Thursday… I found an article on one of my favourite subjects by Kat Harrison. I have read it before, but it is worth a second glance, and if you haven’t read it, you’re in for a treat.
The links section is a bit hot and heavy today, lots of stuff occurring, and some wonderful weirdness going on in the world.
Have a great day, talk soon.
On The Menu:
The Leaves of the Shepherdess – Kat Harrison
Poetry: William Butler Yeats
Art: Maxfield Parrish / Gwyllm Llwydd
The Leaves of the Shepherdess
by Kat Harrison
(Oracle – Gwyllm Llwydd)
Salvia divinorum, a relatively obscure sacred plant native to Oaxaca, was rediscovered by Gordon Wasson in 1962, when he and Albert Hofmann’s wife Anita first noted its psychoactive effects. Used for “divining” and other purposes at least as far back as the Aztecs, the plant began to be cultivated and used in the U.S. beginning in the mid-1990s.
I had grown the plant — Salvia divinorum — for twenty years, and I knew the scant botanical and anthropological literature on this rare, sacred plant, but I´d never successfully had a visionary experience from ingesting the leaves. Once I´d tried putting thirty leaves in a blender with water and drinking the green slurry, but other than a headache and distinct empathy with a trapped butterfly, not much had happened.
In the summer of 1995 I was ready for another in my series of solo ethnobotanical fieldwork adventures, and so I headed off for a month in the mountains of northern Oaxaca, Mexico. My son and daughter were staying with family, and I had work to do: not only investigating the folk uses and beliefs regarding healing plants, but also a health challenge of my own. For a couple of years following the dissolution of my marriage and the sad, slow death of my father, my heart had not been beating regularly. I´d always had a heart murmur and the strain of recurrent anemia, but this was more disturbing, grabbing my breath away. After one episode with a doctor, I decided I wanted to ask a Mazatec healer to do a ceremony for me with the Leaves of the Shepherdess.
The Mazatecs are renowned for their ritual shamanism, made world-famous by the twentieth-century “discovery” of their ancient practices using psilocybin mushrooms. The curandera Maria Sabina became the emblematic shaman who was revealed and unfortunately sacrificed to Western popular attention. The mushroom rituals intrigued me of course, but I was most drawn to the more elusive medicina of these leaves. I wanted to meet La Pastora, the Shepherdess.
An anthropologist friend gave me directions to an old curandero´s hut, perched above a tiny village in a remote valley of those tropical mountains. I came bringing greetings from our mutual friend and gifts of multi-vitamins and vegetable seeds. I was met with caution, which I felt was appropriate, and interviewed over two days as to my life experience and my intentions. The curandero and his son, who acted as our interpreter from Spanish to Mazatec, agreed to gather the leaves for a session with me.
Ska Pastora, the Leaves of the Shepherdess, grows in small, hidden glades in the upland moist forest of the Sierra Mazateca. The plant seems to propagate itself from nodes of the fallen stems, perhaps with the help of humans who tend their private patches. It is speculated that the species diminished its ability to set seed through centuries of human tending. And perhaps this highly sensitive species — growing in light-speckled seclusion in such a small region of the world — would have long ago disappeared, had it not been for its lovely medicina and gift to human consciousness. Each healer´s patch is a family secret, and the spirit of the plant is known to have a personal relationship with one who cares for her. Not just anyone can pick her leaves and derive benefit from her medicine. One´s purpose must be clean and clear.
Among many indigenous, nature-based peoples, significant plant species are each personified as a being with a name and particular attributes of character that relate to the plant´s effects. The plant spirit is a persona, to be honored, solicited and thanked for its gifts. Over the past five hundred years, a veneer of Catholicism has been laid over the rich indigenous animistic world-view, and stories of the helper-saints have meshed with the perceived primordial qualities of certain plant allies. The Virgin is often identified with plants that aid us; the Mazatecs recognize two species of morning glory (Ipomoea violacea and Rivea corymbosa) that produce Seeds of the Virgin, used for vision and difficult childbirth. Another name for La Pastora is Santa Maria, again a variation of the compassionate Mother Goddess.
We gathered for the session, a late night ceremony before a rough altar that held flowers, candles, pictures of the saints and powdered tobacco. We sat, the family and I, facing the stone wall that emerged from the earth there, against which they had built their tiny abode of tin, tar-paper and wood. La Pastora is very shy, they told me, timid like a deer. She will come only when we have eaten many pairs of the leaves and sit very quietly, perfectly still, in utter darkness, as in a glen in the forest in the moonlight. If someone moves or speaks suddenly, she will disappear in a moment. If we invite her, and are very clear and open to her, she will come, she will speak. She will whisper to us what we need to know and show us what she sees. She may help heal us, or bless us with good fortune. But we must pray and we must listen, and we must pay her our full attention. Do you know how to pray, really pray with all your heart? If not, tonight you will learn.
The curandero unrolled banana-leaf bundles of hand-sized Salvia divinorum leaves, slightly wilted, and sorted them into pairs. Both mushrooms and leaves are measured in pairs, he told me, representing masculine and feminine. He doled out forty pairs to me, rolled them into a long wad, rather like a salad rolled into a cigar. He explained that after he said the invoking prayers and we stated aloud our intentions, I was to eat the leaves. I was told not to hesitate at their bitterness, not to stop until I had eaten them all, and above all, not to laugh throughout the entire session. Laughter, he counseled, would steal away the power of the medicine.
The curandero held our leaves up to the altar, to the stone emerging from the mountain, and murmured a long prayer that included La Pastora, the Virgin of Guadalupe, San Pedro, San Pablo and names of native deities I could not recognize. He signaled me to state my intentions, make my request.
I greeted the spirit of La Pastora, identified myself, asked her to come be present with me that night. I asked, “Please help my heart to become strong and clear and without fear, so that it can pump smoothly.” I asked, as I always do when I enter into relationship with sacred medicine, “What is my work now? May I please see the next stretch of the path?”
I took my first bite, stanched my reaction to the bitterness, and proceeded steadily through many bites to the end. By the time I had consumed almost the entire bundle, I was saturated with a taste that was sharp and fresh and ancient all at once. I had a momentary sense of how very long these people had been doing this ritual, the generations that had sought the wisdom of this plant spirit. Suddenly there was a shimmering, the curandero blew the candles out for total darkness, and within seconds I was completely in another realm, astonished. Some part of me ate the final bite, and I relaxed into another place: I was in the presence of a great female being, a twenty-foot high woman, semi-transparent. I was standing in her garden. There she was, some distance away, at the edge of her garden, near the forest, standing amidst her lovely plants against a small, white picket fence. There were butterflies and hummingbirds flying around and through her. Her great translucent face, the density of rainbows, leaned toward me and away. She moved through the garden, tending her leaves and flowers, leaning over them and standing again, beams of sunlight pouring through her. I felt a great longing for her to move toward me, to touch me, and I realized I could not move my feet from the earth where I stood. I felt the other human spirits around me — the old curandero, his wife, his son and the little granddaughter — and they were all giving her their full attention. I realized then that we were plants at the edge of her garden. She drifted slowly toward us, reached out and ran her hands through us, like a breeze, like a ripple, and I knew in those moments that my body was clear, that when she touched me I was in perfect order. I knew in my bones that if we ever asked for her to touch us, and we gave in exchange our most profound attention when she did, all would be well. I inhaled and exhaled her presence. She circled the garden again and returned to us. When she passed her hand through my chest a second time, I saw a tiny, ornate wooden door in my heart. It was carved with flowers and vines, and had an intricate golden filigreed handle and hinges. As her grand spirit fingers brushed it, I felt a strong breeze open the tiny door and a pocket of hurt blew away into the sweet air of the garden.
There is this enduring memory of my own face gazing out of a plant, and the dark but not unfriendly presence of the woods nearby. As she faded from view and I returned to a sense of the present, I heard the words repeatedly, in both Spanish and English: “Show them the edge of the garden. Les muestra el borde del jardín.” That is my work.
one of those days for an old reliable source of poetic inspiration: Mr. Yeats. I find that there is always something moving and relevant in his works.
Poetry: William Butler Yeats
The Rose Tree
“O words are lightly spoken”,
said Pearse to Connolly;
“Maybe a breath of polite words
Has withered our Rose Tree;
Ore maybe but a wind that blows
Across the bitter sea.”
“It needs to be but watered”,
James Connolly replied,
“To make the green come out again
And spread on every side,
And shake the blossom from the bud
To be the garden’s pride.”
But where can we draw water”,
Said Pearse to Connolly,
“When all the wells are parched away?
O plain as plain can be
There’s nothing but our own red blood
Can make a right Rose Tree.”
She is foremost of those that I would hear praised.
I have gone about the house, gone up and down
As a man does who has published a new book,
Or a young girl dressed out in her new gown,
And though I have turned the talk by hook or crook
Until her praise should be the uppermost theme,
A woman spoke of some new tale she had read,
A man confusedly in a half dream
As though some other name ran in his head.
She is foremost of those that I would hear praised.
I will talk no more of books or the long war
But walk by the dry thorn until I have found
Some beggar sheltering from the wind, and there
Manage the talk until her name come round.
If there be rags enough he will know her name
And be well pleased remembering it, for in the old days,
Though she had young men’s praise and old men’s blame,
Among the poor both old and young gave her praise.
Sailing to Byzantium
THAT is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
– Those dying generations – at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
Although you hide in the ebb and flow
Of the pale tide when the moon has set,
The people of coming days will know
About the casting out of my net,
And how you have leaped times out of mind
Over the little silver cords,
And think that you were hard and unkind,
And blame you with many bitter words.