Dreaming the Plant Medicine School into Being
Once upon a time ………
about 14 months ago, the bright wizard of the East travelled from Grá Nádúr in Wexford to pay his respects to the warm medicine woman of the South at Veriditas Hibernica. Out of this visit came a decision to form an alliance since they found a great and wonderful resonance between the work they were both being called to do by Nature, a synchronicity of soul path and vocation.
Nikki founded Veriditas Hibernica about a decade ago, driven by a vision and desire to help people to remember their relationship with our plant kin and to remember that humans are part of nature with a particular role to play in making our world beautiful. She has a desire to help people remember the rich cultural heritage of this land as a place where people travelled to learn plant medicine and lore many centuries ago; a place imbued with viriditas.
At this time, a decade ago, Alex was an apprentice himself to a Bean Feasa in Wexford, and also traveling in Asia, meeting and learning with folk wise in the art of community activism and regenerative sustainability. This led on to a Masters in Sustainable Development, with a research focus on Education for Sustainable Development, (ESD) while learning Permaculture and working in the Transition Movement and Global Ecovillage Network at an international level. He discovered in this process that the one common denominator that makes a person have that epiphany, that sought-after level three learning experience, the life changing one, the Holy Grail of ESD, is re-enchantment with Nature.
This, the academics admitted, was something they could not facilitate as their entire mandate was to fulfil their role of partnering with corporate industries for job creation. In this respect, academia has failed us as the repository and creators of knowledge, the challenges we now face as a species are reflected in the limitation of their approach.
But this was something Alex understood very well having ‘been off with the fairies’ as a child and a great lover of the wild. Things moved on and some enchanting land came and he started to dream the vision of Grá Nádur (Natures Love) and our place in the healing of our own Nature.
Together they have now woven their visions into an evolution of Nature Resonance Medicine workshops and trainings and a further development of the apprenticeships at Veriditas Hibernica to make them available to a wider range of people and to embrace the wonders of online media alongside face to face experiential learning which has been at the core of the courses to date.
Plant medicine is a part of our natural authentic humanness and Nature collaborated to produce us and calls us to take up our place in the community of beings. We are all intimately connected with our green allies and ignore this at our peril since it is they who provide us with clean air, clean water, prevent the soil (another wonderful ecosystem) from eroding and are the primary producers of all food and most medicines.
At one time humans saw themselves as an equal part of the web of nature, understood the sacredness of the natural world and the part humans need to play in order to make a healthy ecosystem. They saw the necessity of co-creating, of dreaming and working together with the other beings in their local habitat. Nowadays so many people have lost touch with the knowledge and wisdom that was once commonplace, ordinary, common sense, innate, almost instinctive; the indigenous knowledge and wisdom of recognising the rhythms of the natural world, their land, of recognizing plants, knowing how to encourage them to grow well, how to gather and harvest them sustainably, how to share with the others in the habitat. Many people are feeling a disconnect from their own innate nature, the piece of the earth that their being is; they do not feel fully embodied and no longer trust their own ability to listen to their being as regards how to nourish their body, mind and soul. Such things have become hidden mysteries for many.
For Nature communication plants are the place to start and none are so well equipped as some of the great trees to teach us about being present here in our earthly selves. Rooted deep in the earth, with branches reaching high into the aerial realms of the sky to catch the stellar rays of our Sun and the stars beyond. They teach us of presence, stillness, connection and community. Plants are the great alchemists, blending minerals, water, sunlight together in their own particular character, producing elements that are so very useful to us and many other forms of life too.
Nikki loved spending time with the plants and in the wild places from an early age. Her route to setting up Veriditas Hibernica was a rather circuitous one, winding its way through a degree in Plant Science, a few years as a research scientist, training as a massage therapist, aromatherapist, reflexologist and fitness instructor, to going to Herb College to train as a medical herbalist. After graduating she was asked to teach in various institutions and to sit on various committees, but she always felt something was missing from all the study and academia. And the journey to finding out what was missing led her back home as is always the way, a journey back to our own roots, to our feet and to the earth. It has been a journey to reclaiming the authentic conversation with our green allies, such wise sentient conscious beings; to rediscovering the biophilia we are born with- the love for life and for our home on planet Earth - and the strong feminine energy that lies at the centre of the healing arts and sciences.
She started running short introductory courses on using herbs at home since this is something that used to be central to every home. And then she was inspired to set up an apprenticeship in community herbalism. This was in part because friends and acquaintances were asking for a more in depth training to help them use herbs for their friends, family and community with confidence.
Nikki feels very strongly about people feeling empowered to take care of their own health and about the importance of community in our wellbeing. However, she was also inspired by anger, which is the energy to change things we do not like, if it is balanced with peaceful resolve and determination. The anger came from the fact that some people in the herbal profession were saying it was necessary to have a BSc or even a Masters degree in order to practice as a herbalist, they wanted the vocation to become a profession and stated that the proper place to learn was in the lofty lectures theatres and laboratories of ‘ real educational establishments’, to the exclusion of other more experiential routes.
She knew that the long string of letters after her name, all the academic qualifications, lecturing in 3rd levels institutions, sitting on fancy boards was not what had made her a good plant medicine practitioner, in fact she had had to unlearn a lot of the stuff picked up in those places. Community plant medicine has existed ever since people joined plants in the world. For thousands of years, people grew up learning the traditional healing arts from their mothers and grandmothers (or sometimes their fathers and grandfathers). They learned to listen to the place they lived in, the land they belonged to, to understand the cycles of the seasons, recognize the plants, to tend them, to prepare their medicine in the kitchen. It is a birth right to learn this and to do this; to carry out our ecological function.
The apprenticeship is 2 years long and the first year is all about the apprentices connecting with the plants, getting to know them, learning how to grow them, identify them, how to make food and medicine with them. The second year is based on the study of the human condition and therapeutic approaches to help us achieve good health. It serves as a foundation course to the Colaiste Luibheanna Clinical training programme for those who wish to progress to become Clinical Herbal Practitioners.
Both Alex and Nikki walk the Feasa path, as Fear Feasa and Bean Feasa, a personal journey of rigorous self -examination and self-work with the guidance of Nature and Earth Wisdom. It is a personal journey of restoring one’s own interior ecosystem; of remediating, restoring and carefully singing one’s own interior forest back to life; weeding out many taught beliefs and colonizing ideas to move towards a more authentic and indigenous self. This journey has brought them into a closer relationship with the rest of the natural world, and has taught them much about the healing of community- not just how our community heals us, but also how we are an essential part of healing our natural community and how necessary it is for us to create healthy communities once again. To quote Gary Snyder The human community, when healthy, is like an ancient forest. The little ones are in the shade and shelter of the big ones.
The Nature Resonance training was born from an original vision and much hard work on behalf of Alex and the partnership with Nikki has enabled it to be given real practical experiential grounding in a setting where it is being developed with every group we host. Together Alex and Nikki have created a series of workshops and exercises that go deep into the way that each individual reaches into Nature to find themselves. It is similar in name to other trainings and experiences that are popping up all over the world, but has a very different and carefully structured experiential pathway; what differentiates our approach is that Nature is not just there to be healing for us, a therapy session we can take home and then resume normal services so to speak. No, we have realised that Nature needs us to be our natural selves now, to take up an active role again in the great community of beings that is the Earth Gestalt. This is opening an evolutionary doorway and each of us brings our own personal keys; the discovery in this is enchanting in itself and the way towards an integrated development, contrary to the anthropocentric spirituality that like academia is a disconnected cul-de-sac leading us towards extinction.
Our journey have also taught us much about the need to find healthy masculine and feminine energy in our communities and to re-establish honouring of the role of the feminine in our communities; respect for women, their voices, their medicine and their work are at the core of a healthy community. Both Alex and Nikki have found that their work is a journey to authenticity and being well grounded and embodied in our own indigenous wisdom. The knowledge, experience and wisdom gained on this journey is critical to the evolution of humans as part of nature.
We are blessed to have two beautiful places on either side of this lovely island for our work: in Coachford the building and grounds of a converted church and a beautiful patch of land in Hollyfort, Gorey, with mature trees and the River Bann home to salmon, trout and otters too. In Coachford the grounds have evolved from a simple graveled area around the building, to neatly plant potager rows to what we practice now, wild gardening, listening to the land and the beings.
As we work with the land in Wexford we are practicing the same approach of listening to the place, letting the wild ones that are already there show us what the place needs and dreams of, working at a natural pace to establish ‘wild gardens’, with ‘wild people’.
Our series of articles for Otherwise will focus on different aspects of our work, following through the seasons, looking at various elements in nature, some key plant allies and some of the exercises we use to help people re-embody and connect to their inner nature and the external natural world around us.