Last winter I moved from the city to a small, rural town, seeking a deeper and more frequent connection with nature, quiet space for introspection, and a more flexible lifestyle (as the cost of living is much less out here). I arrived on Imbolc, raw from almost two years of misfortune and disconnection, and felt Brigid’s presence as I was rebirthed into a warm blanket of a welcoming home, land and a new start. I gave thanks that day, and immediately went outside into the still, white blanket of snow and made offerings to the Guardian Spirits of the land, thanking them for bringing me here, and asking for their blessings. I felt immediately that my offerings had been well received.
Almost daily I walked a few yards from my apartment into a small patch of forest where I could be alone with the Spirits, creating a path in the snow that I followed each day, and which sometimes deer followed as well (as I noted from their hoofprints). At other times, it was their path that I followed, although we never saw each other. I reveled in the clean air, the wisdom of the tall trees above me, and a place to sit in utter stillness.
Eventually spring came, and by May the land was becoming green. I had run out of some healing herbs, and wanted to start a new healing regime to help me recover from the almost total life dismemberment I had experienced over the last two years. And then it occurred to me, what healing herbs might be out on the land – in the right season, and the right timing – freely offered to me by the Spirits of this place?
And so instead of buying herbs online, I invested in a plant identification guide. From that moment, the undifferentiated greenness became a path of new allies. Over the next few months, I identified more than 50 trees and plants, many of which have healing properties. My neighbours were creating a garden nearby, and were ripping up anything that didn’t look like a petunia. When I mentioned that many parts of the violet plant and flower had medicinal uses, they were stunned.
After that, they began asking me the identity of plants they did not know. My new book was of great help, as well as online sources, and occasionally posting a picture of a plant on FB, where friends were able to help. In an instant, five or six other people now also viewed that landscape as a community of individuals – not to the energetic and spiritual extent that I was experiencing it – but I noticed that after that, as their garden plot expanded, they allowed space for some living things that were already there.
I considered this a major victory, as people talk to each other in a small town… Then, as I walked daily in a sunwise circuit around the land to see what new allies had sprung forth, other neighbours began to ask what I was doing. Several more people became aware of what blessings lay at their door. I created a list of the plants that arose and posted it on my fridge. I also found time to gather and dry a few well-known herbs like red clover, yarrow, and evening primrose.
This year I was so busy identifying plants, that I could hardly keep up with the new ones that presented themselves to me. Next year I hope to spend more time connecting with them, learning from them, and gathering more herbs in a sacred way. On Lugnasad, I realized I had been here for six months – half of a solar cycle. And I noticed I had stopped thinking about and reacting to the many losses and traumas I had experienced. Then I realized that without even ingesting these plants, they had produced a healing. And for that I am immensely grateful.
More blessings have followed: I recently received two book contracts with a small academic publisher; one for a book on Celtic cosmology and Otherworld traditions; and another on Old Irish poetry and wisdom texts. I have had two articles accepted for publication in academic settings – one on the identification of shamanic elements in Celtic contexts (in a journal published through the University of Edinburgh), and the other exploring the possibility that the Irish poet-seers may have at some stage utilized entheogens to facilitate their vision states (coming out in a book to be published by University of Wales Press).
I recently remastered and have almost ready for re-release an early recording that led to the creation of The Moors – the new CD is called: Eldritch: Gothic Tales and Lost Fairy Legends (soon available on CDBaby and I-Tunes). I’m also in the process of creating a new group / organization / community focused on researching, restoring and living authentic Celtic religious practices and beliefs. It’s called Tuatha Imbais, and our first meeting is right after Samhain (watch for a new FB page).
In addition, there are two wonderful teaching spaces literally ten minutes from my home – one is a medieval and metaphysical store, and the other a beautiful open meditation sanctuary and yoga studio. I look forward to meeting more like-minded people on the path this fall, as the plant allies change form and colour, and the fruits of autumn emerge. Classes will be held here in New England on Celtic myth and religion, Core shamanism, Scottish Gaelic language, historical traditions pertaining to Druids, Bards and Seers, Scottish folk magic, Celtic goddesses, and more.
By the time Samhain arrives, and the bounty of the earth has been gathered in, I will once again prepare to retreat into the pristine, sparkling snow-scape of the forest. But for now, I walk the land with the sleepy asters, rich goldenrod that feeds the bees, jewel-weed, wood-sorrel, and tall blue lettuce plants that are more than 12 feet tall at present. In a month or so, the bounty of the land will change form – apples, squash, and many others. I am blessed to live on such a welcoming little patch of land, and will be interested to track how my progress and the cycles of the season unfold as the wheel once again begins to turn.
Sharon Paice MacLeod is a Celticist, author and musician. She is an Old Irish translator at Stanford University and has published several well known books on Celtic religion including ‘Celtic Myth and Religion: A Study of Traditional Belief’ as well as ‘Celtic Cosmology and the Otherworld: Mythic Origins, Sovereignty and Liminality’.