Notes from a Scottish Radical Herbal Gathering

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Every so often, I need a reminder about the importance of radical spaces. A push to leave the microcosm of my own little world and engage with the bigger picture. A reminder of how radical events and gatherings provide something I don’t experience in everyday life, but that I kinda think I need, in order to feel connected, to feel truly purposeful, to feel good.

The Scottish Radical Herbal Gathering was the inaugural get-together of the Scottish Radical Herbal Network. Founded on a recognised need for herbalists and herb-lovers of all stripes to meet, share, learn together and find ways to push forward our diverse-yet-interlinked hopes and dreams, it consisted of three full days of right-on workshops and discussions, amazing food, a celebration and a meeting to ‘officially’ form the network.

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I could describe each workshop I attended in detail. I could list what was so awesome and inspiring about Fiona’s intuitive approach to herbalism, Scott’s knowledge of regional folklore, Seamus and Roisin’s passion for harvesting seaweed. Or being part of a two-hour discussion about death, getting the chance to magnify a daisy and realising that each petal is (actually) a flower in itself, making art on the secluded, sandy shores of Loch Tay. Or hearing about direct action against coal mining, for land reform, in Calais’ jungle, and for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers in Glasgow, from people who are right there, doing that work.

Having all of this knowledge and experience and wisdom shared with me not by ‘experts’, but by fellow learners, plant lovers, activists, folk who give their time freely to spread what they’re learning and what they’re passionate about. Knowing that it was okay for me to be there, even though I’m by no means ‘a herbalist’.

Learning with folks who walk the edges of gender or see the value in reclaiming what is ours or live outside of the system or challenge with their thriving, unapologetic existence the status quo.

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Learning and sharing in a space predicated on the understanding that capitalism seeks to trash our planet, our relationship with our bodies, our relationships to each other, our inherited knowledge, our autonomy, our skills (and then sell these things back to us in shiny plastic wrappers.) So we don’t have to always begin by discussing that. So the conversation can move forwards from this shared perspective. So we can say ‘okay, we know it’s broken. How can we create solutions?’

In January, I moved to Skye. Finding the radical folks, the edge-walkers, the witches, the experimenters, the grass-roots healers, and the activists, has been hard. Events like this one remind me that I have community, that there are folks (far more radical than I) who seek the same, who love to come together and share.

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Under the last new moon, which was in Virgo, I asked my cards what I should make my focus this month, where I should pay close attention. The Hermit, the World, the Seven of Feathers was the tarot’s reply. Among other things, I took this to be encouragement to examine the relationship between the collective and the individual, and the stories I tell myself about both of these modes of existence. The tensions and the harmonies existing between them. How I’m struggling with living in a shared space, but how I’m loving it too, where parts of me have been put on the back-burner, other parts are flourishing – or at least stepping tentatively forwards, slowly stepping up. How I feel more alive when I participate in community life, and how my own struggles seem so much more manageable, or perhaps less important, when seen as part of a much bigger story.

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The SRHG – like Free Pride Glasgow one month before it, and like every time I’ve participated in collective political-learning-celebrations – taught me lessons about how much I need this. There is no liberation without collective liberation. There is no real healing without collective healing. We have our own wounds, scars, challenges, but the truest healing takes place when we see their place in a shared story and work together to move forwards. I need to remember this, no matter how often I gleefully ‘run away’ to quiet places, away from people, to solitude. It’s okay (and it’s an immense privilege) to give myself this space, but it’s just as important, if not more so, to connect.

I couldn’t live where I live without the online networks I value so much. The network around Little Red Tarot, which feels more like a group of like-minded friends than customers or clients or ‘followers’, and the big beautiful infinite venn diagram LRT belongs within, continually overlapping with other community facilitators and their own networks. At the same time, though the range of these networks is wide, mine are largely US-focused. The SRHG, and the network that is born from it, allows me to be part of a local community too. People who inhabit the same lands as I, people who live under the same government, people taking action in places whose names I know or need to know. People I can speak to face to face, and hug and kiss and offer plants to.

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If activism – my own included – is to go anywhere, it needs to be happening in collaboration with others. It needs to recognise the aspirations of others, the struggles of others, the collective story, not just my own. No person is an island (even if they live on one). I’m so grateful to the Scottish Radical Herbal Gathering for giving me a reason to step out of my comfort zone once again, and connect with what I believe is truly important.

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8 comments

  1. Fiona Morris says:

    What a beautiful reflection on the magical gathering of nature inspired folk we just experienced last weekend. Honoured to be included among the workshop facilitators you found so awesome. I love that rowan spiral nature art you created.
    It was a delight to connect with a fellow tarot reader at SRHG.
    Your website and work is truly inspiring, Beth. xox

  2. Tango Batelli

    A post about anti-capitalist radical healing and community liberation – how Aquarian! ;D

    This sounds similar to my experiences in radical queer intentional communities back in June, before I returned to my semi-secluded rural home.

    There’s something exceptionally beautiful about being in a space where your philosophy/foundation meshes with the group. When I’m with folks whom I don’t have to explain anti-capitalism or feminism or spirituality or anything like that, love flows so much more easily. I don’t have to put energy into repeatedly explaining myself. I don’t feel automatically separated from everyone else or that I have to prove/defend my reason for being [there]. It always makes me think, “damn, it must feel like this every day & most every where for highly privileged folks,” but I never dwell on the thought for long because those are the moments I’m most enmeshed in community.

    • Beth
      Beth says:

      Yes – and you know though privilege does bring that kind of ease (not having to defend your being etc), I don’t think it’s the same loving flow as being part of a resistance or a collective movement for change where you’re bonded by an other-ness that’s both tough and a wonderful gift.

  3. Hey Beth,
    It was great to meet you (too briefly!) at the gathering, I love this post and can empathise with so much of what you have said, particularly coming from a remote West Coast location myself (by the way I’m aquarian too!). If you’re ever down Morvern way please feel welcome to visit.
    Love, Clare

  4. Cassandra Snow

    Oh, this is so good. Have you read Jailbreaking the Goddess? It’s about moving Goddess worship away from ties to the reproductive cycle and it’s great–BUT the writer also talks a lot about thinking dieties and those you worship with more as co-conspirators, and I thought this post was reminiscent of that in a really lovely, subtle way. Thank you for continuing to write on witchcraft and activism and the ties there in. So important, especially when done as beautifully as you do.

    • Little Red Tarot

      Thanks so much Cassandra! I’ve just read JTG through twice and am writing a review of it (and stock it, hopefully)! It’s a great book.

      I hope to write/host more posts on herbalism/witchcraft/wise women’s practices and how they intersect with activism – I agree it’s an important topic, especially right now as some of this stuff is getting kinda mainstreamed.

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