Traditions In Western Herbalism Conference Redux
The Story of the 2011 Festival for Folk Herbalists
“What an exciting conference. The TWHC is the new wave of herbalism in North America, featuring speakers and a community rich with a combination of long hands-on experience and fresh creativity.”
“The most amazing conference ever!” -Juliet Blankespoor
“The best weekend ever!” -Rebecca Altman
Wow! is the word that most comes to mind… wow!, to feel so much truly incredible energy, purpose and joy among the folks teaching at and attending the second annual Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference. And that we were even able to pull it off in our situation, with our devoted little crew. Wow!, the diversity and knowledge of the people who came, from ever further afield, and the amazing classes and greatly stretching presenters we’re so very fortunate to have. The spirit of these ancient, living, Western lands with its crimson striped rock formations and hardy blooms of desert medicine. The infusion of art, and the incredible ratcheting up of music. Wow!, to witness old connections rekindled, new alliances made, and those wonder-full kids joining in the learning as much as in the culture, the movement, the dance…
“I am filled with gratitude and awe in the wake of TWHC. You have created an alchemical vessel that concentrates and brings forth all that is most magical and powerful in our community, our movement, our medicine, our selves. I’m proud to have been a part of it all…. The only large gathering I can ever remember leaving feeling more energized and alive than when I arrived.”
– Sean Donahue, TWHC Teacher
We’ve come home filled with the potent images and expressed gratitude of so many, lending weight to what has often felt like a series of acts of magic, or of deeply earthen miracles. It seemed improbable and thus miraculous, that folks were willing to travel hours from the nearest airport, in times of financial difficulty, some taking off of work or school, saving their money all year long, and otherwise doing whatever it takes to get here. Miraculous, that we were even able to hold the conference at Ghost Ranch again, when we had exceeded their attendance limits the very first year, and then swelled that number by an additional 50 people this September. Our second time of hosting at this stunning site, the Ranch directors required that we contract all their lodging rooms and put up a 50% deposit, something that was only possible because we hadn’t been taking cash draws for our previous year of working on the 2010 event! Almost unbelievable, the quality and commitment of our teachers, and the movement they join us in helping create. Miraculous, this dance may seem, but not without daily effort and attention for over 13 months prior. Folks are right that things flowed incredibly smoothly this time, but not without a behind the scenes bustling of adaptation, remedy and repair… efforts that would be too extreme and stressful if not for the fact that we do this to help heal and better the world rather than simply to earn dollar and cents.
“Even better than last year, and I didn’t think it was possible!”, exclaimed more than one registrant, leaving us feeling not relieved and affirmed but warmed and emboldened. And from those attending TWHC for the first time: “It’s everything I heard it was, and more!”
“TWHC was phenomenal! Thanks for the tremendous amount of work that went into this. I had a blast! Many thanks for a fabulous conference. Now I understand why people were raving about it.” – Lisa Ganora
There was already a sense of TWHC alumni, alliance and rapport that naturally builds each year that folks come back. For whatever reason, this event has proven to result in a high number of deep reconnections, as esteemed teacher and artist Mimi Kamp pointed out. Herbalists that don’t normally run into each other in their normal course of studying, practicing and teaching, have felt blessed to have time with old friends and to plan new, shared projects. And alongside and within these confluences, flowed a wild stream of new faces, marked by a certain eagerness, reflecting the fact of their commitment to the learning, the healing, the life.
As to be expected, a 3 hour drive from the airport meant being lifted into the world of old New Mexico, past the art and spirit mecca of well appointed Santa Fe, through the mundanity of low-rent Española, up the twisty turns next to the plunging Rio Chama river and into a surreal looking landscape of buttes and spires, marking the premises of Abiquiu and then the Ghost Ranch proper. For most of us arriving, it was also transport through time, not forwards to the event’s substance and climax, but backwards into the folds of historic precedence, into prehistory and myth, and sideways perhaps into a mode that is beyond and oblivious of the cadence of linear time. Perhaps it is a miracle, as well, that any of us were able to make it to the start of classes before they had started. Or if not a miracle, than a simple four day return to the kind of alternate and sensate way of being where conjunctions are natural, meetings organic, and the steps of our destinies synched in uncounted rhythms.
The silver waves of much needed precipitation added to the mystical effect, seen blowing in from a great distant, stroking the cliffs closer and closer until wildly blowing through to a clarion of thunder. The shifting light caught everyone’s attention, as first one prominent formation and then another had its moments in the sun’s warm spotlight. Festivities kicked off a day earlier than in 2010, with Quetzal and Tina of Tina and Her Pony playing tighter sets than ever. Tina took a turn on the cello during Quetzal’s great new songs including “I’m So Lonely” which we can’t wait to get a recording of. And classes got right off to a great start on Friday morn, even dear Phyllis Hogan’s plant walk that tempted a large group to follow her on a mission through mud and rain. One class after another through Sunday, each with a teacher seeming to exceed their own usual best, being more personal, detailed and adventurous. Time and again we heard folks praising the classes they’d just left, even when it was a teacher they had seen present before.
Leah and Chloe of the group Rising Appalachia flew direct from a collaborative art and music event on the side of a volcano overseas, in order to arrive an hour before their return set. Their afro-appalachian performance captured and propelled the Friday night audience as we knew it would. We love them, and their devotion to new culture and plant medicine as well as to music.
The one request we got over and over last year, was for dance music to get everyone moving after the long days of sitting down in classes. True to our promise, we upped the tempo on Saturday night with a band that hardly no one at the conference knew, but one that folk will probably never forget. Lunar Fire Tribal is a revolving cooperative of musicians, ritualists and fire dancers, weaving not only a sonic wave but a tapestry of connection, of earth, healing and love. Part shamanic, part hip hop, and all nuevo-tribal… Lunar Fire blew us all away.
Robin Rose Bennett called for presence at the start of our Sunday closing, creating the feel of sacred space without the usual gathering circle. What followed was pure inspiration from one of the very first allies and instigators of TWHC, our like hearted teacher and Plant Healer columnist Paul Bergner, invoking an ancient sense of calling for the days and lifetimes ahead.
Definitely “not your mother’s herbal conference.”
The unconventional folk feel of TWHC results in what our excellent teacher Bevin Clare declared “a different cross-section” of attendees. Over and over again, we heard from folks who said they weren’t “conference types” or “never go to conferences”, and we’d wager that as many as 20% of those who came this year would fall into that category. These are people serious about herbal medicine, but bored or uncomfortable with what they perceive as “normal” events. They’re grateful to be accepted and not talked down to, regardless of their lack of certification or personal eccentricities, their inexperience or “kitchen herbal” approach, their youth or street cred. And they say they are excited to be in mixed company with all manner of herbal enthusiast, from heart centered clinical herbalists and nurses to free clinic activists and far thinking herbal remedy alchemists.
This cultural diversity included Hispanics, African Americans, and Native Americans, and also Tewa herbalists and midwives brought to the conference on scholarships paid for by cultural activist Michelle and her mother. And even more than the year before, we welcomed practitioners and students from outside the U.S., from French Quebec to New Zealand. A guest, Chris, came from the Caribbean to learn, and was asked to consider writing about traditional Carib herbalism for our magazine.
Diversity includes gender, and while most herbal events either mostly involve women or are for women only, TWHC 2012 achieved a closer to even mix of both sexes… something that several people including our friend Jim McDonald noted and appreciated and noted. And we’ve achieved greater age diversity as well. Often you will see mostly middle aged folks attending, with only a few elders and almost no young. This year we made a special effort to bring the young to this gathering, not just for them but because of what they each bring. Walking about the land you could see numerous “twenty-somethings”, some in black, some powerfully tattooed, with a passion for this field and resistance to stasis that’s not otherwise often seen. And the little ones were all about, form the preteens down to toddlers that we encouraged with special ticket discounts and 3 different classes designed just for kids. Everyone was impressed with how focused and eager to learn these plant-minded, nature loving young’ns were, and with the energy that they injected into the evenings’ celebrations.
We now know one other event that strives for similar inclusion of culture and skills, activism and ecology, classes and party, so we are not entirely unique in this way. What most distinguishes TWHC, perhaps, is all these elements in combination with a high rate of experienced and practicing herbalists and herbal clinicians. Friend and awesome teacher 7Song asked those in his audience to raise their hand if they were currently practicing 7Song was surprised and pleased to find that…
…over 50% of those attending class were in one way or another active practitioners.
This means that over half of the folks identifying themselves in some way with the folk herbalism resurgence are doers, actively making use of what they know for the betterment of others whether as clinical herbalists or village practitioners. For all the fun and music, the Traditions In Western Herbalism Conference remains defined in part by the seriousness and intense commitment of a tribe intensely focused medical herbalism and new herbalist culture.
For all the beauty, education, camaraderie and celebration, it the sense of what the 2011 event has inspired that has us most excited and fulfilled, the work that will be done because of what was learned here, the steps that will be taken by students of medicinal plants towards their own make-it-real practice
“I came to this year’s conference thinking it would be my last year, as I am moving to Ohio soon. I left realizing that I must always find a way to come back. I intentionally did not pour over the schedule in advance of registration. I didn’t plan my experience, and yet everything I needed to coalesce the filaments of my longings, dreams, and desires into a cohesive goal was offered, and received. Grassroots, edgy, and exactly what I needed to satiate my thirsty soul. This Conference, this movement, they are like gravity. The law of attraction is vividly at work here, answering the spoken and unspoken pleas of grassroots healers. The conference end was a bittersweet event. I am one of many who found themselves moved to tears multiple times during this conference. I am so very grateful to have time to spend in community, with others who hear a similar call, and speak similar languages. Plant people, with dirt under their nails, stars in their hair, and roots growing out of their sacrums.”
Thank You Teachers, Sponsors, Volunteers & All Who Came
It’s getting harder to acknowledge everyone fully who has a part in this entity called TWHC, especially at the conference where the growing list of loving helpers is so long it starts sounding like chant or litany. And it simply takes too much time to not only name but adequately acknowledge our 29 awesome teachers. Next year we are likely to make the closing just as powerful, but tighter and shorter, asking volunteers, sponsors and teacher to stand for appreciation but not naming any but our very largest sponsors. What we will do, is name them all repeatedly as we have done and more, in the conference book, blog, and this TWHC Newsletter. We’ve heard great things about this year’s classes, and we will always be grateful by the unique and powerful contributions of 7Song, Robin Rose Bennett, Paul Bergner, Juliet Blankespoor, Howie Brounstein, Kristine Brown, Larken Bunce, Todd Caldecott, Bevin Clare, Sean Donahue, Ryan Drum, Margi Flint, Rosalee de la Foret, Lisa Ganora, Charles Garcia, Linda Garcia, Phyllis Hogan, Mimi Kamp, Susan Leopold, Kathleen Maier, Jim McDonald, Kristi Reese, Corey Pine Shane, Christa Sinadinos, Katja Swift and Denise Tracy. You were awesome, stretched boundaries, touched the people.
Some may have thought it odd that volunteers got so much mention at the closing, but we were so blown away by the amount of essential work done by folks asking little or nothing in return. Resolute, Trail Boss and Dan’l were key to keeping it all together. Without Avonda and everyone that assisted Resolute, we couldn’t possibly have handled the set up and registration. Asa and Dan’l jumping on filming at the last moment, is the only reason we have video to hopefully get to share with you. And how can we not thank sweet Bruce and incredible Claudia, for bringing Blue Skies Espresso & Smoothies, and their dear spirits, to a parched and quality hungry herbalist crowd.
And our Sponsors are so very, very appreciated! Without them, their alliance and support, we would either have to run a much pared down event, or else charge much more for the tickets. The affordability of the tickets and the survival and success of TWHC are this year thanks to Mountain Rose Herbs, LearningHerbs.com, Herbal Roots Zine, Herbs Etc., HerbPharm, Humboldt Herbals, Organic Unity, Tai Sophia, The School of Traditional Western Herbalism, Sylvan Institute of Botanical Medicine, Super Salve Co., Traditional Medicinals, Vermont Center For Integrative Herbalism, Winter Sun Trading Co., Alchemical Solutions, Essential Herbal Magazine, Frontier Herbs and the North American Institute of Medical Herbalism. And our dear Nick M., lovingly providing TWH with essential solar powered satellite internet service all year long.
Thank you Tina & Quetzal, Rising Appalachia and Lunar Fire Tribal, you stirred our souls, touched our hearts, and rocked our socks off.
And thank you everyone who came. As I said in the closing, we are all students. You are all teachers. There is power in our doing this together.
-Jesse Wolf Hardin
TWHC 2012 Dates To Be Announced Soon
As quickly as we choose the next conference site, we will be contracting for certain dates. It is looking more likely that TWHC will be held mid to late August, but we will give you dates really soon so that you can begin to plan for next year.
(please post and forward)