THE MEDICINE JOURNEYS: NOURISHMENT AND RITUALS FROM THE PLANTS
Way back when I was a wee herbalist, just starting my studies in herbal medicine and concurrently shamanism, a Juniper tree was the first plant that ever spoke to me. It felt like a mind meld or an instant download, and I sat there weeping with this tree, having a most profound and moving experience of my young 20 something years. It wasn’t something I had sought, or asked for, but was called inexplicably up a mountain to find this old juniper almost dead save one branch with a tuft of needles at the top. I didn’t have an explanation, nor did I need one, but it changed my relationship with plants forever, and juniper is still my grandmother ally- she comes to me in journeys, she comforts me by her presence throughout my years as an herbalist, healer, shaman. Strangely it was many years before I ever really used her medicine internally for a physical ailment. She was always my spirit medicine. I burned her leaves as a cleansing smudge, I bathed in the strong decoction of the leaves, and called on her presence in the spiritual realms, when I needed guidance or wisdom.
Years later, I now live in a forest surrounded by oneseed and rocky mountain juniper, and pinyon pine. There are large ancient trees of both pinyon and juniper just outside my casita, where I have placed my altars to the land. Under the Juniper tree I pray and meditate daily. She is my ally, my teacher, my friend. Under her berry laden branches I have released and shed my tears, and when I burn the dried needles each morning, I am calmed and comforted and cleansed.
The people of the southwest have burned Juniper needles as their primary cleansing, prayerful smudge plant. I absolutely believe that the plant most appropriate for a person to smudge and pray with is one that grows near them in abundance, that they can have a personal relationship with. So I have always used juniper, living in this land of abundant juniper, and because of my deep relationship with this tree ally. That said, if you live where there is naught a juniper to be found, you can use another plant ally for your cleansing and prayer. Many aromatic plants are excellent choices, sage, artemisia, yerba santa, rosemary, cedar, pine- but let it be one that grows near to you.
To me juniper carries a deep medicine of release of the old, what is stagnant, what is needing to be let go, and purification, cleansing of heavy energies we carry around with us, especially when we have been carrying something we need to let go of for far too long, allowing it to weigh us down and muddy our waters, so to speak. I go to the juniper to help me let go, be it tears that need shedding, a crappy mood, an old belief or way of being, or even an outdated job, project or relationship. What’s more, we are coming to the shadow half of the year, when the plants are passing back into the Earth, the Ancestors from the other side draw near, and little deaths are happening all around us. The energy of release is part of the seasonal shift in autumn into winter. What are you needing to release?
CLEANSE AND RELEASE WITH JUNIPER
~Spend some time meditating on what it is you are ready to release and cleanse.
~Create sacred space for yourself, and burn a little juniper as a smudge if you can. Call on the spirit of grandmother juniper to guide and be with you.
~Create a biodegradable/natural or burnable object that represents this for you. It can be as simple as words on paper, but I like to use symbolic objects. It speaks more to the soul, perhaps a drawing, a few sticks tied together to represent a person, or even a stick with multiple items hanging from it ( feathers, leaves, rotten fruits, husks, etc). Make sure you imbue and infuse the object with all your heavy emotions, everything you FEEL about what you are releasing. This is the most important part, it is not about your words or ideas, but your deep FEELING.
~With plenty of juniper leaves to burn in a fireproof container, take your object to a fire, or to the Earth to be released. As you offer your object to the flames or to a hole in the Earth, let whatever needs to come up for release, go, cry, scream, laugh. You are giving it a good funeral, a good death.
~Offer plenty of juniper leaves and/or fruits to the fire, or to the Earth around your object. And light the juniper in your bowl and begin to cleanse yourself, head to toe, praying to the Juniper to offer her cleansing, sweetness, and healing. Bathe yourself in the sweet smoke. Sing the song if you like “Mamacita Junipera” (see video)
~As you smudge yourself, and pray, begin to state aloud any and all the gifts and blessings you received from whatever you are letting go, be it lessons, self growth, a new skill, a more profound relationship with yourself. This is important, everything comes to us for our learning and growth, and acknowledging what you were gifted is a part of the transformation. Allow yourself to feel the heaviness melting away and being released in the smoke. Fill your heart with sweetness and gratitude.
~As closure, if you wish, you can also take a bath with a strong juniper leaf/berry tea. (Simmer 3-4 cups of leaves in 1 gallon of water for 15 min. Strain.) Add to your bath water, or just pour the cooled, strained tea over yourself outside or in the shower.
~ be sure to thank juniper for her help in your work.