by Jon Enos, FES Staff

In doing the Mugwort harvest yesterday with Ian, I had several thoughts regarding intentionality. In the process of taking herbs from the land and processing them into medicine and relief aids, one aspect of the mind’s interaction with the work of harvest, is the realization of abundance. I realized that this is a potent concept, which I had previously overlooked. I’ll explore this more in a moment; but first some background. (Read more about herbal Mugwort, it's use as an oil and the indications for Mugwort flower essence here.)

When ‘intention’ is an important part of any work being done (and it almost always is), I believe one aspect which is essential to the effectiveness of the intentions, is how engaged or excited the worker’s imagination is, or how activated his or her aesthetic sensibilities are to the manner in which the work is being done. The more ‘turned on’ the worker is by what they are doing or the manner in which they are doing it, the more potent their powers of intention. What seems to be the case is that almost any structure of symbols or procedures may be efficacious in producing particular results, if the minds of the human beings involved in that activity are ‘awakened’ in an extraordinary way. Much of this depends on the personality of the individuals involved in the work, and much of it depends one’s particular aesthetic tastes.

If your personality responds to, for example, the drama of a whirling dervish, or the peaceful scarcity of Zen aesthetic, or the flamboyant playfulness of Neo-Pagan costumery, or the pageantry and tradition of Catholic mass, or the feathers and drums of Native American spirituality, then these activities will awaken a particular state of attention in you, your intentions will be highly focused, and whatever you are doing (be it prayer, meditation, magic, healing or what have you), will be more effective. It may even be this state of mental excitement itself which is most likely to produce results which are dependent upon intentionality.

Mugwort plants drying after the harvest

I think this is why so many different forms of practice can be effective for different groups of people. It is why religion comes in so many different flavors—almost all of them are effective for somebody. If the human imagination can be engaged, if your aesthetic sense can be attracted and awakened, the intentions are energized, and focused working becomes more potent.

Tying these ideas back to the other day’s harvest, something struck me in conversation with Ian. He had had experience in wild-harvesting of herbs through various classes he’d taken. Of course, when wild-harvesting, sustainability is always a concern, and the usual rule of thumb is to severely limit how much of any given herb you take from any given place. While this is a wonderful practice which is in tune with wild nature, this practice of limiting harvest may have the unintended effect of creating an unconscious impression of scarcity within the mind of the herbalist.

This became clear to me when Ian’s eyes nearly popped out of his head when I said we were going to take almost the entire patch of Mugwort. “All of it?!” he said.  I explained that the patch had been cultivated for that intent, that it was not really a wild-harvest situation, and that we would plant again. He agreed, but was still overwhelmed by how much there was.

We made invocations to the plants, asked their permission to harvest, and began to reap their abundance. Armful after armful filled first one, then a second, garden cart load to overflowing. The smells around our noses, the oils on our hands, the sonorous buzz of clouds of bees—the harvest was a heady experience. But part of the headiness, in addition to the power of Mother Mugwort herself, was the sheer amount of her. Neither Ian nor I had ever taken so much volume of herb before. In both the harvest, and then in the processing and hanging of bundles of herb for drying, it kept coming into our minds how much there was, how wonderful it was, how blessed the bounty of a good harvest.

This led me to consider the ideas mentioned above, about intentionality. If appealing poetry makes a prayer more powerful; if exciting imagery makes a ceremony more engaging; if awe-inspiring goals imbue an action with profound respect—then the potency of human intentions are ramped up in keeping with the level of metal excitement. Having so much abundance as an aspect of the Mugwort harvest, being thankful for it, being amazed by it, added, I think, to the experience of working with the plant.

Ian and Jon (at right) stripping the dried Mugwort leaves and flowers
from the plant stems

Considering that this powerful herb, its spirit, its essence, and its physical medicine, are going into oils which will be used for healing and blessing, it struck me as being particularly auspicious that abundance (as both an idea in our collective consciousness, and as an actual fact) was a factor in our working with it. By directly contradicting the subliminal sense of scarcity often present when working with precious herbs, abundance becomes a potent factor in the magic of the process.

Daniel (former FES gardener) described a similar experience with last year's overwhelming St. John’s harvest. He found himself in a gigantic field of it in Camptonville, and had more than his quota in a surprisingly short period of time, and had barely made a dent in the amount available. He was ‘excited by abundance’, and I think this came through in the oils made from it: rich red jewels, brimming with vibrancy.

I expect this year’s Mugwort pressing to be particularly powerful, and I believe that one factor in that potency will be the concept of abundance which was present in our minds and celebrated by our hearts as we worked the harvest. Though we must sometimes be very careful, pick and choose, and ration the herbs with which we work, in those seasons when we are blessed with abundance, the gratitude and excitement of that very fact in itself become a factor in the working—a factor which may often be missed (but which now seems essential) in working with medicines; and a factor much in need during this time of crisis.

Mugwort leaves and flowers
infusing in olive oil in preparation
for the Seasons of the Soul
Mugwort Moon Magic

After thoughts for Jon from Patricia Kaminski

The insight you had about how and why we harvest and the importance of not allowing the image of scarcity to fill our mental field is important. I think this is a very real concern because we all feel the need to find sustainable ways of working with the earth, and those of us who are sensitive to our environments are painfully aware of devastating levels of destruction driven by greed and callous unconcern for the living Being of Nature.

Yet, we have found over and over in the three decades where we have made wildflower medicines, that the very places we have gathered from have actually become not less, but more vibrant. It’s as though we as humans have brought something to the elemental world with our reverence, our care and our “seeing” of these plants that actually gives them energy back.

This is after all, not that surprising, because we know we have the same effect with our thoughts, words and intentions in our human-to-human exchanges.

One of the most wonderful and amazing experiences involving this theme of “plant abundance” concerns a place where we have made the Redbud flower essence. It’s a huge piece of private property with a kind of “Redbud grove,” the largest congregation of mostly Redbuds we have ever found.
This place has a long lineage--before white people--of having served the indigenous basket makers who gather ample material from the Redbud. To this day, the current owner (a white man) has wisely continued this wonderful tradition of having the basket makers come to his property to gather Redbud materials. There is one particular area that they gather heavily from and is felt to have the most spiritual force. The owner invited us walk to this spot. The first thought one has while approaching there, is that the place will be the most picked over, show the greatest signs of wear and tear, etc. 

But the exact opposite is true. This was the most vibrant stand of Redbuds on the whole property and it’s where we chose to make the essence! The place where human hands had come for centuries with loving care and respect for the plants there was the most vital, the most lush, and the colors of the Redbud flower the most vibrant!

Plants need people as much as people need plants – not just the carbon dioxide/oxygen symbiosis – but the exchange of love and recognition.

In my opinion, genuine sustainability is not so much about quantity of what we take (except that we have made a number of native plants nearly extinct and now for these we must certainly take special care) as it is about the quality of our consciousness when we are in contact with these plants.

No matter how many rules, regulations, laws and environmental safeguards we might devise to protect certain plants, and for that matter our rivers, our air, etc. etc.; if we don’t cherish them they won’t flourish. Natives take exception even to the idea of so-called “wild” places – if our definition of “wild” means not touched or inhabited by humans. They say these “wild” places were always known to their ancestors for ritual, for vision-questing, for food and medicine gathering and that their wildness depends on our human-ness in order to survive. 



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