The Wise Woman Tradition is as old as we are. In every culture, in every era, there have been women embracing ancient wisdom, their intuition and nature’s gifts to heal, teach, lead and learn. The Wise Woman Tradition is heart-centered and the knowledge and magic is inside each of us, in our bones. We may not be aware of it or connected to it, but it resides beneath the noise, beneath the conditioning, beneath what we think we know.
Many of us have heard of the Wise Woman Tradition through our exposure to herbs or wildcrafting and these practices are surely wise woman ways. But the spirit of the Wise Woman Tradition is not simply found in the herb, using the herb, or even growing the herb. The Wise Woman Way is knowing the herb. The Wise Woman knows, feels, senses, understands her allies and tools, whether they are animals, plants, songs, celebrations, stories or other people. The Wise Woman Way is a simple way of living. The Wise Woman sees wonder everywhere.
The Wise Woman Tradition approaches health, healing and life a bit differently than mainstream culture sometimes does. Susan Weed, an international healer and teacher, offers some perspective. She tells us that the Wise Woman Tradition "maintains that health is best defined as flexibility and that deviations from normal (that is, problems) offer us an opportunity to reintegrate parts of ourselves that we have cast out, emerging healed and whole. Illness is understood as an integral part of life and self-growth, with healer, patient and nature as co-participants in the healing process."
Creativity and Making is also a part of the Wise Woman Tradition; whether creativity is expressed in song, poem, story, art, leadership, dance, mothering, teaching, building, ritual or other work, the expression of the creative self, the intuitive self, is necessary for the Wise Woman. A supportive network of other women can encourage these expressions and celebrate each woman’s gifts and uniqueness. Her creations may be silly, beautiful, heartbreaking, weird, inspirational, useful, raw or even abrasive. However, the Wise Woman knows that the world would be poorer without them.
Martha Graham tells us, “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium, and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.” I would say that the Wise Woman knows how to keep the channel open.
Our culture has evolved in a way that has minimized, almost choked out, the ways of the Wise Woman. According to Corinna Wood, Herbalist and director of SE Wise Women, many of our European ancestors that carried our stories, oral traditions and wisdom were systematically killed. Developments in modern medicine have ignored the Wise Woman’s potential and powerful role in healthcare and healing. And as Susun Weed points out, much of the work of the Wise Woman is invisible. The Wise Woman is in the forest, in the garden, in the kitchen, by the bedside of a sick child or sick parent or in her community doing the work. In comparison to many other traditions, there are few books, few “experts”. Experts are not relevant to the Wise Woman Tradition anyway. The Wise Woman tradition has nothing to do with credentials, degrees, labels or even rules. It evolves as we evolve. It changes as we change. It is how we connect with ourselves, each other and the earth.
We can look around and see the spirit of the Wise Woman bubbling to the surface and if you are like me, there was a yearning for her even before I had words for it or discovered her stories. In the West, we are seeing an explosive interest in herbs and medicine making, aromatherapy and essential oils, ancient healing practices and an interest in sacred gatherings like drum circles and red tents. We are seeing nurses, doctors, therapists and other specialists taking a more holistic approach to wellness and even recommending alternative remedies in conjunction with modern medicine and treatment. I think all these are signs of the Wise Woman Spirit lingering.
It is easy to get disconnected from our own wisdom. There are always distractions, demands, detours. Our days are filled with messages that “this” is important, or “that” is important. Before we know it, all those “important” things have filled years of our lives and we look back thinking that they were not important at all. In my experience, connection to my intuition, the knowing in my bones, my wisest self is strengthened through a blend of many things, from stillness to adventure. There is not one single path. I need quiet time and solitude, to listen, reflect, let go and see wonder in the ordinary. I also need community, time with other women having fun, teaching, learning, laughing, crying. I need space to be serious and space to play, dance and be a little wild. I need time in the woods. I need time at home. I need time in the world. Don’t we all need most of these things?
Do I claim to be a Wise Woman? No, there is no purpose in that. However, I do consider myself to be on a journey with the spirit of the Wise Woman and I believe there is ancient wisdom within my being, and within yours. I believe we are all healers, and we are all in need of healing. For me, embracing the ways of the Wise Woman is a way to celebrate my existence! Learning from these traditions adds joy and wonder to my daily life and inspires me to look at life like an adventure. As we connect to our own wisdom and the ancient wisdom of Mother Earth herself, our hearts open, our spirits open, our minds open. And then, there is so much to see.
I am thrilled to be able to bring together herbalists, artists and other wise women this fall for our autumn retreat, Into the Wild. If you have not heard about it, I hope you'll check out our events and gatherings tab, Meetup site or Facebook page to learn more. Into the Wild is a weekend in the woods, celebrating and learning together about Appalachian and Cherokee herbal medicine and traditions plus plants walks, drumming and forest inspired crafts.
You can also visit the event's website at:
Want to Know More about the Wise Woman Tradition? Here are a few suggestions...
Women Healers of the World by Holly Bellebuono and Rosemary Gladstar
Healing Wise by Susun Weed
Websites & Blogs