (this site was “regenerated” in the late 1970’s).  The site has no soil to speak of, and it lacks the biological diversity and scattered seeds to even begin to regrow soil.  They did plant some scrub grass, some red pine trees (see the trees in the background there), which barely make it on the soil.  Even the grass struggles to survive here, growing on straight rock.  Over fifty years, and still nothing is really growing.

 

So in terms of healing, we certainly have our work cut out for ourselves at these sites that span hundreds of acres and are dotted all over the landscape. I think its sad because when I was growing up, because these sites were all over the place, I never gave them much thought–its just how it was.  I think a lot of people feel that way–you don’t really talk about the sulfur creek or boney dump, you just kind of ignore them and avoid them.

 

And so part of the active healing work is simply acknowledging them and spending time with them, recognizing that these lands are in need of healing and of human touch.  However, given the enormity of these problems at these sites, if it weren’t for my druid path and permaculture design, I’d be at a complete loss as to what to do, and would probably cry for it and move on, or ignore it like the other locals. But no! We are going to do something to heal these damaged lands (and I feel a particular resonance with the old mine sites, given that so many of my own ancestors were miners). Around here they are abundant and take up thousands of acres–driving 5-10 miles in any direction is likely to have you encountering one or more of them.

 

How would we classify this boney dump in terms of the healing work at hand?  We must classify it both in terms of its relationship with people at present as well as its ability to regenerate. The good news is that the people doing the damage got what they want and are, for the most part, long gone, and with the exception of the acid mine runoff (which is a problem being actively addressed by a number of municipalities in the area), these sites are pretty much left alone. The mines aren’t here any longer and most of this land is essentially a no-man’s land.  Because nobody visits these sites, these are places that nobody cares about. This means, to me, the boney dumps represent the exact kind of place where you can heal on the physical and the energetic levels and do so effectively.

 

I truthfully feel more confident, at present, in my energetic healing abilities for these sites and that’s where the bulk of my first set of efforts have been going. Due to the lack of life and extremely long-term suffering, and the stifling of nature’s own ability to heal, these sites have a kind of numbness and deadness. These are the feelings that comes from lands that have been stripped bare for centuries–there is hardly any stirring of the earth energies, what is known as the telluric, in these sites. I’ll share too that before these sites were mined, they were clear cut, as I discovered from old photos of many of the sites.

 

This means we are talking, likely, several centuries of damage on the part of humans. What these sites need, then, to help jump start the healing is the burst of energy that can help these lands energetically and later physically heal (going back to the as within, so without principle). Given this, these lands are prime targets for some of the energetic healing work discussed above: they won’t be damaged again, nobody bothers with them, they are many, they are remote and open, and they are in prime need of healing. I’ll explore some of the ways of doing this at the end of this post and in my next post.

 

On the matter of physical healing (also discussed in my last post),  I’ve only returned to PA six months ago, but I’ve already taken my first steps in working out a plan using permaculture design principles to help heal a small patch of one of these sites to see what techniques will be effective. This plan is in its infancy stages, and its is part of why I was so interested in seed balls and refugia! To start my work, I have been scattering seeds for plants that can help build soil if they are able to take root–I believe its the soil-less nature, combined with mostly black shale that heats up and cooks all summer long, makes the sites inhospitable to plant life and susceptible to terrible erosion.  The stuff that is on the surface shouldn’t be there, so the best thing I can work to do is to bury it again! This is a slow process, and I’ll report on the physical angle more after I’ve done more experimentation on the boney dump I’ve adopted for this purpose :). At this point, I don’t know if any of my physical healing methods will work, but I am going to keep trying.

 

The Fracking Well: Palliative Care

Most people these days are aware, at least in a theoretical sense, of the problem with fracking wells and fracking more generally on the landscape.  But seeing these wells firsthand, feeling the horribleness of the energies that surround them, is an entirely different thing. Its like something goes heavy and cold in the pit of your stomach; they have a very toxic, burdened energy.  Many of the wells that have been there for a long time have literally an unsettling deadness that creeps into your bones the longer you stand near them.  But also at the site of the well, so much suffering is taking place–suffering, mourning, and sadness from the life that is stuck near the well.  You can feel that suffering, actively, in the plants and land directly around the well.

 

The active gas fracking well, as well as conventional gas well, is a site of damage to the land, to the waters, to the air, to wildlife, to the human populations–everyone and everything around these wells suffer.  People who are working near them are poisoned. The surface of the land is stripped to put in the well, disrupting the ecosystem. Gas companies spray around the well several times each year to keep the grass down.  They visit the wells frequently, “maintaining” the site, tearing up the land with their trucks and leaving, sometimes, pools of oil near the wells just exposed to the air.  They have huge tanks of water that have poison signs on them that make the air all around the well stink and smell really foul.  The waters beneath the land are poisoned and that poisoning creeps into waterways and into people’s drinking water.  The physical land beneath the site is poisoned. They are all over the place around here–I even found a number of different kinds of wells all through the Allegheny national forest, a site supposed to be “preserved” and instead is being actively desecrated:

View from Google Maps of active oil exploitation in the Allegheny National Forest in North-Eastern PA

View from Google Maps of active oil exploitation in the Allegheny National Forest in North-Eastern PA

Below is a photo of a conventional gas well (still very bad, but not as bad as fracking) on public land near where I live. This area was once all forest, now cleared and mowed to allow for the drilling equipment and the gas pipelines.

 

If you are wondering how this is possible, how so many of these wells of any kind are on public land, the answer is a bit complex and the reasons multiple.  But one of the big reasons has a lot to do with who owns the “mineral rights.” Many mineral rights here in PA are often disconnected from “surface rights” so companies who own the mineral rights have the right to get at them, destroying the surface in the process. There’s a lot of fossil fuel under the ground in the Marcellus shale, and people can make a quick buck by keeping their land and selling the mineral rights to the gas or mining companies: and that’s exactly what’s been happening here for over 100 years. (Its pretty much the equivalent of the water rights issue in the Western USA).

Example of cleared land around active well

Example of cleared land around active well

There are so many of these active fracking wells in Pennsylvania, and because of the active and ongoing damage, there isn’t a lot that you can do at these sites beyond palliative care. Physical land refrigeration, obviously, is not appropriate. But energetic land healing isn’t incorporate either. These are sites that are actively being harmed, over and over again. The pain and suffering is compounded through the systematic poisoning of the land, the water system, the plant and animal life, the human life, and the telluric currents (energies of the earth). And, the full long-term implications are as of yet unknown, and likely won’t be known, for several generations. Physical and energetic healing work will be left for our children, and our children’s children, and generations not yet born.

 

Given all this, palliative care is extraordinarily effective for these sites. For one, palliative care can do a number of things that energetic healing cannot, namely: helping to contain damage (sealing energetically), helping to preserve memories and resonances in the land, helping mitigate suffering on every level, putting the land “to sleep”, clearing some of the worst of the negativity. And, in doing this work, you can witness.

 

This wraps up my discussion of boney dumps and fracking wells and their relationship to energetic land healing.  I’m glad these sites have been used to serve at least a little good, in the sense that they helped convey a critical point on our journey of land healing–which will continue across the next few posts.

 

Resources to Learn the Inner and Outer Worlds of Herbalism: Plants, Books, Courses, Lore, and More April 4, 2015

drying herbs

drying herbs

I have been doing an ongoing series of posts about herbalism: herbalism as a druidic practice, my path into herbalism, and medicine making during sacred times of the year. Given the fact that its early spring, and the herbs are starting to emerge back into the world, I wanted to follow-up with another post about how one can go about learning to be an herbalist and some of the resources to get you started.

 

There are a lot of ways to become an herbalist, but I would start by saying that the study of herbs is no quick thing. Like anything worth doing, it requires dedication and practice. Traditional western herbalism contains an immense body of knowledge that requires not only good memory and study skills, but also intuition, observation, and reasoning. You will be challenged, fully, by studying the herbs, their medicine, and their work upon the body. It will take years to develop enough knowledge to be a deeply effective herbalist, but you will also learn things even on your first day of studying herbs that you can apply to better your health and address various ailments.

 

Taking a Local, Sustainable Approach. I want to start by emphasizing that traditional western herbalists, myself included, try as much as possible to take a local approach to plants. This means getting to know local plants that grow or that can be cultivated, gathering them or growing them yourself, and using them rather than those that perhaps are more widely commercially available, but are not locally grown. Many of the really popular plants that are commercially available, like Goldenseal, Osha, or Black Cohosh also suffer from serious overharvesting and and are threatened–this is not sustainable.  There are ways of getting these plants sustainably, specifically, from small herb farms who cultivate them and harvest without disrupting wild populations. But those farms’ products are likely not found in your typical heath food store and have to be sought out.

 

As a locally-based herbalist, using the local plants will allow you to monitor the health of the species and grow some yourself.  Even if you have no land, a trip into the nearest farmer’s field, your family’s front yard, or a nearby forest can greet you with a wealth of herbs (in fact, the first herbs that are easy to learn like dandelion, plantain, violet, strawberry and ground ivy can all be typically found in most lawns). But also, being able to grow and gather your own plants puts you in a relationship with that plant that you would not otherwise have. There’s a huge energetic difference between harvesting stinging nettles fresh vs. opening up a plastic bag that you’ve purchased–a difference from a sustainable perspective, but also a difference from an energetic perspective. Using plants that are more abundant, too (read= invasive) can also help control their populations. For example, purple loosestrife, much maligned throughout Michigan, makes one of the best remedies for conjunctivitis.

 

Taking a local approach to plants is especially important to note because so much of our culture (and our own behavior patterns) is designed to fuel consumptive behavior.  If we really want to break free of consumptive cycles, it means doing a lot more things ourselves, and gathering and growing our own herbs is one of them.  I know there are a lot of well-meaning herb companies, but they still ship their herbs using fossil fuels, they still bottle or bag up herbs in plastic…all of this can be avoided (or mostly avoided) by taking a local approach.

 

Dana's herb class - 2014

Dana’s herb class – 2014

In-Person Herbal Intensives. One of the best ways for finding information on locally available medicinal plants is by learning it in person from someone who practices herbalism locally or regionally, which brings me to in-person herbal courses. I strongly suggest that if you are serious about learning herbs, try to find an in-person herbal intensive. Better yet, if you can take classes from a few different herb teachers, do so. I had read herbals before taking my year-long herbal intensive class, but learning herb through plant walks, lectures, and discussions fit my mode of learning much better, and allowed me to ask questions and also learn from other students. Plus, my herb teacher is one of my favorite human beings–many herbalists are cool, quirky, weird people who are fun to learn from and get to know. Mountain Rose herbs maintains a list of herbal schools here. Some herbal schools are in-person only (like my class from Jim McDonald); others offer distance courses, such as Rosemary Gladstar’s Science and Art of Herbalism class.

 

Wilcrafting Plants: Plant Identification. If you want to be a locally-based herbalist and use plants in your area, you want to learn not only about the herbs yourself, but how to grow and/or wildcraft those plants. Wildcrafting medicines and growing one’s own is actually, in my opinion, not only encouraged by necessary for good herbal practice. We have this tendency in our culture to just be willing to purchase everything–and certainly, plenty of herbal supplements, tinctures, or dried plants are ready to be purchased (and for some without access to plants or with limited mobility, this may be the only option). But if you have the means, invest the time in learning the plants and how to use them. If this is your goal, you  will want to get out there and start finding things! I want to refer you to my two-part series on wildcrafting as a good start (these articles include information that is applicable for wildcrafting herbs for healing/medicine). I’ve mentioned a few books really good for plant identification before–one of my favorites is Oslund and Oslund’s What’s Doin’ the Bloomin? You can also get many different kinds of apps and other resources–these are plentiful and a library has much to offer! Look also, for older plant taxonomies and guides–there are some lovely books easy to find and usually quite cheap that can teach you about tree identification, flowers, etc. The Audobon Society puts out a series of compact field guides will full color photos.  You can also get apps, like the free Leaf Snap, that can be super helpful if you are into the smartphone thing (I’m not, lol).

 

Learning about the Body: Energetics and Actions. Picking up an herbal and saying “oh, such and such plant is good for X” is a good way to get yourself in a lot of trouble–and while this method may work for simple ailments (like a burn, which is always in a hot state) its not good herbal practice. Why? Because traditional western herbalism doesn’t work like alleopathic (mainstream) medicine. Traditional western herbalism recognizes that each person’s “energetic” state in their body is different and how illness manifests in the body likewise, may be different. This means, in order to treat something, you need to know enough about energetics (called “tissue states“; the link gives Matthew Wood’s take on it) to give the right herb that will compliment and address the person’s energetic state manifesting in response to a condition.

 

Here’s what I mean–if you have a cold, your cold might be manifesting as cold (meaning you have the chills) and stagnant (meaning nothing is moving, the snot is stuck in your head) or you might have a cold that is hot (you are running a fever) and damp (you have a damp, wheezy cough, your snot runs profusely, and so on). These all very different states that the body is in–and require different herbs.  I’d use warming and stimulating herbs to treat the first condition while I’d use cooling and drying herbs to treat the second; for both I’d use immune system aids to aid the body along. If I gave the hot/damp person hot herbs, that may aggravate the condition even if the herb also had some sort of immune system boost.

 

So, the solution to this is before you dive into the herbs themselves, you should learn about how energetics work.  For this, the best book I have found is Matthew Wood’s The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism: Basic Doctrine, Energetics, and Classification. If you want to get started, my herb teacher, Jim, has a guide posted here. The second thing these books and resources will teach you is about herbal actions, or what effect the herb actually has on the body (e.g. plantain coat and soothe the mucus membranes with its mucilaginous quality).

 

Once you understand basic energetics, you can move on to using and understanding materia medicas (that is, herbal books)….

 

Making herbal tinctures from wildcrafted ingredients

Making herbal tinctures–in this case, from queen anne’s lace–from wildcrafted ingredients

Learning about herbs: Materia Medicas. Over the years, many different guides to specific herbs–Materia Medicas–have been written by skilled herbalists. There are several for free online, like Grieve’s Modern Herbal and Culpeppers Herbal. These are great resources and places to get started! My personal favorite herbals are Matthew Wood’s two Earthwise Herbals (Vol 1 and Vol 2). You will need to purchase both to have a full range of herbs. I also really like Adele Dawson’s Herbs: Partners in Life which as gifted to me about a year ago by two dear friends. Dawson doesn’t just talk about remedies, she also gives recipes and her innate knowledge of herbs. I think each herbalist will have his or her own favorite books–but the ones I’ve just listed are some good ones to consider.

 

Making Plant medicine. One of the areas I enjoy the most with herbalism is making various plant medicines. I’ve had a few posts over the years that detail some of my recipes, like Jewelweed Salve, Dandelion Bitters, Sore Muscle Rub, or Steam inhalations. The two books that are my go-to guides for these are complimentary and both excellent purchases: Richo Cech’s Making Plant Medicine and James Green’s The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook. These two present you with all of the principles you need to make awesome goodies.  If you want specific recipes and suggestions, you can pick up one of many Rosemary Gladstar’s books.

 

Plants as Teachers and Allies. A critical part of learning how to be an herbalist is working with the plants themselves as teachers, allies, and guides. While different herbalists have various views on the inner worlds of plants and their teachings, one of my favorite teachers in this regard is Stephen Harrod Buhner. His Secret Teachings of Plants, Sacred Plant Medicine, and The Lost Language of Plants are great places to start.  Many of my writings on druid tree workings and other spiritual practices can also aid you in reaching the plant realm.  There is so much more to say on this topic, but I think my earlier druid tree working posts covers a good deal of the basics :).

 

Learning about the Body: Anatomy and Physiology. But wait, isn’t this about plantsWhen I dove into herbalism a two years ago, I was surprised at just how much I had to learn about the body and its functions…and wished I had taken an anatomy and physiology class while still in college!  Herbalism was just as much about plants as it is about their interaction with the body. The book I’ve used for this is Pip Waller’s Holistic Anatomy: An Intergrative Guide to the Human Body. There are really good Youtube videos on the subject as well.

 

Learning about food and nutrition. Good eating is the cornerstone to good health. Working to heal your body and keep it in prime health means that you not only need to understand about plants as medicine, but realize that everything that you eat also has the power to heal (or to harm). This was made very abundantly clear to me when I worked with a nutritionist and herbalist to heal my asthma.  In the case of my asthma, which was brought on by a gluten sensitivity, herbs would only take it so far (and would be treating the symptom). By changing my diet and adding herbs, I was able to address the root cause instead. This is all to say that its important to learn about nutrition and healing foods as much as it is to learn about healing plants. Jim Mcdonald has some good links on herbs and nutrition in his master index here (which is great to check out for many more reasons!)

Dried herbs and old kettles!

Dried herbs and old kettles!

 

Getting the right tools and equipment.  Starting out in herbalism doesn’t have to cost you much, if anything–the plants are freely available on the landscape. However, as you go on, you might find some tools and equipment helpful. Much of this you can repurpose or build yourself.

  • Dehydrator and/or drying rack – to dry herbs for later use, including teas. Teas are best made with dry, not fresh, herbs because the drying process breaks down cell walls.
  • Jars (I use mason jars, reusable and infinitely useful) – for storage of dried herbs, tinctures, infused oils, and more.
  • A double-boiler for making infused oils and salves (I found mine for $20 at a garage sale).
  • Tincture press. These are super expensive online, but I made my own for super cheap (instructions are here).
  • A few of the tools for harvesting and foraging: bags, basket, a pair of scissors, gloves (for nettles and prickly things), and a hori-hori knife (these and more listed in this blog post).

 

Herbalism Conferences are wonderful ways to learn from various teachers, attend plant walks, learn about energetics, and more. If you have the time and funds, an herbalism conference is well worth attending! Some conferences include the Herbfolk Gathering, the Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference, and the Great Lakes Herb Faire.

 

Growing Herbs. You can also learn a lot about herbalism just from simply growing a few herbs in your garden. For a full introduction to this, you can see Cech’s The Medicinal Herb Grower.

 

On the process of learning. I think I mentioned on this blog before that part of my research as a university professor is on how people learn. Since undertaking any new learning has its own set of challenges, I’ll conclude with some brief advice from the science of learning that can help you more successfully take your first steps into traditional western herbalism.

  • On setting yourself up for success. Recognize how you learn best, and make your learning conducive to that approach. Perhaps you are a visual learner: seeing the plants, looking at pictures, engaging in observation and study: these will help you learn best. Perhaps you need to learn the big picture first–learning about the big picture of energetics will help you before delving into the herbals. Perhaps you need to learn by doing: find some youtube videos and follow along yourself. The key is to figure out how you learn best and use that strategy to maximize your success.
  • Learning from someone else. Even if you aren’t able to take a class (or even if you are) you’d be surprised who has a bit of herbal knowledge around you. Ask around for people who make teas, use salves, and so on. Its really wonderful to find someone to learn from, even if its just a friend teaching you a few things.
  • Pair up and learn together. Its also wonderful to take a class with a friend or family member or to self-design a curriculum you can use to learn about herbs together. This will lead to rich conversations and keeping each other moving forward.
  • On challenges. If we continue to do the same thing over and over again, we don’t grow in the same way that if we are to challenge ourselves frequently to use–and learn new–knowledge. If you want to be a good herbalist, you have to find ways of challenging yourself to grow your herbal knowledge. Maybe tackle a big herbal project, like making a small family herbal medicine cabinet. Whatever it takes to have you grow each time you try something new.
  • On the nature of expertise. Any serious profession or subject requires considerable effort and practice to move from being a novice to to being an expert. Being an expert herbalist may not be your goal, of course.  But for many subjects, research has suggested somewhere between 5000-10,000 hours are necessary to have real “expertise.” Even if being an expert, practicing herbalist, isn’t your goal, realize that learning anything as complex as herbalism does require hours and hours of investment. So be patient and give yourself the space and time to learn.

 

I hope this post has illustrated some ways to learn about herbs and that you find it useful!  I would love to hear your ideas and experiences with herbs, dear readers!

 

Energetics and Tissue States Wheel – Traditional Western Herbalism April 12, 2014

As I mentioned in some previous blog posts, I’m currently taking an herbalism course with herbalist Jim McDonald. I find that visualizing material really helps me. This is my visual from the first class–its the energetics of herbalism, upon which everything rests.  I made this at 13″ x 20″ on some board with watercolors and ink.

Update: I have a poster available for sale on Zazzle.com if you are interested –its full size!

About the image: My thinking about this image and how to read it is this: the energetic quality is on the outside, the tissue states is in the first row, then the herbal actions with the same temperature/quality are on the inside.  So you have both hot states, and hot herbs, all in one slice of the pie. If you click on the image, it will take you to a larger version of the file.

Tissue States / Herbal Actions Wheel

Tissue States / Herbal Actions Wheel