Rebecca and Andrew talk about the way plants work in their lives – through sharing about their studies and personal journeys with plants. They also talk about fear and how pushing through that brings better things even though it isn’t easy. Finally they also talk about traditional knowledge and how to respect elders an indigenous people.
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ANDREW: [00:00:01] Welcome to The Hermit’s Lamp podcast episode 93. I am here with Rebecca Beyer, who is an herbalist and plant person and does all sorts of wonderful things in that environment. For [00:00:17] those who don’t know you, Rebecca, give us . . . give us a quick introduction. Who are you? What do you . . . what are you about?
REBECCA: Hi! I’m about, I guess, I’m about Appalachia and I’m about plants and [00:00:32] I’m about traditional witchcraft. That’s like those three things. I think.
ANDREW: Yeah. Well, if people don’t know what Appalachia is . . .
ANDREW: Let’s start with that, because maybe not everybody does.
REBECCA: That’s so interesting and [00:00:47] I love that you all are up in Canada. So it’s really cool to to know, you don’t know what Appalachia is! [chuckling]
ANDREW: I mean, I think people . . . I do, but yeah, let’s, let’s just make sure nobody has to go Google anything mid-podcast.
REBECCA: That’s such a good idea. Yeah, Appalachia is a region, [00:01:02] which is debated, that’s cultural and ecological in the Eastern side of the United States. It’s a mountain range that extends from, culturally, I would say, you know, Western Pennsylvania through Northern Georgia, [00:01:17] but mountain-wise and ecologically through a few different regions on the Eastern Seaboard, kind of inland.
REBECCA: So, this big mountain range, the Appalachian Mountains. Mm-hmm.
ANDREW: And there’s a lot of spiritual tradition that’s [00:01:32] kind of from that area, right? Like a lot of, sort of more folk magic and you know, those kinds of approaches, right?
REBECCA: Yeah, that’s one of the things that I am a student of and teach is Appalachian folk magic, and [00:01:47] I’m very passionate about . . . and especially where plants and plant lore come into that story.
ANDREW: Mm-hmm. So did you grow up with that or did you find your way into it? Like how did that come about for you?
REBECCA: That’s a good question. I did not grow [00:02:02] up with it. I grew up on a farm in New Jersey.
REBECCA: And, yeah . . . and halfway in both states. And it’s funny cause when I tell people I’m from New Jersey, they’re like, “Oh, you’re not, you don’t seem like you’re from New Jersey at all,” and I’m like, “Are you saying like, I’m not an asshole,” like what?
REBECCA: What are [00:02:19] you saying? I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that on the air.
ANDREW: I’m sorry to everybody in New Jersey who’s listening to this. Yeah.
REBECCA: Well, I’m sorry, because I like, you know, I had a beautiful upbringing in a very pretty little country spot in central New Jersey.
REBECCA: And I [00:02:34] loved our little farm, but we didn’t raise plants. We just raised animals.
REBECCA: But I’ve always loved, I feel like since I was a little girl I wanted to be a witch. It was just something I’ve always been interested in and I was raised in the Unitarian Universalist Church. [00:02:49] So I met a lot of witches and it was easy to start studying witchcraft seriously. At around 12, I kind of dedicated myself to studying it and, through that, became more interested in plants and realizing that they could be used for more than food. [00:03:04]
ANDREW: Mm-hmm. And, so how did the head of the Appalachian part come in? Like, did you meet somebody, did you like, you know, go stand on a mountain and be like, oh, this is home. Like . . . ?
REBECCA: That’s a good question. [00:03:19] I was obviously a very weird kid as we’ve, most of us probably were.
REBECCA: And very socially isolated. We moved nine times when I was a kid, so I didn’t have strong connections with other human adults till I was 18, when I moved to Upstate New York to go to college [00:03:34] at Bard College, and I met my now best friend Sarah Lynch Thomason, who’s an Appalachian ballad singer, who’s from Nashville, Tennessee. And she moved to Asheville right after we graduated from college. She graduated ahead of me, and she was like, you [00:03:49] HAVE to move here, Asheville, North Carolina, like, it is what’s up. So I just packed my truck with all my things and drove to Asheville. And–after I graduated from college–and I just lived in her living room for two weeks.
REBECCA: And then I just fell [00:04:04] in love. I tried to leave, once, I think to go back up to Vermont where I had been living before, and I think that lasted like three weeks and I came back. So that was in 2010 when I moved here. So I’ve been here for longer now than anywhere I’ve ever lived in my life.
ANDREW: It’s [00:04:19] interesting how, you know, like I think about . . . I mean, Vermont’s got lots of mountains. Upstate New York’s got lots of mountains, you know? It’s funny how, you know, from a geologic point of view, anyway, there’s [00:04:34] this like, oh look. Well, it’s all mountains. What about . . . what is it about those mountains? What is it about that place that drew you in or captivated you?
REBECCA: That’s a good question. Well, I think, geologically speaking, the Appalachians are so special, [00:04:49] because they’re some of the oldest mountains in the world, which we forget in America. We often like to excoticize–and I’ll say North America, to include all of us on this continent–like to exoticize things from far away, but we have some of the most ancient land masses [00:05:05] in existence right at our fingertips, and it’s pretty incredible. And plant communities that are very unique. And to me, the extreme biodiversity of where we live in southern Appalachia, where I live is temperate [00:05:20] rain forest. So we have more plants than anywhere except for North Alabama, which has the most diverse plant life in the United States.
ANDREW: That’s amazing.
ANDREW: And did you find . . . do you feel like . . . You [00:05:35] know, like, lots of people talk about sort of spirit of place, right? as a thing that’s sort of emerged into people’s awareness more over time. And you know, at least more recently from my perspective.
ANDREW: You know, do you feel that that’s part of it [00:05:50] for you? Like is there, is there a spirit of the land where you’re actually hanging out that’s, that’s part of your life?
REBECCA: Yes, my friend Marcus McCoy who started the Veridis Genii Symposium . . .
REBECCA: When I was [00:06:05] early 20s–you probably know him–when I was in my early 20s, I stumbled across his blog, Bioregional Animism, and it really changed . . . It gave me words for things that I had felt but I didn’t know were names for and other [00:06:20] bloggers have now gone on to further that idea, which was, you know, kind of coined, I’d say in the 70s with the rise of bioregional scholarship, on just like, policy and land management.
REBECCA: They took it deeper, you know? I [00:06:35] wrote a lot of my thesis–I have a master’s degree in Appalachian Studies–and I wrote my thesis on–which is really silly, I know. But I looked a lot at like the history of bioregionalism and like what makes Appalachia and regional studies important.
REBECCA: And [00:06:51] to me, in this globalized world, you know, we struggle for meaning, you can see it everywhere. Especially white folks, like without any cultural, strong cultural ties, will grab onto any strong cultural tie from any culture that [00:07:06] we can find. And yeah, and I think a lot of that comes from a lack of grounding in place. So to me, I do think there is a spirit of Appalachia. My friend Byron Ballard, who’s a well-known Appalachian folk practitioner, she, in our area, says there’s [00:07:21] a mother Appalachia, this kind of an entity that makes this place so special. And to me, I’m also a musician, I’m an artist, and all the things I do revolve around Appalachian folk practice. And to me, it’s like helped me ground in, because [00:07:36] I wasn’t raised here . . .
REBECCA: Into the life way and the art way and the music way of this place. And not necessarily say, this is mine, it’s from me, but wow, I participate in this, and I love it, and I want [00:07:51] to, you know, support it and continue it and nurture it.
ANDREW: Yeah. I think it’s always interesting when people, you know, or never mind people. For me, you know, I mean, I found my way into being a Lukumi, you know Orisha [00:08:06] practitioner, right? You know, so, I’m initiated in an Afro-Cuban religion, you know, and that’s, that’s been my journey for, you know, getting towards being 20 years now, you know, but I think that it’s really always interesting when people are looking [00:08:21] for that meaning and they find it somewhere else. How do you go about exploring that and connecting with that, in a way that is, you know, respectful, meaningful in a broader context, because it’s . . . [00:08:36] I think that you know what people do in general, even if it’s not respectful, might be meaningful to them personally, you know, but problematically culturally, right? But what do you think about . . . how you know, how, how would you recommend people approach this [00:08:51] kind of stuff if what you’re talking about is something that they’re drawn towards?
REBECCA: Yeah, I think that’s such a good question and it’s a sensitive one. You know, there’s . . . I always notice that I feel fear and I feel nervousness when [00:09:06] talking about these things, because, unfortunately the way that people communicate online is very different than how they’ll communicate in real life. [laughs] Discovered . . . I just taught a class, this is a great example, and I think will answer this question, on [00:09:21] the uses of fumatory plants worldwide to address cultural appropriation issues.
REBECCA: Because, specifically with white sage being overharvested, and a lot of indigenous Western folks saying, hey, can you guys slow your roll on this, you know? buying all this unsustainably [00:09:36] harvested sage? [laughs]
REBECCA: So, like, why do you feel the need to burn this plant specifically, when it’s not part of your cultural lineage? And I don’t think anyone at this point in the world is like, you can’t do anything that’s not from your specific ancestry, because I mean I have eight different ancestries. [00:09:52] You know? And it’s . . .
REBECCA: Most people do. And, and, and I think that’s not what people are saying, and a lot of folks get defensive, and say, “Well, what, am I not allowed to do anything?” and it’s like, “No, calm down. [laughs] No one’s telling you that.” And I think what you’re doing when you’re initiated in something . . . [00:10:07] Initiation is an invitation.
REBECCA: If you are studying with a person from that, you know, Afro-Cuban lineage, who’s saying, “You’re welcome here, come into this space.” That’s very different than when someone says, you know, “I’m gonna self study [00:10:22] this thing, and then declare myself an expert and then make money off this thing . . .”
REBECCA: And never study the cultures that this thing comes from.
ANDREW: For sure.
REBECCA: Yeah, because what I do, I’m not technically Southern Appalachian, but I practice and teach Appalachian folk magic. And some people, I’m sure, would take issue with that. But [00:10:37] what do I do? I think it’s all about how we how we raise up the cultures that we are benefiting from. How do we support them? How do we not try to speak for them and do the like white savior thing? And like, how do we invest [00:10:53] ourselves in the continuance and preservation and nurturance of the cultures that bring us such joy and meaning. And I include myself in that even though, technically, Appalachian folk culture is largely based on some things I have cultural access to. It’s also based [00:11:08] in Cherokee and African traditions.
ANDREW: Mm-hmm. For sure.
REBECCA: That have direct lineage too, that I need to respect and call attention to.
ANDREW: Yeah, and that’s an interesting thing about a lot of those, you know, Appalachian, you know, root work, hoodoo [00:11:23], like a lot of those, sort of, you know, from there, heading further south, traditions are really such an interesting meld of, you know, of cultures, right?
ANDREW: You know, they’re, they [00:11:38] involve stuff that came from Africa through the slaves. They involve stuff that came through the indigenous communities that were there alongside those people, you know, and then they have a mixed in, you know, depending on the region, [00:11:53] you know, European Christian or other folk traditions too, right? Like it’s such a . . . it’s such an interesting meld and I think that it’s so helpful to really respect the fact that they come from a bunch of different places. They [00:12:08] come from all those lineages, you know?
REBECCA: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
ANDREW: Yeah, because it’s easy to, like, it’s easy to be like, well, you know, this is just like this person’s thing or this is that person’s like . . . They’re diverse and their strength [00:12:23] comes from that history, right?
REBECCA: It’s true. It’s true, and it’s great talking to my friends who are hoodoo practitioners, and saying, you know, the first time I met my friend Demetrius, who I don’t know if you know, from New Orleans at [00:12:38] Veridas Genii Symposium. We were kind of like doing a comparison like, what do you, do you do this, in hoodoo? And he’s like, well, do you do this in Appalachian folk magic? And it was just like, such overlap that we were like, of course, these things are so similar.
REBECCA: And it was wonderful and then we were like, “Let’s sing a Scottish [00:12:53] ballad,” you know, and like, because he does a lot of ballads. And then I’m like, let’s, you know, he’s like, “Do you want to learn this song in this West African language?” And I was like, “Oh heck, yeah.” It was just, it was really cool, because it was like living that experience of seeing the lines . . .
REBECCA: By sharing verbally [00:13:08] those things and song and in tradition and looking at different charms we were talking about.
REBECCA: And I loved that. It was really special and what you’re saying, too, is, we tell stories about traditions being [00:13:23] all one thing and they’re . . . One thing I learn as I get older–and I’m 31, I’m not terribly wise–but I notice things are always more complicated and beautifully complex than we think they are.
REBECCA: The’re never black or white. It’s just [00:13:38] complex.
ANDREW: For sure. Yeah. Yeah. I think that one of the other things I want to circle back to, you know, is, you mentioned, you know, briefly about, like, sustainability and stuff like that. And I think that that is [00:13:53] also such an important part of the equation of what’s, what we’re talking about here too, right? Like, you know, if you’re going to live in, you know, in connection with plants and connection with [00:14:08] the spirits of the, of a place or whatever, right? I think that, that that attention on making sure that it’s sustainable, making sure that there’s some left, you know, like . . . I mean, you know, in my tradition, we use a lot of plants and some [00:14:23] of them do grow up here. Some of them I grow myself inside. And you know, some of them are just not possible in the far far north where I practice, but you do what you can. But you know, one of the things that my elders always stress is, you know, you never [00:14:38] take it all. You always leave enough that it keeps going, right? You always want to make sure that whatever you’re working with, that, you know, later on it’ll have regrown or next season it will regrow or whatever, because there is this eye towards . . . [00:14:53] You know, this is, this is a thing forever, hopefully. And therefore we want to keep that going forever, you know?
REBECCA: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
REBECCA: Yeah, I teach foraging classes as my day job. [laughs]
REBECCA: That’s what I do [00:15:08] for a living. And this year, I’m actually going to teach foraging at the University of North Carolina.
REBECCA: As a college course. I know, I feel so honored. It’s one nice thing about having an Appalachian Studies Master’s, is now I can teach at colleges and that’s, you know, even though they pay terribly, it’s very good.
ANDREW: [00:15:23] I’m sorry. Can we pause for one second here? I’ve no way to make the phone stop ringing. [whispers] Stupid phone! [laughs] It’s . . .
REBECCA: Also, I have to say . . .
ANDREW: What’s that?
REBECCA: Your mustache is spectacular.
ANDREW: Thank you, thank you.
REBECCA: It’s like, that mustache is [00:15:39] on point.
ANDREW: I started it as a joke, like a year and a half ago. Somebody on the radio was saying like, mustaches are coming in. And I was like, I’ve never grown a mustache. I wonder if I can grow a mustache? And, and then, I started growing it and I posted to Facebook and [00:15:54] everyone was like, yes, keep it going, and now, I’m just like, all right. This is my, this is my life now, so.
REBECCA: That’s amazing. Mustache life!
ANDREW: Mustache life.
ANDREW: Mustache life. All right, I’m going to clap and then we can start again. [claps] All right. [00:16:09] You were talking about teaching at the university.
REBECCA: Yeah, I’m really excited to get to teach at UNCA. I’m teaching foraging, and you were speaking about sustainability, and there’s a lot of interesting, confusing, [00:16:24] complex arguments about wildcrafting in the United States, especially.
REBECCA: And in Canada, and any place that is colonized indigenous land. And what, as settler folks, who are European ancestry, like what are our responsibilities to [00:16:39] be good wildcrafters. Some people say you shouldn’t wildcraft at all, zero percent is sustainable.
REBECCA: Others say, you can just take indiscriminately and do whatever you want. But obviously, I think the truth, there’s no such thing as truth, [00:16:54] but I think a more balanced view is somewhere in between and something I’ve been really interested in and enjoying doing is: there’s a lot of plants we call invasive and some of them radically alter their landscape, like one of my favorite plants, kudzu.
REBECCA: Which [00:17:10] on Gordon White’s podcast, I mentioned I like kudzu and you would not believe the angry humans on those comments. [laughs]
ANDREW: I would, I would.
REBECCA: I did not say we should go plant kudzu. I did not say like throw its seeds everywhere. I just said I love kudzu. And that triggered [00:17:26] a lot of people. Because it’s edible, it’s medicinal, and I’m in recovery from alcoholism, and kudzu’s root has some great compounds in it that specifically help with the cravings for alcohol. So it’s one, spiritually very in line with my heart and my personal journey. So, [00:17:41] and it was used in Japan and China for that purpose for a long time. But it’s just funny because I can harvest as much kudzu is I want, you know, and like, I’m not going to put a dent in it. [laughs] But, I mean, if I want to harvest as much bloodroot, a native [00:17:56] plant, as I want, I can destroy that plant population.
REBECCA: So, it’s just so . . . And, like, to me, saying all or nothing is never the right answer because harvesting invasives is actually beneficial to the environment, because it frees up space for more native [00:18:11] plants.
ANDREW: Yeah. I love dandelion.
REBECCA: Me too!
ANDREW: And you know, there’s another one, like there’s just, you know, I could never get rid of it in my garden, even if I tried probably. So, the amount that I can [00:18:26] take of that is basically everything that’s showing, any time I want, and it just, you know, give it two or three weeks and boom, they’re back again with another crop.
ANDREW: You know, so, yeah.
REBECCA: And those plants have followed us from Europe here and [00:18:41] from Asia and from all the different places that all the different people that live on this continent now come from and it’s the story of the colonization of this continent is evident in our plant life.
REBECCA: And it marks the times that all the different people have come over here. And [00:18:56] all the different trading has occurred. You know, kudzu came over, I think, in the 30s and 40s for the World’s Fair, as an erosion control plant and a crop for animals to eat, because it’s very good for horses and cows and pigs and chickens and [00:19:11] [laughs] and people to eat, it’s fine protein. So, I just think, you know, focusing on harvesting invasive plants and plants that are abundant is a great way to ask the question: Is this sustainable? And also know that you will never know the answer.
ANDREW: Uh huh.
REBECCA: A lot of: plant [00:19:26] world are like, “I know the truth!” And you’re like, you do? That’s . . . Okay. I see you’re very confident in yourself. Because we’re always finding new things out, and ecology is just like folk magic or any magic spiritual tradition, always changing.
ANDREW: For sure. And also, you [00:19:41] know, with climate change.
REBECCA: Oh, yes.
ANDREW: Like, I think that that’s another thing that comes into this where it’s like, we might have an idea based on, you know, our experiences or our lifetime or you know, maybe even like our parents’ or grandparents’ lifetime, [00:19:56] but, things are changing a lot now. And you know, that’s going to change what, what all these plants do it, you know, and and also, you know all these, you know, continuously there are new plants being introduced and shifting back and forth [00:20:11] and all that kind of stuff, right? So. It’s such a dynamic system.
REBECCA: Dynamic is such a good word to describe it. And I think, you know, once again, it’s so funny. Like I even feel fear saying like: Invasive plants. Harvest them. Because you know, it’s like, it’s tough. People have very strong opinions [00:20:26] about how plants are to be managed and a lot of very good and important hard questions come up around that.
REBECCA: But the thing is, we do need to eat and heal ourselves from illness.
REBECCA: Most of those things can [00:20:41] be done with a lot of the invasive plants. And that’s not to say I never harvest native plants. Like I use poke a lot, which is a native plant, but most people think it’s a noxious weed. They’ll say, oh, that’s a weed.
REBECCA: It’s not, it’s a native plant. It’s, you know, it’s just [00:20:56] funny that people are like oh, this horrible weed. And I’m like, what are you talking about?
ANDREW: Well, it’s true. It’s like, you know, so a bunch of the plants that grow around here, that I use often in my religious practice, [00:21:11] you know, purslane, you know, stuff like that. You just find them growing out of the sidewalk, right? Like, in the city, it’s, you know, you just, you go down the back lane way and you’re like, oh look, you know, here’s this one and that one [00:21:26] and you know, and they’re just growing up between cracks in the cement and wherever, because those, those really hardy, you know, aggressive plants, you know, one, they have a lot of strength magically, you [00:21:41] know, in a general way, I think. But, but, two, they, you know, they’re, they’re everywhere and again, they’re the kinds of things where it’s like, you know, you don’t take it all but also, even if you did, they’re so resilient, like, people are [00:21:56] trying to get rid of them all the time and they cannot, you know, so yeah, it’s very interesting.
REBECCA: Yeah, and that’s a great way too, to find places to forage. I talk to a lot of farmer friends and I’ll say, you know, I love dandelion root . . .
REBECCA: For its liver medicine. And it [00:22:11] definitely is, you know, is a plant I feel is aligned with the element of air, it’s very good for spirit work and communication, but also not toxic so you can use it with impunity in some ways.
REBECCA: And call my friends and say, hey, do you mind if I bring my apprentices and our trowels out and we’ll dig some dandelion [00:22:26] at your house. And they’re always like, oh come on over. Or you call people in, you know, and they’re like, oh, come on over. So we go to different farms and kind of weed them.
REBECCA: And then we go home with all the things that we want. It’s a great symbiotic relationship. [laughs]
ANDREW: For sure. Yeah, I have [00:22:41] raised beds in my, in my garden . . .
ANDREW: And then the rest of it is this sort of crummy hard pack, you know, dirt that’s . . . whatever was like, you know, when [00:22:56] they built it, they filled in because we’re over a parking garage, right? And yeah, it’s, all the stuff that grows there is all wonderful energetically. And you know, dandelion, and plantain, and you know, like all that kind of stuff. It’s like we [00:23:11] would just go out in the yard and my kids are like, you know, they go ahead and pick a bunch and come back and make salad out of it and all that kind of stuff, you know, because it’s there, and it’s useful if you know what you’re looking at, right?
REBECCA: Kids are so good at learning plants. I teach a lot of children. People bring their kids on our foraging tours [00:23:26] and they always, at the end of the tour, can recite every plant we met. And the parents are like, oh, what was that one? And the kids are like, you know, it’s bitter, hairy bittercress and I’m like, oh good job. [laughs]
REBECCA: They know everything. And they’ll remember all the uses. They’re so good.
ANDREW: That’s amazing. [00:23:41] So, I’m curious, because you’ve mentioned this a couple times now. Is the sort of, you said, I’m afraid to talk about this. I’m afraid to talk about that.
REBECCA: Yeah! [laughs]
ANDREW: What . . . [00:23:56] tell me about the reservation. Like . . .
ANDREW: What, what is it that you run into around that?
REBECCA: Well, I think a lot of it come up recently for me with my fumatory herbs class. I got a lot of really mean aggressive and [00:24:11] I would even say violent communications around me daring to suggest to folks of non-North American indigenous ancestry that maybe they shouldn’t burn white sage with impunity. And I [00:24:26] think, I tried to say this compassionately and patiently as I could, I tried not to use attacking language. I called my, you know, my own self and my own shortcomings into the conversation, because I make mistakes constantly. I don’t know the right answers. I’m just guessing.
REBECCA: I’m just trying, you know? [00:24:41]
REBECCA: And I . . . the venom with which strangers will write to me is horrific, and it’s funny because, you see this over and over again, on Internet communications. Because when I taught my class in person, I was terrified that people would yell at me . . . [00:24:56]
REBECCA: There would be fighting in the class. Like I was afraid it would be really bad. I had probably 40 people show up to this class. It was incredible. People were compassionate and patient. Nobody got a millimetre out of line.
REBECCA: And [00:25:11] just like, I thought that was the case, but I’m so glad to see this is true. And everybody was just building together. Asking questions. Even if someone didn’t understand something, no one was like well, you’re an idiot for not understanding this complicated concept. [00:25:26] And I just appreciated how kind people were to each other and I see that that’s the case.
REBECCA: You know but online when you’re anonymous . . .
ANDREW: Definitely. Yeah.
REBECCA: And that’s where it comes from for me because I just see other herbalists and I’m [00:25:41] often holding myself back in my work, I think, because I’m terrified to make mistakes and hurt people. But it also prevents me from sharing more information, or you know, providing access to education to more folks that want it.
ANDREW: Yeah. I totally get that. You know?
REBECCA: You feel [00:25:56] that way?
ANDREW: I . . . last fall, I had made an Orisha Tarot deck with . . . that got published through Llewellyn. And so, it’s basically everywhere. And–which [00:26:11] is great–and the amount of apprehension I had about being an outsider, about, you know, even, even with the blessings of my ancestors, or like, my elders, my ancestors, the spirits through divination, like, even with [00:26:26] all those things, there’s just like “ohhh, man,” like waiting for that, that, you know, potential thing, right? And sometimes you get it and sometimes you don’t, right? And definitely online is a place where it’s way more likely, because online people [00:26:42] . . . Be kind, people, just be kind! I’m sure nobody listening to this podcast is mean online.
ANDREW: But, yeah, but, but, that apprehension, right? And then also that realization, now that it’s out there, that how much people [00:26:57] are benefiting from it, you know, and how much people are, you know, telling me how grateful they are that I made this offering, you know, to the world and whatever. And I think that it’s such a delicate line . . .
ANDREW: For, for us, [00:27:12] for people doing work, for people offering teaching, you know, and that, there’s so many people out there who are just like, “Rah, rah, rah, do your thing, screw everybody, give no fucks, whatever” and I’m always like, that’s horrible. Like, let’s not be like [00:27:27] that! That’s not useful.
REBECCA: [laughs] Yeah!
ANDREW: But then also there’s like so many people doing good work like, you know, what you’re up to, where it’s, there’s also that like, “Oh, should I? How’s it going to go? What’s gonna happen? I don’t know,” you know?
ANDREW: And, [00:27:42] and, and it’s real, you know, that tension is really real. And I think that so many people experience it around their work and stuff. You know, how do you find your way through it?
REBECCA: I think a lot of it is, I try to use, [00:27:57] like I am an incredibly privileged person. You know?
REBECCA: I’m a large able-bodied white tall physically able person, who can appear heterosexual in certain situations. [laughs] And I . . . And [00:28:12] feminine, you know, and it’s . . . So I can use those things to leverage messages and voices that are erased and largely unheard in my friends’ communities, especially my indigenous friends. And I do a lot of work with [00:28:27] with the Catawba Indian nation. And the . . . I’m hoping to do some more with the Cherokee Nation around ethnobotany. And reestablishing control over the knowledge of foraging to the people who taught it to my ancestors here. [00:28:42]
And I think it’s kind of crazy that me, as a European-ancestored-person, am going and teaching indigenous people how to forage, because their own knowledge was erased from them, through genocide. And it’s, to me, like acknowledging those things, and like [00:28:57] when we come together as people in the real world and real life, together, me and my friends and those nations, we can create pretty amazing things. And we talk about really hard, uncomfortable, scary stuff and it’s tough. You know? It’s hard. It brings up a lot for both of us. But [00:29:12] instead of allowing it to paralyze us and prevent us, we’re like, what can we build from the space? Like, where do we go forward? Let’s acknowledge these things, talk about the hard stuff, the history, the harm caused by my ancestors, and let’s [00:29:27] build something new from that. You know?
REBECCA: And I think that’s really tough. It’s because we don’t know what to do. None of us really know. And for me, like constantly giving word, voice, accolade, and when I have extra resources, [00:29:42] putting my resources towards the people whose land this was and is, still. That to me is what I can do. And I know that’s not what everyone would say is the best way but for me, I know, I don’t . . . Unfortunately, being [00:29:57] a Appalachian folk magical practitioner is definitely not a great way to make a lot of money . . .
REBECCA: I don’t have a ton of resources and I have a lot of debt.
REBECCA: But I have a lot of non-monetary resources, like access to academic information. [00:30:12] So I do a lot of research for my friends who don’t have access to journals.
REBECCA: And I give them, you know, my university, don’t tell my university I give them my login.
ANDREW: Nobody from university is listening, it’s fine.
REBECCA: I know. They’re not. Don’t worry. But just finding ways to constantly figure [00:30:27] out like, okay, who am I speaking for? How can I help make space for others to speak and how can I make my resources available to them that are most helpful? And not what I think is most helpful, but what they need.
ANDREW: Yeah. I think that part about asking [00:30:42] people what they need? I mean, I think it’s such a such a piece that gets overlooked so often in any kind of restorative approach.
REBECCA: Restorative, yeah.
ANDREW: That, like, say you’re sorry, like whatever [00:30:57] it was, personal thing, you know, a generational thing or whatever, say, “Hey, I’m really sorry this happened, and then ask, like, “Is there something you need? Is there something that, that you think that I might be able to do that you need?” And then you can really [00:31:12] see where the conversation goes, right? Because I find so often people make these apologies or, you know, like, you know, I mean, again, maybe I’m being judgmental about people who are raging against you about using white [00:31:27] sage online, but I’m like, listen, just start with an apology, or just start with saying, “Huh. Well, what could I do instead. What might make sense?” You know? And maybe, maybe there are people, and probably there are people, who a hundred percent like have a deep deep connection [00:31:42] to that plant? Or, you know, like the white sage plant. Or there are lots of ways in which you can procure stuff sustainably, if you want to.
ANDREW: Like, you know. I got some stuff here. There’s a new farmer in [00:31:57] Ontario who started growing stuff. You know, he got laid off from his job and he started expanding what he was already farming for himself, and it’s great. You know, it’s local, it’s organic. It’s . . . You know, it’s sustainably harvested because [00:32:12] he’s farming it himself, right? You know, it’s great.
ANDREW: Right? So like there’s lots of options but being mad about it. That’s not, like, that doesn’t help anybody and . . .
REBECCA: Yeah, they don’t like being told they can’t do something. People are mad at me for saying . . . And I didn’t say that. I said, “Hey, [00:32:27] maybe listen to indigenous people.”
REBECCA: And too, look at how this plant is now entering threatened status. And like, these are two things that are very important for different reasons.
ANDREW: Mm-hmm. Yeah. And, and I think too, you know, I mean, it’s [00:32:42] always something that’s very interesting to me, because my approach to working with plants, outside of my traditional stuff, which I learned from my elders, is I go for walks in the ravine, you know, or in the the forest in the valley here or [00:32:57] even in the lane ways. And, when I find a plant, like something’ll grab my attention. And I’ll be like, “Huh? What are you? What’s going on?” And I’ll just sit down and hang out with it for a while.
ANDREW: And, you [00:33:12] know, none of those plants are mad. I’ve yet to find an angry plant. You know? I mean, like, that kind of like, conflicty energy, you know. Even, even plants that are in competition with each [00:33:27] other or whatever, I never have that feeling from them, that they have that aggressiveness, you know? And I think that it’s an interesting thing to sort of ask yourself when you’re working with plants. Like, what is the energy of this plant, [00:33:42] and how am I aligned with it? And how are my feelings aligned with it? And what’s going on from there? You know? I don’t know, does that make any sense to you?
REBECCA: Oh, definitely. And I think . . . I totally agree with you. And I was talking to a friend the other day and he’s like, “How do we separate [00:33:57] the spiritual from the political?” And I was like, “I don’t think we can, and I don’t think we should, at this point, but I think I see why people want to.” They say, “Oh, can we just leave politics out of it?”
REBECCA: Like well, that would be great. But unfortunately, with [00:34:12] the way things are, we can’t. And it’s . . . there’s, you know, a lot of Internet explosions around things like that.
REBECCA: Because people are like, “Well, you, don’t bring up politics at this event.” And it’s like, well, you can’t talk about plants or harvesting [00:34:27] or medicine and magic and not talk about the people it’s come from, how we know about it.
REBECCA: And the story of how we got to this point. And it’s . . . We need to do better as you know, as a community, especially, you know, in the white herbal world and [00:34:42] white practitioners need to do better about being open to like, talking about hard stuff and realizing it doesn’t mean they have to fling themselves off a cliff. [laughs] You know?
ANDREW: For sure, right? Yeah.
REBECCA: You know, sometimes people think that’s what people are asking of them, and it’s like no one is asking you to fling yourself off a cliff. Maybe some people are, but you [00:34:57] don’t have to do that. And it’s just about being able to say like, whoa, what’s the real story of how I got this information?
REBECCA: And you know, the real story of when I harvest poke, I know what poke’s medicinal uses are because indigenous and African [00:35:12] folks told my ancestors those things. So I need to, every time I work with that plant, I think about that. And I don’t think about it in a negative or combative way. I think, like you’re saying, I think about it in a, like, thank you, gratitude.
REBECCA: A building.
ANDREW: [00:35:27] Yeah. I don’t think we can ever separate. . . I mean, yeah, I don’t think we can really ever separate or ought to, as you say, at this time, separate politics from our spirituality. You know, I think that that that makes no sense at all [00:35:42] to me and even historically, you know . . .
REBECCA: Yeah. [laughs]
ANDREW: You know, you look at a lot of, like the the stories of the Orishas going back, you know? So many of them demarcate political shifts in power and other kinds of things that [00:35:57] are, that are historical, you know? This group came in. They took over this, this region. They deposed the kind of person who was in charge. And the spirit that that person, you know, was most aligned with got a new story, where they [00:36:12] got demoted somehow because of something, right? Or what have you, you know? There’s a lot of that. And, it’s why, when I wrote the book that goes to my deck, I included the politics, a bunch of politics, all through it and even a chapter in the front that’s . . . The, the header is like, why are there [00:36:27] politics in this book? And you know, and it’s like, there’s a few pages on like why, why I wanted to, you know, really make sure I was engaging in honoring some of that political content because it’s true of the religion, it’s true of [00:36:42] the world, and it’s true for people who are living in the world and using these tools or these plants or whatever. We’re all running into politics all the time, you know? And so I thought the idea that we could free ourselves from that somehow is, I [00:36:58] don’t know, reminds me very much of like the Golden Dawn notion of like . . .
ANDREW: We’ll get back to like the one true history behind all of the movement of the last, you know, thousands of years since Egypt and we’ll, you know, access pure spiritual being or whatever. It’s like no. That [00:37:13] doesn’t exist. You know?
REBECCA: I think you’re so right. That was really well said and I totally agree. And I . . . it’s . . . to me, I don’t want to shame the, like when I hang out with a lot of hippies in Asheville and they’re like, we’re one human family. I’m like, we are, you’re right and it’s . . . it’s great. [00:37:28] We’re all humans. We have these shared human experiences. But within that human experience, my experience is very different than my friend who’s, you know, Latinx or a person of color or disabled or a differently [00:37:43] abled or you know, blind or deaf or like anybody that experiences the world and and the, unfortunately, the baggage that the world puts upon them, in our culture . . .
REBECCA: The different reasons and the different oppressions that people experience. [00:37:58] I don’t understand the . . . Like, for me it’s difficult to understand when people are like, let’s just pretend that things don’t exist, because it’s hard!
REBECCA: To deal with and it’s hard when you don’t experience a lot of those things, to be compassionate enough to say, what would it be like? What . . . How can I put [00:38:13] myself in that person’s shoes?
REBECCA: And be compassionate to them, and be like, wow, you have had it way more difficult than me. And that doesn’t mean that once again, I need to jump off a cliff, but it means I need to be aware of how I move through the world and who I’m stepping [00:38:28] on, who I’m profiting off of . . .
REBECCA: And who I’m supporting in the way that they would like to be supported, not the way I think they should be supported.
ANDREW: For sure.
REBECCA: And like you said, I don’t . . . I always tell my students, I’m like, I don’t know the answers. I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m just . . . [laughs] I [00:38:43] do have some idea. But I’m guessing and I’m list-, trying to listen to my friends, and what their needs actually are, and I make mistakes.
REBECCA: And I have to be sorry, like you said, and then ask, what do you, what word did you use, recon-, not [00:38:58] reconstructed, but re- . . . You used a great word to kind of describe that asking somebody, what can I do? What do you need from me?
REBECCA: To- . . . true apology.
ANDREW: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. I can’t remember right now, but you can rewind and listen to it later. [laughs]
REBECCA: [00:39:13] Well, that word, you know . . .
REBECCA: And that concept of . . . That to me is so integral in our in our work, especially with plants. It’s so complicated. And like I said, many people will either say, “Right on,” you know, or say “Wow, [00:39:28] she’s a crazy communist,” you know, or “Wow, she’s actually horrible and she shouldn’t harvest any plans at all.” And I know, at some point, I want everyone to like me . . . [laughs] You know, I want everyone . . . I’m a very people-pleasing person, being socialized female growing up, you [00:39:43] know, I always want to make everyone happy and feel safe. Also quadruple Cancer here.
ANDREW: Wow, that’s a lot of Cancer. It’s a lot of Cancer. The struggle is real, eh?
REBECCA: A real struggle but, I’ve got a lot of fire too. So it’s hard to find out . . .
REBECCA: What to truly do about that. [00:39:58] But I think what you’ve said, like, and the way you handled it in your book . . . There . . . People will be mad at us, no matter what we do in life and dislike us and that’s okay.
REBECCA: Looking for places who are causing real harm. That’s to me more important than dealing with people who are on the Internet screaming.
REBECCA: Real [00:40:13] purpose. [laughs]
ANDREW: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, people can, people can do whatever they want on the Internet. It’s fine. It’s the Internet. I mean, it’d be great if people were kinder, but well, it’s the Internet. So. [laughs] So that’s the modern monster we’ve created right? Now, it’s [00:40:28] funny, I’ve been . . . So, I guess, I have a question for you and then we will wrap up because you know, we’ve been on the phone for a while here, which has been super fun and we could probably talk for a long time. But so, my [00:40:43] question is: If you were to pick a plant or maybe a couple plants, that you think their energy harmonizes with kind of what we’ve been talking about here. What, what plant would that be, for you, for somebody [00:40:58] to get to know, you know, on an energetic level or whatever level makes sense, you know?
REBECCA: Yeah, that’s such a good question. I think, for me, one of my most patron plants is mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris.
ANDREW: Uh huh.
REBECCA: And [00:41:13] it– [laughs] Most gardeners in my town will be like, I hate mugwort, because it has running rootless, and it goes all over the place . . .
REBECCA: And it’s a weed. But mugwort has been used historically all over the world as a banishing herb.
REBECCA: The way that [00:41:28] many like new age folks use white sage now, which is not really its intended purpose, is what I’ve been told . . .
REBECCA: By different folks and you can read a lot more about that by actual indigenous people online. If you want to look up the original uses [00:41:43] of white sage, I’d encourage you to do that. But mugwort, whether burned or even just hung up as a bundle, was used to keep away evil, to cleanse things, to remove disease-causing spirits, and in Asia, as well as North America and Europe, [00:41:58] and now it’s naturalized. It’s not native. It’s naturalized all over the United States in lots of different species. And they’re fragrant. They’re edible, medicinal, important plants and I invite you to meet mugwort. And especially if [00:42:13] you have German ancestry, it was one of most important fumic plants of the German folks, which my last name means “from Bavaria.” So, as you can imagine, that’s some of the stuff I focus on in my work, but I invite people that to meet mugwort, because when you harvest it, you’re weeding [00:42:28] out an invasive plant, you can make all types of food and medicine, and I have a post on my blog about the history of its magical uses, if people are curious with it.
ANDREW: We’ll include a link in the show notes, for sure. That’s awesome. Yeah, mugwort’s [00:42:43] a really great one. You know, it’s funny. It’s amusing. I don’t know. I don’t even know what the right word is. I’m always surprised at how hard a sell it is to people sometimes? When other things are just such an [00:42:58] easy sell, right?
ANDREW: But, but now I’m just going to be like, you know, look, Rebecca says you should use this one. I’ll there put a little sign above the . . . You know, your face, saying, “Get this one!” right where we sell it in the shop. [laughs] Yeah. Yeah, [00:43:13] the one that I leaned on a lot through, through that kind of like journeys with this stuff was, was actually was dandelion.
ANDREW: You know, it’s a sort of like, you know, partly because of its notion of like, that deep [00:43:28] taproot as sort of staying deeply grounded in my own practice and being really really like grounded in what I do. Partly, you know, because of, like even though people see it as a weed, the beauty of its flower, right? That sort of like [00:43:43] offering of a radiance to the world throughout what I’m trying to do with my work, and also because it’s, you know, often used for like detoxifying and stuff like that, that sort of like inner cleanse. It’s like, I’ve got to root out this stuff, that’s conditioning and [00:43:58] cultural baggage and other things, so that I can be more authentic to myself and what I need to be doing, you know? So that was definitely one that I leaned down a lot. You know, last year, especially through the summer time, [00:44:13] whenever I was like, feeling, feeling that worry about what was going to happen when the thing came out. I was like, all right, let’s go out in the garden, dig up some dandelions, make some tea, or like hang out with them, or put a put a bunch of them on the table for a while or whatever, you know, so. [00:44:28]
ANDREW: Yeah, for sure.
REBECCA: That’s amazing. I love that. Thanks for sharing that with me.
ANDREW: Yeah! So, for people who want to check out what you’re up to, and people should definitely check out what you’re up to. Where do they find you? Where . . . [00:44:43] what are you up to, where are you hanging out online right now?
REBECCA: Where do I lurk? Well, I have a website and an Instagram account called Blood and Spicebush. And my website is BloodandSpicebush.com. Spicebush is one of my favorite native plants and a blood cleanser, [00:44:58] hence the name of my website! And I also run a small folk herbalism school with my friend Abby Artemisia, called Sassafras School. And you can find us at Sassafras-School.com. And we have a few more spaces left in our yearlong [00:45:13] program on folk medicine and wild foods, as we’re both female botanists and foragers and medicinal practitioners. So, we’re excited to share that, because there’s lots of amazing clinical herb programs, but we’ve seen there wasn’t really any folk [00:45:28] program. So we decided to give it a go and see how that goes.
ANDREW: Nice. That’s awesome. Amazing. And you’re going to be in Hamilton this summer, for folks who are local to the shop. So, you know, we’ll put a link in for where you can find that as well in the notes, [00:45:43] but, Rebecca’s going to be up in up in our part of the world a little bit where the shop is, so.
REBECCA: End of June. Yeah.
ANDREW: End of June, yeah. Well, thank you so much for being on. It’s been a wonderful chatting with you. Thank you.
REBECCA: It was a pleasure. Thank you.