4 Elements Arts


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I've been a holistic practitioner for over 15 years.  I am also a dancer and love to travel.  Here are some thoughts put into words for you to peruse.

By Kathleen Kiernan Bailey, Aug 16 2016 10:48PM

It has been a long time since my last post! Thanks for your patience!

One of my favourite plants. It has been a great aid at various times in my life. Sacred to Hesta, Greek Goddess of the Hearth or Vesta, Roman Goddess of the Hearth. As the Goddesses suggest, it is native to the Medterannean and parts of Africa. One of it's other names is Chaste Tree. For men, it was often used in Church life to help men control their sexual drive, hence the common name. For women, it actually increases vitality and can increase sexual drive.

The plant itself is spiky and has a beautiful peppery flavour and can be used as a substitute. It is a quintessential herb of fire and as such can help regulate own own inner Fire energies. Agnus Castus is wonderful for women who are in need of balancing their hormones in peri-menopause or menopause and its heat can help release toxins like a hot flash through the body, although I have yet to see it be as strong as a hot flash in myself. If you have another kind of experience, please share! It brings an evening to the inner fire, so can improve mood, overall energy levels and lessen irritability. It is also excellent for pre-menstrual tension, aiding digestion and water retention.

Known by its other name as Vitex, it can help when working with raising kundalini by balancing the fierceness that can accompany such awakenings. As its flowers suggest by their purple colour, it connects the creative fire up through the crown, if working with the Indian system. As it channels the sexual drive, it can help you find the creative pathways that most need expression and I find, asks that you fully engage with our body on the physical to relieve inner spiritual, emotional, or mental tension. So if you feel tension in the body while using this herb, try yoga, stretching, dancing or any other activity that can help you explore your body's strengths and weaknesses with compassion and an eye towards inner growth.

Both Hesta and Vesta, like the Goddess Brigit in Ireland/Britain is known for having an Eternal Flame. It is a wonderful plant to use in helping with issues of hearth and home and can help with purification of energies, clearing and like Fire itself, for reflecting on times past, stories and hopes for the future.

If you have been feeling sluggish or unsure of how to start creative projects of any kind, this is the plant that can help rekindle your passion and gently show you the way inwardly and outwardly to being and once the project is begun, how to bring it successfully to completion.

I will be placing some of the berries in an offering bowl on my hearthto honour the late harvest and keep the hearth nourished while I am traveling on dance and other adventures over the next couple of months.

Blessings of late summer/early autumn to you as we enjoy the harvest and the beggining of the descent of lengthening days.

Photo courtesy of http://garden.org/plants/photo/88983/

By Kathleen Kiernan Bailey, Nov 11 2015 06:37AM

The English yew, taxus baccata, is renowned for its apparent immortality. This makes it the perfect representiative of the month of Samhain. You may be saying but Samhain finished on 1st November, so how does this fit? In Irish Gaelic, November is still called Mí na Samhna. the night of what is now the 31st October and 1st November, simply marks the turning point of the Year towards Winter. Indeed November is our darkest month in the Northern Hemisphere. For the Celts, the days began after sunset, and so the New Year began on sunset at the midway point between Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice, roughly around 31st October, if going by the sun. Therefore, as an in-between time and the time of growing darkness being at its deepest, the veils between the worlds between the Living and the Dead are thin. November is a high point of communication with the Ancestors.

The Yew, can be as mysterious as Samhain, the time of Misrule in that it can actually seem to stop growing for hundreds of years. Unlike other trees, it can stop growing more girth and height. Many have called it a tree of Immortality. Its further properties are that it hollows itself out so that when it feels the need ot start reproducing, beyond the red berries it gives the birds, it can throw a shoot down the middle that roots itself within the hollow. As the tree grows, its branches eventually reach the ground and form a natural ring grove around it.

They grow to astonishing ages, the one pictured above is estimated at 1500 years old, long before the church was on the site. This is very common in England and often indicates that a sacred site was present long before the Church came. I know of ones local to me that may be 2000 years old. A good way of finding ones near you in England and Wales is The Ancient Yew Group .

Every part of the yew is poisonus, according to Mrs. Grieves, A Modern Herbal, 1931. Nicholas Culpeper, who was the first to publish an English herbal warned against using Yew at all for its poisonous properties in 1653, and tells us it a plant of Saturn. He quotes this poem in The Complete Herbal:

"Well do I know thee by thy trusty Yew,

"Shading for years thy gloomy church-yard view;

"Cheerless, unsocial plant, that loves to dwell

"Where scatter'd bones man's dissolution tell".

However, currently, the needles of the yew are collected and are still a part of creating the chemotherapy drug Docetaxel (Taxotere). See: Cancer Research UK. Pacific Yew, has been found expecially effective in Breast cancer treatment. See: Pharmaceutical Journal. From other research, it seems some of the North American varieties, again, specifically the Pacific yew can be used to treat jaundice among other things. All in all a plant to be avoided for intenral use, unless directed by a doctor.

So what can we learn about ourselves and he Ancestors from working in meditation with this tree? At once yew promises us immortality, but also warns us that it is not an easy quest by its poisons. Just like the month of November, it seems to entice us to explore the dark, the unknown, the shadow sides of ourselves and our consciousness so that when the light begins to return at Solstice, we may have a glimmer of what gold we find therein. All the while Yew's wood and evergreen branches give us the sanctuary, support and nurture we crave as we undergo this deep process. Just as the Ancestors stand beyond the veil to support and guide our inner and outer work for the betterment of ourselves and those around us. What legacy do we wish to leave behind for the future? What have we learned from our deep past that we can change and reweave into our current lives? How can we best honour the memories of our Dead? Is there a shoot of new growth that wishes to emerge in the hollow of darkness? Can we take the time to nurture this growth through all seasons? How can we support others to create a community that nourishes us all?

By Kathleen Kiernan Bailey, Oct 5 2015 12:36PM

It is now October. The festival of Samhain, in the Celtic Tradition, begins at the end of the month in modern memory, but my feelingis it is a tide of time, so perhaps we can really feel that Call of the Ancestors around the New Moon, on the 13th this year. Here the nights really begin to close in in the Northern Hemisphere and our bodies begin turning towards winter. Worldwide through traditions such as Dia de los Muertos in Mexico, Halloween, that's been exported from the US, and All Souls and All Saints' Day hold the memory of our Ancestors. The veils between our worlds begin to truly thin now and we can begin to commune with them in meditation, sleep and however you pray.

One of my favourite plants for honouring the Ancestors is Elderberry. Her deep, rich fruit is plentiful off the hederows now, just asking us to pick them. In Irish Gaelic this month is called, Deireadh Fómair, end of the harvest, so this is our last chance to gather them. Their leaves turn a beautiful yellow. The berries make juice, wine, syrup and tincture out of to get us through the cold, dark winter ahead. Elderberry boosts our immune system and helps reduce times of flu, cold and fever. You can make a soup as well, which is popular in Germany. My recipe uses tapioca as a thickener, but many recipes call for corn starch/maize meal in a quick web search.

There was this article that published results of double-blind studies on elderberry and flu shared on Naturally Nicole's blog.

Elderberries can be dried on the lowest temperature in the oven for a couple of hours, if you don't have a suitable place to hang them. They are wonderful additional to incenses to use for blessing your space and ancestral communication. Elder is also closely associated with Nature Spirits/Fae.

Picking over the umbels to release the berries is long and staining work, but is a wonderful way to tune into the ancestors and the elder while you work. If you don't want purple stained hands, use gloves.

Here are some traditional recipes to make. I'd be interested in your feedback!

Elderberry Soup recipe courtesy of Siegliende von Reventlow (1933-1997), Germany

2lbs fresh Elderberries

50-60g (2 oz.) tapioca or sago

200 grams (7 oz.) sugar

2 rich tea biscuits for serving

Bring berries to a boil in about 3-4 pints (1 litre) of water, let simmer for 5-8 min. In the meantime, soak tapioca/sago in standing in cold water.

Strain berries/juice through a sieve to remove pulp. Bring strained juice back to the boil, add sugar, and tapioca (sago takes longer to cook.). Stir constatantly until tapioca/sago is transparent.

Serve hot or cold, crush the tea biscuits over it.

Serves 4-6. Leftovers can be frozen or refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Elderberry Syrup, recipe © Gina McGarry Brighid's Healing, p. 194

1 cup Elderberries

2 cups water

1 cup raw/local honey

Decoct [boil berries in water for 30 minutes]. allowing to simmer down to 1 cup of liquid. Mash berries well and then strain. Stir in the honey. Bottle. [I keep mine in the refridgerator.

Take 4 times/day

Ancestors Incense blend recipe by Kathleen Kiernan Bailey

1 part dried Elderberries

2 parts dried Calendula

1 part dried Chamomile

1 part dried Rose petals

2 parts Mugwort (optional)

1/2 part sea salt

Blend in a mortar and pestle until mixed. Use for blessing your home, blessing an your ancestral altar, and if adding mugwort, aiding dreams. If you wish, say the names of your loved ones that have passed asking for healing and insight. Honour and remember them.

I highly recommend my teacher, Gina McGarry's book, Brighid's Healing: Ireland's Celtic Medicine Traditions, published by Green Magic, Sutton, Mallet, England, 2005, for more insight into working with plants.

Enjoy the deep Autumn, it's gifts and insights!

Elderberry © Katheleen Kiernan Bailey
Elderberry © Katheleen Kiernan Bailey

By Kathleen Kiernan Bailey, Sep 17 2015 05:12PM

For Northern climates, I can think of no better plant for this month than Blackberry. As Autumn Equinox comes close, this versatile plant has many uses. Sure we all know that we can make wonderful desserts and pudding with the fruit, but did you know the other uses for its flowers, leaves, and roots? What about what it can teach us to take into our own lives?

Blackberry, naturally as a fruit is high in Vitamin C. It is also high in Vitamin K which is crucial for our blood clotting and wound healing abilities (http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Vitamin-K.aspx). One cup of fruit will provide twice the daily amount recommended. It also provides calcium, magnesium, and other valuable trace minerals. The leaves, flowers and roots can be tinctured in apple cider vinegar to provide a wonderful nutritive winter tonic, which is safe for pregnant woman. It can be taken by the teaspoonful in some water or added to salads as part of a dressing. The berries can be made into a lovely wine, as well. Blackberry is also a fantastic flower essence.

When the fruit is looked at, according to the doctrine of signatures, it resembles a brain, along with its cousin, raspberry. And while blackberries haven’t been individually studied, it is claimed that all berries could boost brain function hence now falling into the ‘superfood’ category. (http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/presspacs/2012/acs-presspac-march-7-2012/strong-scientific-evidence-that-eating-berries-benefits-the-brain.html)

One of my favorite reasons, however, for choosing this plant for this time of year, is some of the ways it can help us with our subtle energies. Indeed I just took some tincture this morning and found a fast change of mood for the better, because of it’s nurturing, protective, and fiery properties. This made it easier for me to engage with the tasks of the day. I have found the compartments of the berry and by extension the whole plant, can help resolve inner shadow issues that are challenging to confront. It helps you break up what you’re dealing with into bite –sized chunks instead of a whole overwhelming tangle. For instance: depression, anger, abuse issues, being too hard on oneself. Blackberry, as part of the Rose family, can offer us the protective space to go within and explore what is troubling or plaguing us. It gives us a space to find our boundaries, stand up for ourselves and explore the sides of ourselves we don’t like or don’t think are useful It helps us ask questions: How can I nurture myself better? Give myself more time and space for me? How can I resolve this situation without falling back into my old patterns? What are patterns that no longer serve me? What is unconscious that I could begin to consciously work on? What/who can I nurture/protect more?

For those who follow a Celtic spirituality path, this is a prime plant of the Morrighan, Cerridwen and Brighid. It is a perfect plant to meditate on as we start to feel the balance of light and dark again, with Autumn Equinox. We work with her in our gardens or in her favorite wasteplaces, as we forage, cut back, and celebrate the spiky, fruity goodness, we can go inside ourselves over Mercury Retrograde until we emerge again in early October. Mercury Retrograde is 17th Sept-9th Oct. this year. Embrace the lengthening nights and explore your inner darkness.

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