Traditions of Western Herbalism Conference Class Notes 2012

This article was published in the TWHC Class Notes 2012 volume, to accompany a workshop taught at the conference in Mormon Lake, Arizona.

Wise Child Learning – an herbal workshop for kids and kids at heart
taught by Jane Valencia

I love stories. I love hearing them, reading them, and finding out who I am in them.
I think storytelling and story-making is a huge part of what it means to be human. Stories are how we enter landscapes larger than our own. In stories we can become animals, plants, beings of all kinds.

We can become the land. When we listen to each other, sharing our adventures or thoughts, we can even become one another. A little bit, anyway!

Wise Child is one of my favorite stories – I guess because it mixes together just about everything I love: herbs, healing, Celtic lands of old, learning of all kinds, and wise ways. And it’s a fun story with fun characters. When I first read the book, I wanted someone like Juniper to teach me to become a “doran”, a particular kind of magical person. Then I came to realize that my nature learning, herbal adventuring, and the studying I love to do has all been about becoming a “doran”!

In our class we’ll have a lot of fun adventuring in “wise child learning” – or in how we are dorans already. But first:

What is a “doran”?

According to Juniper – the wise woman and healer in the book who teaches Wise Child, the word “doran” comes from the Gaelic “dorus,” which refers to an entrance or way in (not unlike the English word with the same meaning). It signifies “someone who has found a way in to seeing or perceiving.”

And Wise Child asks (as you might!): “Seeing or perceiving what?”

Juniper replies:

“The energy … The pattern.”

Wise Child doesn’t understand Juniper’s words then, but later she lives the meaning ….

What do dorans do?

Juniper says:

“Some of us do healing things, like me and my herbs. Some of us sing, or write poetry or make beautiful things. some don’t do anything at all. They often just stay in one place, and they just know….How things are.”

And Wise Child herself finally explains what a doran is:

“It is someone who loves all the creatures of the world … the animals, birds, plants, trees, and people, and who cannot bear to do any of them any harm. It is someone who believes that they are all linked together and that therefore everything can be used to heal the pain and suffering of the world. It is someone who does not hate anybody and who is not frightened of anyone or anything.”

I love what Wise Child says here! To me, she affirms that anything and everything we do can help each other and help the world, if we but truly understand ourselves to be connected with one another, and with all of nature, and interwoven in the same colorful blanket of existence that is reality (or many realities!).

So, here are some practices I have for experiencing that magical connection and awareness. They are pretty simple ways, ones which people of all ages have practiced for just about all of human time.

Sit Spot – Find a special place outside. Hang out there, be, do whatever you like. Notice things. Let it become a dear, fun, thoughtful friend!

Gratitude – Be thankful! Look for things you can be happy about – a tiny cloud on a hot day, the robin hopping across the yard, your little brother sharing his snack with you. A good joke, or even a bad joke!

Deer Ears – Imagine you have the huge, cupped ears of a Deer!
Listen in all directions. What are the loudest things you hear
right now? The softest? The furthest, the closest?

Dog Nose – Imagine yourself as a big, sloppy, happy dog, whose
sense of smell is how he really makes sense of the world around
him. If you relied mostly on your sense of smell how would your
surroundings seem to you? How would plants, bugs, animals,
people speak to you through your sense of smell?

Raccoon Touch – You have the clever hands and sensitive skin of a Raccoon. What
does your sense of touch tell you about the soil, the leaves, branches, your
clothing, that mysterious object someone just dropped into your palm? How does
the air feel on your skin? Is it dry? Moist? Hot? Cool?

Owl Eyes – Your eyes are huge and don’t move in your eye sockets. You can see far
to either side, and high above, and low, all without turning your eyes! What do
you notice if you are still as Owl, vision in soft focus, but wide? If you hold your
arms out to either side of you and wriggle your fingers, can you see that motion?
Imagine if you noticed the wriggle of a mouse at the edge of your vision!
Fox Walk – Foxes are secretive, swift, springy creatures. How quietly can
you walk on the land? Can you pause suddenly without toppling over?
What might happen if you and your friends prowled as silently as foxes
through a park, a field, a forest?

… Oh, yes. Our sense of Taste!

Well, first you want to know absolutely and for sure that a plant is edible
before you go chewing it up or even just licking it. Consult a field guide.
Consult a trusted adult who knows a lot about the plants around you. Double
check details of the plant – numbers of leaves and the way they grow out of the
plant, details about the petals, branching patterns, any other identifying
characteristics. When you are sure about the plant, then …

In your Animal Nature (try using one or more or all of the Animal senses
mentioned above), you might try adding in these sensations:

Heart Connection – Feel your heart beating inside you! Lub-dubb, lub-dubb …

Blood In Your Body
– Imagine your blood circulating from your heart out through your body, to arms, hands, legs, head … and back again. Maybe you can even feel your blood moving around – see if you can!

Now, approach the plant. If it welcomes you to come close , you’ll have a feeling that it’s ok. If not, just hang out and explore the plant from a distance. You may or may not feel later that it’s ok to come forward. If it’s okay, go and explore the plant with your Animal Nature – Owl Eyes, Deer Ears, Dog Nose, Raccoon Touch. If you don’t feel a sense of “go ahead” use your imagination to fill in the details you can’t grasp with your physical senses.

What do your Animal senses tell you about the plant? Is your attention drawn to any part of your body? How do you feel around the plant? Imagine that the Plant is talking to you (It actually is! The plant is connecting with your emotions, your body, your heart, different aspects of yourself, and the way you feel, imagine, think is inspired by your connection with the Plant). What is it telling you? Asking the plant silently or out loud for permission, take a leaf or a flower or some part of the plant that you know is edible. Then put a bit in your mouth. Taste. Explore that flavor. What happens to
your mouth? Does moisture come into your mouth or does it dry up, or does something else happen? Can you identify the taste? Salty, bitter, spicy, aromatic, sour, sweet – or something else? What sensations do you notice within you? What do you notice around you?

You are experiencing Plant Language! A Secret Language.

In order to find out if she can be a doran, Wise Child learns a Secret Language. Once learned, she can hear cats speak, feel patterns in the land and around her, and the words of the language speaking her. My feeling is that engaging in all our senses as fully as we can allows us to learn this Secret Language, which is that of the earth and is actually something we human beings are designed to understand and speak!

Something else you can do when you taste Plants:

You Are The Land
– Imagine and experience yourself as being the dirt under your feet, all the plants and trees around you, the air, clouds, sun, mountains, forest – whatever is around you as far as you can see. How is your experience with a plant when you are the very land itself?

You As The Plant – Imagine that you are the plant and the plant is you tasting you … (er, does that thought jumble you as much as it jumbles me?). What do you discover about each other? What do spinning, weaving, English, astronomy, math, and poetry have to do with becoming a doran and learning the language of the Earth?

Good question! I’d love to hear your answers! Here are a few of my own thoughts. As human beings we have some unique ways of engaging with and responding to the magic of life. With our minds and hearts we ask questions of all kinds and those questions lead us into amazing discoveries, and often even more questions! With our hands and imaginations we respond to the magic and mystery around us, creating art, music, structures, inventions of all kinds. Anything we do or explore, if it is engaged with the heart and our deep and wild passions can be a “door”. A door to what? Well, to fun, wonder, celebration, awe – to the ordinary ways that the extraordinary is around us in each moment. To discovering that, ultimately, we are never alone.

Dive into your true nature senses! What stories do you create as you discover how you are a “doran”? I’d love to hear them!

Wise Child – children’s herbal fantasy novel – by Monica Furlong
Kamana For Kids Books 1-3 plus The Young Naturalist – nature adventures and activities for helping kids develop nature awareness skills – by Bob Repoley and Barbara English