Spirit and Practice of the Wise Woman Tradition

we enter the twenty-second century, herbal medicine is being integrated
into mainstream medicine in the United States. Or is it the other way
around? Are we in danger of adopting the limited, linear scientific
view of a practice that is also considered an art? Are we abandoning
the sense of delight that drew us to herbal medicine? Are we vulnerable
to needing to be validated from outside because we don’t value
ourselves highly enough?


In order to answer these questions, we will use the model of the
Three Traditions of Healing–Scientific, Heroic, and Wise Woman.
Knowing the differences between these three views allows us to become
informed consumers of health care, to repossess the power of our
health/wholeness/holiness in a new and uniquely functional manner, and
to maintain our dignity as herbalists in a world dominated by


I want to focus on the Wise Woman Tradition, its spirit and
practice, because I believe it offers us a way to look at what we have
as herbalists, and what society seems to be offering us, and to make a
better-informed choice as to the path ahead.

What Are the Three Traditions of Healing?


The three traditions are ways of thinking, not ways of acting. Any
technique, any substance can be used in any tradition. There are
scientific and heroic midwives as well as wise woman midwives; there
are MDs who are heroic and those who act as wise women, as well as
scientific ones. There are scientific herbalists, heroic herbalists,
and wise woman herbalists. There are preferred ways of working in each
tradition, granted, but surgery is not restricted to the scientific
realm, nor is a shamanic trance strictly relegated to the realm of the
wise woman. To determine the tradition of the practitioner, we must
look at the thoughts that lie behind their use of any form of healing.


Each one of us contains some aspects of each tradition. And these
different aspects may want different things — at different times — or
at the same time. The scientific aspect wants facts, the heroic aspect
wants to be told what to do, and the wise woman aspect smiles and
offers you a bowl of soup and some bread and cheese she made herself.
As I define the characteristics of each tradition, identify the part of
yourself that thinks that way.

The Scientific Tradition defines
truth as measurable and repeatable. The whole is the same as its most
active part. Herbs are reduced to standardized extracts; only the
active ingredient is important. Healing is fixing. Linear thought,
linear time. Good and bad, health and sickness always at war.


Nature is mechanized. Bodies are machines. Anything that deviates
from normal needs to be fixed. Measurements determine deviation; drugs
insure normalcy. Plants are potential drugs, safe only in the hands of
licensed experts.


The legalized use of herbs in Germany follows the scientific model.
Herbs are available by prescription and paid for by National Insurance
because they are viewed and treated as drugs. Herbs are available only
to those with a prescription written by an MD, who has received little
or no training in the use of herbs, so the overall effect is to
severely limit the use of herbal medicine and its availability.


Ready access to a wide variety of manufactured herbal medicines is a
freedom that many American herbalists seem to take for granted. It is
due, in part, to the strength of the Heroic tradition.

The Heroic Tradition is not one
unified tradition, but many similar ones collectively known the Heroic
tradition. Predating the scientific tradition, the heroic view sees
that the whole is a circle made up of all its parts — body, mind, and


Sickness is caused by pollution of the body, mind, or spirit.
Healing is the removal of the corruption, the detoxification. Puking,
purging and bleeding. Removing curses. Cleansing the colon and the
aura. Making everything light.


We are all filthy sinners. We have to pay for our fun. No pain, no
gain. If it tastes bitter it is good for you. Food is the first
addiction, learned at the mothers’ breast. Control yourself. Control
your thoughts. Control your appetites. Control you desires. If you want
to get to heaven, follow the rules.


If you are sick, it is your own fault. You were negative. You were
bad. You ate the wrong food, thought the wrong thought, sinned. You
stepped outside the charmed circle. You need a savior, purification and
punishment. The Heroic healer saves the day thanks to rare substances,
exotic herbs, and complicated formulae. Powerful, drug-like herbs (such
as cayenne and golden seal) and vitamin and mineral pills are favored
remedies in this tradition. Most books on herbal medicine, and many on
nutrition, are written by men of the Heroic tradition.

Wise Woman Tradition is the world’s oldest healing
tradition. Its symbol is the spiral. The whole is greater than the sum
of its parts. Life is a spiraling, ever-changing completeness. Disease
and injury are doorways of transformation. Each one of us is inherently
whole, yet seeking greater wholeness; perfect, yet desiring greater
perfection. Whole/healthy/holy. Substance, thought, feeling, and spirit
inseparable intertwined.


Good health may be freedom from disease, but it is also openness to
change, flexibility, and compassionate embodiment, even when dancing
with cancer or healing from a serious accident. Uniqueness rather than
normalcy. Not a cure, but an integration; not the elimination of the
bad, but a nourishing of wholeness/health/holiness.


Nourishment of wholeness/health/holiness is invisible, simple,
grounded, holographic, both/and, ever-changing, woman-centered, and

Nourishment is Invisible


Invisible as a bowl of soup. The World Health Organization says
ninety percent of the health care provided in the world is given by
women in their own homes. Invisibly. With a smile. A hug. A word of
praise. In small daily increments, the wise woman builds the health of
herself, her family, her community, her country, her world. She does it
in the Tao, so she is invisible.

Nourishment is Simple


Simple as the weeds in the garden. Simple as in one thing at a time.
Simple as in easy. Simple, common, single, unique. Open to subtlety,
simply. The wise woman uses what is local and common, allying herself
with one plant at a time, matching the uniqueness of the plant with the
uniqueness of the person.

Nourishment is Grounded


Grounded as the earth, flowing with the seasons, ever changing, ever
the same. Seeking to increase the power of the patient. Power flowing
from responsibility. Planting the patient in the ground, to become
rooted, to delve deep, to gain a foundation to grow up from. Praising
the gift of the body, the ground of our being. Eating from the ground,
locally, organically.

Holographic Nourishment


Holographic images contain the whole in every part. The more parts
there are, the clearer the image. The wise woman nourishes all the
parts of the unique individual so they become clearer, more filled with
life. The wise woman herbalist gathers holographic plants, not active
ingredients, not flower essences, but the amazing, complex, vital
hologram of healing that her green ally gives away. A hologram that
nourishes all parts, integrates all the parts, both/and.

Both/and Universe


The both/and universe embraces all possibilities. Allows
distinction, sees beyond opposition. Yin and yang cooperate, reach
consensus. Walking in beauty along the rainbow path of peace. We are
all alive and dead, whole and piecemeal, healthy and sick, good and bad.

No Diseases, No Cures, No Healers


Woman-centered, heart centered, the Wise Woman tradition has no
rules, no texts, no rites. It is constantly changing, constantly being
re-invented, open to the ever-changing perfection of the eternal
moment. The focus is on the person, not the problem, nourishing not
curing, self-healing not healing another. A give-away dance of
exploration and experience, with no answer to the question “why?” No
blame, no shame, no guilt, no reason, no answer ever to “why?”

The Six Steps of Healing


The Wise Woman tradition offers self-healing options as diverse as
the human imagination and as complex as the human psyche. How
confusing! We need a way to cut through the confusion and decide which
option to use when. I call it the Six Steps of Healing, a hierarchy
based on the concept: “First do no harm.”

Step 0 – Do Nothing

Step 1 – Collect Information

Step 2 – Engage the Energy

Step 3 – Nourish and Tonify

Step 4 – Stimulate & Sedate

Step 5 – Use Drugs

Step 6 – Break & Enter


I see the wise woman. From her shoulders, a mantle of power flows.

I see the wise woman at her loom. Every thread is different, each perfect and splendid, alive with sound and color.

I see the wise woman. She is old and black and walks with the aid of
a beautifully carved stick. She speaks in song, in story, in dance. She
lives in every herb.

I see the wise woman. And she sees me. She winks at me and spreads her arms.

These are the ways of our grandmothers, the ancient ones. Every
pain, every plant, every problem is cherished. Night is loved for
darkness, day for light. Uniqueness is our treasure, not normalcy.

These are the ways of our grandmothers, the ancient ones.
Receive abundance with compassion, knowing you will be food for others.
Know that dying is a portal just as birth is. Celebrate all comings and
goings, they are the turnings of the spiral.

These are the ways of our grandmothers, the ancient ones.
The joy of life is the give- away. You are the center of your universe.
You are the axis, life’s matrix, the still point in the ever-moving.
The designs of the universe radiate through you. You are god/dess,
unique and whole.

I see the wise woman. And she sees me. She smiles from shrines in
thousands of places. She is buried in the ground of every country. She
flows in every river and pulses in the oceans. The wise woman’s robe
flows down your back, centering you in the ever-changing,
ever-spiraling mystery.

Everywhere I look, the wise woman looks back. And she smiles.

This is an excerpt from Healing Wise.


About the Author:
Susun Weed, green witch and wise woman, is an extraordinary teacher with a
joyous spirit, a powerful presence, and an encyclopedic knowledge of herbs
and health. She is the voice of the Wise Woman Way, where common weeds,
simple ceremony, and compassionate listening support and nourish
health/wholeness/holiness. She has opened hearts to the magic and medicine
of the green nations for three decades. Ms. Weed’s four herbal medicine
books focus on women’s health topics including: menopause, childbearing,
and breast health. Visit her site www.susunweed.com for information on her
workshops, apprenticeships, correspondence courses and more! Browse the
publishing site www.ashtreepublishing.com to learn more about her
alternative health books. Venture into the Menopause site
www.menopause-metamorphosis.com to learn all about the Menopausal Years the
Wise Woman Way.

Liked this article?
Support Susun’s work and Spiritualitea by purchasing one of these superb
books(these links will go to amazon):
Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year
Healing Wise
Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way
Breast Cancer? Breast Health!

For permission to reprint this article, contact us at: susunweed@hvc.rr.com
or Susun Weed, PO Box 64, Woodstock, NY 12498 (845-246-8081)