The Woodland Within

This Fall I am delighted to be offering a fresh workshop at the HerbFolk Gathering. This herbal rendezvous, which takes place in the wilds of Northern Arizona, is one of the most inspired plant gatherings in our country. (Read my review of last year’s enchantment here). This year the gathering is stepping into a brand new incarnation of classes focused on folk tradition, mysticism and lore. In celebration, I debuted a short piece in the Plant Healer newsletter to unveil the themes and dreams, stories and scholarship that has ignited my workshop this year. I invite you to explore, The Woodland Within.

Big creekIn the old stories, whether you be girl or goose, goblin or goddess, the forest was a place of profound encounters. At the edge of town, beyond the thickets of heather and ivy dark vines, stretched a limitless space, a mystery that was asking to be experienced. Once upon a time the boundaries of the mapped world ended at the edge of the woods. After that, stretched the unknown.

Throughout history the space of enchantment created by forest narratives has served to expand the very possibilities of our reality Within the woods you can transform—from man to doe, mortal to faerie. Meet with elders and find guides amongst the trees. In the forest, anything is possible. Gods and goddesses live here, monsters and Kali-like creationists, too.

John waterhouse
John Waterhouse

As a people, we are forever enchanted with spaces of the unknown. Over and over again we reenter the woods for answers, profundity and connection. We are creatures who originate from a kind of woodland within. At the borders of our conscious minds lies a vast and often uncharted land. This is the realm of the unseen— spirit, soul, intuition, and the unconscious. We may live in a comfortable and cottaged physical world, a place of brilliant stories and community. But when night falls, like the twelve dancing princesses, each and every one of us slips the bounds of our physical world to explore places of deeper consciousness, spirit and dreams. Often times we may not even remember such travels, but our well-worn shoes will always tell the tale.

House in fog

To leave the comforts of our homes and venture into the unknown can be exhilarating, confusing and profound. When we enter the woodland within, we give up the security and the trappings of our day-to-day minds. The consciousness of the woods works in modes of twilight. It is a space that is neither here nor there. Traditional shamans knew easily how to travel between such realms, as did the ancient mystics of Daoist meditation, eyes slightly closed. When we travel, we chase experiences, transformation and remembrance. But, above all, it is guidance we seek.

||  Intuition and the Knowing Unknown ||

Intuition, like dark mushrooms on a nurse-log, is a part of our very being. Mysterious and yet familiar – intuition has been creatively defined for centuries as instinct, gut feeling, magic or memory. Intuition comes from a place that can be only be described as the “knowing unknown.” In truth, intuition is a kind of revelation— a word that, by definition, means to glimpse and then be re-veiled. A vital shepherd through even the darkest wood, intuition is a form of guidance that comes directly from such uncharted places of mystery, and it is available to us every time we part the veil and enter our inner woods.

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In my workshops, I like to bring people into direct encounters with their own places of intuition, guidance and mystery. As earth lovers and flower gatherers, blue jay singers and botanists—medicine makers of all kinds— developing an interaction with your own knowing unknown is as vital as watering the hidden roots of a newly planted willow. As healers, we have a sacred responsibility to venture into such places of forgotten remembrance, and we can begin to bring such inspiration back into our worlds through magnificent power of myth.

||  Mythology and Maps  ||

In our country, herbalists are some of the few that make it their business to enter the woods, not only to dig roots or simmer cups of pine needle tea, but to venture beyond the limitations of what we’ve been given and explore the mysteries inherent to healing. Traditional herbalists knew the magic of a well-told tale; they were often their own mythologists. When asked, each and every herbalist I know will give you the story of how they first arrived and fell-to-their-knees in love with the growing world. The more we share these stories and connect to our inner unseen sources of guidance, the more, as a whole, we can heal.

Astronomy-Map-Bootes-Hevelius

Stories are one of the most powerful forces on earth. In many indigenous religions, the entire world began with a word. As some storytellers recount, there was a time when the distance between our thoughts and our creations was much thinner. The stories we spoke, were the stories we lived.

Whether you lose yourself in Tolkien or find conversation around a cup of tea, stories continue to inform our daily reality. They can help us define who we are, where we are, and why we are. Human beings have lived with mythology as a bedfellow since we first looked to the rising sun and wondered what it might mean. The purpose of mythology, as Joseph Campbell so famously popularized, is the practice of creating maps. Through our stories we can invoke an invisible universe, a vanishing atlas of the treasures just beneath our feet, so that we may more confidently move through this visible world.

Vasilisa
Ivan Bilibin

In traditional folklore the best stories were replete with many creatures and beings of consciousness. Plants, as some of human’s closest allies, are also some of our most powerful story keepers. Often, when we fall for a plant, we are seduced by a kind of storyteller. When you become enchanted by a particular plant, are you not eager to go shouting their praises from every hilltop? In their deepest power, plants can act as traditional psychopomps, or guides of the soul, helping us to re-enter our own stories once more.

 

||  The Story that is Waiting to be Told  ||

Like Scheherazade, stories are what keeps us alive. Every day we tell ourselves tales about our lives. Some of these stories are invoked from the popular mythologies of our time— whether that be the tales of the Buddha or Martin Prechtel, the free-spirited Juliette de Baïracli Levy or our own mama’s yarns. And within, beneath, inherent to all of this, is the story of your lifetime. At the center of your existence, lives a story that is waiting to be told. As the Aborigine’s of Australia say, the biggest stories are hunting us. We can begin to live more richly, more directly from our passions and purpose, by learning the stories that yearn to be brought back from these places of the unknown.

(To read more about the important alchemy of story hunting I highly recommend the dreamy work of Robert Moss)

little red riding hoodThis coming Fall I’ll be teaching a workshop at the HerbFolk conference with the intention of leading a group of such travelers into this woodland within. We’ll explore concepts of intuition and the richness of myth, approach the guiding role of traditional folktales and how they can help counsel us through the perils, possibilities and magic of plant-based intuitive work. As a group we’ll undertake a guided meditation/conscious dream journey to our own woodland within to meet a plant spirit ally who is waiting to help us tell our biggest story. Together, we’ll visit these inner places of fable, mystery and myth, and return to translate our deep encounters into our own personal folktales.

Mountain stream

When you enter your woodland within, what will you find? A frog who has been waiting to become a prince or a white witch in disguise? A welcoming wolf clan or dwarves who can tell you your real name? Perhaps you’ll run into a friend of mine, an elder who has built her thatch cottage in an old deer bed. She is a woman with river lines in her face, and an apron faded to soft threads. Her house is an apothecary, cabinets lined with bottles and medicines of all kinds– not just willow bark or Solomon’s seal, but dragon scales, and discarded chrysalises, stones from the far-off veils of waterfalls. If you encounter her, she will most likely invite you in, share a drink as pink as mimosa flowers, and hand you a mortar and pestle so you can create your own brew. When you explore your inner woodland, what medicine will you find there?

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