31.12.2014
Brave New Year
Where to find the requisite energy to resist and desist

All the mad rush of Christmas, twitching nervousness and stresses of what-to-get-who and who-eats-what are done for another year. For many of us a sigh of relief is just about all we can manage. But, but, but! Here we are at New Year! A time of stern resolution - and determination to do better and have more control.  Almost every newspaper and magazine will be telling us how we can lose those Christmas pounds, and do more exercise, give up alcohol, cigarettes, sweets, chocolate, fat, carbs, crisps, pies, red meat, cream, butter: the mighty list that you all know only too well. But, oh golly, where is it possible to find the requisite energy to resist and desist?

Now, dear reader, don’t fret: you and I will travel a different path. An older path, one that is not always quite so bossy or rigid.  We might nudge witches, ancient traditions, thoughts and theories. We might need courage.  Actually, it might be more accurate to say that courage is what I’m looking for.

It has been difficult over the past few months to avoid or ignore the astounding bravery of so many we see daily on the news: those caught up in defending their land or suffering banishment, those, such as Alan Henning, viciously put to death; or people like nurse Will Pooley, himself an Ebola survivor, who has chosen to return to help in the disease crisis of West Africa. These people – and so many others we don’t hear about - show courage beyond our imagination. But where do they find such bravery? Is it upbringing? Determination? Desperation, conviction or sheer bloody-mindedness in the catapulting moment? And would they say they were courageous? Somehow I doubt it.

Courage comes in many forms: it isn’t always overtly heroic.  It can be in the daily battle with illness, disability or poverty. Or in standing up for someone at work, or defending an unpopular ideal.  Or in changing yourself when you know you should or because you need to. This is the sort of courage that rarely wins much in the way of plaudits but it makes each and every one of us feel better, and be better, in ourselves and our neighbours and our communities. So let’s find it.

The wise-women of old, sometimes seen as witches, sought out particular herbs to give as protection for their ‘clients’ for example they gave bay leaf to improve psychic powers and offer healing, purification, and greater strength. In Scotland, thyme tea was brewed to keep bad dreams away and increase courage. The Romans, who brought thyme to Britain, put it in their baths to increase strength and bravery; they no doubt picked up the habit from Greek warriors who were given thyme massages and infusions for the same purpose. The choice of herbs in a modern-day English witch’s workbook is long, and might include Dragon’s blood (no, not from the beast itself but a red resin from various plants), frankincense, thyme of course, yarrow, black cohosh, borage, mullein, poke, basil, chives, honeysuckle, horseradish, nettle, pepper, tarragon, cedar, musk.

 

Frankly, it’s not just witches who use these to help people (perhaps bar Dragon’s Blood!). There are plenty of cross-overs into the world of conventional herbalism: the Latin name for wonderfully skin-healing yarrow is Achillea millefolium, a name that reminds us that it was used as a wound healer, and battle preparation, as far back as those ancient Greeks.  Borage – or Starflower – is used by some herbalists today to give people heart, to dispel melancholy. The name “borage” is thought to come from the medieval Latin “burra,” meaning rough-coated, which refers to the hairiness of the plant. An alternative explanation suggests a corruption of the Latin “corago” (courage), as in Gerard's rhyme “ego borago gaudia semper ago” (I, borage, bring always courage). Rosemary, famous for remembrance, is a cardiovascular tonic that is known to stimulate the mind and that is not such a far step from determining the right path – and it was – is - certainly one of the top herbs for encouraging bravery.

Herbs administered for courage in other continents and cultures are many too:  India’s Ashwagandha means “the strength, or smell, of a stallion” which clearly says something about its ability to increase athletic prowess, and it is an adaptogen – something that helps modulate our response to stress.  Another adaptogen, Tulsi (or Holy Basil) is regarded as the most holy of all plant in Hinduism and as an elixir of life. It is seen as able to support huge increases in endurance as well as aiding recovery time and promote long life. Fo-ti (or Ho Shou Wu) is a classic Chinese tonic used to restore vitality and inner strength, enhance sexual energy sustaining energy when overly stressed. It has been found to contain an alkaloid that has rejuvenating effects on the nerves, brain cells and endocrine glands. Ginseng is used as a restorative for exhaustion, brightens the eyes and brings clarity and focus. Astralagus is supposed to be energising and balancing to core strength.

 

The lists go on and on, herbs for physical, mental and spiritual use to make us feel better and stronger. They can, and do: or so the experience of millennia – and modern science - would tell us. And if it is so, why not try?  Maybe our New Year’s resolution should be something like: let me seek courage.  And let me find out what will help me to succeed. Courage is certainly what it takes to fight our daily battles with any sort of dignity and cheerfulness. But courage is also what we need to seek our dreams - and thus become ourselves. May you have a brave New Year.

   

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