When she awakes from her slumber – a minor refreshment in the cataclysm – I tell her that we’ve arrived at our destination, having parked on a side street in a neighborhood only vaguely familiar to either of us. Night has fallen.
“But, where are we?”, she yawns and stretches sleepily, a babe at the whim of fate’s itinerary.
“I was told to come here,” I tell her assuredly. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what I was told. “They have good medicine.”
Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s first definition for the word is as such:
med·i·cine noun \ˈme-də-sən, British usuallyˈmed-sən\
a : a substance or preparation used in treating disease
b : something that affects well-being
I use the term daily; a reminder that there are consequences to everything I choose to consume. Food, movies, media, Facebook, a friend’s advice on a particular situation. Even fleeting thoughts that I choose to further engage and entertain are a kind of medicine. What I take internally and make a part of myself – my own being – is medicine. I don’t remember when the term took such a prominent place in my vocabulary, but it’s become a vital verbal cue in my decolonization and my adoption of an animistic worldview. Just as I have a million opportunities everyday to choose good medicine – narratives, magick, and comestibles – that boost my well-being, so do I have medicine to share with others. My talents, my gifts, and my worldview all contribute to the flow – the circle – of life itself.
Evening. Central Park. Her eyes open to blinking as she stands up at the triple crossroads, holding the dirt she’d just collected in a piece of leftover tin foil. She approaches me, apprehensively relaying the message she feels she received from Her while kneeling in prayer: “I was told that I am to use this dirt for women’s work only.” I nod in agreement, not surprised in the least. Her vibration, life’s journey, and the obstacles she’s overcome are all evidence of her innate and cultivated women’s healing medicine.
: an object held in traditional American Indian belief to give control over natural or magical forces;
also : magical power or a magical rite
It is most likely from within an American Indian context (or an appropriated version of it) that the word “medicine” first crept into my consciousness, but the definition above is more appropriate for the term “medicine bag” while still failing to capture the essence of such an object. I use the term medicine in a way that’s most related to the word “perspective” – the point of view offered by a person, entity, or experience. This comes from my long-time practice of imbibing herbal tinctures of those herbal allies that have shown up in my life from dreams, healer friends, and by “coincidence,” including Catnip, Hawthorn, and Fennel. Each of these has taught (and continue to teach me) lessons in places where my own soul might have been lacking toward greater personal wholeness and fulfillment of my potential.
The deified entities I work with function similarly in my life, their medicines partly evident in their characteristics, associated prayers, and symbolisms. Regular devotion and conversation with them makes them friends whose perspectives I can call upon at anytime. I can, as well, call on them for help with one-time magick spells, but their long-term alliance with me and my fulfillment of our terms of reciprocity might mean that I can do less magick regarding their realm – their medicine has become a part of me.
When I sit at their altars listening for guidance in the form of advice, a working, or just the peace and calm derived from basking in their presence – these are medicine too.
But not all medicine is intentional – every magazine article we believe, every media image we consume, and every encouraging word from a friend that we receive is a perspective we take in and make a part of ourselves. It is whatever shifts us, seats us, and adds to our completion. The wisdom rests in not only seeking out and assimilating the medicine that we need, but in being vigilant about all of the things that we incorporate into the story of our personhood.
In Loren Cruden’s Medicine Grove: A Shamanic Herbal, she writes:
“Modern Western herbalism talks about a plant’s properties. Chinese and Ayurvedic systems refer to a plant’s energetic characteristics. Shamanism orients to a plant’s medicine – it’s particular truth of being. Truth of being, in plants, is explicit – there is no confusion of identity. Each plant is like an embodied idea: its medicine is a state of mind, a perspective of pervasive consciousness. When you partake of that medicine, you recall that perspective; you include, in yourself, that state of mind, which is then mirrored in your state of being.”
As discussed above, Cruden’s definition of medicine and the process of assimilation isn’t limited to plants. Both short- and long-term alliances with the spirits of botanicals, minerals, animal species, and others shift us and take us from point A to point B, and sometimes back again if we haven’t learned what was needed the first time around. Life itself is a medicine journey, better walked consciously than unconsciously.
Thus are the meanings of terms like “medicine lodge” and “medicine person” (my preferred term for my role and the work I do) at least partially illuminated – places to go to and people to seek out to gain clarity regarding what medicine might be best for you at this time in your life. Often, the insight and wisdom gained in the search is medicine in and of itself.
He opened the door and welcomed us into his kitchen. We nodded in resonance as he sat us down and spoke of Saturn in Scorpio, becoming a disciple of our own consciousness, and the need to fulfill soul contracts made before our current incarnations. Passing the pipe to us, we smoked our prayers, grateful for the wisdom imparted. Our anxious hungers of the day now satisfied, we had indeed been led to good medicine.
When thought about this way, Hoodoo, Rootwork, and Conjure become a shamanic praxis – every working intentionally calls forth the medicine of botanicals, minerals, spirits of the dead, and / or land spirits (amongst others) to accompany us toward a fulfillment of our intentions. Be it the outlook of Lovage Root on stable, uniting love, or a river’s shifting thrusts as it carries away an abusive relationship embodied in the wax remains of a Cut & Clear candle ritual, we are surrounded by perspectives that lead us to the place our heart desires most. Employing the graveyard dirt of your grandmother in a protection ritual around your home invokes a different perspective on safety than that of a police officer – likewise, the difference between Angelica Root and Basil. In listening to the wisdom of your spirits, and the spirits of the medicines themselves, you gain discernment as to which is in greatest alignment toward your goal.
No person is an island unto themselves, and the medicine that we need is often right outside our front doors (if not in our own pantries). Some of these perspectives might be called on only once (for a one-time spell vs. a daily tincture dosage) while others will be incorporated into our way of life as we become more knowledgeable about our gifts and specialties as spiritual practitioners, and as the elements themselves help us understand their applicability to a range of different conditions and experiences of dis-ease.
What medicine made its way into your life today unconsciously? What medicines (perspectives, plant, animal, entity, or other) are you intentionally working with at this time? Do these latter medicines speak at all to your experience of the former ones? Journal it out – become a disciple of your own consciousness.
Mitakuye Oyasin (All My Relations),