Category Archives: Community Building

Beltaine Customs

This is one of the articles from my Beltaine newsletter. Feel free to take a look at the rest of it. Lá Beltaine sona daoibh!

Lá Beltaine or May Day widely celebrated in agricultural cultures. This holiday signified the shift in energy that occurs as spring turns to summer. Flowers were beginning to bloom and outdoor work increased.

When Ireland was populated mostly by pastoral cultures, this was the time they would move their livestock to their summer grazing pastures called buailes (booleys). It was also a time when the fishermen would leave on their long fishing trips. So the eminent departure seemed to call for a sending-off party.

These celebrations always centered around a community bonfire, which stems back to much more ancient traditions, but they had a practical nature. Traditionally, these festivals were the venue for paying rents, hiring summer workers and making contracts for summer grazing land.

Flowers were strewn on the threshold of homes and garlands of flowers were hung –they were even tied to cows tails according to scholar, Estyn Evans.

Young people would carry branches of flowers and walk from home-to-home singing songs which welcomed summer in return for small treats or gifts. This is a sweet little song frequently heard in Waldorf classrooms that speaks to this custom.

Here’s a branch of snowy May,Beltaine
A branch the fairies gave us.
Who would like to dance today
With a branch the fairies gave us?
Dance away, dance away,
Holding high the branch of May.

 

IMG_6112

Many of the rituals surrounding Beltaine involved saining the cattle by various methods. This word which finds its origin in the Old Irish word  sén– referred to “protective charms” of various natures. One of these rituals involved driving the herds over the embers of the dying fires . Frazer reports that men would also leap over the fires and intimates that this was a re-enactment of an older customs involving human sacrifice.

As Beltaine was the beginning of the dairying season, Frazer also reported that the traditional foods at these festivals were caudle –a custard of butter, eggs and milk and “a cake of oatmeal, which is toasted at the embers against a stone.” In other areas of the country a flat bread called farl was served with caudle.

This is not a Celtic custom rather it is a German custom that I learned long ago and incorporated into my May Day celebrations. I believe the first time I had it was at a Waldorf playdate and it was the non-alcoholic version I describe below. In the years before I had sweet woodruff growing, I would use violets and that makes a tasty beverage as well.  So feel free to substitute.

 Mai  BowleIMG_6115
1 bunch sweet woodruff
1 bottle white wine
4 Tbsp. honey
4 Tbsp. Apple Brandy
1 bottle chilled champagne
1 cup sliced strawberries
Violets and woodruff for garnish.

In the evening before you want to serve the Mai Bowle, April 30th, pour wine over sweet woodruff and allow this to steep over night in your punch bowl.
Just before serving you will want to remove the sweet woodruff and mix in the honey, brandy and champagne.  Float the sliced strawberries, woodruff blossoms, and violet blossoms on this mixture.

IMG_6119Non-Alcoholic Alternative

Warm  apple juice and the honey and pour this mixture over the sweet woodruff in the evening. When serving use  sparkling water instead of champagne. 

Giving Thanks

Sample imageI rarely have time on Thanksgiving to spend time putting together a meaningful post.   It is a busy day in our home.   We will wake having a breakfast of sausage rolls and breakfast strata, while watching the parade Then we set out snacks-clam dip and lots of pickles and olives-and play board games.  We end the day with a big turkey dinner.   We’ve spent the last couple of days baking and cooking to get ready, so that we can all relax and enjoy the day.

So I thought I would take a moment, tonight,  to reflect   I have a lot to be  thankful about this year.   I have a wonderful, healthy family.   I’ve spent time with dear friends in beautiful places and taught at some truly inspiring conferences.  I’ve had new opportunities arise and made new friends.  I graduated from college-something I was beginning to think I wouldn’t get around to.

Of course nothing is perfect.   Life is  messy. There are tears, struggles and blow-ups, but sometimes this is the only path to healing.  They can be a blessing too, even though that can be hard to see when you are in the thick of it.  I am most thankful that life seems to be progressing down that path for my family, right now.

I’d like to think that recent events in the country represent those types of struggles.  Only by committing ourselves to unified goal and having compassionate discussions with people whom we disagree with, can we move towards a better society. Despite the narrative the media feeds us,  I believe that most people are inherently decent.  That doesn’t always mean they do the right thing, but I believe that very few people truly set out to harm other people.

If you listen to a person’s words, but only focus on trying to understand the  feelings that are creating their  narrative, you begin to see them in a whole different light.   You feel more compassion toward them.   Similarly, when  you stop and think about the emotions that motivate you,  you can be more patient with yourself.  It is a  useful exercise.  If you’ve never tried it, have a go at it.

I guess I will leave this  hoping that all of you experience today in a way that is meaningful to you.   I am thankful to have this chance to connect with you.

Building Local Connections

(Editors Note: I wrote this when a friend posted a call for submissions for an agricultural zine, but after reading Ann Armbrecht’s most excellent post on a vision for building local medicine systems, I thought I would share this here on the blog even though I don’t think my audience is quite the same audience I wrote this for…)

Trillium Plant from Echollective CSASpring is upon us and thoughts of sowing the seeds of sustenance span the nation. The cultivation and propagation of medicinal plants is viewed by some as a measure of historical preservation and not afforded the urgency which is often directed to the development of local food systems. This frequently confuses me as our current dependence on corporate healthcare is as much an aspect of neocolonialism is our dependence on corporate food distribution.

The fact that you don’t know how to care for illnesses and injuries with plant-based remedies is a direct result of a corporate driven witch-hunt that began in the Middle Ages and continues today. From the perspective of an activist, the practice of growing medicinal plants and teaching people how to use them properly is an act of resistance to the corporate control of wellness. Only in recreating subsistence will we create communities which fully support our ability to engage in this work. Of course food systems are a huge part of that, but the importance of creating healthy communities cannot be overlooked as a means of supporting social change.

Self-care is a vital and often overlooked component of preventing burnout, as well. Many people involved in social change neglect their own wellness. I have often found that this is because they have an aversion to the unequal power relationships inherent in modern healthcare. Additionally, the alternative healthcare industry often brings to mind the problem “green washing” of consumerism and is distasteful to those whose philosophies lean towards being opposed to conspicuous consumption.

It needn’t be this way. As a practicing healer, I have found many of my colleagues working in under served communities and approaching the practice of herbalism as their own unique form of activism. Even amongst those community herbalists who don’t view themselves as activists, there is a growing recognition that our work with clients is only palliative until societal change addresses issues of social and environmental justice.

One group which supports this work across the country is United Plant Savers. Their mission is to protect native medicinal plants of the United States and Canada and their native habitat while ensuring an abundant renewable supply of medicinal plants for generations to come.” While far from being a radical group, United Plant Savers mission includes the establishment of a network of botanical sanctuaries across the country. Requirements for membership include growing a variety of at-risk medicinal herbs and freely opening up your sanctuary to the public for educational purposes. Gaia’s Peace Garden, here in Iowa City was the first sanctuary to be established in southeast Iowa. This is particularly exciting because it is not as common for an urban garden to be granted sanctuary status. UPS has internships available in the cultivation of medicinal plants and offers grants for community replanting projects and should be utilized as a resource by farmers wanting to get into this field.

In writing this, I hope to bridge the gap between the herbalism and the farming communities because I see a growing need to create discourse between these two groups. Community herbalists often educate their individual clients with the express purpose of putting health back into the hands of the people and people back into nature. This practice creates a need for healthy food systems, locally sourced herbs and even starts for our own teaching gardens. Farmers looking for new and unique markets would do well to seek out your local healers and see how you can work together.

I see great promise in building connections between the these two groups.

On Sabbatical…

The Garden at Goddard

The Garden at Goddard

Forgive me for the long absence.  I just decided I didn’t  want to use my thinking cap over summer break.   I wish I could tell you I spent the time relaxing in the garden, but Steve was gone for  most of the break.   I was doing well just to  keep up with the mundane household tasks and get some research done.   Now I am home from my fall residency at Goddard and it is time to get back to work.  I am  feeling recharged by my time in Vermont, but at the same time I have a lot to do.

I am finishing up my undergrad work in the next year which means, among other things,  that I have a hundred page thesis to research and write.   I also have a couple of other half-finished projects (Hi Todd  😳 I am a Vata, afterall) that I want to have complete before I move on to my Master’s program.    So this year is going to be really about pulling back and focusing on my studies.  I believe in a sabbatical, of sorts, is in order.

I have decided not to take on new clients or new students this fall. While I have been keeping up with my current clients,   I haven’t been doing my best work as a teacher, recently.  There is only so much one can do, well.   I will be putting together a few local workshops and offering some free classes, as my time permits.   My apprentice, Adrian will be seeing new clients.   So if you need a local practitioner,  we still have you covered.

I’ve been doing some soul searching on another issue, as well.    I’ve received quite a few e-mails about doing distance consults and online classes.     I’d really rather not.   I am a bioregionalist at heart.   I believe pretty strongly on feeding my energy into local systems.

There is also the fact that I just don’t want to be a hypocrite.  A lot of my research right now is focused the ways in which  folk herbalism better meets the social and ecological wellness needs of a community.    While I am happy to write about this,   or  present my ideas at conferences,   I don’t  feel morally right about luring away clients,  or students,   from local practitioners.

I believe someone who has a thorough understanding of the community in which you live is going to be the best fit for you to work with on a full-time basis.    One of my downtime projects was to compile a list of teachers and clinicians all over the country and I will be happy to refer you to good  people in your area.