I love shrines. There is something very precious about humans expressing their delight and reverence for the divine. Years ago, I traveled to Thailand and was charmed and moved by the multitude of shrines. There were shrines in temples, yards and homes. Almost every business had a shrine. There were also many public shrines, draped with flowers and simmering in the smoke of incense. Shrines help bring the divine into our daily life. Shrines can mark where a loved one has died or indicate places of holiness or power.
With this in mind, I decided to make my own shrines as a way to get to know herbs in a deeper way. Getting to know plants with the left side of my brain is great, but can only take one so far. I like getting to know them on different levels, with my heart and soul, not just my head. I’m excited to share with you my process of getting to know herbs in this unique way. Firstly, and most importantly…
Let’s just get that clear up front. The only thing that is truly important is to let go and trust the process. The plants love you and want to connect. They are so completely generous, it brings tears to my eyes. Trust them. Trust yourself.
Here is what my journey looked like. This was my process. These are some suggestions to give you a place that you can start. Your process will be unique to you and each plant shrine will be singularly distinctive to that plant.
I started making my shrines in the early fall, when many plants were still alive. I took small cuttings of any plant I was drawn to and tried to get as many parts as I could: leaves, flowers, seeds, bark, roots. I noticed carefully each plant I cut, paying attention to which ones I was drawn to. I asked permission before harvest, and thanked each plant for their gift. I dried the cuttings in heavy books. I recommend labeling any you think you might not remember later. A plant press would also work well for this.
I took about a week or more to make a shrine. I started with plants I know well. My first shrine was calendula, one of my all time favorite herbs. I used little pastille metal boxes. You could use match boxes, cigar boxes, jewelry gift boxes, a small picture frame, or build your own shrine with wood or cardboard.
You can write down the information you get about each plant. It also helps to let your mind wander and doodle as you are writing about the plant. Later, you might choose to use some of the words or images you have come up with in your shrine.
I asked the plant to come to me in my dreams. I have had some powerful messages from plants in this way. The most profound plant dream I remember was before my small son was going to have brain surgery. I was terrified and deeply distraught. A week or so before the surgery, I had a dream about Borage. I read the flower essence description: Courage. Borage helped me get through that incredibly painful process.
I found that as I asked for dreams from plants, I started dreaming about herbs more frequently. Different plants started coming to me in dreams, and well, after a couple of weeks I felt like they were telling me which shrines to make next. Write down your plant dreams.
Meditate with the plant or any part of it. You can also use a picture of the plant or just recall it from memory. What feelings come up? Where do you feel it in your body? What colors or words are you drawn to when you think of this herb? You guessed it–write them down.
When you are ready, get out your plant parts, paint, beads, paper, whatever you are drawn to. I like to have the plant there as well, whether fresh in a vase or dried. Don’t think, don’t evaluate, don’t judge your process. This isn’t about making something pretty, or making something that other people will like or value. This is about connecting to the plant and learning about it in a new way. Remember that there are no rights or wrongs. Remember, let go and trust the process.
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. ~ Anais Nin
I would love to hear about your experience making an herb shrine or see pictures of your work, you beautiful blossom.
© Elaine Sheff, Clinical Herbalist 2015
About the Author:
Elaine Sheff has been studying medicinal plants since 1987. A Clinical Herbalist, she is a graduate of both the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies and the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine. Elaine is a certified instructor of Fertility Awareness and Natural Family Planning, a safe, effective birth control method used to avoid or achieve pregnancy. She has a clinical practice providing herbal consultations for individuals with health concerns. Elaine teaches herb classes throughout the United States and is the original co-founder of Meadowsweet Herbs. She is the co-director of Green Path Herb School in Missoula, Montana. A best selling author, her latest book is called Naked: Botanical Recipes for Healthy Skin. You can often find Elaine in her garden or cooking gluten free.