Woodford Files: On Witch Hunt and Alienation from Divinity of Nature

All Hallow’s Eve approaches, and with it a celebration of all things magical. It’s my favourite time of year; nights grow longer, the natural world has gone to seed, and there’s a crackle of mystery in the air that signals the approach of the winter crone. To get in the mood for magic, I turned to The Book of Shadows by Phyllis Curott, a witch who embraces the “craft” as an embodiment of the goddess. This book draws interesting parallels between the historical rise of patriarchy and the fall of natural healing. And so it’s an auspicious time of year to look back for a moment at the history and turmoil of natural medicine, in order to understand the present day situation.

Up until the 13th century, wisewomen such as Hildegard of Bingen used sacred plants from field and forest to heal the ills of their community, calling upon nature’s pharmacy to cure cancer, banish parasites, and ease inflammations. But in the Middle Ages a Holy Office was established by the Church to root out such healers, labelled as heretics and witches because they did not subscribe to the beliefs of the Church. The issue was then, as today, not about genuine patient recovery but rather about conformity to an authoritarian system that decided what is orthodox and what is not.

According to herbalist Ingrid Naiman: “During this Inquisition’s reign of terror, it is estimated that as many as nine million women were burned at the stake, often for such crimes as practising herbal medicine.”

As a result of such aggressive exterminations, public knowledge of folklore medicines died out, and the lineage of sacred healing traditions passing from one generation to the next was broken.

Today, we see the results of that loss in an alienation of people from the connection between themselves and the divinity of nature. We are urged to see our doctors for every health question, and what awaits in the doctor’s office is not an in-depth discussion of the wide range of treatment choices available to treat them, but rather a narrow set of recommendations endorsed by the pharmaceutical and surgical industries. Not only is this disempowering to the patient, who often leaves the office none the wiser about the meaning of their ailment, but it can be dangerous – side effects of prescription drugs are now the second leading cause of death in North America. And so patriarchal control of the healing profession continues to replace natural healing ways with a glamorous array of drugs and surgical techniques, all of which work as band-aids to cover up the fundamental nature of health and disease. Thus the majority of patients remain ignorant about the interior workings of their own bodies, separated from the genuine fundamentals of recovery.

Over the last century, the unfortunate consequences of this authoritarian orthodox approach have been escalating. Dr. Dean Ornish, known for curing heart disease with alternative methods, believes that heart disease is epidemic today not only on a physical level but on an emotional level. We are literally “heart sick” on a wide scale. And according to a recent CFTO feature, in the past five years the incidence of depression has increased in Canada by a whopping 62%. Could it be our separation from the divine that is contributing to our collective heartache?

On Samhain I am reminded of the legacy of those green witches, and the price they paid for their pagan ways. It’s a good time to pray for a revival of the divine and to look toward a future in which green medicine plays a starring role. According to Curott: “There is nothing more magical than the presence of the sacred in one’s life. Magic is the art of living a creative life that is graced with divine presence.” May the coming weeks light your way with green blessings.

Julia Woodford, Editor ~ Vitality Magazine

Julia Woodford founded Vitality Magazine in 1989, and has been its Editor-in-Chief for the past 30 years. Prior to a career in publishing, her studies included Political Economics at York University, Journalism at Ryerson University, and Psychology, PhysEd, and Anthropology at University of Toronto. She remains a lifelong student of herbalism, nutritional medicine, and the healing arts to this day. You can read her columns on the Vitality website. She is also the Show Manager for Whole Life Expo, Canada’s largest showcase of natural health and green living. Learn more at the Expo website In 2018 she received a “Hall of Fame” award from National Nutrition. In 2019, she was nominated for a “Person of the Year” award by National Nutrition.

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