GMC Classes: Magic, Ritual, & Story in Herbalism

Herbalism can be so much more than plant chemistry applied to our chemistry (although, that is certainly its own form of magic), and throughout the ages, plants have been deeply interwoven into human lives in the form of magic, ritual, and story. Over the years of hosting the Good Medicine Confluence, Wolf and I have witnessed how powerful these topics can be for our HerbFolk community and we make concerted effort to bring together a diverse array of perspectives and voices to teach about the plants in a magic and story infused way. What I love how our teachers work to make these topics infinitely applicable to the daily life of an herbalist, whether celebrating the seasons of life, healing through story,  or grieving the death of loved ones.

While many more of our classes could actually be placed under this category, here’s a sampling of those that most directly relate to the topics at hand. I hope you’ll enjoy this look at peek at the upcoming Good Medicine Confluence, and I can’t wait to see many of you there!

Head over to the Good Medicine Confluence page to see a full list of the classes, a look at our amazing teachers, a tentative schedule, purchase tickets, and more!

The Herblore of Midsummer: 

Plant Magic of the Summer Solstice 

Rebecca Beyer

(1.5 hrs)

The Solstice approaches! The culinary, folkloric, and medicinal uses of the sacred herbs of the Summer solstice will be examined through the lens of Western European plantlore. This class aims, through the deeper knowing of key plant species and their rich stories, to create space for understanding the ways in which European-ancestored people or those interested in European plant lore, can tap into the lore of their own lineages to more deeply connect to their ancestral lines all the while helping to combat the rise of cultural appropriation in these challenging times.

Sunday Intensive: 

Narrative Herbal Medicine: 

Weaving Words & Healing Herbs

Heather Wood Buzzard

(2.5 hrs.)

So many of us have turned to herbs. So many are now turning to words. Narrative medicine and herbal medicine, distinctly, are the two oldest forms of healing. In the times when these were the two primary forms of care, chronic disease was less rampant, infectious disease was a number one killer, and both narrative medicine and herbal medicine were called upon daily to save lives and move mountains. Today, both narrative medicine and herbal medicine have been thrown by the wayside in favor of high-tech, clinical, and sterile modern medicine, which can save lives but can also kill and comes with marked side effects, something narrative medicine does not come with and herbal medicine comes with very rarely.

A primary tool of the narrative herbal medicine practitioner is close listening to the client, a muscle which can be an exercised and strengthened through close reading and reflective writing. Close reading builds the skill of deeply listening without adding or subtracting from the story or attempting to place it within society. The skilled witness must interpret within the story which areas are sacred, which profane, which aspects are vital to the teller and which are footnotes, what shocks and revelations they have dealt with, and what they have done and what has been done to them to bring them to their present condition.

The story of a client is unexplored territory which the process of close reading gives us the tools to map. When we as practitioners try to locate ourselves within our client’s story intentionally, we may find it unfamiliar. The principal of minimal departure tells us that we expect to hear or witness something that doesn’t vary too greatly from what we already know. This is good and to be expected. But the patient wants to be seen and found, whether or not their narrative fits within the circumference of our comfort zone. Care givers may assume that a client is speaking from a baseline of reality somewhat close to their own truth, but this is not necessarily the case. 

In this exploratory class, we will navigate our way through mapping the space where herbs and words coincide. We will cover topics including, but not limited to, narrative humility, the doctrine of signatures, poetic medicine, tools for narrative knowledge, the language of the body, the language of the plants, and constitutional medicine.

Death & Dying Part I: 

Preparation, Acceptance, & Herbs For Grieving

(1.5 hrs.)

Julie James

“A culture that does not know how to die, will live in fear of the unknown.”

The dominant culture in America has become wholly and unhealthily removed from the process of death and dying. We tend to see any open discussion of death as ghoulish, we deny death and at the same time have a bizarre obsession with images of violent death, horror, and ideas of what comes afterward. We have come to this state in a relatively short period of time– as recently as our grandparents’ time, families still honored their beloved dead at home, tended lovingly and mindfully for their bodies, and during the process of dying, stayed with their loved ones, caring for them and surrounding them with community, family, and children. Now, too often the process of dying is relegated to sterile hospitals, with the dying isolated from their community, accompanied often by only their doctors and nurses. And when the body finally dies, it is whisked off to a mortuary, unseen and untouched and unloved until it is finally presented in a sterile, artificially preserved and painted manner. Families who seek to care for their dying at home are seen as oddities, and if they then choose to care for the body of their beloved dead themselves, atrocities.  And yet the right to care for our dying and our dead is so very human, and is a deeply healing way to come to terms with death. We are able to more closely work through our grief and loss when we are not disenfranchised from it, when we can openly and publicly mourn, when we can properly honor the relationship that we had and the transition of that relationship. And with that more profound understanding of the process of death and dying, we receive the unmatched gift of emotional and psychological acceptance and closure that can support us in the process of grieving. 

In this class, we will look at historical death traditions in American culture and how and why that changed so much, as well as the many cultures that still honor the process of death. We will discuss how herbal allies can help us to be present and supported in the process of dying, how we can ease the passing over that threshold by our beloved, and how we can work through the grief and loss after death.

Death & Dying Part II: 

Home Funeral Practices, Legality, History, & Rituals

(1.5 hrs.)

Julie James

In Part 2, we will examine how to be with death in a more personal, direct manner, and examine how herbalists can work in and with hospice, death doula, and home funeral organizations, how we can offer pre-death care to the dying and to the community, and how we can help clients regain their incontrovertible right to home death, and become, if they choose, an active participant in the transition as well as the honoring of the body after death. 

We will look at the physical process following death, how to care for the body, and the legal issues surrounding this process. Regulations are already in place that protect our right to home funerals, and disposition of the body, including alternatives to embalming.

By speaking clearly and plainly about death, we hope to start a larger discussion that will continue in our communities and beyond. It is long past time that we take back this extraordinary final journey, making it our own and embracing a deeper understanding and acceptance of our own death in the process.

Old World Meets New World: 

Wax Pouring, Bone setting, & Folk Herbalism/Folk Healing Practices 

in The Ukrainian Settlements of Western Canada

(1.5 hrs)

Dionne Jennings

Moonshine, Goose fat, axle grease, beeswax and holy water—what does this have to do with herbal medicine? Join Community Herbalist Dionne Jennings and explore the folk healing and herbal practices of Ukrainian immigrants & descendants in the Ukrainian settlements in Western Canada. 

Herbal medicine is of course, the medicine of the people. Let’s learn more about how our Ukrainian ancestors practiced it, and honor the hard work, hardships & resourcefulness that contributed to our body of herbal knowledge & these largely forgotten traditions.

Newcomers to Canada from Ukraine came in hopes of acquiring land and a better life for themselves & their children. On long, sea-sick ridden voyages across the ocean, they brought with them grains, seeds, herbs, plant cuttings, tools, as well as many healing practices which were very much needed while surviving their first long & harsh Canadian winters. Access to doctors & hospitals in the settlements was extremely limited. Hardship & poverty were daily obstacles to endure & overcome & the people had to be resilient & self-sufficient out of necessity, as well a reliant on their closest neighbors & community members. We will explore support for healing the physical body as practiced by Plant Doctors & the Bone-Setters, as well as the practices of sweating, steaming, cupping & leeches. We will also explore where the physical & spiritual intersect, examining the idea that sickness was a result of imbalances, evil spirits, or spiritual crisis. Spiritual Healers, sometimes also known as wise women or “witches” practiced “Wax Pouring” a divination ritual to cure “Fear Sickness” or the Evil Eye that had been cast on them. 

Part of folk medicine practice at the time was augmenting herbal treatment with influences of the spiritual/supernatural. This would include many familiar herbal practices such as making infusions, poultices, & salves with blessed plants and herbs, but also using other ritual objects as instruments of healing such as knives, holy water, candle wax & ribbons from church. First Nations medicine and intersection with spiritual practices certainly also influenced the folk medicine as it was practiced and developed at the time. Plant medicine-our original system of medicine-was practiced by all of our ancestors, as was medicine & ritual for the spirit. Come hear some stories of mine!

Babas & Botany: Flora, Fauna & Cosmology 

in Ukrainian Healing, Ritual & Folk Art 

(1.5 hrs)

Dionne Jennings

Like all world cultures, the Slavs had a deep connection to the plants and to the land. Spirituality, ritual, and religions that came after all have strong connections to the natural world. Let’s explore the influence of & connection to the natural world as part of Ukrainian folk tradition-from the gathering, use & blessing of aromatic plants and herbs, as well as the symbology and influence of plants and flowers in various facets of Ukrainian folk art. We will discuss some herbs that we are familiar with the the Western materia medica and some rituals around harvesting them on the Summer Solstice for best healing & charms, along with: 

•Pysanky: Pysanky are Ukrainian easter eggs made by a resist technique with dyes from local plants and beeswax. They are pre-christian & have many associations & with fertility rituals, symbology to sun gods, the tree of life, the great goddess, and there are many plant, animal & celestial symbols that are used to adorn them. 

•The ritual & symbolism of Motanka dolls. Motanka are dolls of protection, or ritual charms, made by hand using plant material, bits of fabric scraps & rags. Intention, wishes & prayers go into making the dolls for health, fertility, & protection. Motanky have connections to the goddess Rozhanytsa which can be traced back to ancient Slavic & Trypillyan culture 

•The symbology of the Tree of Life & it’s connection to Great Goddess in handcrafts such as embroidery, also known as “vyshyvky” for clothing & protective “rushnyky” used in ceremony and for the home. 

•We will also explore Flora & Fauna in traditional Ukrainian Folk Tales including mythical tales of blooming ferns, magical trees, & the ideas of certain trees being favored by the gods. Let’s share some traditional tales and explore their symbolism & mythology together as a group. 

Ancestral Women Healers: 

Ukrainian Folk Herbal Practices

(1.5 hrs)

Dionne Jennings

Seers, Solstice, Seneca Root & Survival: this class is dedicated to the strength of the Ukrainian women in our ancestral lineage. Herbalism and healing as we know it today looked a little differently as practiced in the “Old Country”. Let’s explore the role of woman as healer in Slavic culture. This class will be 2 parts: an exploration of herbal and folk medicine practices by and for women in the Old Country, and a dedication to the resilience & strength of those women & those practices that were brought with them to Turtle Island.

Herbs & plant medicine were known & called upon for thing like day-to day healing of the household to ritual practices that were in the realm of the psycho- spiritual healers, often known as witches, involving incantation, divination & prayer. Harvesting herbs on certain ritual days & incorporating them into charms, spells, ritual and divination were common place in Ukraine several generations back, & some of those rituals are still practiced today. Using herbs to maintain health & treat sickness & illness, as well as visits to the local healer for things outside the realm of the physical (the evil eye, possession) were common place only a generation or two ago in what is now also known as North America, and yet much of those practices have slowly been lost and faded from our cultural consciousness. Doctors were sparse in the Ukrainian settlements & reliance on ones own knowledge of healing practices, local & cultivated plants for tending the sick & injured was a necessity. Reliance on strength & fortitude were necessary to survive the first harsh prairie winters and much of that fell on the shoulders of women.

There is a rich and ancient thread connecting current cultural & christian practices that stretches back millennia to pre-christian practices with origins in the pagan & shamanic. There is a rich connection to plant medicine that’s been all but severed from the women who came before us. Let’s explore what we know, what’s been left behind, and how we might continue to incorporate it today. Come share in some stories dedicated to those times relating the fortitude of the feminine and their connection to the land. 

Grieving Our World With Plants

(2 hrs)

Jasmine Kocie

There is a collective grief that lies under so much of the pain, anger and projections we see in the outer world. Influenced by the state of outer reality, social and cultural breakdowns and breakthroughs, the poignant words of nayyirah waheed, and the teachings of plants, Jasmine brings this class forth to explore the act of grieving with plant allies that support this much needed process in these times. We'll be introduced to a variety of herbs and their energetics, discussing how we can work with them for personal and collective grieving. We'll discuss the power of witnessing grief and spend the end of our time here going inward for an inventory of what we are grieving. 

Medieval Remedies: 

A European History of Nine Sacred Herbs

(2 hrs)

Dani Otteson

The history of Western herbalism is long and winding, with many fascinating periods of development. The medieval period saw blending and transition in culture and belief, which stretched into all aspects of life. Several medieval medical texts featuring the use of herbs, chants, and rituals survive today. What’s more, preparations from said texts have recently been proven in a University setting to be extremely effective against virulent pathogens. 

This offering will explore plant medicine and magic as they came to be in medieval Europe. Class will include an analysis of the Anglo-Saxon nine herbs charm from the Lacnunga, discussion on the medicines of the plants featured, and how these herbs fit in to modern ritual and herbal practice. We will make medicine bags based on these writings, and come away with a deeper understanding of some familiar (and maybe not so familiar) medicinal plants, as well as a feeling of connection to this element of history. History of medicine is a deeply intriguing study, as it introduces us to our earth-based medicines as ancient, ancestral, and also deeply effective in the modern world.

Poetry as Medicine: 

Building an Apothecary of Encouragement 

(1.5 hrs)

Jennie Isbell Shinn

Herbalists and teachers of herbalism often tout the holistic nature of the herbal medicine. This workshop is about building an apothecary of encouraging words— poetry and other metaphoric prose — to use when an intake process or an unfolding case study indicate that a common theme of the human experience is active. From isolation to inspiration, mystical encounter to mundane recollection, poetry and metaphor touch us in the deeps of emotion, intuition and our collective unconscious. As herbalists we address nourishment, lifestyle, presenting symptoms and general vitality; we can also develop assessment skills and a file of poetry as medicine for soul health. In l.this workshop, we’ll consider common emotional states that go with physical conditions and life stages, touch briefly on the risks of transference and projection, start building a poetic apothecary, and imagine what prescribing inspiration might look like. 

Plants as Allies: 

A Journey Into Plant Spirit Medicine

(2 hrs)

Megan Waddy

This workshop will focus on deepening your relationship with plants, nature and community through the use of heart-centered perception. Participants will be guided through a meditation practice and be offered small doses of plant medicines in order to experience a deep sense of embodied presence and connection with the unique energy of each plant. Exercises to cleanse and protect your energetic body, open and deepen your innate intuitive gifts, and use intuition based diagnosis in a clinical setting will be explored.