From Head to Toe and Inside/Out - Body, Mind and Spirit
When I was young, I thought that old age was eons away and that I would always remain a child. While my elders talked about their own youth and joked about growing older, the concept of aging was abstract, at best. Even as a teenager, the thought of becoming an adult seemed decades away and while I grew and lived my life, the idea of being old was almost alien - or something that happened to other people!
As I write this, I am 53 years of age, and while I know that I've crossed the threshold into the realm of the Crone, I seem to see-saw back and forth between "feeling" older and assuming I'm still young. Is that wishful thinking or denial?
I've always championed older people and their wisdom; defending them and helping them wherever I could, but that doesn't mean that there weren't times when I complained about their disdain for younger people, how slow they moved when I was impatient and in a hurry or when they derided me for my decisions or way of life.
I'm still coming to grips with the fact that aging is really a slow crawl. We don't just arrive at a door that opens into a new phase, even if the sudden realization seems to hit most of us like a slap in the face, if we've been either sleepwalking through our lives without noticing the subtle changes or deliberately ignoring the signs.
We usually pay more attention to how our looks change, when it comes to aging, but that doesn't mean we're not aware of how we feel. From aches and pains to hormonal changes, low energy and libido, aging has its own unique challenges.
I've developed some herbal helping tea remedies for a variety of issues that the Crone might face, with associated Deities for those who like to bring it full circle, in terms of ritual or spiritual linking between body, mind and spirit.
These teas can be steeped in nearly boiled water (in a cup - covered to trap the essential oils) or simmered as a decoction on low heat for an hour or more. If you decide to do a decoction, keep checking the water level so the mix doesn't dry out or burn.
I'm curious to see how they work for you, so let me know and feel free to provide suggestions or to share your experience in the comments section further down.
The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. I am not a medical practitioner, so please discuss taking any of these herbs with your doctor before trying for yourself. There can be contraindications with medicines you might be taking or adverse effects on any medical or psychological conditions. Hedgewitch Herbarium bears no responsibility for anyone ignoring this disclaimer.
Herbal Helpers - Body
Mind governs more than mental faculties and the idiom "Mind over Matter" is a great example. Another saying, coined by French philosopher René Descartes - "I think, therefore I am" also expresses the idea that our minds control much more than our thoughts.
I remember when I first came across the notion of mind over matter, when I was 23 and living in a Tibetan Buddhist commune. Putting it into practice has taken years of trial and error, since my psychological imperatives and scattered thought patterns sometimes get in the way, especially when it comes to dealing with others, eating habits, depression etc.
It's funny how the idea of my life being a work in progress - rather than a final state of arrival where no more growth is required - continues to trip me up, at times. I say all this to share how I am not trying to be anyone's Guru. We're all in this together and I'd like to share my experiences to illustrate what has worked for me, what hasn't and what might be of interest to others.
Negative Thought Patterns
I'd like to start by saying that life is now more stable and sedate for me, but that doesn't mean that I don't have my flare ups. Negative self-talk is something I wrestle with, especially now that I'm older, but I've learned to counteract those periods with an alternative inner voice that questions the dark thoughts.
A frightening example happened earlier this year (2020), where I had gone through a few stressful months at work, fueled by old emotions associated with guilt and depression that ebbs and flows. It all came to a head one morning while in the shower.
A cloud of spiraling thoughts, consisting of loathing and trepidation over what kind of day I would have, mixed with self-admonition over tasks not completed at home, despair over aging with nothing to show for my life and so on, culminated in a furious storm of hatred directed towards myself.
In a flash, I felt an all-encompassing desire to hurt myself seriously. The word suicide doesn't explain the fury I felt. I wanted to punish myself severely and watched my right hand lash out and strike my left forearm, with the intention to rip my flesh open.
In that instant, under the shower, I felt the overwhelming desire to tear myself apart. Luckily, I stopped and collapsed in tears, with the water splashing over me. In a panic, feeling like a demon had taken over my body, I screamed out "Stop!" then caught my breath and forced my mind to think rationally.
I said to myself, "This is wrong. This is not me." Then I raised my hands upwards and asked for my Higher Self to take over. It sounds bizarre, but I worried that something had been trying to possess me, since I am not someone who self-harms. In an instant, I felt a calm wash over me as I stood back up and steadied myself.
I "heard" the words, "One step at a time. Focus on the task at hand." I slowly began washing myself again, saying out loud the following:
"I am washing my body." Then "I am washing my face." and so on until I was done. Then I stepped out of the shower and continued the steps as I dried myself and got ready for work. I continued to feel that warmth, which I still believe came from my Higher Self, even though I can't explain it scientifically.
As I drove to work, I told myself that I would have a good day and that I would deal with whatever came my way in a calm, rational manner. So mote it be - and was!
There have been many times throughout my life where I've changed what could've been a bad situation or negative experience by simply changing my point of view. One example was where my cousin had invited over a family I didn't like for a BBQ. All morning I moped around, telling myself that it was going to be a shit day and contemplated faking a migraine so I wouldn't have to deal with them.
Sitting on my bed, I realized that I was talking myself into having a bad day. I remembered the Mind over Matter concept and decided to try it out. I began telling myself that I would see the good in the visitors and that it would be a great day. When they arrived, I saw a look of apprehension in the couple's face when I greeted them. I realized at that moment they had previously detected my animosity and was sorry for it.
I was cheerful and engaging towards them and their children, inviting them in and chattering away about the food, what they'd been up to and playing with their kids. It wasn't long before they warmed up and we had a wonderful day, watching the kids playing under the sprinkler, eating good food and talking about all kinds of things. I was actually sad to see them go and we ended up being good friends after that.
I always have to remind myself of that day and how I can turn things around when I switch from being negative to positive. Even truly shitty situations can be endured when you change your attitude.
For the uninitiated, meditation can seem like either a waste of time or a strange spiritual practice. I've heard people say that they tried to meditate but kept falling asleep and people with medical conditions that are exacerbated when sitting in the lotus position (like arthritis or back pain) say they can't do it.
When you become adept at meditation (which is not hard) you can do it anywhere and any time, such as waiting in line, on the toilet or while walking through the garden. It's not compulsory to sit in the lotus position in order to meditate, but if you're new to the practice, it is best to begin in a quiet place where you won't be disturbed.
There are plenty of resources available if you want to go deeper into the practice of meditation, including how it affects the mind, the history and so on, so I won't spend too much time here explaining all the ins and outs, but I will offer basic information to get you started.
Meditation is a great way to get to "know thyself" and to de-stress, recharge your batteries and reset your brain to neutral. Constant thinking, worrying and over-stimulation from other people, the internet and so on, takes us further away from a natural state of peace and calm. Meditation is a wonderful spiritual practice that allows us to "come back to the source" and reconnect with ourselves and the "divine".
Meditation is different to sleeping. For example: you don't close your eyes all the way. You close them enough to leave a small slit open so you can just see light coming through, but not enough that you can see any objects in the room. This can be tricky, but practice makes perfect.
If this is too difficult, try meditating on a candle flame or find a focus object in the room, like a plant or spot on the wall. Make sure there's nothing distracting in the space where you meditate, in case your eyes bounce around, throwing off your focus.
You don't have to spend a lot of time or money creating a sacred space, but it is a good idea to find a place which is quiet, de-cluttered and away from street noise, activity in the home (human or animal) and where you won't be disturbed by electronic devices (phones, t.v. etc.)
A Basic Guide to Meditation
After finding a quiet space, make sure you'll be comfortable before you begin. You don't have to sit in the lotus position, but it is important to make sure that the air will flow freely around you, so you don't get too warm and cozy and drift off to sleep.
If you have a bad back or issues with stiff joints, arthritis, etc. - you can sit with your back against the wall, with your legs out or in any position that feels right. Even a chair is fine, as long as you don't get too warm.
The best time to meditate is in the morning, for several reasons. It's a great way to start the day, to create a blank canvas in your mind in order to streamline your thoughts and to create a sense of peace that allows you to deal with the days trials and tribulations in a calm and rational way. It's also when your mind and body are waking up, so you're more likely to be alert and not drift off into sleep after a long, hard day.
That said, you can meditate any time, as long as you can remain focused. A session can be a great way to unwind if you've endured a stressful situation or if you're feeling overwhelmed and scattered.
Allow for at least 20 minutes to meditate, more if you can make the time, but 20 minutes is a good start for beginners. Peaceful music is ok, but it's best to ensure that there will be no distractions so you can focus on nothing but your breath.
Once situated, begin by closing your eyes until only a small slit is left open. You might notice that your eyelids momentarily flutter, but after a while you'll get used to it and the fluttering will settle down. Then shift your focus to your breathing. Notice your breath going out and back in, maintaining an even rhythm, with a pause in between each breath. Here's a good rhythm to begin with:
In to the count of four seconds
Hold to the count of four seconds
Out to the count of four seconds
As you grow more adept, you can increase the count to five or more seconds. Soon enough, you will no longer need to count and you can then focus on a healing meditation if you feel so inclined, such as imagining that bad air flows out and good air flows in. This is a great way to stop your mind "downloading" distracting imagery - which is natural - so don't beat yourself up if you have random thoughts filling up your inner screen.
As you meditate, if you think or see these thoughts or images, don't stress yourself out by trying to block them. Simply let them be and watch them filter out with your breathing. It won't be too long before you realize that you're not thinking - which is a weird experience, because then you'll think to yourself, "I'm not thinking! Wait, is that thinking? Oh, shit!" and so on.
After a few weeks of practice, you might find that you can conduct a meditation session anywhere, as long as you're safe and relatively undisturbed. It's also a great way to learn how to deal with distracting people, noises and situations.
The White Tara Long Life Meditation
While living in the Buddhist commune, I was initiated into the White Tara long life meditation, which involved a task where I had to complete the mantra 10,000 times, along with the actual meditation itself. Of course, I didn't have to do it in one sitting, but I had a counting rosary that helped me keep up.
Here's the mantra: OM TARE TUTTARE TURE MAMA AYUR PUNE GYANA PUNTIN KURU SOHA Here's the pronunciation: Om tardare tootardare toodare mama ah yeah poon yeah zhana puttim koody yeah so ha. (There might be other ways to pronounce it, but that's how I was taught!)
The mantra roughly translates as the following:
"I prostrate to the Liberator, Mother of all Victorious Ones. I request increased longevity, merit and wisdom. Do so now! May blessings be upon you."
In this meditation, you're asking White Tara to bestow the gifts of healing, wisdom and long life - not only to you but to your loved ones, and humanity.
Start with the same steps described in the former section about meditation. Once you've achieved a peaceful state with controlled breathing and a clear mind, imagine White Tara seated in front of you, in an elevated position. Then imagine your loved ones behind you, with friends and acquaintances behind them and the rest of humanity behind them.
Begin the mantra and focus on white light beaming from White Tara, through you and then through the rest of the people behind you. Feel the energy pulsing through you - infusing you with vitality and wisdom - then continuing on through the rest of the people.
See the compassion and wisdom in White Tara's face and once you feel you're done, thank her and then slowly come out of the meditation after completing the mantra, continuing with the breathing exercises.
Herbal Helpers - Mind
The above Herbal Helpers can help with a range of issues pertaining to the mind. For example: depression, stress and anxiety is also related to conditions such as grief, loneliness and lack of interest. Foggy thinking is also related to issues such as dementia and cognition.
While these herbal remedies can be beneficial in assisting with alleviating symptoms, it's always sensible to seek help, whether with a medical practitioner or social services. As we grow older, it's important to maintain contact with others and to continue a sense of community, even for those of us who are loners.
Many older people advise that they feel a loss of purpose, which for me seems odd - due to all the hobbies and interests I have - but that doesn't mean that one day I won't go through the same experience, particularly where depression is involved.
For some, purpose might not have anything to do with hobbies. It could be linked with service to others and the idea of still being relevant or needed. When I think of my Grandmothers, who were completely different personalities living under totally different conditions, I recognize how we all have unique experiences in life, even though certain situations and physical problems are shared.
Nanna - My Paternal Grandmother
Unlike my maternal Grandmother, I knew Nanna (Pat) from my birth until she died and for a short time I lived with her while my parents were going through their divorce. Her home was a landing place for most of her grandchildren when divorces happened and she raised my cousin until her teens.
I love this photo because it shows her in her natural state and in the garden, where her green thumb was put to work. Inside, she had African Violets and she also sprouted her own mung beans and made her own yogurt.
She was into fashion and was quite resourceful, making hats out of ice cream containers and left over material. In her early days, she was married to an American G.I. who was an alcoholic and used to beat her, so she left and soon married my Pa - who was a wonderful character himself.
Nanna could be bawdy and she told jokes that surprised us from time to time. In her Crone years she began teaching Tai Chi at the Elderly Citizens Club and also taught gentle exercises, including water aerobics.
I feel that I've inherited some of her ways and interests, like her passion for gardening, cooking and her independent style, as well as her bawdy sense of humor.
Nona (center) - My Maternal grandmother
Nona passed away young, while giving birth to her 1oth and 11th children (twins). It's a shame that I never knew her, since many of my Aunts say I favor her. While it's hard to string together a cohesive story about Nona (due to family members arguing about the validity of certain memories) she married my Grandfather (a man of Chinese descent), who was once a Chef in the Navy.
In her youth, Nona had been a dancer and actor in a troupe that toured Australia. Later on, after she married and began her family, she apparently became addicted to Opium. The older children would often have to bring her back from the Opium dens she frequented. My Grandfather (Eric) died from alcoholism, which is an issue in my family on my Mother's side.
It seems to me that I inherited more than her looks, since it's obvious she had an addictive personality as well as an artistic side. I have struggled with depression my whole life and even though I have a handle on my predilections for substance abuse, I understand the desire to get out of it when things get too tough to handle.
Both of these women were quite independent and while their lives were markedly different, I feel their essence in me every so often and I think of them a lot more now that I am getting older. As much as we try to pull away from our families and create our own lives, their threads run through us forever.
I remember the 90's when Oprah talked a lot about "Spirit", which often had a Christian theme. While many of the shows resonated with me, I felt that there was so much more to be explored and getting into a Pagan lifestyle connected the dots, but what do we mean when we talk about Spirit or Spirituality?
There's the concept of a soul that we all possess, leading to the idea of a Higher Self or "Oversoul" that is assigned to us and watches over us, as well as an all-encompassing Godhead - usually male (especially in monotheistic religions) - who created the Universe and everything in it.
The word "Spirit" can express the essence involved in how we do things, such as a passionate driving force or the energy involved in motivating us towards our goals. For me, I've finally arrived at the conclusion (for now, at least!) that Spirit indicates our inter-connectedness with each other, the world and the Universe.
Spirit can be involved with how we interact with others, animals and the natural world and experiences that touch us deeply, but are hard to define. This level of Spirituality is stronger, for me, when out in nature - even in my garden - where simply being is enough. My thoughts are quietened when I'm in tune with nature; hands in the dirt, harvesting or planting seeds.
My Valerian patch
One of my favorite stories about Spirit and connecting with nature was from a work colleague, around 16 years ago. She advised that she had gone camping with friends (back in Australia) and everyone was partying, but she wasn't in the mood. She wandered off by herself to sit by the river.
She found a large, flat rock and sat down to enjoy the peace and quiet, listening to the water and enjoying the sunshine. She decided to perform an impromptu meditation session and after a while, she felt a presence behind her. She was surprised when she turned around and saw a large Monitor lizard coming through the bushes to rest on the rock, only a few feet away.
Her initial fear was swept away when she realized that it was not afraid of her. It lay down and looked over at her calmly - like it was letting her know that everything was alright. She said that normally, she would've got up and run away, but something told her that she was safe. They shared the rock for another half an hour or so, before it slowly got up and went back into the bushes.
Throughout my life, I have had many similar experiences with animals. As a teenager, I was followed home from school by a magpie, who squawked at me as it ran behind me, until I picked it up and brought it home. I took care of it for about 2 months until it flew away. Before he left, he perched on the fence and looked back at me, like he was saying thanks and goodbye.
I've made friends with horses, donkeys, dogs, many cats, turtles, frogs, salamanders (we call them Skinks in Australia) and many other animals, where I felt a spiritual link which is hard to explain. Sometimes I've felt this link with humans, but for the most part, I feel more spiritual when alone in nature.
Having conducted many rituals over the past few decades, I have had experiences which are also hard to explain, such as flaring candles, strange winds, odd sensations and other events that defy logic. My scientific brain tries to brush them aside and find explanations, such as natural phenomena, wishful thinking or misfiring synapses - but that's the same kind of stretch that can be applied to automatically assuming that Spirit was involved.
I've astral traveled many times, shared exact dreams with others, experienced countless episodes of Déjà vu, witnessed supposed ghost activity and had several situations involving synchronicity. One that stands out, involves a Christian Saint.
St. Christopher (by Dieric Bouts)
I wasn't brought up in a Christian household but when I was living at my Nanna and Pa's house, she made my cousin, my brothers and I go to Sunday School, with 20 cents each to give to the Church. I always begrudged passing the money over, thinking about the lollies (candy) I could buy!
My Father is an Atheist (but he's into U.F.O.'s!) and my Mother leans towards Atheism, but she's interested in different kinds of spirituality. When I was in my early teens, she took us to a popular Hare Krishna restaurant in Melbourne and I was dazzled by the beautiful Sitar music, incense, brilliant colors and the adherents themselves - dressed in colorful robes.
In loved that we got to sit on big cushions on the floor at a low table and the Vegetarian food was absolutely delicious. I got to take a Hare Krishna paperback home and was mesmerized by the lovely pictures of Krishna and other deities. Mum attended their cooking lessons with our Stepfather and over the years she made spicy chutneys, curries (although with meat), Pappadams and Pakoras.
By the time I reached 21, apart from occasional dabblings with Astrology, I really hadn't ventured out to find my own Spirituality, but three serendipitous events involving St. Christopher occurred during a time when my sleep disorder (hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations) began to plague me - for the first time since childhood.
These events might seem trivial to some, but the appearance of St. Christopher pendants in strange situations seemed to be coming to me to let me know that I wasn't alone.
The first time was in a second hand shirt I bought from an Op Shop. After I washed it and put it on, I felt something pressing against my cleavage! When I pulled the shirt open, I saw the pendant - which was sewn into the seam. I pulled it out and was amazed to find it - realizing that someone put it there for protection.
I knew about St. Christopher - mainly from a children's story I'd read when I was younger, called "The Children of Green Knowe" by Lucy Boston. (This book had entranced me, since it was about a young boy meeting the ghosts of his ancestors while staying in an old castle with his Grandmother in England.)
I put the pendant in my jewelry box, since I wasn't Christian and didn't know what to do with it - even though I knew that it was special. A few months later, I bought a second hand purse from a different Op Shop and when I got it home, I began cleaning it. In an inside pocket, I found another St. Christopher pendant.
I was amazed and put it with the other one in my jewelry box - wondering what it could mean. I'd forgotten about them until about a month later, when I was out the front of a Milk Bar (convenience store) waiting for a friend to come out. Leaning against the brick window ledge, I turned to look in the window to see if my friend was finished buying her soda.
Something caught my attention on the ledge. It was another St. Christopher pendant! Picking it up and inspecting it, I felt that familiar sense of synchronicity surge through me. Three is a sacred, magical number (and a Witch's lucky number) - as well as a symbol of the Divine Trinity (Christian, the Triple Goddess and in other religions/paths.)
As I stated earlier, I was having a lot of hypnagogic/hypnopompic episodes - some of which were disturbing. (These will be discussed in a future post.) It took me a while to realize that St. Christopher was a Patron Saint of travelers and that maybe he was coming into my life to let me know that I was not alone - that I was protected.
Even though I wasn't Christian, I had an affinity with the Saints - especially Saint Francis of Assisi (Patron Saint of Animals, etc.) and I was soon collecting pictures of the Saints and other Catholic iconography. This was a few years before I got into Witchcraft and I feel that that period was about linking me to the Divine and maybe my Oversoul was telling me to look beyond myself to find peace.
After a while, my episodes stopped and I ended up giving the pendants to someone else, who was experiencing an existential crisis of her own. She reported later that she felt St. Christopher helped her too and hopefully she passed them on to help someone else.
Whether you think it's Divine Intervention, such as Angels or the Godhead in times of need - or a sense of connectedness and linking with nature - Spirit is something that touches and inspires us all, from time to time.
For me, I don't think it's something that can be forced, and while I prefer to allow Spirituality to occur naturally - such as appreciating a moment, enjoying a good time with like-minded people or a walk in the woods - there are ways to bring about a sense of Spirituality, like meditation, attending a service/festival or getting in tune with nature.
Being mindful takes practice, especially when in stressful situations or surrounded by discord. Having a touchstone is helpful in those times, but if (like me) you're into herbs and plants, there are some that can be carried in a Mojo Bag or drunk as tea - to help us link in to the Source - whatever you believe it to be!
Herbal Helpers - Spirit
I will continue to add to the Herbal Helpers for the Crone, so if you want to be alerted when I do so, sign up for the Hedgewitch Herbarium newsletter!