This morning I awoke to a grey, drizzly morning here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest where I live. This marks a vast change from the hot, arid, and even smokey days of late. The air is-at least for a moment- finally, blessedly, cool and refreshing. My soul is rejoicing!
My favorite time of year is marked by these cool hazy mornings and golden, sparkling afternoons…brilliant jewel colors adorn the landscape, like a final celebration before the cycle of returning to the womb of the earth begins once again.
In autumn we are embraced by the comforting earthy scents of spicy cinnamon bark and evergreen trees, and the sweetness of ripe fruit, damp hay and moldering leaves that eddy around through the thinning celestial air.
Can you sense it? A feeling in the moments of quiet C.S. Lewis described as “that deep shiver of gladness which you only get if you are being solemn and still”? That tingly sense of familiar energy surrounds us now: the anticipation of a fleeting glimpse across the valley. A glimpse of those held so dear, too long parted from us.
In Autumn I find my thoughts continually circling back to pleasant memories of my ancestors, remembering relationships that continue to sustain and guide me. These precious recollections of those whose “arms held me for so many years, their beautiful voices no longer I hear” gather and reverberate throughout my soul. Except, in the waning light and the now translucent veil that separates life and death, I can come so much closer to them, and they to me. We reach out for one more embrace, one more whisper of love in this brief ethereal state where I can feel my mother’s cheek upon mine.
Contemplating life and death and all the in-betweens, I am grateful for this most sacred time of remembrance and re-connection.
Plants are my welcome companions in the days ahead. Coastal Mugwort (Artemisia suksdorfii) is a plant that prefers to inhabit the littoral, the in-between spaces of land and sea, and the in-between spaces of path and wilderness-meeting me right where I am.
I run my hands up its stem and caress its leaves. I feel it lean toward me, seeking me out, calling me. I put my cupped hands to my face and inhale deeply. Mugwort is highly aromatic, meaning rich in volatile oils (a complex array of phenols and terpenes). The volatile oils are so tiny and bioavailable to us that just by breathing them in, they have an immediate effect on our body and mind as they cross the blood-brain barrier.
Mugwort is what is called an oneirogen, an herb that can promote vivid dreaming or induce a dream-like state of consciousness (and better dream recall, too). Mugwort opens us up to a transformative awareness where we can tap into the psycho-spiritual realm. Dreamwork, ritual and meditation are aided by this deeply relaxing herbal ally.
Mugwort helps us gracefully release what we cling to and go with the flow of the tide. And in doing so, our awareness shifts and we become more attuned to discoveries about ourselves, our circumstances, or others-and we can begin to see things with more clarity. Mugwort is a gentle ally, tapping into awareness of deeper issues that have been hidden or that we are unable to explore using our conscious mind. Just as the equinox briefly marked the return to balance between light and dark, so too, Mugwort embodies both light and dark, and holds them in balance for us, where each one gives deeper meaning and context to the other.
Mugwort is also a plant that connects me to my ancestors as a lasting symbol of the ancient wisdom of women and their roles as healers. It signifies the relationship between women and herbs… and between women as sisters and allies… across time and space. It even helps me access the threads that connect you and I.
To receive Mugwort’s gifts, you can dry it and incorporate into sachets, or you can simply hang a small sprig above the bed. Although you may find, if you are highly sensitive to it, that you need to keep it in a room other than the bedroom! An infusion of the leaves can be added to bath water or an infused oil can be rubbed on the temples before bed. Dried, it can also be smoked to bring on a state of calm relaxation. But my favorite way to enjoy Mugwort is to make an herb salt by grinding fresh leaves and coarse sea salt together (about 1 part herb to 2 parts salt) until fine, then spreading the mixture out in a thin layer on parchment paper to dry overnight. I use this delicious, mineral rich salt on buttered popcorn with finely ground nutritional yeast and a dash of garlic powder and/or ground rosemary. It is the perfect savory treat to go with your herbal Chai or other warm beverage as you relax in the evening or bliss away on a Sunday afternoon.
Fall is a season of winding down. Listen to what the Earth is telling you. Look at what the Earth is showing you. This is your season of winding down too. Mugwort can help you lean into that. This kind of seasonal self care lays the foundation for our innerwork to be most meaningful and transformative during the dream time.
Soon the air will be crisp and cold. We will be cocooned in cozy blankets, mesmerized by the glow of candlelight, sighing deep sighs. Outside, sharp gusty winds will scatter the remaining dried leaves like flocks of skittish birds…and the smoke of our crackling fires will rise to the heavens, a final offering to our loved ones across the valley.
May you be well and may you dream well,
P.S. If you are interested in learning more about the herbal preparations I mentioned, or if you just want to dive deeper into plant medicine, our seasonal Fireside Chats begin again in November and you can sign up for whatever topics interest you! I hope to see your face in the glow!
Lewis, C.S. (1970). The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Collier Books/Macmillan Publishing Company, Inc.
Streep, M. & Tomlin, L. (2006). (Garrison Keillor, composer). Goodbye to My Mama. [Song]. A Prairie Home Companion (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack). New Line Records.