All those years I wandered over our 25 acres in the Ozarks, I carried a medicine bag with me. It was more practical than esoteric. The outside material was made of bleached and faded out old denim, in a pattern of light and dark blues. It was about 10 inches square, with a flap of the same material secured by Velcro to keep out bugs and leaves that might otherwise fall into in. There was also a long strap made from the same material so it could be slung over one shoulder, thus allowing my arms free range to move bushes aside, or to pick some delectable wild green.
Within was a material divider: on one side were various sizes of plastic bags to use for placing various foraging items I would come across. On the other side were a small knife to cut off leaves or flowers suitable for eating and a small field identifier book for those items I found that I still did not know.
I would spend hours foraging through the woods and the meadow looking for tasty possibilities for supper salad: various greens, perhaps a mushroom or some wild persimmons, or violets growing by the stream for putting into cookies or scones. In the fall there were also plentiful persimmons, only to be collected after the first frost so they wouldn’t sour your mouth and before the turtles and other critters got to them, wild passion fruit and wild grapes. In the spring were new sprouts of poke, cardoon, dock, chickweed and dandelion greens, as well as mulberries and wild strawberries. And in the summer prickly pear cactus were to be found and the more mature greens like sorrel and even dandelion flowers and rosehips. Winter might find nuts or acorns for the deer but also great for making muffins or cakes after rinsing off all the tannin and then drying them out to make into flour.
Those were my practical years, when we were attempting to live off the land as much as possible and be self-sufficient. Hard years, but with many wonderful encounters with the natural wildness of the land and its inhabitants.
Now, my medicine bag would contain different items, many of which would be hidden from the physical eye. I use this medicine bag when I am with people who are sick or dying, sad or depressed. It is partially the aura or soul cape that has developed around me. Just the other day the hospice chaplain came in and asked if he could “set a spell” – he needed “some serenity.” I know from people’s reactions and comments there is something carried around that others find healing.
Another item in my medicine bag is a listening ear (which conjures up an interesting picture.) Most people do not have people in their lives to listen to them. If we all did, we would not need any psychiatrists. Listening is a gift I received from my mother that I can pass on to those who need someone to do nothing more than to let them know they are important enough to be listened to, who takes the time to listen. With everyone in a rush, no one wants to take the time to listen. And with everyone so into voicing their opinions as if it is “The Truth” – no one wants to listen, all want to talk. So a listening ear is a very important item.
Hands that comfort are another part of the healer’s medicine bag. Touch is so important for everyone, but permission does need to be asked for first. You can’t assume everyone will benefit from a hug since so many people have been abused in their lifetimes. Yet we all need touch, particularly when we are sick or dying. So many people back away at those times that a person can feel very isolated, maybe even shunned. A touch, a hug, a hand relaying concern, hands massaging another’s under the guise of putting lotion on dry hands and feet, a pat on the back, rubbing someone’s neck and shoulders – all are ways of using touch to communicate connection.
Also, vitally important is a compassionate heart: a heart that has known sadness and abuse, joy and love, frustrations and disappointments as well as fulfillment and success. A heart that appreciates the differences in people and yet connects to the similarities. A heart that finds patterns in life that transcend the individual manifestations of chaos. A heart open to give as well as receive, for one must renew oneself if one is to keep on giving. We can only give what we have: if we have money we can give money to others, if we have compassion we can give compassion, if we have time we can give time to others, if we have peace within we can give peace.
This medicine bag holds many other items that are available when needed. But one of the most important is intuition, of coming from the heart. We never know what may be pulled from us by someone’s need, but we should be open to the moment and trust in the process, and what might be contained in our subtle-medicine bag.