It Began In The Beginning
I'm often asked to define what Spiritual Herbalism really means. It's one of those elusive definitions that is probably a little bit different for each person who practices it- so here I'll share my definition and my approach to this work and it's magic.
For me, Spiritual Herbalism is rooted in the world's oldest and most essential spiritual perspective- animism. As Graham Harvey defines it, Animism is the belief that the world is filled with people, only some of which are human but all of which deserve respect. Animism allows us to see plants not just as things, but as beings with their own inherent spirit, consciousness, power, and wisdom. Sure, they aren't wise and powerful or even communicative in the same way we humans are- but that doesn't mean they aren't all of those things in their own incredibly important way.
In order to learn and practice spiritual herbalism, we have to understand that herbs have spirit. This means that while the chemistry and compounds are all important- it's the spirit of the plant we're really trying to connect with; that's where the deep medicine is.
Energy + Application
In spiritual herbalism, we shy away from the common practice of Western allopathic herbalism as much as we can. In that school of thought, an herb that has the medicinal effects of relieving a migraine is good for the migraine of all humans. No way. In spiritual herbalism, we recognize that each person's cause, manifestation, and experience of migraine is completely unique and that we must find the plant or plants that best speak to their unique experience. White Willow Bark might be great for your migraine, but Vervain might be the proper ally for someone else's.
We are challenged in spiritual herbalism to see people. We can't just look up the properties of an herb in a book and roll with it. Instead, we have to know the personality of the human and of the plant and play matchmaker. We have to intuit how the balanced energies of the plant can help the imbalanced energies of the human.
Medicine + Magic
Spiritual Herbalism doesn't stop at migraines or even mood swings. It goes all the way in. It speaks to the full narrative of the human experience in every single way from every single angle. We can work with the plants in this practice for the physical, mental, and emotional imbalances and also for the spiritual and energetic ones. In fact, they're usually all wrapped up together in a surprisingly neat little package.
The herbs can speak to the level of self-worth, abundance, calling, love, romance, protection, and intuition just as much as they can provide essential nutrients and anti-inflammatory effects in the body. The can help us sleep and dream, relax and learn to receive, digest better and process more efficiently, clarify our vision and find our way.
We call this process magic, but that word has a lot of misunderstandings these days. Essentially, it's the process of working with the natural energies of plants and other beings to effect needed change in our lives. It's not about rabbits being pulled out of hats or sleight of hand card tricks- it's about changing us deeply from within so that we can live and be the way we want.
The Power of Personhood
Have you ever had a relationship with a plant? Spoken to your Aloe Vera while you watered it, taken refuge under a giant Oak tree, or found emotional balance in a blooming and fragrant Rose bush? Allowing plants to have personhood means that we get to have relationship with them. We get to talk to them, vent to them even. Greater than this we get to learn from them. They are wise. They've been here a lot longer than we have- and in fact plants are very much our deepest ancestors. By opening up to the wisdom they bring we are connecting with intention and receptivity to the whole stream of human existence and we're tapping in to the code that shows how we can be our very best selves.
Play lightly with the idea of plants as people and see how it unfolds for you. Have a conversation, touch a plant with intention and kindness, explore aromas and textures with fresh senses, and most importantly quiet and still enough that you can perceive the stream of quiet but strong impressions they send into your thinking heart.