Earth Medicine can be an overwhelming concept for newcomers to this site, I am coming to realize. What begins as a search for a teacher or someone to guide you deeper into the magnificent ecology of yourself for healing can be an intimidating task and a tall order.
When I was looking for a teacher in 1999, I had no idea she would turn up in the form she did. She appeared in 2003, graceful and stoic, black hair to her waist, and dressed like a medicine woman. I had dabbled with wisdom teachers for years and what turned me off to long term study with them was that they approached healing from a masculine standpoint. I wouldn’t have the language for that for many more years to come. Irene was all feminine, and all goddess. She would be the mother who would help me rebirth myself into who I am today.
What made her a life-changing teacher was that she was patient. She allowed each of us in her circle to be exactly who we were: wounded, intuitive, ecologically-minded, animal-loving, spiritual naturalists without much clue how to express ourselves from these places.
We sat regularly and eagerly with her for nine years, just working with the matter of our own souls. It brings tears to my eyes to write about her because during those years, I had no idea I would follow in her footsteps. Her words of encouragement echo in my mind as I continue on this journey, reminding me that I have what it takes to honor myself, honor others, and honor the Earth.
She took a lot of heat from other teachers, and sometimes students, too. When faced with push-back, I saw that it hurt her. I looked up to her, and also, she was a human with feelings. She was a superhero who battled her own dragons while holding the hands of others doing the same, sometimes encountering darkness that would upset her basket and require her to do her own soulwork. She was humble and grateful for her life and work every day I saw her.
Back in those days, we didn’t say Earth Medicine. We were living it-working with the tools and mirrors the Earth presented to us. Gifts of medicine came in the form of roadkill owls, river rocks and garden weeds. We opened portals of the imagination which led into our souls.
Our soul work was determined by the themed issues that seemed present for all of us, but our individual issues were our main focus. Relationships, grief, loss, infertility, divorce, community, total work and life-overhauls-these were the things we showed up with monthly, begging for the spiritual wisdom to be shared with us. Irene turned us back to ourselves every time. She would softly nod and smile and say, “You know.” The way she said it built confidence in us, but it would take years for me to believe her.
The beginning is a humble place. We seek to rush to the results. However, the path tends to unfold one stone at a time, and sometimes we need a slightly wiser hand to hold while we take our first wobbly steps. It might call us through the work we’re already doing, or present itself as a knock on our consciousness one morning over coffee. Where I began was as a curious twenty-something, in love with the Earth, having looked to nature for comfort and holy reset. I had no words to describe what I was looking for. Many years after departing from her tutelage, I would hear the words “the magic happens in the conversation”.
This is what she offered me: a warm and welcoming circle and the tools to travel into myself, so that I might learn to trust myself and then give back to others in the way she was doing for me.