Medicine Woman
The Gaian Path
 By Kiva Rose



“To practice magic is to bear the responsibility for having a vision.”

The Medicine Woman is walking alone into the early dawn, gathering healing plants, bits of animal bones, seed pods, glittering stones and strips of bark. She is caressing each steady rock and unfurling leaf. She knows this land as her body and tends to it as such. She is an extension of this place as the place is an extension of her own body. Her hair is still wet from the river and is tangled with twigs, sand and flower petals. Her skin is as marked and scarred as the cliffs that jut from ancient earth.

This volcano-born canyon is her home and she has been here a long time. Her quiet steps are evidence of this, with not a bird disturbed. No matter the color of her skin, she is native. The medicine she carries is for so much more than simple healing... and it is from the land. This land, the canyon that she walks through.

We are each medicine women to the degree that we consciously and creatively contribute to the wholeness of the world, taking responsibility for being co-creators of our evolving universe. While some of us may seem more adept than others, as humans and especially as women, we are born to be sensitives and empaths, and to act on what we feel.

It is our voluntary assignment to aid the connection between the disparate parts of our own selves, between each other and the Earth... to heal what can be healed, resist what must be resisted, learn the lessons inherent in our mistakes, and apply those lessons for the good of more than our narrowly-defined selves. To live and give wholly, and to wholly celebrate!

Later the Medicine Woman returns to her lodge, where a tall woman with dark hair waits for her. She will smudge the woman with the sweet smoke of sage and instruct her in the activities of the next day. Tomorrow the young initiate will gather wood and stones, preparations for her first sweat and quest. The Medicine Woman smiles at the memory of the fierce young woman, a counselor at a woman’s shelter, who is determined to heal her own wounds and to take healing back to the women she works with... admiring her stubbornness and passion.

She silently prays that her student will uncover the vision of wholeness and healing she is seeking. The Medicine Woman turns from the brilliant orange and purple cliffs back towards the hill her lodge rests upon, as the sun begins to pour over the canyon walls.

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. Sometimes she works by giving comfort, other times by disturbing and alarming, or exposing our dangerous illusions and painful wounds.

As we see again and again here at this wildlands women’s center, there may be no stronger tool for bringing us back to our authentic, needing, empowered selves or the planet we are extensions of, than a hotter-than-usual sweat lodge, and the mind-quieting and heart-opening leap into the cold river water.

The tall woman with dark hair has her knees curled up to her chest, her body resting upon a bed of blankets and leaves between an ancient ponderosa pine and a quartz-studded boulder. She appears to be almost asleep, but not quite. She is, in fact, intensely awake, incredibly aware. She is waiting for her vision and for the star-sprinkled dark of a New Mexico summer night to cover her. The last night of four spent without thought, without words.

She is seeking out her own medicine, her connection to herself and Gaia. She is questing for her wildest and most complete self. And although this is her first quest, she will make the pilgrimage back into this sacred wilderness many times. She quests not just to find herself but also to maintain herself, a way of keeping earth, spirit and self in delicate balance. She will take her newfound knowledge back into the city in which she lives, back into her community, back to the women she daily counsels.

The medicine woman in all of us draws sustenance, vision and power from the Earth herself, Gaia, and always through a particular place. It may be a sacred canyon, mountain or grove she pilgrimages to regularly, or the ground beneath the city pavement where she walks.

Likewise the lessons come not as free and easy handouts, but as hard-learned experiences and hard knocks. We become medicine women not by already knowing all the answers and having it all together, but by doing the day-to-day work of rising to our challenges and profiting from our mistakes. We see the world clearest, not with abstract thought, but through the eyes of uncontrollable laughter... and the veil of our tears.

Tears will fall to the thirsty ground during the long night as she battles fear and self-doubt. She will hold onto the Medicine Woman’s words, reminding her to be both gentle and stern with herself, to cling stubbornly to her dreams and her growing sense of self. She will press her face against the puzzle-piece bark of the ponderosa pine and find deep comfort there. She will howl loudly with a heart that is strangely both aching and elated.

As I write this, I can feel the tears, hot on my cheeks. My demons have been self doubt and self sabotage resulting from a life of abuse. Of thinking that everything I do needs to be instantly perfect. I don’t come to teaching easily, and have only now fully accepted the value and responsibilities of medicine that came out of both my life’s hard moments and tender rewards.

The gifts we offer through our classes and writings come from the Earth and this canyon, but also from the willingness to learn from and deepen from what hurts... not just the suffering in our own lives, but the suffering of the homeless child, the clear-cut forest or toxic beach. The love we give, the wisdom we share and this crazy joy we feel, all pours from a vessel stretched wide by our honest pain.

Being medicine women means giving ourselves the love we deserve, and taking the time to be excitable little girls again. The medicine woman practices playing on her front lawn or in the river. She learns to love herself enough to create and meet challenges for herself, fiercely and tenderly insisting upon constant growth. She learns to surrender herself to her heart, her senses and the magic of the world around her.
She finds ways to act upon the world as a willing participant, student, teacher, mentor, healer and inspiriteur. As an activist or conservationist, tree planter or war resistor, caring gardener, parent, daughter or ever-loving mate. As a conjurer of fine and healthy foods that make every eater raise their voice in praise. As one who sings to children, or protects a sacred canyon with her very life.

The Medicine Woman is waiting for the dark-haired woman when she comes walking back up the long hill to the lodge. She is tired, her long hair is tangled and her face is still streaked with tears and dirt. The Medicine Woman welcomes her with a clay bowl of nettle soup and the warmth of a crackling wood stove. She listens intently as the woman cries gently, telling the story of her quest.

Participating in transformative experiences can help us immensely in our journey to be as open and awake as possible. This can be through a four-day solitary vision quest, a medicine sweat, or the intense communion at a gathering of fellow wild women. Through such experiences we learn to be fully present, to take in every sensation as the wind touches our faces, or water strokes our skin. We come to fully experience every emotion and to know how to express and understand them.

Nights alone under a tree above a river can be dramatic and even pivotal, returning to our original form before the fear, the pretense, and the walls that followed. But every day should be seen and committed to as if it were our quest as well, the quest to each moment completely inhabit our animal bodies and goddess souls, to make every moment decisive, to taste every morsel, to touch and help all we are able. The medicine woman’s life is a quest to fullest live, and best give.

As a result of our sensitivity and commitment we may sometimes feel lonely, but we are never alone. We are part of an ancient lineage of medicine women dating back to the caves of the Pleistocene and stretching on into the distant future. And we are called now to come together. We are  webweavers, alchemists and nest builders, all drawing together to circle, feast and dance, teaching each other new stories and new ways of wild being. We are looking for each other everywhere, in the wild wood and in urban drumming circles, in our mountain dreams and childhood poems. Blood calls to blood... and so we know each other, hearing in the wind our sister’s voices.

The Medicine Woman weaves a crown of aster, daisy and mallow flowers. She sits on a tall rock and listens to the distant singing of women growing nearer. They are walking through the cooling river, intertwining an old song with a new song. The Medicine Woman smiles and waits, weaving yet another crown to add to the heap. The song is getting louder, echoing softly from sun-heated canyon walls.

A Medicine Woman is a priestess to herself, the land and her sisters, an open conduit able to both take in the power of the land and also give to back to the source with ritual and care, moon blood and activist fervor. Ours is a lifelong commitment to joy, gratitude, openness and wholeness. To walking in beauty, and at last savoring contentment.

There is a hunger in even the most tentative of us, a hunger for magic, for wholeness and vision that cries out for _expression. We may feel that we are not strong enough, not wise enough, not yet ready. Yet we are all intuitive enough, sensitive enough, feeling enough, to practice this Medicine, this necessary work... now.

We know these are not simply esoteric teachings but the practical, spiritual and magical knowledge for every day of our lives. We recognize our connection to land and Spirit affects our relationships, how we raise our children, and how much or how often we follow our hearts.

The path of the Medicine Woman is a lifelong one, the wildest path back, the spiral that leads always home, to self, Spirit and this beautiful Earth. This is the way to opening ourselves completely, seeing ourselves fully... finally being able to see the world as the magical, inspirited place it truly is. Then giving back our song, our service, our dance.

Between the hill and the river a small group of women are gathering. Some of them are gathering wood for a fire, others beginning preparations for a feast of wild foods.

Later will come the dancing, evoking animal fierceness and childish delight with our primal human bodies. The women wear feathers, bits of fur and splintered bones. Barefoot and breathing they move to the beat, melding with the choreography of river and wind. This will be the beginning of a long night of storytelling, rowdy laughter and hard-earned tears, vulnerable sharing and bawdy boasts. The Medicine Woman will climb down a primitive stone staircase to join them, smiling broadly at the beauty of wild women in their element. She will adorn each campfire-illuminated priestess with a celebratory crown of flowers. The night will grow quieter, the moon will rise and the dance will begin again.

Kiva Rose is an author, poet, student of native plants and co-director of The Earthen Spirituality Project & Sweet Medicine Women’s Center. She is a regular columnist for SageWoman magazine, and her work appears in numerous regional publications and literary journals. Kiva’s home is the Sweet Medicine Sanctuary, an enchanted river canyon in the Gila wildlands where she co-hosts women for Gaian teachings, wilderness quests, retreats, the annual Wild Women’s Gathering and resident internships. Write to: P.O. Box 820, Reserve, NM 87830, or visit the website:

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