Have you ever wondered about the difference between spirit and soul? They're both over-used and nebulous words, intangible, without a definitive, material thing to point to for definition. I question whether there even is a difference, or if either thing actually exists, ya know?
But I was immediately struck recently by how Michael Meade differentiated between the two on his incredibly wise and poignant Living Myth podcast, Episode 28, entitled "The Dance of Spirit and Soul."
It helped me to further understand the lore surrounding Angelica and my own recent mind blowing Otherworldly meeting with her, because when you sit in her presence, this beautiful plant does feel transcendent. Angelica showed me that the spirit realm exists alongside our own, and that we can communicate and connect with it. Michael Meade says:
"Spirit wishes to rise above it all, prefers high places like mountain tops. It forces transcendence and a higher unity that surpasses all distinctions."
This is in contrast with soul, which dwells in the depth and the dark, which strives not for unity or transcendence but for multiplicity and immanence. Spirit is clean and ethereal, soul is messy and embodied. Spirit is air and fire, soul is water and earth.
Listening to Michael's words, I realized that I am much more comfortable with soul. I like things messy, I like the depths. Ideas of purity and transcendence scare me, as I've seen Holier-Than-Thou types abuse these ideas to the detriment of others. I cringe when people say "Love & Light", and have been known to sign my emails "Love & Darkness."
But both are here, both are woven into the fabric of being. And so it's no surprise that Angelica visited me recently to remind me of this, as I struggle to feel connected to one who's passed from the embodied soul realm of earth to the ethereal spirit realm of death and to find the the motherlove that death took from me.
Angelica came to me deep in meditation, as I was following the soothing, entrancing voice of Asia Suler in her Intuitive Plant Medicine online course. The meditation was to help find a plant ally, and I was sure I'd encounter Hawthorne. It was early May and the Hawthorne's were blooming and I was falling in love all over again with this tree that I had first come to know a decade before.
As the meditation progressed I found myself in a blindingly white landscape. Pure white, and I somehow knew that I was very high up. I felt confused, thinking I was "supposed to" be in a real world landscape somewhere, a forest or a desert- how could I meet a plant ally here, where nothing can grow? Then again, it was white, like the Hawthorne blossoms I was expecting to show up as my ally, so maybe I was on track after all.
And then, suddenly and with great force, the image of Angelica burst into the field of my inner vision. I almost laughed out loud. Of course! I knew of Angelica's reputation as a plant strongly connected to the spirit world, and the place my consciousness had traveled to felt just like what I imagine the spirit realm would feel like.
I recalled the first time I had met Angelica here on earth, in the wild, on an herbal campout in the High Sierra ten years ago. Our teacher sent us up the mountain to find a plant to sit with for a while. When we all reconvened later she had us describe our plant and talk about what we experienced as we sat with it.
Turns out I had found Angelica, and what had come to me as I sat beneath her towering halo was that this was a fiercely protective plant with an incredibly gentle, loving, maternal energy about her.
Indeed, angelic. I had never felt such a transcendent quality from a plant before. She seemed to dwell simultaneously here on earth but also somewhere far, far away.
She was beatific, benevolent, and to sit with her was a blessing.
This memory flooded me as I lay in meditation, and I started bawling.
Mother's Day was a few days away, and I had been having enormous feelings about my beloved mama's death in a car accident only 18 months before.
Grief is a tricky thing, it ebbs and flows. Some days and weeks I'm okay. This was not one of those times. I had been a forlorn mess, drowning in sorrow and wondering yet again just who I am now that I've lost the person who loved and supported me the most.
Asia guided us to ask the plant what message it had for us, and I immediately understood that Angelica was softly whispering to me, "I can love and support and protect you like a mother."
Immediately I felt, at a visceral level, that Angelica embodies the highest form of Pure Love (like the Platonic Ideal of love) and radiates that energy outward from wherever she is fixed in the earth's soil.
The tears flowed and flowed. Slowly the blinding whiteness faded, and I found myself, still in my inner vision, very high up on a mountain top, pouring out my thanks to this plant and to this experience.
By the time Mother's Day rolled around, I was ready for it. I had found peace, and was full to the brim with a feeling of being loved and held by unseen forces beyond my reckoning. I remembered that the love between me and my mom was just the same as all the love everywhere else in the multiverse, concentrated into the form of a mother-daughter relationship, of our particular mother-daughter relationship, and that I could still call upon that love and lean on it for support as I go about my busy days and my own mothering journey.
I remembered that I had an Angelica flower essence, and ordered the root tincture as well. I wanted to taste the medicine. I wanted to bring this plant, which clearly had so much to teach me, into my body.
It's now been three months of working with Angelica both physically (by taking the plant medicine daily) and spiritually (by thinking about her all the time and carrying her in my heart). At some point along the way, though I didn't make the connection at first, I noticed that I had fully transitioned from Maiden to Mother.
Though I became a mom 11 years ago, the birth of my second daughter 11 months ago made me realize that I still identified more with the Maiden than the Mother, and that I longed for my Maiden self and mourned the slow fading away of that phase of my life.
This is very common in our culture, where youth is worshipped and we don't undergo Rites of Passage ceremonies for monumental life transitions or have the support of our community as we step into a new way of being.
Slowly, with the help of Angelica, I started to feel fully embodied as Mother. My old self is gone. My own mother is gone. It is me now. I am the Mother.
And with my mama not here to give me the enormous amount of support she did for 34 years, I have to rely on my own inner reserves. Feeling Angelica by my side gives me great courage and faith as I walk this unknown path.
After the experience I had in that meditation, I wanted very much to spend time with Angelica in the wild again. Last week my family and I drove up to South Lake Tahoe, my hometown, the mountain on which I was born and raised. As we ascended Echo Summit, I saw her. I saw her everywhere. Angelica was lining the highway on both sides, welcoming me home.
The next day the baby fell asleep in the car, and I dropped my husband and oldest daughter off at my sister's and drove to the neighborhood I grew up in. Two streets up from my childhood home (I say up because our neighborhood was on a sloping hillside) I saw Angelica covering the acres of empty lots across from an old abandoned house we used to play in as kids.
Much of the land around here is owned by the forest service. Though there are houses around, it's mostly woods. Much of Tahoe has been developed in the last couple decades, much to the dismay of us locals, but my neighborhood looks just like it did when I grew up in the 80's and 90's.
The next day I went back there by myself early in the morning to spend time with Angelica. The only spot I could find where I wouldn't be trampling her or some other plant put me in a position where I was lying on my back with one Angelica plant's tall stalk running along the top of my head (me looking upward at the bottom of the halo of flowers), and another Angelica plant between my legs, nestled into the warmth there. So the trunk of my body was right in between the two, with points of contact at the root and crown.
And I realized, lying there, that it wasn't Angelica I had come to talk to. It was my mom.
I spoke aloud. I mostly talked about her granddaughters, how Mycelia is so grown up at age 11 and such a good big sister, about what a funny baby Nixie is and how much I know she would have loved her. I told her about how proud she would be of me, how much I've grown my business and stepped into a more empowered version of myself than I ever thought possible since her death. I told her everything. I told her how much I love and miss her. I cried, of course.
Gazing up the stalk of the plant, I remembered that it is hollow and that folks see this as indicative of Angelica's ability to be a communication vehicle between realms, that it is an empty vessel reaching up to the heavens, open and available to transmit messages back and forth.
And then, it was time to listen. To let the communication flow the other way.
I closed my eyes and breathed deeply and tuned in to my heart. Like most folks, getting truly still and meditating are not easy for me, and I always feel pressure at these moments to do it right. I've learned that just deep breathing and feeling my heartspace are simple but effective techniques.
A memory came to me. As teenagers my friend Stephanie and I broke into the abandoned house I'd mentioned earlier. For years my sister and I and our friends would visit it in the summertime. It had never been finished and was unoccupied, and there was a sense of danger and even hauntedness to these escapades.
That day, Stephanie and I had looked out a window from inside the house and had seen a mama bear and her two cubs in the woods below us (remember, the whole area is one massive hillside). Later, walking home through the woods, Stephanie suddenly yelled, "Run!" And I did. When we got to the street she told me that we'd come within a few feet of the mama bear. I never saw her. Her presence was real, but was hidden from me, as my mama is now.
I smiled as this memory flooded me. This had happened on the same hillside I was now lying on, maybe 50 feet away. In herbalism, Angelica is considered Bear Medicine, because bears seek it out and dig up the roots for food when they emerge from hibernation in the spring. Bear is an important totem for me, and is especially meaningful for me as a mother. And, of course, the fact that it was a mama bear with her two children seemed significant.
I was grateful to Angelica for bringing this memory down to me, and felt incredibly satisfied and actually quite elated with the way my visit with this spirit ally had gone. I thought about picking a few flowers to make my own flower essence, but felt overwhelmingly that I had gotten all the medicine I needed, and that harvesting wasn't appropriate right now.
I wandered back to my car, seeing all the pine cones on the forest floor and reminiscing about what a huge part of my formative years this landscape, this forest floor, these pine cones, had been.
As I gazed at the screen of my iPhone while taking the picture at the top of this post I recognized the small flower in the lower part of the frame and my heart leapt. Could it be? I shifted my gaze from the phone and to the actual plant a few feet away from me and, sure enough, it was Coyote Mint.
This is a plant I'd been wanting to meet for a while, and I was thrilled to find it. Yet more smiles and gratitude as I realized that Angelica had made the introduction.
Driving away up yet another street I had wandered a thousand times in childhood my attention was caught by something moving by the side of the road up ahead. It was a baby bear. I slammed on the breaks and watched it with joy until it disappeared down a big drain. A mother and father with three kids were standing nearby watching too, and we exchanged big smiles and waves as I slowly drove away.
Though I waited and looked for her, I never did see baby bear's mama. I hope she was around. Baby isn't developed enough to survive without her mama.
But I am. And I have allies- human, plant, and animal- to support me on the path.
Though I have rambled on quite a bit about the spiritual properties of Angelica as I have come to understand them, let us not forget the incredible physical healing properties of this sacred plant.
All parts of the herb are used for medicine. As with all other plants that have a strong fragrance, Angelica has anti-microbial properties, making it useful for coughs, colds, flus, and infections. (If a plant has a scent, it contains volatile oils- also called essential oils- and all volatile oils by their nature are anti-microbial).
This anti-microbial action was recognized and written about by the old time herbalists. In 1597 Gerard wrote that it was a "singular remedie against poison, and against the plague, and all infections taken by evil and corrupt aire," and says that it "cureth the bitings of mad dogs and all other venomous beasts." Culpeper echoed Angelica's powers against infection and disease in 1653.
Some of the main actions for which Angelica is used are: as an expectorant (its warming and stimulating properties help to bring up phlegm from the lungs, useful for for coughs, colds, congestion), as a diaphoretic (opens the pores of the skin to allow more sweat to pass through, helpful for fevers or excess heat), and as a carminative and stomachic (relaxes digestion and helps to expel excess gas).
Angelica also, not surprisingly given her strong maternal energy, has an affinity with women's bodies and the womb specifically. Closely related to Chinese medicine's most revered female tonic herb, Dong Quai, it is a warming stimulate used to bring on delayed menstruation, ease cramps, facilitate childbirth, and expel the placenta. For these reasons, it should not be used by pregnant women.
FES writes that when using the flower essence of Angelica the "soul becomes more able to perceive and discriminate its connection to the subtle sheaths surrounding the physical world. Angelica especially encourages the individual to develop a relationship with the spiritual world, transforming an overly abstract or intellectual viewpoint into a genuine feeling for spiritual presence and spiritual beings. This awareness is particularly enhanced for that group of spiritual beings who immediately border the human kingdom: the angels. Through a living relationship with the angelic realm, the human soul receives guardianship and guidance in daily affairs, and protection at times of crisis or during threshold experiences. This feeling of being protected and cared for is of enormous importance to the inner life, giving the soul great strength and courage for its work in transforming and healing the world. Angelica is broadly indicated for many flower essence formulas and is particularly important at threshold times such as birth, death, festival celebrations, or other major life passages."
I hope this post inspires you to seek connection with this most transcendent of herbs, to heal or nurture all the maternal relationships in your life, and to connect with your own vast inner spirit.