Wrapped in Nature: Tuning into the Language of Healing

Horse Chestnut flowers. Do you see the elephant heads?

This morning in late spring, rain falls with abundance and blessing. The plants continue their upward, outward surge. California poppies in cheerful petal-flame, the fireworks blossoming of Hawthorn, the cream-and-pink spires of the Horse Chestnut (shaped like tiny elephant heads!), the purple spires of Lupine. The field swells green, and as the earth welcomes dawn, the song birds erupt into music, weaving the landscape with this aural water.

Spring is well in motion, and has been for weeks now. Plants we harvested for spring cleansing and tonics (Nettles, Cleavers, Dandelion flowers, Violet flowers, Dead Nettle — or the name I prefer, Purple Archangel) are past their season. Red Elderflower harvest is also past — the time for Red Elder’s flowering is especially brief.

Douglas-fir spring tips

The young Douglas-fir needles are perfect for harvest, vibrant sunny-green, soft, pungent and flavorful, losing the bitter, sharp, and supremely astringent qualities of their earlier growth. Pluck some and dry them for a lovely addition to your spring teas, or for winter respiratory support. Add spring tips to your coffee as you make it, and then add a dash of honey, for a delicious and unusual Doug-fir spring tips coffee drink.

The days continue to lengthen, and we here in the Pacific Northwest have had stretches of heat. But with the rain’s return today, I might characterize the day, and perhaps even still the season in this way:

Moist
Warm
In movement upward and outward, yet still with some containment
Vibrant, alive, joyous

In addition to Douglas-fir spring needles, I have much to harvest at this time — wonderful plants whose expressiveness I wish to capture right now in order to bring their qualities forth half a year from now: Thyme and Garden Sage flowering tops in honey for a bit of spring lightness and cheer, plus the anti-viral, aromatic, respiratory supportive qualities of these plants to offer bodymind support in the cold and boggy times.

The plants themselves beckon to me to create with them, inventing new formulas that will bring forward some healing nature of this warm, moist, vibrant, enlivened season to aid us when we are in an opposite expression of nature — whether in terms of the land or in terms of our own physical-spiritual bodies. A certain strength and fecund beauty strides through the land right now, and I understand how Beltane/May Day is a celebration of fertility, and of the strength, beauty, and power of masculine and feminine energies.

Lupine.

Hildegard of Bingen’s sense of viriditas is so apparent at this time of year, at least in the Pacific Northwest ecology, in the land and in my bodymind. Viriditas in the medieval European mind and the Church Fathers of the time was the surging greenness of forest and field. But as Dr. Victoria Sweet points out in her doctoral thesis, Rooted in the Earth, Rooted in the Sky: Hildegard of Bingen’s Premodern Medicine, the Church Fathers also used the term viriditas as a metaphor for the fruitful expressiveness of a virtue or of the spiritual life. Here’s just one example:

Plant in me the roots of true virtues and the seeds of holy contemplation, and with the viriditas of good works make them grow and sprout …

– Thomas a Kempis, De elevatione mentis, vol 2. as quoted in Dr. Victoria Sweet’s, Rooted in the Earth, Rooted in the Sky: Hildegard of Bingen’s Premodern Medicine

Hildegard of Bingen spoke of viriditas as being the sap of plants, and as being a substance in the body. For example:

The menstrual flow of a woman is her generating viriditas, her flowering, because, just like a tree by its viriditas produces flowers and leaves and fruits, so a woman by the viriditas of menstruation brings forth flowers and leaves as the fruit of her womb.

Viriditas in Hildegard’s concept has wetness and heat, and is a potent liquid of both substance and power, entering us through the plants that we eat. While much more can be said about viriditas as a physical as well as spiritual substance, or as a greening force (and no doubt I’ll continue this conversation!), I want to go back to you, me, our personal experience within nature, and as nature.

If you can, take a few minutes tomorrow morning (or each morning!). Settle into stillness and openness. Connect with your heart, express some gratitude. Nestle into the beauty and unfolding expression of the day, and feel — or imagine — yourself as Nature — and Nature as being in expression as you, but also as any plants around you, any birds or humans. What is the movement of the greening force in all this, the tangible expression of in the life cycle of the plants, in the activity of the land?

Inside you physically and emotionally, notice what you might describe as warmth or cold (or any temperature state), dry or wet (or any moisture state), in movement or stillness, tension or laxness/relaxed (or any state of tone or lack thereof). Nuances exist within all these sensations. Feel free to describe it in whatever way they appear to you. Where does viriditas move within you? Where do you feel life-expression, generative and creative expression, in whatever way that idea means to you?

Notice the same in the world and beings (human and otherwise) around you: hot/cold, dry/wet, movement/stillness, tension/laxity. Viriditas–the life force. Go ahead and ascribe emotions to your experience. Emotions are part of our language of perception.

Hawthorn in flower

Notice and experience. Let words go, find them again. Do you feel yourself as an expression of the nature around you or as out of step, in dissonance, separate? Or is there a music in the differences you sense between you/your bodymind and nature’s expression/mind?

Be playful, be poetic. Close your time in gratitude, and then make notes or journal about your experience.

You might repeat this process at noon, at sunset, at night. What shifts? What returns? What remains the same?

This sort of awareness and feeling state is at the heart of working with herbs and healing in the way that humans have done, and in many traditions continue to do, to this day. To work effectively with herbs and earth medicine ways one needs to begin or find oneself here: with Nature as truly our Mother, Nature as teacher, Nature as ourselves.

We root and unfurl from here.

~

Would you like to immerse yourself in an experience of nature, the plants, and yourself as nature? Gather with other women in a sacred circle as we open our senses to the delights of the land, source our body’s wisdom, and awaken our ancient relationship with plant intelligence in a day-long retreat, Gifts of Summer: Celebrating Body/Earth.  Somatic movement educator/therapist and nature immersion program director, Stacey Hinden, and myself will co-facilitate this beautiful journey on Saturday, June 29th, 10am to 4pm.  Find out more here.

The Antlered Deer Goddess

I love how with each turning of the year, I discover more and more of the deep mythic heart of the world. In so much that on surface seems mundane and superficial in what I perceive as the post-modern world, are truths that are powerfully present — as if in sleep or hibernation, or awaiting the time, like King Arthur and the knights in a cave, when the people and the land have most need of them.

That time is now.

And so, in various areas of my life — and perhaps you are finding it in yours — I discover power, beauty, mischievous and awe-inspiring magic.

Here as our wheel round the sun tilts furthest toward the longest night, I am finding our world rediscovering who Santa’s flying reindeer really are.

Gift of the Antlered Deer Mother - art by Jane Valencia

Gift of the Antlered Deer Mother – art by Jane Valencia

For one thing, the antlered reindeer in winter are female. And Santa himself, in shamanic garb, may — in this lore — represent a sacred power quite different from what is portrayed today. For the mythic and ancestral truth at the heart of Santa’s flying reindeer please read this beautiful and world-opening blog post: “Doe, a Deer, A Female Reindeer: The Spirit of Mother Christmas.”

As a child, crazy about deer (still am), my favorite Christmas story was that of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. As a young adult I strode away from anything reeking to me of commercialism around the holidays. Eventually I became aware of so much majesty that moves through our dreaming at this time of year, in our participation in the circling of the year, and embodiment of earth’s energies as we tilt away and toward the sun again. As ancestral myths and sacred knowings resurface, I feel myself turning the Sun, and the Soul of the World with eyes and heart that once again know wonder and awe, and the child nature that is ready to fly with the deer in the starlit longest night sky.

As we approach the Solstice, what magic are you discovering or rediscovering from an ever-deepening heart-space?

For more Deer Magic, please visit:
An Antlered Advent – Art Contributions
Seven women present art, musings, and more about their relationships with the ancient Deer Goddess and the Deer. I am honored to be included. You’ll find photos by me there, plus a link to “The Abbots Horn Dance” — Celtic harp music by Spookytree, my duo with Deb Knodel. At that link you can listen to and, through the end of this month, download the track for free!

Finally, I finish here with an illustration. Wild Sweet Blessings to you in this Season of Light!

The Year She Grew Her Antlers - art by Jane Valencia

The Year She Grew Her Antlers – illustration by Jane Valencia

 

 

Winds, Rain, Blue Moon, and Buds: Finding Nature within Us

We have reached the time of Imbolc, the Celtic-rooted cross-quarter festival that marks the transition of winter into spring, falling as it does between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Earlier this week I felt that winter was never ending, yet my calendar and the approach of the Imbolc Full Moon told me otherwise. Sure enough, a wander through the fields led me to furry silver Pussy Willow, Snowdrops opening, Cleavers extending their star-whorl leaves, even Dandelion sprouting new leaves and a tightly closed flower or two. I pick Indian Plum leaves and my mouth puckers with its acrid sharply cucumber flavor, all familiar to me, all tasting of this transition time.

But even without the buds and the flavors, and even with the relentless rain, and the winds, I think I would have realized on my own that Imbolc had arrived. It’s a quality of lightness in the air, or perhaps a field of grace that somehow touches me and that I in turn can touch, that awakened only a day or two ago. Or perhaps it was I who awakened to it.

Imbolc is associated with Brighid — the Goddess, the Irish saint, She who has been many through countless generations. Rightly so, we may attune to poetic word, the craft and artistry of metalwork and the forge of the smith, healing wells, and spiritual fire, the quickening of life in the seed deep in the earth or in the womb, the power of women returning to the world. And we can continue our wander through space and otherworld time: Music and mystery, Bear medicine, the cauldron of life, rebirth, and renewal, the midwife and the healer, beauty and blessing, the hearth and sanctuary, sovereignty — all of these threads and more are patterned in the ancestral weave that is Brighid, the sun and earth goddess, and this time of year, Imbolc.

Brighid’s Mantle, Brighid’s Well

What follows is  a fabric of words, or words upwelling like water. Allow yourself to move through the language as if it were a weave or waterflow. No need to dwell on specifics, unless specifics pull you inward. The words are merely Brighid-inspired language, inspired by the photo below.

Quote from Michael Meade, Mosaicvoices.org

I know the statement in this image to be true. In this time of quickening, of attuning to one’s creative fire, to illumination, to the forged beauty and direction that powers, activates, and moves your life, what does your Soul speak to you of your life’s mission, the terrain that is your hearth, your sacred earth? How does the Earth herself remind and nourish your essential nature? How does Sacred Mystery hold and guide you within its architecture, and shine through every cell and space of your bodymindheartbeing? Each of us is an absolutely unique expression within the beautiful and sometimes frightening universe, and we are universes within ourselves.

Where in your daily life, the arc of your earthwalk, does rhythm, melody, and harmony enter into strength and a rich-overtoned simplicity? Where is the “of course” in your ecological landscape, the spaciousness wherein the truth and heart of Nature is not separate from your own? When do you find that you listen most deeply, when your heart is most curious, when your mind drops brilliance in service to Unity?

Separation is an illusion. Our roots lie deep in the earth and our branches interlace the heavens and one another, with all things. We are interwoven with more than that which our five senses detect, and we are gifted with a guidance system and compass that lets us know from within which step is ours to make. We are infused with viriditas, the life force, the very physical stream within all of nature that nourishes growth, balance, connection, expression, vitality, our medicine nature in all its seasons and cycles.

The human family speaks 7,500 languages on the earth right now, yet, countless languages have existed, and countless continue to exist in other forms — in the slow walk of stones, the flight of the birds, the greening of the plants, the transmutive agent that is fire, the breath within water, the one story in each star, the secret word in your very origin, in the most minute and expansive place in your Soul. At the very heart of all these modes, these expressions, is a sound, an energetic seed that speaks Mystery, Beyond-and-Within, Divine — the word that holds Sacred nature in its center for us and pulls us deeper into the past and possibility and unnameable and future beauty that belongs to all of us.

When do you find yourself listening most intently? And when are you filled with wonder, child’s delight, deep peace, forgiveness, gratitude, love of all. Where is your place of origin in the deepest sense? Where is the right place, the most resonant tone for allowing your life to unfold into its right timing and motion? Where are you elegant?

Blessings to you at this time of fire and water, beauty, crafting, inner resolve, new beginnings, threshold, and wherever you are in the truth and laughter of your heart.