Karuna: Hi, I’m Karuna, I’m the Founder and Executive Director of Mind Oasis, and with me here today is Ashley Sapir-Lathrop. How are you doing, Ashley?
Ashley: Hi, Karuna. I’m good. I’m so happy to be here.
Karuna: I’m happy to have you. So this is Meditation Happy Hour; Tea, Talk and Truth with Karuna. And we’re going to be talking about your upcoming series on Mind Oasis. But before we go there, I always open with the same question, which is how have you spent your morning so far?
Ashley: Well, it’s it’s been a nice morning, it’s a little bit of a funny morning in that both of my kids are home for Zoom School. Which we’ve been very lucky; they’ve actually been in school for the year, but then they had a three week holiday vacation and this week they’re on Zoom. So it’s a little bit of a juggling act, letting the chickens out, making sure everyone’s hooked into where they need to be. But I had some tea and I had a little time out in the medicine wheel. I do a morning meditation there every day and that really grounded me.
Karuna: Very nice. And where in the world are you?
Ashley: I am in New Paltz, New York, right beneath the Shawangunk Mountains.
Karuna: One of my favorite places to go to run. And it’s one of my husband’s favorite places to go and climb. So, yes.
Ashley: Yeah! Oh, good. I’m glad you know it.
Karuna: Oh, yeah, absolutely. So one of the things I thought that we could talk about is your series, which we called Herbalism around the Wheel of the Year. And these are eight workshops around the quarter and cross quarter, which is holidays. So I thought I’d start by asking you about the witch aspect and if there’s any sort of maybe misconceptions that you’d like to dispel.
Ashley: Yeah, that’s a great question and a great place to start because I feel like it’s been a lifelong journey for me to come to terms with the word witch, with calling myself “witch”. And for me, it’s been a lot about taking that word back. I think there’s a lot of fear steeped in the word witch. And that it’s really, it’s very connected to persecution. And there is a fear for me to say that, especially as a practicing herbalist, which was on the fringe. It’s not on the fringe now like it was when I became a practicing herbalist in the early 2000s. So I spiraled in and out of how I bring myself out into the world. And what I say now is I’ve really come out of the broom closet and that it really is about owning that word and that that word is about power and that a lot of people, our ancestors, if we look back over history and her-story, there was so much where people would just care for their families and their communities with herbs and food. And that’s what I talk about when I talk about being a witch. It’s about being connected to the Earth and earth based medicine for spirit, mind and body.
Karuna: Yeah, I love that. It was interesting as I was pulling together the various courses that are all associated with different high holidays for witches. It was interesting to me to feel into the edginess of using that word. And then and then likewise to say, well, why in the hell would I not use that word? Right?
Ashley: Right. And I would say for me, as I was Bat Mitzvahed when I was 13, so my, you know, my history is Judaism. And I definitely needed to figure out my path along that path that I was given as a child. And it took me a while to say, you know, for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, I need to be in the woods. And then when I started realizing, well, Rosh Hashanah is right there on the autumn equinox and realizing how connected it all is and that I didn’t need to pull in somebody else’s traditions, but that I could really ground myself in my own tradition as a Jewish witch. And that’s what I really seek to do when I teach, is that I help people to connect with their own ancestry so that we can really lean into that power. And there’s so much beauty there. And when we start discovering the herbs and the foods that our grandparents used and then we bring that into our bioregion, I think that’s really empowering. And I think it’s what the world needs when it comes to not healing the diaspora and not pulling from other people’s traditions, but really, really like embodying what our lineage is.
Karuna: Talk about the wheel of the year. What is it and how do you use it?
Ashley: So it’s basically the idea of stepping out of linear time and really stepping into a spiraling, you know, that that’s that beautiful Earth based tradition that everything keeps cycling back. Just how we look at the moon and we look at the sun. We know it’s coming, you know, and I think that linear based way of thinking is very much part of the culture of capitalism and patriarchy. How much can we do? How quickly? And when we step out of that and use a calendar that’s a moon based calendar and really actually look at the moon to figure out where we are in the month, and then when we look beyond that at how these holidays circle around and how summer solstice is opposite, winter solstice and Beltane’s opposite Samhain, that we know where we’re going and we know that there’s an energy to each of those seasons and a way to really feel that energy. We Slow down in the winter and that’s normal and natural. And there’s beauty in that. And before I stepped into that, I really suffered from seasonal affective disorder. But when I was like, wait a second, I need to slow down and I need to dream and I need to really, you know, center my being on what’s going to come in spring and knowing that that spring is coming and celebrating it when it comes.
Karuna: I love that. My background, my tradition is in Tibetan Buddhism, and, of course, we use the cycle of the moon for various celebrations. So happy almost new moon.
Ashley: Yes!! New moon in Capricorn. It will be it will be good. We’ll be getting some stuff done.
Karuna: So, Ashley, tell me a little bit about growing up and/or maybe your lineage, like how did you get here as an herbalist and as someone who uses the cycles of the seasons, the cycles of the moons, like you didn’t dream it up; there’s tradition here. Can you talk about the tradition a little bit?
Ashley: Absolutely. I grew up in a kind of urban suburban town in Putnam County, New York, so just about an hour north of New York City. And I spent a lot of time in the woods, like pretty much the plants where my friends from an early age and I was a very romantic child. I’d read Anne of Green Gables and all these books and really believe that there were fairies out there and…
Karuna: There are not?! I still believe there is fairies out there!
Ashley: Well that’s what I was going to say, because that’s part of the coming back. Because then I grew up and I was kind of thrown into the world of, you know, not believing in fairies. And then there was sadness for me around that. And definitely, like in middle school and high school, there was like a dark night of the soul for me. And that was addressed, basically, with conventional medicine, you know, take this antidepressant, take it and it will help. And, and I did that for a little while. And then when I was in college, I was very interested in psychology. So I went there as a psychology major and a gender studies minor. And somewhere along the line I decided… and actually I met a professor who was Jewish and Buddhist. He called himself “Buddhish” and he was, and a friend of mine said, “You have to take his classes; they’re amazing”. And he was an anthropology teacher. I wound up taking his classes and switching from a psychology major to an anthropology major. And that’s kind of when things started to fall back into place for me with the fairies and with the magic and with Earth. And just knowing that that our healing doesn’t come in a bottle, that it’s not about a prescription. Not to say that that can be helpful at times, but it was much more about wholism for me at that point. And, the synchronicity was that because I was an anthropology major now, I had like a ticket to travel. So I went to Nicaragua for my last semester of college and I got to work with a midwife. And that just kind of blew my mind. And my whole theory about healing opened. And I saw how she, like birth in our culture, the way I was growing up, it was very clean and contained and we didn’t talk about it. And to see her normalize it and make it a beautiful thing and basically teach me. And like I wound up I had some other friends who were there studying the medical system of the town, and they went to go get a list of all the midwife’s in the town, and my name was on the list because I had been attending meetings and the meetings were very, very basic. And obviously I shouldn’t have been delivering babies. But at the same time, it was very much like, oh, if the baby’s breech, then we do these massage practices and we use these herbs. And the fear was taken out of birth. And for me, that was a birthing of my own because I was like, well, if this is true for birth, then this must be true for everything, really. So when I got back to the States, I really started seeking out teachings in herbalism and traditional ways of healing. And some of that in the late 90s was going to Susan Weed’s land in Saugerties, Woodstock area. And she has a beautiful way of writing about and talking about the wheel of the year and spiraling time and the wise woman way. And then I just kind of traveled around the country seeking out other teachers and and then eventually landed in Ithaca, where I went to my first kind of formal herb study school, Northeast School of Botanical Medicine. And it just, after that, I just, every teacher that I connect with and I want to study with, I just keep studying, up until this point. I just finished a course with Pam Montgomery in Vermont and Spiritual Ecology and Herbalism, and it’s just addictive. And anyone who winds up studying herbs will see. It starts with a whisper, maybe a scream, and then you’re just like addicted and it doesn’t ever stop.
Karuna: It’s awesome. I love that you’re a lifelong learner. And as you were talking about your journey as a child, I just want to share with you how much I can relate to that. I grew up on a farm, but when I was about 10 years old or maybe 12 years old, our farm was taken through eminent domain. And so at that point, my mom and I moved to the city. So I grew up like, in those kind of teenage preteen years in a city. Having spent my first 10 years of my life with my feet in the Earth and playing in the woods by myself, I’m an only child, and I, to this day believe fairies exist. And all of those things are very relatable to me. And I think, particularly right now, I think it’s always true, but I think particularly right now, some of the things that we’re facing as a society, this what I call kind of disconnect between seasons, the disconnect between when we would go to bed and false lighting and all of the the social unrest that we’re feeling. It just seems like there is an access point through what you’re calling herbalism, but what I would just maybe more simply say, like the ecology of the earth, the possibility of what our earth can whisper or scream to us in any moment or any day.
Ashley: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Karuna: So tell us a little bit about your yearlong course that you’re offering on Mind Oasis so that we can kind of get a sense for what to expect.
Ashley: Yes, I’m so excited about this course because there’s just such a beauty of gathering a circle of people together to celebrate the seasons. It creates this container and the ritual builds on itself. And there’s just such a different and unique energy to each holiday. So we’ll start with Imbolc, which is very much the waking up of the Earth. It’s the first whispers of spring and it’s about visioning what’s to come. And for each circle will have an alter and the actual class will be about a week normally, sometimes a little bit longer, before the actual holiday. So the intention is that it’s a teaching. So that if one were to either have a solitary ritual on their own or lead a circle, that really they’d gain some tools and maybe already have a lot of the tools, but might feel a little bit more resourced to then celebrate the holiday on their own. So we’ll do a meditation, we’ll do ritual, and then we’ll learn about… we’ll make a tea together, which is how we’ll learn the herbs so each course we’ll learn and different herbs and different preparations based on the season. So, you know, then the next one will be a lot about foraging and the best ways to help get ready for spring and kind of shed some of the heaviness of winter. And then when we do the Beltane, it’s all about fertility and that’s like, how are we going to really bring our dreams into fruition? How are we going to think about what we talked about in Imbolc and really now bring that out into the world as the whole earth lights up and the birds are singing and there’s this energy of birthing. So they build, they build, they build and then summer is just this high point of joy. And we’ll talk about how to work with that energy, with both meditation and herbs so that we can keep our bodies cool as this unbridled energy and heat goes through us. And that will be a time to really work on skin care. And how can we work with herbs and oil and creams and things like that to step out of some of the sunscreens and things like that that are maybe not as supportive of our bodies. So we’re going to be really, as we move through the wheel of the year, looking at how we can work with herbs for every level of care, whether it’s kitchen food that we’re using wild plants for. Maybe it’s pestos; then we can step into more of the devotions and potions and kind of witch-ier preparations. But we’ll talk also about how to just stick things in our stews so that we can heal people without, you know, in very, very traditional and easy ways. And then we’ll go deeper so that people at all levels of learning about herbs can feel like they can step in and get something out of it. And you can go on the website and go further to see what each of those classes will be and what the energy of each holiday is, how it’s distilled through me, because it’s something I’ve been practicing alone in and community for a long time. And I have offered this course before, but I’ve never done it with Mind Oasis. And I’m so thrilled to have that opportunity to do that now, and especially during a pandemic when we’ve had to step into a different way of connecting. And it’s really a gift that we can kind of connect through our computers. And I’ve thought a lot about how to set up the energy so that we can still feel really like we are in the room together. So I’m very excited to just join in because I think now more than ever, we need to amplify those prayers for the Earth. And in celebrating each of those seasonal holidays and then creating ritual and herbal preparations around is just, it brings the vibration up so much higher.
Karuna: Awesome. Yeah. So it’s MindOasis.org and then you go to the tab that says “Learn”, and under “Workshops and Series” you will see Ashley’s gorgeous face and all of that good stuff. So, for those of us who are kind of new to herbalism, will we have to go find a forest and scavenge around for the items we need for the ritual or or is there a different way that we’ll be doing most?
Ashley: That is a very good question. I mean, by all means, if you can get to a forest sometime during the course, that is amazing. However, it is not necessary. And, there’s a couple of different options. There’s always lots of options. And I like to make it as simple as going to the local bodega or mail ordering or what I’m going to be offering for this course are ritual boxes. And what that means is that as we mix that tea, which basically I’ll be like here are the rose petals, and rose is so amazing for so many different things right now. And as we talk about the different properties of rose, we’ll add that to our communal tea and then we’ll add the other ingredients. And then for people who are interested, I’ll have a limited amount of ritual boxes where some of that tea that’s been mixed on our call will then get packaged up along with some other special items for each holiday. And then those can be purchased and delivered by mail so that people kind of have everything right there. But I’ll also be able to provide resources for people who want to order herbs from different places. And I have some really great people that I can recommend for that. So there will be all kinds of options for getting in touch with the plants.
Karuna: Oh, my gosh, I feel like this is going to be like the best workshop ever.
Ashley: So I’m so excited. Karuna, thank you for inviting me to do it.
Karuna: It’s going to be amazing. So it’s called Herbalism around the Wheel of Life; excuse me. Herbalism around the Wheel of the Year with Ashley Sapir-Lathrop. Ashley, I always finish my podcast the same way as well. So typically I have tea or coffee, but I have to tell you, I had so much coffee this morning that I’m onto fizzy water. So this is Meditation Happy Hour, Tea, Talk and Truth with Karuna. We got to the talk. We got to the tea, sort of. So, what’s your truth?
Ashley: Can I just say really quickly before I say that, that I love that you have a sugar skull cup that you’re drinking out of because I have those matching socks on today. Some sort of magic synchronicity that happened. But, to answer your question, my truth is that, in connecting to nature through our felt sense, it will bring us directly into our heart and into a deeper relationship with all that is. With our own selves, with the planet that really needs us more than ever. So it’s just about using our senses, and I’ve had my healing path with that. And that’s my truth.
Karuna: Beautiful, beautiful. Ashley, thank you so much for joining me today.
Ashley: Thanks for having me Karuna and have a beautiful day.
Karuna: You too.
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