An Anchor: A Story of Medicine Bags

Currently I find myself on the rooftop terrace of a newly renovated hotel in downtown San Juan, Puerto Rico. A strong breeze is blowing onto the island. No doubt the result of the recent storms in the south east. I’ve just heard of the recent missile strike on Syria by the US, and my heart has become heavy with a longing for home.

I had thought about bringing a medicine bag from home with me on my trip to San Juan. I had thought that I might place pine needles, golden seal, yellow-root, lavender oil, and some dirt from the land that I dwell on. In hindsight it would have done my spirit well to have brought an anchor, to have brought a piece of my roots into a foreign land. Often I think that those small practices like bringing a medicine bag filled with items that symbolize specific intentions, memories, reminders, and stories, lack the practicality that I often demand of my spiritual practice.

bagI consider myself a healthy skeptic when it comes to most practices that I find on my endeavors into the world of the Medicine, or Folk Healing. I often try to separate the practice from its religious elements so that I might bring what is essential, and useful, into my own practice. For instance, when we speak of ceremony I am aware, and believe, that the ceremony is only effective when the symbols, stories, myths, and language, are applicable to the culture of the patient receiving the ceremonial healing. Ceremony, as I have come to understand it, is a way in which the facilitator acts upon the symbols and archetypes of the patient. The facilitator acts upon those images that rest within the patient, produced by the culture, and brings about change by creating sacred space, sacred memory, and begins to lay new thought patterns onto the old thought patterns that no longer serve them.

We have to understand that Folk Healers are in essence the plant doctors, psychologist, therapist, and priest, of their given community. Folk Healing perceives a four part system of a human, not separated, but overlapping. Folk healing perceives the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, and at the same time remembers that all of these are in fact one. Western medicine is already aware of psychocimatic illness that is caused by emotional or mental disturbances that register in the physical  body. The Healer then has the responsibility to discern which area of our being is out of balance. Guided by intuition and experience, they can begin to form specific practices, ceremonies, or prescriptions, that will act upon the patients belief systems to bring about a state of healing. It is also important to mention that having found a “healing” and having found a “cure” are not interdependent nor coexisting realities. Often a cancer patient can find healing in the mental, emotional, and spiritual,areas of their being but will die several weeks later. The healing comes in the resolution of traumas, fears, anxiety, and begets a change of consciousness as the patient faces the Big Journey.
So we can see how deeply affected we are, whether subconsciously or consciously, by symbols we are familiar with. Our most powerful symbols, be they for good or it’s opposite, are often those we have been brought up with. We are closely related to the natural phenomenon in our regional areas, as well as the plant and animal life. We can find some safety in the memories of our childhood, or in the aromas of our elders meals. We are the products of our upbringing and this is why “finding our roots” has become such a recommended practice for those who are having an identity crisis, or “soul loss”.

I encourage you to bring a small medicine bag, or memoir from your home, the next time that you travel. I wish that I had listened more closely to my intuition as I was packing and had collected items that I know ground me in my experience as an Appalachian. I wish that I had brought a small batch of pine needles, a plastic hair comb of my great-grandmothers, and an acorn that I might trace my fingers against. This practice can ground us in the moments we find ourselves in as we become mindful of not only where we are, but where we come from, and the lineage of relationships that have brought us to this moment. We are never truly away from home. We need but small reminders to call us back into the now.

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