The Calling of the Medicine Woman
By Kiva Rose
Beside an open fire, a woman tends to an iron kettle. Next to her, a young girl carefully selects the most vibrant leaves from a pile of aromatic plants, handing them to her grandmother for the special tea brewing in the blackened pot. The child smiles at the sound of singing birds as she focuses on her work, sorting through the herbs to find just the right medicines.
While others her age seem so entranced by trivialities and lost in their games, she's learned to take pride in the ways she's different, the depth of her curiosity, and the challenge of the studies she's undertaken.
She sees that the village people depend on her grandmother to help keep them healthy, to care for them when they are ill, to look after the well-being of the local herbs and to dispense counsel when needed.
With her natural gifts, sufficient commitment and effort, she'll grow up ready to take on the responsibility of serving these people and this place... answering in her own way and age, the timeless call of the venerable Medicine Woman.
For most of my life I dreamed of a home, a clan and a calling. Even as a little girl, I imagined myself part of a tribe of red-headed earth dwellers, living on the banks of a wild river and gathering foods with a wise and wrinkled elder. In my favorite daydreams, the old woman would take me by the hand and teach me the uses of natural medicines, precious information garnered through centuries of applied intuition, experience and trial.
She would tell me I had a gift ‹ and that I could be a powerful healer ‹ exciting me with the possibility of being needed, helping define and affirm my special mission.
Perhaps like you, I found solace and inspiration in the idea that there are still others besides myself seeking a sense of belonging and purpose... others who hear the call of the healer, of the plants, of this feeling and instructive earth.
Throughout my childhood, I roamed the forests and grasslands in search of thoughtful solitude and wild communion, for freedom and meaning. At age seven, I collected pokeberries and burdock leaves on my parent's farmstead, concocting dark purple potions to treat ailments of my pretend friends.
I enthusiastically grew mint, sage, borage and other herbs in the tiny garden plot that I was allowed to tend. I taught my little sisters how to find and eat the local wild onions, and pack the moistened plantain leaves on their cuts and scratches. A favorite pastime was to memorize both the Latin and common names of my favorite plants gleaned from encyclopedias and storybooks.
And even when I ended up on the streets as an angry teenage runaway, I would sometimes gather mulberries from the city's edges and dandelion greens from cracked concrete. Wherever I found myself, the plants seemed to call to me through taste and scent, dream and story.
When I came to Animá Center and the Sweet Medicine Canyon, it was the plants that helped heal me of the years of familial and boyfriend abuse, and that helped make it clear that I had found not only my home but my mission.
Each of us has a purpose and a calling, though how it manifests and how we come to it varies from woman to woman. Many are inspired through their deep love of the plant world, or their time caring for a chronically-ill loved one, or through a negative experience with the mainstream medical establishment, and a few are still raised in a community where such skills are accepted and even expected.
One woman, just beginning her college career, discovered that her greatest satisfaction lay not in the business courses at school but in the volunteer work she did with disabled and homebound adults. When she left the university to pursue healing full time, she was most inspired by therapeutic touch and herbal medicine.
Another, a dissatisfied and restless office worker who always wanted to be a forest ranger or gardener, began spending more and more of her time outdoors, even finding herself talking to the plants in her rural backyard. Searching through a field guide for the weeds she had become acquainted with, she discovered their names and traditional uses. Soon after, much to her husband's initial dismay, she began creating dinners of wild foods and serving him mugs of strange smelling medicinal brews rather than his expected coffee.
Each of these women found the courage, impetus and will to break past the limitations of society and the expectations of family members and colleagues, to answer an insistent internal imploring. Each followed their dreams to the work and way of life most meaningful to them. Whatever disparate origins we may have, it is this powerful calling we have in common.
From the wild New Mexico mountains to the sheltered Appalachian hollers, to the bustling seaport marketplaces to the troubled ghettos of Midwestern cities, the Medicine Woman walks the same winding path of growth and challenge. Whether dressed in personal costume or cultural camouflage, she remains true to herself and her calling.
In the woven wool warmth of New England farms, the simple black silk of the Capitol city, the cowboy hats of the still wild Rockies or the faded denim of Kansas City factories, she is always present and comfortable in her own skin.
From every conceivable walk of life, culture and heritage, the Medicine Woman has no uniform, single locality or specific language. Yet she can be recognized by her honor, service and wisdom. By her propensity to gather weedy greens for her dinner, by her love of the living earth, and perhaps by her bag bulging with pungent roots, skin soothing salves, sweet smelling oils and colorfully labeled tincture bottles.
In the Medicine Woman's everyday life, whether she works as a secretary, waitress, farmer or attorney, she employs her compassion, knowledge and wisdom throughout the day. Though she may never actually vocalize any direct reference to herbs, healing or the Medicine Woman Tradition, her co-workers, friends and companions will know her as a healer, as a nurturer and as a fiercely honest warrior woman who walks with integrity, intention and focus.
The Medicine Woman, even if she earns her living as an herbalist or massage therapist, knows that her special calling is not just a vocation or hobby. Rather, it is a lifelong commitment to a role and way of life that she lives in each motion, word and choice. What may have begun as curiosity, entertainment or job, becomes the driving motivation behind her every action.
She understands her life as one of service to herself, others and the greater whole. Each decision, no matter how simple or small, must reflect that understanding. Sensitive, empathic and sometimes painfully aware of her need to contribute in a significant way to the world, she strives to feel deeply and respond fully according to her own unique abilities and propensities.
Anima teaches that every moment is the decisive moment, every choice pivotal, and every action of great consequence. She is responsible, able to respond to the shifting balance of her self, relationships, surroundings and world. The Medicine Woman rallies when there are things to be done and accepts credit for her accomplishments, every day consciously co-creating her world and her life.
Our path is a spiraling one that does not end at a certain age or with any particular accomplishment. We travel both its tricky twists and smooth stretches until the day we die, continually learning, growing and integrating the lessons and experiences of a lifetime.
Through this ongoing process we take in nourishment and understanding, and in turn, give our skills, knowledge and care back to the world in an endless cycle of reciprocity and gratitude. We are each called to a personal mission and journey, a quest of becoming that leads us home to our authentic selves and most significant calling.
Standing over a small clay pot of decocting herbs, I listen to the river roaring below the mesa. The water has risen slowly over the last few days thanks to abundant Winter rains, and many plants are already sprouting eagerly from the wet ground. My partner Loba readies vegetables for roasting and an apprentice gathers firewood nearby, as I turn from the fire and look into our daughter Rhiannon's shining eyes. As she proudly delivers her carefully-chosen herbs to me, I recall the child of my earliest daydreams.
I smile at this winding path I have walked, leading me full circle back to the place of my original imaginings and sweetest dreams, to the fire of the Medicine Woman and the fulfillment of my most meaningful purpose.
Kiva Rose is an acclaimed herbalist and teacher of the nature-inspired Animá tradition. She and her partners tend a riverside sanctuary and ancient place of power in the enchanted Southwest, offering Shaman Path and Medicine Woman correspondence courses, wilderness retreats, vision quests and special events. Enjoy her award-winning blog at bearmedicineherbals.com Contact: Animá Center, Box 688, Reserve, NM 87830 or visit: www.animacenter.org
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