Monday, November 6, 2017

New Online Class: Wild Magic, Imbolc - Samhain 2018

WILD GREEN MAGIC: 
practicing magical herbalism 

online February – October 2018 
with Sean Donahue Plants





Plants are powerful allies in personal, community, cultural, and ecological healing and transformation. Join herbalist, poet, and witch Sean Donahue for an exploration of an approach to magical herbalism rooted in connecting with plants as living, conscious, sovereign beings. Twice a month, participants will receive audio lectures and notes on themes including: grounding and protection, plant magic and the three-fold self, plants and the wheel of the year, eros and plant magic, ancestral healing, forest magic and forest ecology, honoring plants and the land, and more! 

To register or for more information e-mail greenwisdomschool@gmail.com

 $300 if paid by December 1 – $450 if paid by December 21 – $550 if paid by February 2

 a limited number of scholarships are available for activists and community builders

 free for participants in past “Plant Magic” courses

$50 discount for participants in "Materia Magica"

Monday, May 22, 2017

Materia Medica: Bear Medicine -- an excerpt


This is an excerpt from the notes accompanying my recent lecture on bear medicines from my online Materia Magica course which started in May.   If you like it and want to see/hear/read/learn more, please consider signing up for the course.  You will be sent my notes and lectures on Hawthorn and Bear Medicine immediately and will receive future lectures and notes twice a month through October -- http://www.seandonahueherbalist.com/materia-magica-online-may-october/

________________________________________________________________________________

In the forest I inhabit, bear and salmon are bringers of life – as they were in the lost Irish forests of my ancestors.

Returning from the ocean to spawn and die, salmon draw bears to rivers and streams, and the bears drag the carcasses of the fish into the forest where they feed the topsoil.

In the Irish tradition, the salmon is the oldest creature, and holds the wisdom of three worlds – the watery underworld it swims through, the airy heavens it leaps through, and the earth its body returns to. Who eats its body gains its knowledge and insight.

Bears gorge on Salmon in autumn, and then retreat into their own dark underworld, where their dreams are shaped by the mycorrhizal songs of the sleeping forest. When they stir in spring, they dig their medicine roots – which Matthew Wood notes are “brown, furry, pungent, and oily” like bears themselves. Wherever people and bears live in proximity, humans have traditionally followed suit, digging and decocting those same roots. And they have told stories of people who married those strange dark giants who rear up on two legs and whose skinned bodies look human.

There is linguistic evidence of deep reverence for bears in early Ireland.

Ireland was ruled through the last several centuries of the first millennium of the Common Era by a High King, an Ard-Rí, whose sovereignty was granted by the land itself as it spoke through the Lia Fáil, a stone that held powers of regeneration for the king and the earth.

But there is also an older Irish word, art-rí which means a king of bears or a bear-like king. (The Welsh version of the same word is likely the origin of the names of King Arthur and a Feri god.)

What would the nature of a bear king be?

Old stories of sacred kings speak of the ways in which the life of the land and the life and death of the king intertwine. Their modern re-iterations speak of the king being sacrificed at Samhain. The king's life and death are dedicated to the well being and blossoming of the people and the land itself.

The salmon provides one model for this sacrifice – giving its life in the journey upstream to spawn, giving its body to the soil in death. And the bound bodies of chieftans and kings found in peat bogs suggest that for some kings, this sacrifice involved literal death.

The bear rides the wheel of the year in a different way. Three seasons awake, walking through our world, one season in darkness. A bear king might work in the same way. Spending nine months tending to the well-being of the community and the realm, three months in trance and dream and contemplation listening to the soil and the stones and the underground springs and the roots of the trees and the bones of the dead.

The English word king suggests authority rather than power, to use the late John Trudell's distinction – authority comes from dominating and coercing others into obedience, whereas power comes from being part of life unfolding. But the Irish word rí has an interesting etymology, deriving from the same root word as the Sanskrit rig, which means praise or shine. This suggests the possibility of seeing the sacred king more as a priest or shaman, not the maker of laws in the modern sense, but the speaker and interpreter of natural law through the gnosis gained from giving a quarter of each year to walking in the dark world that lies before all beginnings and after all endings, the original darkness from which all things emerge and to which all things return.

The bear medicines all serve to facilitate the movement from darkness and stillness into motion and light. Their bitterness grounds us into our bodies, their heady aromatic scents melt tension to allow the blood stirred by their heat to move through the body. The body of the art-rí that comes back to life when the snowmelt streams flow into fields of bright blossoms.

The rest of the notes and the lecture go into the specific natures of Eastern and Western Skunk Cabbage, Osha, and Angelica.   To learn more, register for Materia Magica today!



Monday, May 1, 2017

Beltane Blessings

I can't remember how many years ago I wrote this for the Earth First! Journal, but it comes back to me as a reminder of "the reason for the season" as those of a younger religion might say:

Beltane marks the midpoint between the spring equinox and the summer solstice -- a time of the world coming alive.

The smooth, muscular curves of the supple boughs of a young Aspen. The pulsing rise of Birch sap. Rushing water. Lush moss.

Or maybe its the scent of Chapparal hanging heavy in the air after a desert rain.  Or the wind blowing in from the sea on the first warm day of spring.

The living world seduces us, bringing us into our bodies, calling us to taste, smell, see, and feel.
Beltane is a festival of fertility and lust. The Celts marked it with wild excess – bonfires and sweaty ecstatic dancing and heady Heather (or Psilocybe cubensis)  mead, and lovers sneaking off into the forest at night, bringing back green boughs in the morning. The festivities began when the Hawthorn bloomed and continued until May's “Honey Moon” began to wane.   

The Hawthorn has powerful associations with the Fae.  The Tuatha de Danaan are said to have arrived in Ireland from out of the northern mists on Beltane as the Hawthorn bloomed -- and the Celtic sons of Mil also arrived from Spain and launched the war that would bring the Danaan down on Beltane as the Hawthorn bloomed.  And it was under the Hawthorn that Thomas the Rhymer met the Queen of Elfland who would take him away for seven years.
The Maypole, mummer's dances involving the Fool and Jack in the Green, the custom of leaving flowers on doorsteps on May Day, are all remnants of older Beltane traditions.   

In much of modern pagandom, the erotic energy celebrated at Beltane is cast in terms of heterosexual reproduction.   But in the wild and to our wild selves, the force of Eros -- vibrant, vital, lusty life -- knows no such limits and categories.   The ecstasy of the Earth emerges in myriad forms.  And we experience it viscerally when we allow ourselves to be fully present.

Terry Tempest Williams writes:

"Erotic means 'in relation.' Erotic is what those deep relations are and can be that engage the whole body - our heart, our mind, our spirit, our flesh. It is that moment of being exquisitely present. It does not speak well for us as a people that we even have to make the distinction between what is erotic and what is not, because an erotic connection is a life-engaged making love to the world that I think comes very naturally. Eroticism, being in relation, calls inner life into play."

The hunger for wildness that stirs the blood, the fierce love of the living Earth are fed by our sensual experience of the wild world around us – be that the delight in seeing a dandelion cracking through the concrete of a Manhattan sidewalk or the sharp intake of breath when you wade into a snowmelt stream in the high Rockies. Williams writes – “No longer numb, we feel the magnetic pull of our bodies toward something stronger, more than simply ourselves. Arousal becomes a dance with longing. We form a secret partnership with possibility."





Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Why I keep writing about Autism

On days like today, I am tempted to never write about Autism again.

Most Autistic people spend a lot of our lives having people try to figure out what is "wrong" with us and why, telling us that if we only tried harder we would be better at the things that challenge us and that the things we are good at or passionate about are irrelevant, trying to get us to change the ways we think and speak and move and the things we like and dislike, and telling us how difficult it is to understand us.

When we speak about or experiences we tend to be told that we are too sensitive, asked to listen to and agree with people's theories about where Autism comes from, lectured to about the non-existent "Autism epidemic,"  told that Autistic people are a burden on our families, or shut down by being told that we aren't "really" Autistic or that we are "high functioning" (a presumption based on our ability to use language)  and therefore aren't "Autistic enough" and therefore should defer to the wisdom of "experts."   The similarities between these responses and the things we have heard about ourselves all our lives can bring up a lot of relational trauma.   After one of these conversations, it often takes me a day or two to recover my capacities to write and engage.

And it is heartbreaking and frustrating that after four years of writing and speaking and teaching about Autism, the starting point of most discussions is still defending our right to exist as we are.  There is so much more about my Autistic experience that I would like to be sharing beyond convincing people that my existence is not a tragedy.

So why do I keep writing about Autism?

Because when I found the writing of people like Nick Walker and Rosie Guedes and Lydia X. Z. Brown it transformed my sense of who I was and of my place in the world.   And every once in a while I hear from another Autistic person who feels that same sense of recognition when they read my words, or a parent who gains a new empathy for their child from hearing about my experiences.

Because it is an act of intellectual self-defense.  After a lifetime of internalizing the idea that there is something wrong with my way of being, in order to not re-internalize those ideas I need to speak out when people repeat them.   Especially when they are people in my communities.

Because I know other people I love feel under attack when anti-Autistic messages are out in the world and not everyone is out to the people in their lives or has the emotional resources to speak out on a given day.

And, because, occasionally, people listen.  And every time one fewer person is repeating hurtful ideas about Autism, there is a little more room for Autistic people to carve out space to exist in this culture.

So I will keep writing about Autism, despite the cost.    But please remember when you engage me, this isn't an abstraction for me, this is my lif.


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Damiana and the Cauldron of Warming

"In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer." -- Albert Camus

Damiana (Turnera diffusa)  is a light at the southwestern horizon reminding us that though the night descending is dark, morning will come.  

Bitter, warming, and aromatic, Damiana grounds us into our bodies, stirs our heart to quicken the rhythm of the movement of our blood, and relaxes the tension we hold to allow the blood to flow freely to all of our parts -- and where blood flows, awareness goes.

In winters of snow and ice, winters of the heart, and winters of our collective experience, Damiana awakens the memory of the invincible summer within us.

For my Irish ancestors, the time when ewes' milk came in marked the turning point out of winter, and became a festival honoring Brighid of the Three Fires -- the fire of the hearth, the fire of the forge, and the fire in the head.   Her three fires roughly correspond to the three cauldrons the gods are said to have filled in different proportions in each human, spoken of in an old Irish poem, "The Cauldron of Poesy", which is traditionally attributed to the great bard, Amergin,  I think of Damiana as stoking the fire of the hearth, which heats the first cauldron, the Cauldron of Warming (sometimes translated as the Cauldron of Incubation,) which in turn provides deep sustenance for the Cauldron of Motion and the Cauldron of Wisdom.

The Cauldron of Warming is the cauldron by which life enters the body, animating the flesh, setting us into motion.   I associate it with our Wild Self which experiences the world through sensation and emotion, and with the fire of the hearth that warms our bodies.  It resides in the pelvic bowl.

The essence poured into it is taken by the gods "from the mysteries of the elemental abyss" -- a reminder that it is our own most primal nature that connects us with the ecstatic birth of the universe, the emergence of cosmos from teeming chaos.

Damiana is well know for its capacity to stimulate pelvic circulation, bringing blood and awareness flowing to the genitals, giving rise to its reputation as an aphrodisiac.   And it excels in this manner. Damiana infused in Coconut oil makes a wonderful lube for those who are not using latex condoms (and Kava is a nice addition for those who enjoy the juxtaposition of numbing and tingling sensations.)

But to fully appreciate the stirring Damiana brings to the body, we need to broaden our definition of the erotic.   Eros is the force that sets matter dancing, the ecstatic flow of life.    By relaxing tension and increasing blood flow and sensation, Damiana invites us to more deeply inhabit our bodies, engaging eros in new ways.   It is an herb of joyful embodiment, restoring sensual pleasure in all of its forms -- dancing, touch, savoring delicious food, breathing in the scent of snow and Fir and Pine and woodsmoke.    I often give Damiana to elders who are living in a world that forgets that bodies of all ages need and desire sensual pleasure and to people recovering from injuries and illnesses who are learning to be in their bodies again.   I often Damiana with Corydalis yanhuso to keep the return of sensation from being too overhwelming at first.   Damiana is also delicious in honey and amazing in mead.

Like all bitter, warming, aromatic herbs, Damiana is a carminative, stimulating sluggish digestion and relieving gas and bloating.  The latter action of carminatives is an important consideration in the timing of the administration of Damiana as an aprhodisiac in the conventional sense.

Medical science is also bringing us to the understanding that the stimulation of the bitter taste receptors in our digestive tracts (and airways and genitals) dilates our airways, and that the light molecules that we experience as scent when they brush against our nerve endings relax muscular tension by stimulating our parasympathetic nervous systems, meaning that all bitter, aromatic herbs can help us breathe more easily and more deeply. Holding a tincture or tea or honey infused with Damiana in your mouth for a moment will facilitate this opening.  Damiana makes a wonderful smoking herb as well.   I love mixing it with Cannabis and then swimming or lifting weights.

The Cauldron of Motion, which resides in the rib cage, corresponds to the Talking Self, which holds conscious intention and gives direction to our movement in the world.   Whirlpools within that very cauldron can lead the mind to spin in circles without being able to engage the body to take in new information from the world, becoming stuck in an imagined perception of how things are based on past experience.    By returning awareness and sensation to the body, Damiana allows us to come back to our selves and to the world as it is, reshaping our perception and intention and direction accordingly.

The Cauldron of Wisdom, which resides in the head, corresponds to our Divine Self, the part of us that knows its own infinity.  It is important in thinking of this cauldron not to impose our modern understanding of the meaning of the head onto this old Irish framework.  We tend to associate the head with thought and language and logic -- but this emerges from Descarte's decision to drink more than 70 cups of coffee and narrow his consciousness to the point where he believed that his conscious thoughts and his existence were one and the same.   The old Irish understanding of the head was as the place where the gods would set a fire blazing, bringing poets into ecstatic, direct encounter with the living world.  In poetry, Yeats spins the tale of the god Aengus, who tells us

"I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head"

that fire then tooks the form of a "glimmering girl" who called his name and runs -- and Aengus spent
 the rest of his days wandering the world searching for her, his life devoted to the desire to taste her 
lips.  This is not the stuff of the theologian's contemplation of the nature of the world, but rather of 
the mystic's drive to make love to the mystery.    

In my training as a Feri priest I learned that our Talking Selves are incapable of directly connecting with our Divine Selves because the knowledge of our own infinity would shatter all our concepts, leaving our minds in incoherent disarray.  But, when freed from shame and guilt and fear, our Wild Selves can touch that infinity directly through opening completely to sensation -- finding divinity in the feeling of warm water on our skin, the shining of the stars in the sky, the breath of Redwood and Rose, the line of a lover's collarbone.   Damiana invites us into that kind of exquisite presence, bringing us back to ourselves and back into connection with all that is.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Come learn more about Damiana and other herbs for "Rekindling the Heart Fire" at my workshop in Bellingham, Februaru 11 and 12!   Details at  http://www.wildrootbotanicals.com/

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

This post is not about vaccines

Every time people begin debating vaccines, I know that I need to prepare for an onslaught of messages about how my existence, and the existence of other people like me, is an unspeakable tragedy.     

Every discussion about vaccines inevitably turns to the question of whether vaccines cause Autism. And Autistic voices are almost always pushed out of the discussion

The anti-vaccine movement has built its popularity on celebrity support for the discredited former gastroenterologist, Andrew Wakefield, who falsified data to suggest a non-existent link between vaccines and Autism in order to explain a non-existent Autism "epidemic."  (Wakefield embellished the stories of the subjects of his study to make them fit his theories, and the apparent increase in the prevalence of Autism is largely a function of increased awareness and expanded diagnostic criteria.) That movement relies heavily on damaging and pathologizing descriptions of Autism, combined with junk science, to build its base.  One of the movement's leading voices, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.  speaks of the "catastrophic tragedy of autism which has now destroyed the lives of over 20 million children and shattered their families." Kennedy is now in talks with the President Elect about launching a national commission on vaccines and Autism.


Now, I know that not all people who oppose or question current vaccination protocols subscribe to Wakefield's theories or cite Autism as a reason for their position.   And my own views on vaccines are complex (I think some vaccines are potentially lifesaving for most people and that with others both the benefits and the risks are relatively small and that in almost every instance people should have a right to refuse any medical intervention that they don't want.)    But when Autistic people are saying that the anti-vaccine movement's depiction of Autism as a horror to be prevented is hurting us, the compassionate response is to acknowledge that pain, not to push past it.


Suicide is one of the leading causes of death of Autistic adults -- for much the same reasons that it is one of the leading killers of Queer and Trans people.   We live in a culture that every day in dozens of ways shows and tells us that there is something wrong with our existence.   If we move or speak in the ways that our neurobiologies compel us to, we face discrimination, ostracism, and violence.  Yes, some of us are able to force ourselves to hold our bodies and craft our words and even move our eyes and our faces in ways that are more comfortable to the majority -- but the price is high in terms of the stress of constantly monitoring our every word and gesture, living in fear that our performance will slip, and the internalization of beliefs that it is not okay to make too much or too little eye contact, or to shake and rock to discharge excess energy running through our nervous systems, or to speak in language that is too complex or too simple or that doesn't use words at all about things that are too childish or too heavy or too esoteric for too long.   We interact with systems designed to meet other people's neurological needs and if we express our difficulties with them or ask for changes we are seen as deficient or needy.  

Personally, I live in fear that a trip to the bank will leave me overhwelmed to the point where I become agitated and begin to shake and lose speech, and that a frightened bystander will call the police and the encounter will escalate into violence.  It happens to Autistic people every day.   Not because we are Autistic.   But because the culture we live in only accepts one way of communicating and one way of processing sensation and emotion.    The things that make it difficult for me to live in this culture are also the things that give me the capacity to engage with plants and gods and history in unique and beautiful ways.   But for large stretches of my life I lived in a world that emphasized my disadvantages and trivialized or ignored my strengths.

Now imagine living this reality.  And imagine being a fifteen year old in a community where the only time the existence of Autistic people is acknowledged is when non-Autistic people are debating vaccines.  And the only thing you ever hear said about Autistic people is that our existence is an abomination to be prevented.   How do you think this would make you feel about yourself?

If you are part of the movement against mandatory vaccination, instead of telling me that you are not doing it because you hate people like me, I would love it if you would take the message to others who are opposed to mandatory vaccination that Autism is part of the natural variation in human neurobiologies that has existed as long as our species has and, like every other variation has its challenges and its gifts.   Please tell people to stop pathologizing us.  Your voice is more likely to be heard by those within the movement than mine.  

The pro-vaccination camp has not done much better by us.  Yes, those in favor of vaccination do frequently point out Wakefield's fraud.  But they seldom contest the idea that their is something wrong with being Autistic.   Rather than saying that Autism is not a tragedy, they tend to say vaccines do not cause tragic problems like Autism.

If you are a vaccination advocate, when you are responding to charges that vaccines cause Autism, please talk about the beauty of Autistic minds besides refuting the false science of your opponents.

And whatever camp you fall in, when Autistic people tell you that we are tired of being a political football in your debate, please stop and listen instead of going back to your script.