For many years I trained as an herbalist. A Medical Herbalist to be precise, which means that in addition to traditional herbalism I studied biochemistry, anatomy and physiology, embryology, pharmacognosy and a whole bunch of other ‘ologies’ that are typically part of regular medical training and make up a Bachelor of Science degree. Then I practiced herbalism for 10 or so years before going into mainstream primary care and emergency medicine as a career.
So I’ve seen medicine from both sides, and as a practicing clinician I apply each paradigm with different clients according to need. Both are knowledge based, both make use of the clinician’s insight, experience and intuition, and I have seen both succeed in bringing a sick person back to health.
In emergencies, and for most primary health care, the mainstream approach is largely cookbook medicine. You see these symptoms, you do these tests and give these medications at these doses for this length of time. And see what happens.
Herbalism in my experience is more complex. It’s a relationship between organisms, not just a chemical acting on anatomy and physiology. Herbs produce a myriad of components, once living, and that changes the therapeutic picture. Though by and large, in many cases a broad cookbook approach still prevails. I know that this plant has these actions, and I’ve combined it with other herbs according to the client’s constitution and current state of health, and based on years of practice I have a gut feeling this plant is going to help so I add it too. And see what happens.
But there comes a time, an event or a patient, when your herbal medicine goes beyond knowledge and biochemistry, beyond the clinical application for patients. When your connection with the healing properties of the plant becomes a personal necessity.
Belief must manifest as result, or faith is broken.
The plant and patient must be engaged on a more than knowledge based theoretical level. This can be facilitated by dream incubation, prayer, meditation and intuition to identify with and solicit the plant to act on more than just biochemistry. The responsible, informed, judicious and very occasional use of entheogens, which I don’t recommend to most people, (including most witches), is another way to identify with persons and plants beyond their physical and chemical components.
Here is where Herbalism becomes Wortcunning. The element of faith, the direct negotiation with plants as partners in the healing process, the realization that the vital and less tangible components of a plant’s makeup are as essential to the healing process as the biochemical constituents. Prayer and meditation are normally involved, with a corresponding reverence for approaching and working with the Viriditas or Genius of the plant and other tutelary spirit(s) appropriate to the work.
When faith is invested in the necessity of a result, there is the potential for that faith to be broken if the desired result does not come about. That tension of faith and expectation creates the emotion that drives the intensity of the prayer or charm that accompanies the physical act of making and administering the medicine of the Wortcunning man or woman. As I’ve said before, if the powers you raise (and your reason for raising them), don’t scare you just a little, you’re not doing it right.
And if you can consistently combine plant, patient and spirit to obtain the desired result when it really counts, you’re practicing Wortcunning.