If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Ansuz level or above here on my Patreon. From Maleck comes this topic:
“Localizing practice and sacred herbs. What do you do when your tradition’s sacred herbs aren’t native or are even invasive to your locale? How about finding new sacred herbs native to you (while avoiding appropriation)?”
I think part of localizing our polytheist and animist religions is a bit of a balancing act. It also requires us to ask a profound question, and at least to find a working answer: What makes a particular herb or group of herbs sacred?
What differentiates a sacred herb from another herb is that I hold relationship with that herb in a way that is fundamentally different than other herbs. It is similar to why I may find a rock or grove of trees sacred and not every tree sacred. I also recognize that certain herbs, just as with certain trees and rocks, carry megin within them that facilitates or is itself a carrier of a sacred relationship. An example of a sacred herb is Ama Una, Grandmother Joy, aka mugwort. She is sacred because it is a cleansing herb and we hold a powerful relationship. She acts with my souls in ways that are profound, whether in Her work of cleansing, in providing space and means of communication with Ginnreginn, or in blessing people, places, and/or things. Something that struck me awhile back was that mugwort was known as “poor man’s tobacco” and more recently “sailor’s tobacco”. In the lessons I have been given by Ojibwe friends regarding tobacco’s place, this seems to be a similar way that Ama Una works with me and with most others I have spoken with. That is, She is a cleansing herb, an herb of communication, an herb that assists with sacred dreaming, and a blessing herb.
Now that we have an idea of what a sacred herb is: “What do you do when your tradition’s sacred herbs aren’t native or are even invasive to your locale?”
I have yet to actually grow my own sacred herbs, particularly the Heathen Nine Sacred Herbs as laid out in Nigon Wyrta Galdor (Nine Herbs Charm) in the Lacnunga manuscript. For my part I generally buy my herbs cut and dried locally where I can such as through Twisted Things, or through Adventures in Homebrewing, where they are sold as an additive to brewing. When I need larger bulk orders of herbs, such as when I am going to be tending a Sacred Fire and will need lots of offerings, I go to Starwest Botanicals.
When I was planning on growing sacred herbs they were going to be grown in pots for the most part. Given we have a lot of patio space I may do that this year. I am still looking at what will be the best options for growing them and keeping them from taking over my yard and out of the woods behind our home. Sometimes nonnative plants can be quite useful to the local ecology. However, when they’re invasive or just plain crowd out native species, it’s best to do what you can to avoid that. If all you can do is get the sacred herbs from someone else that is fine.
“How about finding new sacred herbs native to you (while avoiding appropriation)?”
If you want to avoid appropriation then educating yourself on what appropriation is would be the first step. Websites like this one here can be a good starting point. What appropriation is not is noticing the similarities of things such as how my Ojibwe friend and I understand and know tobacco and mugwort. It is not learning from folks how to live well with the vættir. I covered this quite a bit back in January 2021 in Topic 39: Decolonizing Magical Practice vs Honoring Ancestral Traditions. An example of appropriation vs exchange from that post is illustrative here: “Smudging is not merely the burning of herbs in a shell or other fire-safe holder. It is a ritual, one I have not been taught or cleared to do. Offering tobacco, so far as I know, is open to everyone, and a good gift to almost every vaettr I have encountered.”
If there are sacred plants to Native folks that live in your area that you want to establish a relationship with and/or are stepping forward in your útiseta or other method of spiritual contact, then asking a representative of that tribe how best to interact with these plants, if you can in a respectful way, is best. I am lucky in that I was shown sacred ways to interact with tobacco, cedar, sweetgrass, and sage by an Ojibwe friend. While I am grateful for all my friend has shared with me, this is neither a culture I belong to nor can I teach about. In addition, the way I was shown may not be correct for all places or vættir.
For Heathens, finding new sacred herbs native to your area may be as simple as sitting on the land and listening. Because útiseta, ‘sitting out’ is opening yourself up to vættir I find it best to have at least some good understanding of Heathenry, magic, and good relationships with one’s Ginnreginn. I certainly do not recommend folks new to Heathenry do it, by any stretch. It is a powerful spiritual working, in my experience, one that can leave you quite vulnerable. By doing útiseta in a field or a forest you make space for a plant vættr or several vaettir to make Themselves known.
This giving of space and connection with the vættir, waiting to come to know Who steps forward and wants to establish relationship, is animism in action. It respects the agency and Being of the vættir, and allows for Them to make the first steps in choosing to establish a relationship, and how that will initially unfold. We begin engaging with the vættir we hope to establish relationship with in a sacred way.