Updated: 19 hours ago
This blog has been migrated from my other website donnacleary.net.
The blog Chronicles of a Witch in Training began at the start of my three years of training as an Herbalist. I wrote first about Ireland, where I realized my ancestors were Herbalists, on both sides of my family. My father’s family ran an Herbal Medical School in Munster County from 1400-1700 and my mother’s maiden name, Lee, is a derivative of the word Leighis, which means Medicine in Gaelic. A local Herbalist and Historian told me that means my mother's family were Herbalists as well. Herbalism in Ireland ended in 1700 when it became illegal for the indigenous Irish to have a profession, be educated, own land, and speak their own language, Gaelic, under British Colonialism. I use the word Witch to refer to a dark period in history. In Continental Europe, during the Middle Ages, wealthy landlords were claiming public land for their cattle and sheep. Herbalists were organizing resistance against these land grabs. These were powerful women, at the center of their communities. They brought their neighbors into the world, healed them when they were sick, and helped usher them out at the end of their lives. They were smart businesswomen, able to support themselves outside of the Patriarchy. They also didn’t ascribe to Christianity. Their gods and goddesses existed in the landscape and the plants they used for healing. A threat to both Landlords and the Church, a law was written to eliminate them called Malleus Maleficarum. This law labeled any autonomous woman as a Witch, an evil force in the community and they were burned at the stake or drown. Some estimates put the number of women killed during this period at over a million. The law existed for a few hundred years and it ended the practice of Herbalism in Europe, turned neighbors against each other, pulled out the center of communities, and ended the resistance. I engage in social practice as an Herbalist - for those of you not in the art world, that means this is part of my art practice. There is an exchange that takes place in my shop which is hard to quantify. Care is given and received. Gratitude is always part of the equation. Engaging in Herbalism is a reclamation of my heritage and a radical feminist act. At a time when Big Pharma has sometimes lost its ethical center, shifting its focus off of healing and onto money, stepping into this role couldn't be more appropriate. Herbalism is also filling a void, much as Allopathic medicine filled the void after the Witch Trials eliminated most of the Herbalists. I started Spiral Herbal Remedies in 2017. Come visit when you’re in the city, we're located at 810 Washington Ave in Brooklyn or check out my online shop on my website, to order herbal products. I started my adult life as a Registered Nurse, working at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, one of the top 25 hospitals in the country for nursing and Harvard affiliated. I left to be home with my kids and found art. Herbalism came out of my art practice. I had broken my wrist and was unable to make anything at an artist residency. The residency was surrounded by plants, an Herbalist was invited to visit and the rest is history… I also make art as objects, videos, installations, whatever media fits my ideas. My sculptures are an embodiment of humanity’s entangled relationship with the microorganisms that live on and in us - our Microbiome, Viral Biome, along with the plants used in my herbalism practice. Humans are Hybrids, not fully human. We live in symbiotic/mutualistic relationships with our microbiome, providing them nutrients in exchange for digestion of our food, regulation of our immunity, and controlling some of our behavior. (See my post about the Microbiome - #40.) An unhealthy Microbiome has been linked to Diabetes, Alzheimer's, IBS, Anxiety, Depression, resistance to Covid, and more. The sculptures can be seen as a more accurate reflection of these relationships, bringing their importance to scale. Or, perhaps one potential outcome of the Anthropocene, where our bodies become the disregarded resource, used with abandon by the microorganism, consumed and plasticized over time. They are filled with up-cycled plastic waste as a stuffing. Plastic internalized. Microplastics have now been found inside our gut.