Whilst we are witnessing an unprecedented rise of interest in spirituality here in the West it is very easy to forget that many indiginous cultures from all parts of the World are rapidly losing their own spiritual heritage.
Sadly, through neglect, changing patterns in their society’s structures and onslaught from other cultures they are rapidly losing all connection to their tribal rituals, sacred customs and esoteric teachings.
In their book A Cree Healer and His Medicine Bundle: Revelations of Indigenous Wisdom–Healing Plants, Practices, and Stories anthropologist David Young, mycologist Robert Rogers and medicine man Russell Willier have colaborated to preserve the healing traditions practiced by one of the few remaining groups of Native Canadians, the Cree.
The book opens with Willier describing his early experiences as a young man when he became entrusted with the legacy of his great-grandfather who was in his time a famous Cree medicine man.
Here Willier also describes the construction of the core philosophy that underpins his spirituality with an explanation of the Medicine Wheel which denotes the hierarchal nature of the Cosmos and the relationship that healers have with it. This includes the help from of various spirit guides, helpers, animal spirits as well as the primary elements of our natural world.
Plant lore forms an important part of the Medicine Man’s toolbox. Willier describes how he gathers the plants and herbs that he personally requires to perform his healing work along with where to find them and the best time of the year for them to be picked.
He also describes the range of treatments that he helps cure through his work. This includes remedies for diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure, as well as more minor ailments such as cuts, toothache and diarrhea.
Willier is finding it increasingly difficult to locate the rarer plants, flowers and trees that he needs to do his work and he openly mourns the loss of the natural habitat needed to support the growth of many important species. This is not just limited to just the impact that modern agricultural practices have on natural terrain but also upon other areas of wildlife such fish and wild creatures such as moose and deer,
Part two of A Cree Healer and His Medicine Bundle describes a field trip taken by Young and Willier back in 2011 during which they traveled more than 1,000km to locate and research many of Canada’s disappearing healing plants.
This field expedition also focused upon them documenting the variety of different natural environment that supports various forms of plant life.
This trip was repeated later the same year so that they could catalog the plants as they were exposed to frost.
A Cree Healer and His Medicine Bundle focuses upon the route that they took through Alberta and the book includes color photos of the locations that they visited, a map of the actual journey taken, reports of the various plants found as well as descriptions of the research work that they undertook and reports of the natural environments encountered.
Willier later on describes the various plants that he uses in his own medicine chest. He explains what ailments he uses them for, how he carefully prepares each one for his patient as well as the specific chemical properties that they contain.
Applying a more historical perspective he also some insights into Cree healing wisdom as well as information regrading the more general folklore related to the plants that he employs.
Part three if the book deals specifically with the efficacy of native medicine. Here the authors explain how they established the Psoriasis Research Project in which they tracked the effectiveness of natural plant medicine to this rather nasty skin complaint—one that effects between 2 and 6% of the local population.
The results of their research were dramatic and they found that with most patients this persistent condition cleared up after some seven or so months of treatment.
The book concludes with maps and specific details regarding where in Northern Alberta the medicine plants are located, along with an index of the plants referenced, English and Cree words for the healing plants used and a list of references cited in the book.
Reading this book causes me to wonder just exactly what knowledge of natural medicine healing we are at risk of losing.
It also causes me to believe that it is our current lack of understanding regarding the natural healing properties of plants and herbs which has resulted in such widespread environmental destruction all over the world.
It is a book that simply causes one to think!
Whilst I would have liked to have learnt more from its authors about the Cree and their ancient healing methods I do appreciate that this book is essentiallly about the plants themselves and their natural habitat.
In that regard it is a very important research document and it is somewhat rare in that it is also one that is easy for the layman to read and understand. Its journal-style format calls the reader inwards and invites them to actively engage with the plants and the Canadian landscape they belong to.
Along with the technical data the book’s narrative also includes many anecdotal stories and accounts as well as some great color photography—and not just of the plants themselves but also of the locations and people involved in the 2011 field trip.
As an anthropological study the book also offers a really good insight into the work of the Medicine Man—not so much in the way that he applies his healing methods but more in the way that the plants are utilised.
This is particularly interesting and as I say I would liked to have more information on this aspect as well as more extensive insights into the way that the research group works. Is it still going? What other plants and medical conditions does it work with? What has been the reposnse to their work from the medical profession?
This is a book that not only makes you think but also provokes deeper and more profound questions.
It is an unmitigated success!
A Cree Healer and His Medicine Bundle presents us with powerful medical, environmental and spiritual reasons for keeping the knowledge and wisdom of our native peoples alive. Through the publication of their insights and research into plant lore its authors have done mankind a great service!