To illustrate the point of the Medicine bundle and the healing gifts of Animal, Plant and Stone People, let me tell you a native American story.
/…/ the Animal People were furious with us humans because of our lack of respect for Mother Earth. So, they formed a plan. They decided that they would get together and wipe us Humans out. Off they went to get ready. The Stone People and the Plant People heard about the Animal Peoples’ plan, and so they called a great council of all the Peoples. At the council, the Stone and Plant People told the Animal People that they understood their anger but that what they planned to do was forbidden, for it was not in accordance with Great Spirit. It was also against the wishes of Mother Earth herself, as Humans are her children. The Stone People and the Plant People explained that,
as children, Human People need help and teaching. So every type of Plant, Animal and Stone agreed to take on a healing gift and teaching, and to give this freely to any human who asked for it.
Similar stories can be found in different versions throughout many shamanic cultures. They are, of course, not literally true; they are mythos (stories to guide us and help tell us how to live), not logos (literal truths). But like all good mythos, they convey important ideas and knowledge.
HEALING GIFTS ARE EVERYWHERE
What this story tells us us is that everything around us, every animal, from a lion through to something seemingly as insignificant as a worm, every plant, and every stone (not just gemstones) have a healing gift and things to teach us.
Just think about that for a moment. When in nature, we are surrounded by thousands of things with healing gifts, knowledge and wisdom, all freely available to us. All we have to do is ask.
How do we discover what healing and teaching each particular Animal, Plant or Stone has, though? In indigenous cultures, a shaman would teach their apprentice about the healing properties of these beings and the best way of working with them. The apprentice’s shamanic Guides would directly teach them this knowledge. Through this process, a student would acquire a body of knowledge that is sometimes referred to as a shaman’s “Medicine Bundle” (or, “Medicine Bag”).
IS MEDICINE BUNDLE A BAG OF PHYSICAL THINGS?
Sometimes the Medicine Bundle would be a physical bag or bundle. In it would be things like stones or crystals, animal bones or teeth, seashells, beaks, claws, feathers, bags of herbs, tree bark or mosses. Unlike herbalists however, who would use plants and other things to make medicinal teas, poultices, ointments and so on, the things in the shaman’s medicine bag would be used in a different way.
For example, holding a bone or other part of an animal would help the shaman tune into that Animal in the shamanic realms. Likewise, a shaman may use smoke to smudge someone in physical reality, but in doing so they are also acting out something that is also happening at a much more profound level in shamanic reality. Similarly, after doing a shamanic healing for a “patient”, if a particular stone featured prominently in the journey, the patient may then be given a physical piece of the relevant stone, with the idea of strengthening the patient’s connection to what happened in the shamanic healing.
WORKING WITH OBJECTS SHAMANICALLY
What is important is not the physical representation itself, but knowing about its teaching and healing properties, and how to work with it shamanically—for it is this knowledge that the Medicine Bundle really refers to. In other words, it is the Lower-World Medicine Bundle that is truly important and what is needed, not the middle-world medicine bundle (the physical middle-world bundle is just a representation of something more profound).
BUILDING A MEDICINE BUNDLE
In modern tomes though, for those of us living in a broken shamanic lineage and in the absence of shamanic teachers, the knowledge that makes up our medicine bundle (as with many other aspects of shamanism) is something that mostly we will have to discover for ourselves.
How then do we go about discovering the healing properties of particular Animals, Plants and Stones?
1. SHAMANIC JOURNEYING
One way, of course, is through shamanic journeying. Sometimes the healing gift of a particular Animal, Plant or Stone is obvious from what happens in a journey. Given the symbolic nature of shamanic work though, often things in a journey will have to be “unpacked” afterwards, in order to really understand them and learn about them.
Whilst an enormous amount of the Medicine Bundle knowledge can be gained through journeying, in a shamanic culture, not everything that an apprentice shaman would learn would be gained this way. The physical, flesh-and-blood shamans in the tribe would also teach the apprentice, using words. Alongside the more right-brained practice of shamanic journeying, this verbal, left-brained knowledge has its essential place and importance too.
3. SHAMANIC “DIETING”
As well as the methods above, if a shaman wanted to discover the healing properties of something new, they would sometimes use a technique known as “dieting”. Different shamanic cultures had different ways of going about this, but the basic principles behind it are quite simple.
Essentially, the shaman would take some time to prepare themselves. In some cultures, this may be elaborate—a period of fasting, or a prolonged ritual, for example. In other cultures, it would be a much simpler process. Once the shaman was ready, though, they would take a tiny piece of whatever it is they were wishing to learn about, and then ingest it. Over the next few hours, days, or possibly even weeks, the shaman would carefully notice any changes they experienced in themselves, whether physical, emotional or mental, and any dreams they had. In this way, the shaman would commune with whatever it was they had ingested. and discern its healing gifts and teaching.
If you are familiar with modern-day homeopathy, you may have noticed the similarities between this shamanic practice and what is known as a homeopathic “proving”. In homeopathy, to find out the healing properties of a substance, a group of people ingest a miniscule amount of the substance (often such a small piece that no physical trace is left, just its energetic imprint) and then record what they experience over the next few days and weeks. The results are then collated and form the “materia medica”, the knowledge of that substance’s healing gifts. In this sense, homeopathic proving are a reinvention (or, rediscovery) of an ancient shamanic practice.
THE NATURE OF ANIMALS, PLANTS AND STONES
The more you look at the coherence of information that emerges from provings and shamanic dieting, the more it becomes clear that the process works. What emerges is clearly not just subjective and random, but is actually tapping into the things being tuned into and revealing their healing qualities.
Comparison is relative
In making sense of differences between Animal, Plant and Stone, it is important to keep in mind that they are relative. For example, compared to a stationary rock, plants are not at all slow or immobile. However, relative to most animals, plants are slow and immobile as a rule. Likewise, rocks are not at all competitive, whereas plants do compete for space and resources, but are far less competitive and territorial than most animals are.
MOST FREQUENT CHARACTERISTICS
- Little competitiveness
- Sensitive to
- Affected by
- Influenced by
- At the mercy of
Important: IN WORKING WITH THE PEOPLE, WE ALWAYS WORK WITH its OVERSOUL!
LEARN TO BUILD YOUR MEDICINE BUNDLE
If you want to learn more about building your Medicine Bundle in shamanic journeying and working in the Lower-World, you can join us for the First Steps course.
Or if you are already a student, you can join for an advanced course on working with the More-Than-Human:
NEXT STEPS: The Animal, Plant, Standing (Tree) and Stone People. Discover what they really are, their teaching and healing gifts, and how to work with them. Find out what understanding the Other-Than-Human People can show us about what Humans really are and should be, and how to take our healthy place again on the Web of Life.
I also teach about healing gifts of Plants, Animals and Stone People in my third book about finding our true Soul.
“When we discover our true nature, we remember how to live in right-relationship with ourselves, with each other as humans, and with the more-than-human world too. For our shamanic and animist ancestors knew that healthy humans are not separate or superior to nature, but a part of nature. They knew that the world is alive and conscious, full of intelligent and sentient beings with gifts of healing and wisdom for us. They knew that we belonged, a part of a living and greater whole.”