Feminine Aspects of the Plant World
Women are powerful figures in Native societies as healers, teachers, and keepers of wisdom. Today, Judy Bluehorse Skelton talks about the role of women in Native culture and shares some healing properties of maidenhair ferns.
Judy Bluehorse Skelton:
Corn Maiden, Spider Woman, Grandmother Moon, potent and dynamic figures, these sacred representatives of the feminine aspects of the world are revered in native culture. Their stories have been passed down through millennia. Sky Woman, who fell through a hole in the sky and landed on Turtle’s back, bearing the seeds of new life, is just one example of the prominent role women play in the creation stories of Native people.
The abundance of Mother Earth, its life giving plants, waters and mountains, is nurtured and honored through daily practices and ceremonies, insuring the continued survival of the people. Woman is the embodiment of these truths and traditionally holds a place of honor, respect and wisdom amongst the community.
Many tribes, including the Iroquois, the Chickasaw, the Seminole, the Pawnee, the Navajo, the Hopi, the Zuni, the Cherokee, are all matrilineal. In matrilineal societies, the child’s lineage or line of relatives is traced through its mother. European societies, by contrast, are patrilineal where children take the last name of their fathers. In Native American matrilineal society, women hold land. They are influential voices in government, and their home and children belong to them.
Women are beloved in their communities as keepers of tradition, educators, leaders, healers, artists, activists and storytellers. They share their wisdom, and especially their love.
For thousands of years, Native women have held an honored place in the center of tribal life, providing for their families and communities, digging the roots and gathering the medicines, drying the meat, saving the seeds and planting them for healthy growth and abundance into the earth and into the hearts and minds of the children.
Weaving baskets and stories into beautiful reminders of who we are as a people, how we came here and where we are going. Crafting and shaping the necessities of daily life from nature’s bounty and shaping the leadership to serve the needs of the people. Building the houses and the futures of the next generations, singing the songs, dancing the dances, preparing the feasts, keeping the traditions.
La Primieda Tierra
Blood Of The Land
As is the custom, Native women knew most of the plants that grew around their village, sometimes as many as two hundred to three hundred plants. Most members of the tribe, particularly the women, would know how to make poultices, ointments, teas, powders and other medicinal applications of plants for all types of healing, primarily healing in the physical world, stomach ache, pain, tooth ache, a wound, helping with childbirth. All of these uses of medicinal plants were shared with the women and the young people coming up.
This is different from the type of healing that a Native healer would be asked to do, which delves into the emotional and spiritual and mental aspects of imbalance or illness, where songs are brought in, dances, other formulas, recitations, and prayers. However, it was not unusual for the Native women to know all the plants that grew in their region. And encouraged the abundance of these plants to come back each generation and each season by spreading seed, by encouraging roots, by not over harvesting, by giving meadows and other forest lands a break and not gathering there so that they could completely refresh and regenerate themselves.
Also, part of the custom in sharing this information with the new generation was honoring the young people. Ceremonies for rite of passage, or initiation into adulthood, were all practiced by the tribes. We have a lack of that today in the mainstream community. We don’t really have the ceremonies to welcome the young man or the young woman into full adulthood into our society. Many tribes have kept those traditions and those that may have temporarily lost them are bringing them back. The benefits are many. It gives the young person a place in the society. It shares the ancient knowledge and stories of the people and the culture for them to pass on. And it gives them a sense of who they are, how they belong, what their gifts may be, and how they will contribute to future generations.
La Primieda Tierra
Blood Of The Land
One of the plants that came to mind as I was thinking of young women today is maidenhair fern. Maidenhair fern is also a treasured plant for a young woman’s first moon time. Making a tea, it is actually quite tasty. It is very gentle and it is one that sort of sets the rhythm for the young woman’s reproductive system and kind of gets things going and sets that whole cycle into a gentle movement. Customarily, the tea would be served to the young woman while she was in either a isolated hut, preparing for ceremony, or part of the ceremony, and she would be given that tea during that time.
Maidenhair fern is also another beautiful plant for shiny black hair. When you look at the plant and it’s shiny stocks, black, it is also used to make the hair shiny and black as a hair rinse.
Maidenhair fern is a beautiful lacy plant that’s found primarily found near waterfalls. It likes that spray of fresh water that bounces off the rocks as water cascades over the cliffs. We are very fortunate here in the Northwest to have one of the wonders of the world, the Columbia Gorge.
It is abundant with waterfalls and below these waterfalls and all alongst the rim rock where these waters tumble are maidenhair ferns growing, many times right out of the rock. They thrive in that environment and they are abundant.
Plant medicines are some of our most sacred and powerful teachings. And we are grateful to our herbalists who maintain that knowledge. Judy Bluehorse Skelton teaches herbal medicine at conferences and workshops in Portland, Oregon. I’m Arlie Neskahi and you’re listening to Wisdom of the Elders.