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An Early Awakening: The Wise Woman Tradition

Mar 07, 2024

It was the late 1990s when, at 19 years old, I found myself in a circle of multi-generational teachers who taught me how to heal. The sound of the drum and the lift of the song woke something up in me as we sat in a circle singing and sharing our life stories. It woke an ancient remembering; that there is a power and natural magic that arises when women gather.

 I was overcome with a warm, calming feeling that I hadn’t yet experienced; it was a deep feeling of belonging. It seemed to come from the edge of my memory and slip into full view as the scent of the warmed nettle and motherwort tea was placed in my hand. This was home; despite being hundreds of miles from my life back in my hometown. I was a university student at a downtown campus in Toronto going to school with friends I’d known most of my life.  And yet here I was sitting in a circle of 20 strangers in Upstate New York and I felt more at home with these wildish women with beautiful streaks of silver in their hair who I had met just three days ago. It was a homecoming. I bet you know what I mean if you, dear reader, have ever sat in a circle to learn about herbs, your own body and how you too are tied to the ocean and the moon and cycles and seasons.  This interconnection isn’t just poetry, it is quite literal. There is a magic that wakes up inside us when we remember that we belong to the earth. 

What I learned that weekend, and then for several years thereafter, is that the wise woman's way is simple -  but this does not mean it lacks depth or complexity. It is the oldest tradition of healing on the planet. It is compassionate and earth-centred, thoughtful and expansive enough to hold multiple viewpoints all at the same time. Sometimes it even seems paradoxical. 

I had left university to study herbal medicine, and then right after that, I went to homeopathy school. By the time I was in my early 20s, like many of my peers at the time, I was self-righteous and vigilant in my belief that natural medicine could heal everything, and that medical intervention was never necessary. I held fast to this view until I started working in clinical practice and was faced with having my beliefs re-arranged by real lives. My patients weren’t just ‘cases’, they were whole, real, human beings. Thanks to many of my early clinical supervisors, many of whom were MD’s and also Homeopaths and Naturopathic Doctors, reminded us never to reduce our patients down to file numbers or their diagnoses. They are whole people with complex histories and are much more than their illness. This wide-angle view combined with my instructors' profound compassion made me readjust my thinking. They drilled into us that no two people have the same healing path, and it was disrespectful to the patient to insert our own opinions as to whether they choose conventional medicine, natural medicine or combined the two. What matters most is to give the person the dignity to choose the healing path they wanted. I had witnessed my patients embrace medical interventions and thrive, and some, did not. Just as some patients solely healed using only natural methods others needed medical intervention. And those who came to us after only trying medical intervention did better once we included herbs and homeopathy into their regime. It was “both/and” that had the best outcomes I quickly learned. 


 My professional education had echoes of what I had learned through the Wise Woman Tradition which I had been steeped in at the Wise Woman Center in New York since visiting in the late 1990’s. The Wise Woman Center was founded by herbalist Susun Weed, in the 1980’s. However, this tradition belongs to no one, and yet also belongs to everyone. The Wise Woman Way is about remaining open to change, being flexible in our minds, and grounded always to our inner knowing. Sometimes we need to use technical or medical intervention - this too, is part of the wise woman way. We use medical interventions while also taking herbs, meditating, using acupuncture, energy medicine, ancestral healing, and shamanic practices. This diverse and colourful approach embraces all methods of healing. The wise woman tradition is the path of “both/and” recognizing the profound complexity of life and the countless options there are to heal in the spiralling, ever-changing path that is life. 

Those early years of practice were sobering, I had to mature my youthful naivety and accept that rarely is anything black or white, especially when it came to health treatments. I was humbled when one of my first patients was a person who could afford all the fancy, expensive naturopathic therapies at an elite residential clinic. They had a functional medical doctor, their energy healer, and received acupuncture and vibrational medicine daily and yet nothing stopped their very serious disease - until they received chemotherapy. They had seen this intervention as a failure. Thankfully I remembered what I had learned from the wise woman tradition and shared with them that chemotherapy can be embraced as a slice of the holistic pie, and included alongside everything else they were doing. We can use chemotherapy when necessary and acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal medicine, and vibrational healing. The wise woman's path is not the heroic, linear black-and-white paradigm that says we have to stick with one side or the other, and then pit them against each other. The wise woman tradition rebukes binaries and embraces wholeness. What if all their natural therapies were giving them the strength to endure chemotherapy? What if the antibiotics provide enough relief to finally sleep after a harrowing bladder infection so they can muster the energy to take their herbs and acupuncture the days following? The wise woman tradition begins with love and nurturance. First, with any illness, we nourish the vital force with whole foods, herbs, sleep, and rest. Then, we engage the energy, through meditation, prayer, and vibrational healing. After that, we intervene with mild interventions like high-dose vitamins, supplements or high-dose herbal protocols. And it is only after all these steps we engage with pharmaceuticals and surgeries. And the power and maturity of this path is sometimes, we need all of these steps at the same time. We spiral in, we spiral out. There is no dogma. There are no rules to follow. There is no guru or expert. There is no right and wrong. The wise woman tradition is grounded in common sense and simple yet powerful nourishing recipes emphasizing prevention. Employing all the good food, common sense health practices, herbs and natural medicines strengthens one’s vitality and deepens the relationship between the person and the earth to minimize the need for heroic interventions - and embrace them with discernment when required. The wise woman's way is ultimately about preserving joy and freedom through the power of choice. 

Do you remember a moment you deeply felt you belonged? 

If you want to learn more about the Wise Woman Tradition and Myth, Magic, Ritual and Modern Medicine please join us for The Wild Edge. 

With love, 


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