Herbal Lore

Written by: Rose Miller AKA Ravenwings

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For thousands of years, herbs have been used for medicinal purposes as well as cosmetics, aromatics, cooking, and even embalming. The earliest known medicinal uses were documented it an Egyptian medical document called the Ebers Papyrus. This document contains over 800 medicinal drugs that were used from herbs and dates back to 1700 B.C. The Chinese claim that their use is even older than the Egyptians. Traditional Chinese medicine dates back to around 2500 B.C. Their form of using herbs also incorporates other treatments such as acupuncture and even massage. To treat an illness is to treat the whole person, to restore balance and harmony so that the body can then heal itself.

Indian Ayurvedic medicine emphasizes that good health is the responsibility of the person. Herbs and diets are used to help restore a balance to the body in order for it to heal itself. The Greeks also believed in maintaining a balance for good health and incorporated herbal knowledge from Egypt, India and China.

Hippocrates – “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”

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From Greece the medicinal practices reached Rome around 100 B.C. Medicine itself became a profitable business. Galen disagreed with Hippocrates idea of the body allowing to heal itself and reworked his ideas. Galen’s books became standard medical texts and his theories are still used in Unani medicine practiced by Muslims and even in India. Some of his theories are found throughout Shakespeare’s plays.

During the reign of Elizabeth I herbals were written by Gerard, Parkinson, and Culpepper. An herbal book that not only describes plants but, also shows how to use them. The herbal book was second only to the Bible at this time.

In an article in The Economist. 2002

“Chimpanzees suffering from intestinal worms in Tanzania dose themselves with the pith of a plant called Veronica. This plant produces poisonous chemicals called terpenes. The pith contains a strong enough concentration to kill the gut parasites, but not so strong as to kill the chimps (nor people, for that matter; locals use the pith for the same purpose).”

In the early days of medicine, drugs could only come from the plant. As society has changed and we have more scientific ways to find out what makes this herb do what it does. Then chemical structures can be identified and made synthetically. The active ingredient in Willow Bark is salicin, and was artificially made in 1852. In 1899 Bayer was the first company to introduce the aspirin using this synthetically made product. The problem with the synthetically made active ingredients found in these herbs have numerous side effects that using the actual herb does not have.

The use of herbs however over the thousands of years have been more than just for culinary and healing uses. In Rome the people actually paid their taxes with anise. Romans also used dill to make wreaths and garlands to keep away witches. In some places parsley was thought to repel head lice. There are some other great little tidbits about herbal folklore on http://www.almanac.com/content/herbal-folklore-and-old-fashioned-tips.

Whatever the reason we use herbs today it has all been tried and true over thousands of years by millions of people. So the next time you add oregano to a spaghetti sauce or take an aspirin, keep in mind that what you are doing is not new or unique, just a modern version of the days of old.

Depression In the Pagan Experience

 

Depression affects all of us at different times, and in different ways. When a loved one passes into the next world, we are often emotionally tied up for weeks or even months. A breakup with a romantic partner may lead to years of avoiding other potential mates. A traumatic event may take a toll so large, that we stop participating in life all together.

Everyone deals with some form of depression sometimes, but how can we, as Pagans, deal with these challenges more effectively? As a life coach specializing in depression & anxiety, I want to offer some insights and experience. What are some of the first things we need to know?

Depression is normal! Most of us judge ourselves extremely harshly when it comes to the reasons why we are depressed. “I should be over this by now”, “I am not strong enough”, and “I am so weak”, are all common judgements we make about ourselves.

Some that I hear from Pagans most often are, “The Gods are punishing me”, “I am not good enough”, and “This would not happen if I were more powerful”.

These are judgements upon ourselves that are self-fulfilling. The more we tell ourselves these things, the more we believe them, and the worse we feel about ourselves, and the more depressed we become.

Our psyches are extremely resilient. Going into depression gives us time for our subconscious selves to retool, recharge and heal. The problem comes about when we don’t consciously take steps to aid our subconscious recuperation.

By Baker131313 - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6539950
By Baker131313

One major problem I have encountered with depressed Pagans is that we choose to be around the wrong set of people when we are depressed. Our peers have a huge effect in how we deal with depression. If our family or friends are supportive and inspirational, we can come out of depression much, much sooner than if we are surrounded by those who tell us to “get over it, already”, “stop whining”, or “smile, it’s not that bad”.

Our spiritual group is especially important during depressed times. I  talked to many Pagans whose coven, circle, grove or temple has been there for them through both good times and bad, and truly supported them in their healing, and so they moved through the depression very quickly indeed. I  also encountered those whose group has sought to control them, isolate them, or tried to force them to get past their depression too quickly.

One woman I encountered was dealing with deep depression related to dissociative identity disorder caused by trauma in a former relationship. Her coven leader insisted that she be separated from the group until she was past it, that she allow some coven members to be present during her therapy sessions, and told the group that mentally ill people are not allowed to take part in group ritual. This is not a supportive mindset, and I was glad when she left the coven and cut off ties with those people (some of which were close friends). Unfortunately, this leader is still active and running said coven.

For those Pagans that have little or no spiritual community, depression can be especially hard, as they truly feel alone. They often feel their Gods have abandoned them, as they are not receiving the immediate relief they pray for. They often feel as if they cannot talk to anyone about their feelings, as others would not understand their Pagan perspective. Those who are not public with their faith can find themselves surrounded by friends or family who want them to seek spiritual help from an uncomfortable source, such as a priest, minister or therapist  from a religious tradition hostile to Pagans.

By Liz Locke (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Cooking
For The Healing Ritual – Lola, Photo By Liz Locke
In addition to keeping one’s environment positive, spiritual self empowerment is also very important. Taking part in rituals that remind us how much control we have over our lives, and communing with empowering deities is critical to moving through trauma and other sources of depression. We are fortunate, as Pagans, that we have many powerful and assertive figures in our mythologies and pantheons. In my experience, most Pagans are drawn toward at least one very empowering figure, such as Thor, Athena, Isis or the Morrigan. This is very good thing, but can become unbalanced if one isn’t able to ride the empowering energy productively.

Overall, we Pagans suffer just as much from depression as other groups, maybe even more in some cases, but we also have some great tools for helping us get through: our faith communities, our empowering rituals and deities, and our treatment of ourselves.

So the next time you find yourself feeling depressed, do not believe that you are alone. Many of your fellow Pagans have been exactly where you are, and are more than happy to be supportive. There is nothing abnormal about be depressed, and you are not cursed. You are just like the rest of us: Pagan!

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Jerod is a Celtic mystic, practical Druid, permaculture gardener, and depression & anxiety coach in Fennville, Michigan. He can be found at www.jerodrinkus.weebly.com, and facilitating workshops and classes at Pagan events in western Michigan.