........or... What do Toads and Ibuprofen have in common?
by Susun Weed
3 CD set Green Nations Gathering 1997
Review by Jan Calloway-Baxter
The Green Nations Gatherings, held since 1991, bring together “herbalists, gardeners, farmers, environmentalists, holistic healthcare providers, social justice activists, spiritual ecologists and earth stewards who gather to learn, inspire each other, network for the planet, play and renew our commitment to live in beauty and walk in harmony on Earth, our partner” (http://www.greennations.org/). In 1997, Susun Weed presented her class, Magical Plants, at the gathering. This class is recorded on the three CD set now offered for sale, earlier available only on cassette tape.
Want to know why witches were said to ride broomsticks? What ibuprofen and toads have in common? How to contact the spirit of plants? What to tell your teenagers about marijuana? Learn about the essence of the ancient wise ones? Set aside an afternoon for this class with Susun.
I was delighted with the new opportunity to listen to this class on my laptop, where I could multitask and bring up the Wise Woman website while listening to see if the books she mentions in the class are available to order, check on the correct spelling of the botanical names of plants for my notes, and even zip over to Google to check out a person she mentions. But eventually, Susun’s voice, laughter, and conversation won me over, and I wound up listening with my head thrown back, eyes closed for concentration, visualizing her sitting in a room--one where deer can be seen coming out of the woods, and the door can be heard slamming from a gust of wind—taking in Susun’s knowledge and wisdom directly.
The CD is very much like being in the room with the class, leading to the problems familiar to anyone who has tried to record a talk, such as the difficulty of hearing and understanding the students in the room when they add their voices to the discussion. It’s hard to be denied the visual; I especially mourn not seeing Susun when she says, “Marijuana withdrawal looks like this….” and the class bursts into laughter. But the richness of the recording overcomes all the small frustrations. I feel, after listening, that I have been sitting at Susun’s side in a group of friends listening, learning and discussing.
This class is a storehouse of information about magical plants. Susun begins with the question, “What is magic?” gathering definitions from all who are present. The discussion boils down to the importance of intention, of will, of desire. “Life is symbolic,” Susun says. And so is magic. Another important aspect of the definition of magic is the exchange of energy. She emphasizes that the active constituents of plants are only part of the story, but that, in magic, something else happens, something “hard to put into words.”
The discussion moves from the safest level, the smell of the plants (and she is talking only about the plants themselves here, not the essential oils), to a deeper level, the ingestion of the plants. The dream pillow discussion had me sifting through my fabric stash and looking for old handkerchiefs, coming up with all kinds of combinations of herbs for dream pillow and for sleep pillows. Her detailed discussions of cronewort, hops, and balsam were inspiring and informative. It is delightful to hear her voice change as she breathes the scents of the dream pillows she brought to show her students, especially when she breathes deeply of the balsam. The more familiar roses and lavender are also discussed, and many ways to make some extra cash for your herbal studies by making dream pillows out of every available piece of cloth!
The longer section of the recording is devoted to her discussion of ingesting the plants, a much less “flowery” and more potent method of tapping into a plant’s magical properties. (And also one fraught with legal concerns.) However, Susun describes the ingesting of herbs as “the essential, and predominant and most important path for any serious herbalist to take.”
She presents three critical things one has to have to approach psychoactive drugs. First is our own power. We must be secure in our own power and bring that to the study of the herb or the power plant will use us as its tool. Secondly, we must honor the power of the plant. Each plant has a world and it will take you into that world. Third, we must bring a sense of ceremony. It is this ceremony that helps us to set our intention, making it clear both to ourselves and to the plant.
This section of the class also presents Susun’s telling of some of her own story about her early life and how her interest in herbs was awakened. It’s a fascinating bit of storytelling and a delicious story.
She reviews several books concerning plants that are hallucinatory (the traditional description), psychoactive (Susun’s favorite term), or entheogenic (the most neutral term). The discussion of young people’s use of herbs, even infants (in a Native American peyote ceremony), will make most listeners squirm but make us aware of our own cultural limitations.
The importance of learning about herbs in the presence of a teacher will make most listeners long for a mentor. It is this part of the discussion that stays with me more than any other, and that I have found applicable to raising my teenager. The presentation of several books with straight-forward information about drugs will give you a good suggestion for your teenager’s next birthday.
The class includes information and discussion about any psychoactive drugs: tobacco, coffee, mushrooms, LSD, marijuana and other herbs that are smoked, lobelia, peyote, belladonna, datura, and many others. You’ll find both modern and 500 year old recipes for flying oil and third-eye opening tincture.
Susun ends by asking the practitioners present at her class whether or not they are willing to honor and acknowledge the magic in the work they do. She begins chanting, rather spontaneously it seems, at the end of the class, and the class chants with her: “The spirit of the plants has come to me . . . her dance fills me with peace.”
Review by Jan Calloway-Baxter