Walking the Path
of the Medicine Woman

By Kiva Rose

We sit on the river bank, dangling bare feet into the water’s slow summer flow, grateful for the shade from the wizened grandmother Cottonwood that shelters us from the afternoon’s blazing sun. Ivy hangs her head and stirs the water with a sandy toe, “How do I know who the real me is? How do I know I am not just imagining my calling as a healer? I feel so powerless to change the world when I can hardly manage to heal my own emotional wounds.”

I look down at the swirling patterns the water forms as it journeys towards an unknown destination, at the Silverweed plant near my skirt, its buds swollen and ready to bloom at any moment, striving towards light and fruition, and back at the young woman beside me. Her face is tear swollen and tentative, but also determined not only to survive the pain and betrayal she has experienced, but to thrive. To open to the joy of life and the healing purpose of her spirit.

Though she has already been trained as a Midwife and Counselor and now as an Anima student, she is still unsure of herself, awash in doubts despite her learned abilities, inborn wisdom and hard-won insight.

“Dear one, you already know the answers to your questions,” I begin and then pause, “You have the courage, the purpose and the drive to pursue your dreams. You have done the hard work of facing yourself through ritual and daily practice during your time as a student here. And you know the training of a Medicine Woman is never done, you will walk this path until you lie down for the last time. And even then, you will still be learning. What you need now is to accept the power as your own, to let it flow through you as word, touch and love. To focus and direct it until it is a great river of life rushing through your being. All you have to do is accept it, and it is yours.

She turns to me and takes my hand. ”But Kiva, what if my power leaves me when I leave you and Loba and this special place; what if I am not strong enough without your support and help? Who will I look to as a teacher and a Medicine Woman out there? ”

“Your power doesn’t come from me or any other teacher. It doesn’t come from skills or knowledge or words, as useful as these tools can be. It comes from you, from your connection to the land and to spirit, from the wisdom of your heart as it opens to fully feel the bliss and pain of this world.

We will always be here to help you as long as you’re open to the teachings of this place, but it is time for you to go out and find your home and to create the magic of your own special medicine. ”The Medicine Woman is with you always, Ivy. Look in the water, and see her in your own reflection.”

You too, know who she is, and you always have, even if you can’t quite remember her face or name. She is the old Spanish abuela on the corner growing those strange plants, the Chippewa student protesting clear cuts near the rez, and that red-headed caseworker who kept you off the street as a kid; you remember her, don’t you?

She is the grandmother who brought you daisies and hot chocolate in a dream the night before you went in for surgery, and even the toothless street woman who thrust a strange black rock into your hand on your way to the grocery store. And if you are reading this, she is probably you too.

The Medicine Woman is any one of us who actively contributes to the integrity of the self as well as the greater whole. She follows a tradition rooted in her ability to co-create her world, to take responsibility for her direction, to understand that every moment is the decisive moment, that every action makes a difference. Her decisions and actions are based in her deep conscious connection to the Earth of which we are all a part.

The tradition I have studied and now teach is called Animá, a name for the vital force that is animating and connecting all things. Animá is a practice and a way of life rooted in ancient ways of knowing and being, but existing outside of any particular cultural bias or form.

At this wildlands sanctuary where I live and teach, my apprentices learn first and foremost to let go of old habits and previously-held beliefs in order to better experience the intense present moment, and to learn from experience rather than words. Opening to the inspiration of the inspirited Earth and their own feeling hearts rather than waiting for instructions from an outside source.

We can recognize the authentic Medicine Woman by the way spirit pours through her like a tidal wave, and all her life and love surges on that wave, an expression of the great force that animates this beautiful planet. Earth speaks through her, through wise words, healing touch and fierce courage,   the way she dances through the sacred ceremony of life.

Her stories discomfort and thrill you, shocking in their honesty and their beauty. Her tales are about magical rivers and murdered women and intimate touch and hurt children and hope and all the healing that is possible. Her words get under your skin and illuminate shadows you never even knew were there. Back home, you wonder what it would be like if more women told stories like this. You wonder what stories you might tell.

I tell all my apprentices what I told Ivy, that there is no right way to become a Medicine Woman, and that we each have our own path to walk. But I also point out the guideposts, the cairns that mark both important landmarks and dangerous pitfalls along the way. I give them my personal knowledge as well as the collective Animá wisdom, not to hem them in or hold them back but to let them loose. It is, after all, easier to navigate the sea once you have learned to sail.

First and foremost comes re-connection. While the Medicine Woman is actively a healer, she heals by casting light on every aspect and part, and helping to draw those parts back into participatory oneness and active balance.

It is this connection to the mother, that  provides the medicine. The medicine is really anything that is used to contribute to wholeness. This means that medicine is wildflowers, and dancing, and dirty roots, and death, and bliss, and wine, and terror, and hands, and song, and bread, and windstorms and whatever else brings us closer to our center, to our own essential selves. Only when we fully inhabit our bodies and our true selves are we whole, and can we contribute to the larger wholeness, the all.

We can understand medicine as the mystery at the center that unites all things, the spiral path we walk, bringing us ever closer to the center. Medicine is our own personal magic that we bring to the world, gifting those around us with a unique sense of delight, and with the wisdom garnered from our individual wounds. Medicine is spirit singing into our wounds, medicine is the mother in the ground holding us to her, the love that pours through us into all things.

We are committed to healing,  to the furthering of wholeness in all things, including but never limited to the self. Healing is not the act of fixing a problem but a process of both nourishing and challenging. We do not heal only to bring comfort or ease, but to restore the integrity of the whole. We are web weavers, we are the links back to the primal matrix. As role models, as healers, as celebrants, as mediators and warriors, we can be the ones slowly singing the world back into balance even as we recognize and mourn the imbalance that currently exists.

What remains is only to animate the essence within us. To take up her staff and live and breathe the life of a Medicine Woman, to live as one called to this great work of renewal, rebirth and restoration. What remains... is to begin.

Ivy’s first steps out of the canyon are still tearful, but there is a radiance in her now. A readiness for the challenges to come as she heads towards a full life that is uniquely hers. Her head is high, she knows she is a Medicine Woman: a healer, a conduit, a deeply-loved and fully-empowered daughter of the Earth.

Kiva Rose is an herbalist, poet and teacher of The Animá Medicine Woman Tradition: a nature-informed system of heightened awareness and deepened purpose for women. She and her partners share a wild and magical river canyon in the enchanted Southwest, offering correspondence courses, wilderness retreats, vision quests, apprenticeships and events (by donation): The Animá Wilderness Sanctuary: www.animacenter.org, Box 688, Reserve, NM 87830

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