Saturday, February 24, 2007

Vis Medicatrix Naturae

Vis Medicatrix Naturae: Meditations on the healing power of nature

©2004 by David John Drew. All rights reserved.

As I sat in the cool shade of an ancient Gambel Oak in the blistering dry heat of a Colorado summer I questioned my inner desire to be closer to nature. The apparent silence was in fact dense with my inner mechanical ruminations, lost in the maze of complex relationships that exist between the world environment and humanity, good, bad and indifferent. From an apparently fractured and discordant state how could I establish, build, and maintain a harmonious existence with this nature, with what seemed to be an abstract, chaotic mass of undecipherable signs, seasons and unpredictability. I sensed myself being plunged into darkness with my monumental meditations, into a dark, muddy ocean which blinded my senses but brought a surreal tranquility. Within that womb-like state I came upon an island, in the center of which was a gentle mound, an apparition stood atop the hill shining in glory. The aura spoke to me in a voice akin to the soft rose gilded clouds of a spring dawn;

"A blessing exists for every realization of why you exist in a certain time and space within the cosmos. That which you seek the answer to already exists within you as a map of nature. Fathom the beauty of your spirit and the harmony of the universe will reveal itself and resonate through you, eroding the stone wall of your blind ego..."

And the aura blew me backwards into the vast sea. I landed in the tumultuous vortex of a whirlpool which sucked me down in spirals until I awoke, slowly breathing beneath the oak in the clarity of midday.

Time and again I visited and reclined beneath my adopted tree, pondering and digesting the message of Aurora without realizing it. My earthly path was limited to a concentric circle between labor, meditative speculation, and my abode, but without seeing the whole unified center. But, I felt a gradual change in my perception; a release and subsidence of anger, frustration and depression. I saw others on the same path as I, although without the pause for contemplation and they appeared to be disjointed, fractured and sad, a woebegone existence trapped in a material mechanistic cubicle. The oak tree had imparted a mysterious healing energy on me, and this infused me with a positive spirit to discover why.

Ius Naturale

With Mater Matura or the Mother of Dawn, my vision of Aurora came also with the revelation of a natural law (Ius naturale), the ancient legal system of the Matriarchate. Equality and democracy were the ruling principles, it was not hierarchical and there are no special privileges. The natural law flows through air, water, nature and matter, it inspires fertilization, forges bonds and relationships, secures freedom, demands justice and truth, it will build a wall of ignorance and blindness around the persecutor, it rewards the diligent and those who seek inner light. It is a law of morality, from which the communis omnium possessio or law of common property sprung, and from which we can all claim equal rights to the air, sea and vacant spaces. I learned the vocabulary and origin of the Matriarchate, mater, like the Sanskrit matra, and Greek meter, signify both mother and measurement. The cycle of creativity, nurturing, life, love, healing, and death are all calculated according to the principles of the natural law. Our language infused with root words of the Matriarchate; mantra, matrix, matter, material, matrimony, matron, metric, mensuration, mentality, mark, mathematics, geo-metry, hydro-metry, and many others.

Matrilinialists of the matrix

Throughout recorded human history, across nations and in varying spheres of activity I became aware of significant individuals who possessed a visionary perception of the earth. Inspired people, inventors, engineers, biologists, scientists, naturalists, psychologists, spiritualists, theologians, doctors, philosophers, architects, gardeners, ecologists and others who had observed, recorded and defined the forms of nature with an alternative but equally valid perspective in comparison with orthodox scientific thought, they had glimpsed the "essence," viewed the elements and constituents as a complex and intricate web of relationships. Some were aware of contemporary forces of erosion that in some way disrupted or were in the process of destroying those harmonic bonds and offering proposals or initiating action to halt the malignance and restore an equilibrium. Collectively I began to call this group of workers the mystery-workers of the matrix. They acted as spiritual guardians of a nature-faith to protect the "Mother" to follow and uphold her laws regardless of the historical time and space they occupied. They provided luminous examples of inspiration for me on my spiritual path, venerable saints who pointed and guided me in the right direction and infused me with a sense of purpose and worth.

Wunder-Wasser and Aquae Sulis

A core element expressed in ancient systems of faith is an active belief in the sacredness of earth. Archeological, historical and cultural evidence of rituals and seasonal festivals indicate that human communities have endeavored to maintain a symbiotic relationship with the earth. Indigenous tribal people conceived the earth as a living spiritual being, a Goddess with primal wisdom and knowledge, the source of life with a womb from which the seed or source of live of all existence issues, the Creatress or Mother Nature. One of the most significant properties ascribed to Mother Nature was her ability to nurture and heal, (together with a destroying force) which was regarded as a divine blessing. In this context doctors were originally individuals trained in the processes of natural healing, and would teach and educate their people in best ways to remain healthy, never the arrogant belief that they could prevent disease since everything was in the hands of Mother Earth and the constituents she had provided in the earth.

In the Celtic tradition the element of water was accepted as the primary restorative and therapeutic dynamic of the earth, Dana the Great Mother of the Gods, The Tuatha De Dannan was essentially a water deity with countless rivers named in her honor. Bodies of water such as rivers, springs, wells, lakes and oceans where they met or came into contact with earth were perceived as channels to the subconscious realms of the divine otherworld; Tir na n'Og or the Land of Youth, everlasting beauty devoid of illness, as Niamh Chinn Oir describes in the Fionn cycle;

"It is the most delightful of places, all rich and fertile, fruit grows on the trees in every season, rivers run with wine and honey, a hundred warriors will feast with you, a hundred harpers play sweet music, allow my father to shower you with gifts...You may defy the passage of time, no-one ever grows old in our land, beauty, strength, and good health will always be yours, you will get silver, gold and many precious jewels, you will get everything beyond them of which I have no leave to tell."

As the very soul of the Cosmic Mother, Tir na n'Og is the source of restoration, peace and timeless being, which the perceptive and open can always access through divine ritual. Water as a medium of health and healing is exemplified at Aquae Sulis at Bath in Britian, founded by the leprous and disinherited Prince Bladud who through a series of misadventures was plunged into the primal spring and cured of his affliction. The temple is built in the honor of the Goddess Sulis (a Q-Celtic term for eye, orifice or hole) who presided over and monitored the healing process. The spring pumps out hot water at a temperature of 115 F, and at a rate of 250.000 gallons a day it represents the abundant embodiment of the Earth Mother herself. A similar site exists in Dijjon, France. The Fontes Sequanae is dedicated to the Goddess Sequanae and its curative waters specifically applied to rectify eye disorders. A Christian Welsh "Water-Prayer" may be an affirmation or extension of previously held pagan beliefs in water healing;

Living God, who turns dry land into pools of water,
Lead us to the springs of eternal life,
May we drink and be satisfied
And become channels of your grace.
May those who thirst find the water without price.
Enable us to play our part in leading them
To the never failing fountain of life.

The curative powers of water were rediscovered and made popular by the Revd. Sebastien Kniepp (1821-1897) in Bavaria, Germany. Soon after being admitted to seminary he became seriously ill with pulmonary tuberculosis. Discovering an 18th century book on hydrotherapy he decided in the winter of 1849 to immerse himself in the icy cold waters of the Danube river. Several brief exposures to the waters appeared to stimulate his immune system and affected a rapid recovery from his condition, enabling him to continue his theological studies in Munich. After being ordained in 1852 he continued his practice of natural health, combining other modalities such as phytotherapy, nutrition, exercise and health education for the benefit of his poor parishioners. Several times he used his natural healing techniques and brought dying patients back to life. Kniepp physiotherapy is recognized as an early form of classical naturopathy and despite the fact that he was regarded as a charlatan by the medical establishment a German study in 1977 discovered that immunological reactions to protein and bacterial antigens were much higher in patients who had undergone a course of hydrotherapy.

Viktor Schauberger (1885-1958) contributed the most dynamic and creative thought on water as an active and energetic primal force. Born in Austria to a long line of foresters stretching back 400 years he refused to go to university at 18, instead he left home and spent extended periods of time deep in the remote regions of forest. With an analytical and almost scientific mind he observed, contemplated and pondered on the subtle energetic mechanics and motions of the earth, especially natural water courses, waterfalls, springs, and whirlpools. Schauberger viewed water as a living entity which he termed "the blood of mother earth" which he perceived as being born in the womb of the forest, water had a life and death;

"The upholder of the cycles which supports the whole of life is water. In every drop of water dwells the Godhead, whom we all serve; there also dwells life, the soul of the 'first' substance - water - whose boundaries and banks are the capillaries that guide it and in which it circulates."

In his observations of what he considered to be a primeval mother earth Schauberger developed very profound and radical theories on the formation and use of natural energies, a careful study of whirlpools, tornadoes, cyclones and hurricanes, enabling him to forward his theory of implosion; "all movement is the outcome of attraction or repulsion - between expansion and contraction" using the principle of the vortex and two types of natural movement, centrifugence and centripetence to create energy capable of directing mechanical movement. It was through this particular aspect of his research that he was able to produce the type of nutrient rich water that comes from natural springs. As a substance that Schauberger believed to have life and death, water could also become polluted and diseased through misuse and consequently cause illness in humans. Healthy water, which is capable of nourishment and preventing disease by supporting the immune system is that which has optimum levels of energy and nutrients, and in essence Schauberger developed the technology to convert any water source to this curative level. For his contributions to the understanding of aqua-nutrition and his "wunder-wasser" Schauberger was called the "Water Wizard.'

Alchemy of the Earth

Nearly two years ago I began to study herbal medicine. From the beginning of the course I was introduced to semi-orthodox scientific approach to phytopharmacy, the chemical constituents, drug interactions and a fractured sense of herbalism divorced from its ancient origins and place as a primary earth orientated healing system. My heart yearned for a traditional spiritual dimension of the art. I was introduced to the Astrologer/herbalist Nicholas Culpepper (1616-1654) whose most famous work is "The English Physitian" published two years before his death. Culpepper was odd by the standards of his day, working against the medical establishment with his curious but fascinating cosmological faith;

"If you don't consider the whole universe as one united body, and man an epitome of this body, it will seem strange to none but madmen and fools that the stars have influence over the body of man, considering he, be an epitome of creation must needs have a celestial world within himself."

The "universal man" was a primary belief of Culpepper, a sacred energy flowed throughout creation and nature within and without existence as we perceive it. Plants, animals and humans are all affected by this energy, through exploration, extraction, implementation and balance we can enact and promote the healing process. Looking up at the dark sky at night I realized that the stars, planets and the moon were not faraway untouchable bodies but reflections of myself. I gazed at Orion, the light of Heaven or "Ur-Anna," described by the ancient Greeks as the roamer or foot-turning wanderer with a beautiful composition of stars, and slowly realized that this dancing stellar skeleton, beheld a primal version of my own being in the cosmos. Betelgeuse (the armpit), Rigel (the foot), Mintaka (the girdle or stomach), Trapezium or Thetal Ori (the heart), Bellatrix (the west shoulder), Al-nilam (an arrangement of pearls, teeth?), Al-nitak (belt), Nair al Saif (bright tip of the sword), Saif (sword), and Meissa (the shining head). Like the Goddess of creation, Aruru in the Epic of Gilgamesh, who conceived of a form of man in her mind, of the substance of the firmament, created of water and clay which was then dropped into the wilderness and called the primal or wild man "Enkidu," so, perhaps I too am a reflection of this Matriarch of creation, of divine essence, primal ingredients, minerals, stars and dark matter, animated by bright flowing energy. The Bereishitic Adam of Ha-Adamah (Earth-being formed from the womb of Earth-Mother). I subsequently discovered a 12th century herbalists spell, translated by Charles Singer which awoke me to definite spiritual aspects of the herbalists art, and identified the primordial, Goddess-Matriarch who inspires life, creation and healing;

"Earth, Divine Goddess, Mother Nature who generates all things and brings forth anew the sun which you have given to the nations, guardian of the sky and of all Gods and powers...You are the source of strength of the nations and of the Gods, without you nothing can be brought to perfection or be born, you are the great Queen of the Gods...Now I make intercession to you all your powers and herbs and to your majesty, you whom Earth Parent of all has produced and given as medicine of health to all nations and has put majesty upon you..."

This inspired my study of herbal medicine, and perhaps protected me from the infectious and dangerous belief that through my study of a medicine I would have that "God-like" control over the lives of others. In the spell the name of the Goddess is neither implied or stated openly which caused me concern. Maybe she has no name, being the unimaginable source of all life, but what I grasp from this prayer is the notion that time is considered circular and repetitive, existence is cyclical; the Divine Goddess is invoked as a triad representing the constant repetitions of birth, life and death, then again rebirth. She is the "One"of infinity, mentioned in the Vedic Hymn of Creation;

"There was not then what is not, there was no sky, and no heaven beyond the sky. What power was there? Where? Who was that power? Was there an abyss of fathomless waters? There was neither death nor immortality then. No signs of night or day. The ONE was breathing of its own power, in deep peace only the ONE was: there was nothing beyond. And in the ONE arose love. Love the first seed of soul."

I became aware of the Irish Goddess of herbs and healing Airmid, the daughter of Dian Cecht the God of Medicine. In the 2nd battle of Mag Tureadh Airmid inherits the spiritual knowledge of 365 herbs which grow from out of the body of her dead brother Miach. Airmid has since been the primary focus for invocation when it came to the application for herbal healing. Apart from these references there is very little information on the uses of herbs in Celtic culture. Lacking evidence in the Celtic-Pagan sphere of herbal arts I began to explore the early Christian use of herbs, and discovered the Benedictine monk Basilius Valentinus, an alchemist and mystic with a strong spiritual belief. Valentinus established the foundations of chemistry in the Western tradition, but his views on the nature of medicine and healing were unorthodox and fascinating;

"The earth is not a dead body, but is inhabited by a spirit that is its life and soul. All created things, minerals included, draw their strength from the Earth Spirit. This spirit is life, it is nourished by the stars, it gives nourishment to all the living things in its womb. Through the spirit received from on high, the earth hatches the minerals in her womb as the mother her unborn child."
Like many alchemists Valentinus believed that perfect human health was attainable by the administration of transformed substances from the earth, be they plant, mineral or metal. These constituents of the earth were believed to contain vital essences that are released and obtained through chemical processes. In his work The Twelve Keys Valentinus describes the extraction and transformation of such medicines for specific symptomatic conditions. The keys are highly symbolic, shrouded in mystic metaphor and symbolism, they require extensive study and analysis to decipher, but represent a deep and profound understanding of the living composition of the earth, as a body and form.

Contemporary British scientist James Lovelock gives a name to this entity in a unique hypothesis: Gaia. Gaia is the earth Goddess in the Greek creation myth, and the divinity who formed the earth out of a chaotic mass. Lovelock developed his hypothesis of a living organic earth after participating in the NASA Viking project, which involved sending a complex information gathering vehicle to Mars to assess the planet for life-forms. Lovelock realized afterwards that in essence Mars had no atmosphere and hence had a dead equilibrium, contrasting his discovery with planet earth the conclusion that he come to was that earth's atmosphere provided a "far from equilibrium" state, meaning that other complex processes were happening but not apparent. His involvement with the Mars project gave Lovelock a unique perspective of earth life, almost an independent view. He began to see that Earth was not so much a planet capable of supporting various life forms but itself was a whole self evolving, living, communicating and regulating system. The processes he observed happening, types of homeostasis together with positive and negative feedback loops drew Lovelock to the conclusion that earth was a living being, whom he subsequently named Gaia, a complex, interlaced entity that defies time and space;

"The name of the living planet, Gaia, is not a synonym for the biosphere - that part of the earth where living things are normally seen to exist. Still less is Gaia the same as the biota, which is simply the collection of all individual living organisms. The biota and the biosphere taken together form a part but not all of Gaia. Just as the shell is part of the snail, so the rocks, the air, and the oceans are part of Gaia. Gaia as we shall see, has continuity with the past back to the origins of life, and in the future as long as life persists."

Consilience and Biophila

There are many who are working within the Gaia hypothesis, inspired and intrigued by its revolutionary proposal. Since 1984 the evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson of Harvard University has gathered various strands of studies, and brought them together in what he terms consilience in order to explain natural phenomena. Consilience in essence is theoretical ecology and a jumping together of knowledge, facts and theory across a wide range of disciplines such as anthropology, biology, zoology, philosophy, theology to investigate and explain natural laws. Wilson went further with a theory he titled biophilia. This concept holds that because humans have evolved in the natural world, their primary instinctual motives are deeply rooted in an environment of plants, animals and landscape. The gradual transference of the landscape from a natural one to a concrete suburban one has induced symptoms of stress, high blood pressure, muscle tension and other chronic disorders. Humans need the essential "touch of the earth"to be truly healthy.

Vis Medicatrix Naturae

The belief that humans are inextricably connected and part of natural order is defined in one of the first principles established by Dr. Benedict Lust (1872-1945). Inherent in his naturopathic system of healing (inspired by the Revd. Sebastien Kniepp) was the belief that the earth, human body and environment possess integral means of rehabilitation, Vis Medicatrix Naturae or The Healing Power of Nature, the doctor can only preserve life for a short time but ultimately it is nature that heals the body:

"In all cases, and in all diseases, therefore, man can recover and again become happy only by the use of the agents of Life; man must strenuously endeavor, in his mode of living, to heed again the voice of nature's path...choose the food that nature has laid before him...bring himself again into the relation with water, light, air and earth, that nature originally designed for him..."

And the wild-one therapy

Modern science and medicine in the Western tradition are slowly awakening, realizing and investigating these healing ways of nature. The incorporation of nature into the fabric and design of medicinal centers is what primarily concerns Dr. Roger Ulrich, professor and Director of the Center for health Systems and Design at Texas A and M. Dr. Ulrich believes that nature is important for emotional and physical health and has conducted serious research on the beneficial aspects of practical implementations such as the effect of hospital window views on individuals recovering from surgery, healthcare gardens and art on patients and hospital staff. His discoveries indicate that even 2-dimensional images of tree's have a positive impact on individuals who are removed or isolated from nature and the environment. This research has had a far reaching impact on the world wide medical profession, architects, interior designers and urban planners who now incorporate healing gardens, garden rooftops, interior plants and landscapes, and nature art into their designs. A study at Deakin University in Australia recognizes that public parks are an essential and fundamental health resource, particularly the salutary role thay play in disease prevention, lowering blood pressure, cholesterol levels, stress and depression.

Dr. Howard Frumkin at Emory University Department of Environmental and Occupational Health looks forward to the day when he could prescribe nature as a treatment for conditions, saying "Spend time in the park instead of taking this medicine." This desire is in fact being made a reality, many universities and colleges such as Naropa in Boulder, Colorado are offering courses in "wilderness therapeutics" as an added healing modality to healthcare professionals such as psychologists. Structured retreats in natural settings have been found to benefit cancer patients, emotionally disturbed children, and rape victims amongst others. Perhaps we have become too civilized, surrounded by walls and restrictions of our own construction, defined by temporary and transient notions of citizenship based on certificates of ownership, employment and nationality. Our poverty is not of means but of ideas, resulting in a blind, fumbling illness. This is summed up by Janet Thomas in her book "The battle in Seattle":

"The reductive challenge we face in contemporary life to describe, weigh and measure the secrets of our lives means that they (the administrative power and control of governments) lose their power, their numinous nature, their stature...Try sitting with a cedar tree for ten minutes and listening to what it has to tell you...The truth is that nature is always attracting, recovering, healing. It is our biological and psychological ability to regenerate, and when we connect to the natural world with our own reasoning, consciousness and language, together with all our other senses, we are opened up to real power."
I personally realized the importance of nature in healthcare whilst I worked as a Chef at Bowden House, a psychiatric clinic at Harrow, Middlesex in England. The building is a converted ancient manorial residence situated in the grounds of a beautiful tree-laden landscape. With a nearly 100% success rate I'm sure that the surrounding peace, tranquility, gentle tree energies and birdsong contributed a tremendous amount to the patients healing process and recovery. Whilst I applaud the most recent developments in Western medicine towards the healing power of nature it also makes me despondent to realize that the ancient practitioners of the healing arts, who worked as partners of Mother Earth and were pointing out these facts since the sun first rose, were either ignored, laughed at or regarded as charlatans.


So, in terms of Druidry and the Earth Path how can we incorporate these valuable lessons into our everyday life in a practical way. Mother Earth has three primary principles to offer to anybody who seeks enrichment through positive transformation. Through the study of habitat, ecosystems, wildlife, plants, weather we can develop our sense of the knowledge of unity, that everything is connected and related yet also infinitely diverse. A simple interaction with nature initiates a healing process, a deeper study of this process is a journey into natural medicine. A developed partnership with Mother Earth through a medative process begins a heightened and broader ecological spirituality. In conclusion the Earth path offers knowledge, spirituality and healing. On a purely practical level I began to change my own life to attune myself with the "Mother." This involved doing practical voluntary work with an organization called Clean Water Action, which actively campaigns for the maintenance and support of legal standards to ensure that the water we consume is free from pollution, and meets and exceeds accepted standards of purity and health. I also joined a water monitoring group called CoCoRaHS (The Community Collaborative Rain and Hail Study) in which my little home became a registered meteorological station and I measured daily rainfall. This enhanced my appreciation for the value of natural sources of water in an area of the country which is constantly on "drought-alert." I committed myself to cycling, walking or bussing to work and participated in a scheme entitled Ride Smart Thursdays, who encourage forms of transport which reduce urban pollution. With help from the National Wildlife Federation I turned my back yard into a haven for indigenous species of plants and animals, they offer both practical advice and an online "university" with free courses in habitat creation, preservation, ecosystems and endangered species. But, the core of my personal transformation has been my study of herbal medicine, which is constantly developing and integral to my daily life, matured by studies in ecopyschology. It is all hard work but the blessings are infinite, as infinite as the divine source of creation that I am slowly coming to realize.

Book of the universe

One day I was one the way to visit my oak tree, anticipating the bright lunation it would bestow upon my spirit. To my horror I discovered a steel fence had been erected around the area and I feared the worst, construction workers were clearing the parkland, chopping down trees and marking out the foundations for a complex of buildings. My heart fell and I said a whisper of a prayer;

O Ancient ones that tread softly through the earth
Winged Spirits of breath across the sky from Heaven
Musical guardians of rippling waters and ocean depths

O Armies from the hive of the Queen
Enwrap your armor around the oak
Burnish it with fires of bronze

Let its memory not fade
Let its age not tell
Let its wisdom prosper.

And I had a vision of numerous bronze coins being retrieved from the deepest and darkest parts of the earth. The coins were strung together on a hemp cord and wrapped around the trunk of the oak tree. A sign was written on parchment in oak gall ink, the blood of the oak which cursed any man who lifted a sharpened tool against it.

Of all the trees in the park the oak was one of the few to survive, later I learned that the area was to be turned into a rehabilitation and detoxification center for drug dependents and abusers. Whether my petition to Mother Earth had enabled this or the healing power of nature had ultimately planned it all along I cannot say. What is sure is that the mighty oak was now on another purpose, to heal others that had become sick, isolated and distracted from their true nature of being. And so, I leave the last word to the Italian Renaissance visionary, Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), in the Paradise of the Divine Comedy;

Nel suo profondo vidi che s'interna,
Legato con amore in un volume,
Cio che per l'universo si squaderna.

La forma universal di questo nodo
Creo ch'io vidi, perche piu di largo
Dicendo questo, mi sento ch'io godo.

("Within its deep infinity I saw ingathered and bound by love in one volume, the scattered leaves of all the universe. The universal form of this complex whole I think that I saw, because as I say this I feel my joy increasing.')


David Drew was born on the North banks of the river Tyne in Northumberland, NE Britian in 1964. He graduated with a Degree in Design from Plymouth University (Devon, SW Britian) in 1989. Studied Culinary Arts at various London schools including the National Bakery School at South Bank University and was the Executive Chef at the Science Museum in Kensington, London. Currently lives and works in Aurora, Colorado with his wife (a jeweler and silversmith) and a triadic coven of inspirational daughters.


Clean water action:

CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain and Hail Study):

Ride smart Thursdays:

Backyard wildlife habitat program:

Wildlife University. Free courses in habitat creation, wildlife preservation, ecosystems, endangered species, native plant and animal conservation:

Ecopsychology (free course):

Herbal medicine (free courses):

Practical plant alchemy course by Mark Stavish MA (free):

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