Words: Josh Williams
Plants have been with us since the begin-ning-less beginning. Through their verdant blessings we’ve been gifted the food that nourishes us, the fibre in our clothing, the materials in our buildings, the fuel in our fires, the inspiration in our art, and medicine. Throughout time and place, the plants have shown up as the great green healers and have shared their wellness ways with the countless cultures, traditions, and peoples who have worked with them. In our world today, herbal medicine is experiencing something of a renaissance. More and more people are looking to herbalism in its ancient and modern expressions to help cultivate wellness, nourish a connection to nature, and fill the gaps left by institutionalised medicine that doesn’t often serve all people equally. This renaissance has sparked a passionate interest in how we can draw wisdom and experience from our collective ancestors to bring in much needed healing to our world. By doing so, many of us are realising just how much power and potential exists with the plants- and this is just the beginning. The plants are calling us with their colour and fragrance, flavour and texture, mystery and power… and they’re calling us with their spirits, too.
As we look to the past to find ways to bring herbal medicine into the ways of our modern world, we find one thing in common amongst most all cultures and traditions: animism. This perspective acknowledges that humans are far from the only persons who inhabit the planet. Animism invites us into a reality where all beings are sovereign people with spirit; including the plants themselves. When we approach our work with the plants and herbal medicine with an awareness of their personhood we step away from reductionist forms of herbalism where ‘this herb is good for this illness’ and enter a world where the plants bring a complex wisdom filled with medicinal nuance and magical expression. The animist perspective means that rather than being humans who take herbs which do something to us, we enter into sacred connections of kinship where the spirit of the plant works in harmony with our own spirit to create the changes we seek.
The difference between a reductionist model of herbalism and that of a more animistic spiritual model may seem slight, but the results are far reaching. Imagine walking through the world experiencing the inherent personhood of all beings- and what this implies for our wellness practices. Rather than walking down a tree-lined street, practicing yoga in a garden, or hiking through the woods, we are now in the presence of beings who are just as aware of us as we are of them. The trees begin to speak with the wind blowing through their canopies, the flowers send messages of colour and aroma, the waving grass shakes hands and hearts, and the whole world comes to life- the way it was for many of us when we were children. One immediate benefit that happens when we walk through a world filled with persons is that the deep-seated sense of loneliness many of us feel starts to dissipate. Our sense of alienation from nature becomes replaced with a radical sense of part-of-ness; we feel as though we belong, we are seen, and we are important.
The importance we’re given in these sacred spaces isn’t one where we’re the most important people in the room, but that our conscious and intentional participation in the harmony and wellness of nature is needed and desired. The gifts and abilities we bring to the table are just as magical and medicinal as those brought by our favourite herbal allies. This awareness of our connection to the wholeness of nature brings us back into alignment with the flow of life energy and the communication that happens from our hearts to the hearts of all the people who share the world with us. So, with an awareness that plants are people and are capable of seeing us for who we are and responding to us with their blessings of magic and medicine, where should we begin? I’d like to share two simple but incredibly powerful techniques with you here which you can call into your own spiritual practices right now and experience their far-reaching benefits right away.