Lost And Found Medicine

Timing is everything. When I typed that my spellcheck turned it into “Timing is everyone.” I’ll take that as an unexpected tip about how to share today’s conservation inspiration about lost and found medicine.

I attended a prayer service this past weekend. Among the many beautiful moments on Peyote Sunday morning was a conversation between friends as we sat in the mostly empty tipi, enjoying friendship and the last of the hot coals still breathing and warming the fresh day.

Our brother who had conducted services told us the story of traveling to the peyote gardens as a young man. He and his father walked into the desert and could feel the presence of the medicine but they couldn’t see any. Looking around more, they eventually found one plant and sat down with it to pray. After doing so and looking around they began to see peyotes growing about, as if they were coming out like stars at night. Another friend joined in with his memory of finding medicine in Mexico in just the same way- finding nothing until after you pray with the first one. Then, suddenly, it’s like they are greeting you from everywhere you looked before. A sacred easter egg hunt in a magical land. It is actually not unlike hunting an elusive deer. But once your intentions and prayers are clear, the game shows itself for the sacrifice which sustains our lives. Most all of us who’ve pilgrimaged to collect medicine have similar stories. I’ve got plenty of my own. And by their timing, these lost and found medicine hunts can relay the exhilaration of a contact experience, or the gravity of a miracle when it happens to you.

But our tipi talk made me wonder- if the medicine is able to suddenly appear, it must be able to disappear just as easily. Maybe it’s doing that? That’s what I asked my friends. Maybe to the people who don’t need to see it, it doesn’t show? Hopefully so. In my magical thinking world, maybe the medicine is hiding itself for its own future. Maybe the fact that pickers can’t find enough to depend on for their income is just the medicine’s way of crippling the business so less is harvested. The problem with that is the fact that the membership of the Native American Church is not a shrinking demographic. Every church organization in the world would love to have a growing membership and the NAC does. So timing is everything, and everyone.

Today, after having a few days to think about how medicine hides and shows itself, I came upon an interesting article about a recently “rediscovered” legendary lost medicine, literally worth its weight in gold- Silphium.

Indeed, the Romans loved it so much, they referenced their darling herb in poems and songs, and wrote it into great works of literature. For centuries, local kings held a monopoly on the plant, which made the city of Cyrene, at modern Shahhat, Libya, the richest in Africa. Before they gave it away to the Romans, the Greek inhabitants even put it on their money. Julius Caesar went so far as to store a cache (1,500lbs or 680kg) in the official treasury.

But today, silphium has vanished – possibly just from the region, possibly from our planet altogether. Pliny wrote that within his lifetime, only a single stalk was discovered. It was plucked and sent to the emperor Nero as a curiosity sometime around 54-68AD. Times of Israel.

Silphium image on Greek coin.

Silphium was legendary as a curative. Its amazing medicinal properties ranged from general healing purposes to both preventing unwanted pregnancies for women, and increasing fertility in men. I think that about fits the textbook definition of a panacea.

The value of Silphium to the people quickly drove it to apparent extinction in its native region, and it was only recently rediscovered growing in a region of Turkey far from its original home. Maybe the plant helped itself by migrating, or maybe somebody helped it by planting it away from where it was over harvested. An article in the BBC says further about Silphium:

The region was originally settled by the Greeks and annexed by the Romans in 96BC, followed by Cyrene a couple of decades later. Almost immediately, silphium stocks began to decline at an alarming rate. Within 100 years, it had disappeared altogether.

The thing is, the fussy plant only grew in this region. Its entire range consisted of a narrow strip of land about 125 miles (201km) by 35 miles (40km).

Try as they might, neither the Greeks or the Romans could work out how to farm it in captivity. Instead silphium was collected from the wild, and though there were strict rules about how much could be harvested, there was a thriving black market. BBC News

So I guess I’m just wandering with my wondering here. To what extent are we in control of how much environmental damage the medicine can sustain and still remain in sufficient existence for us to use? And to what extent are we in control of how we may positively affect the future of the medicine? And to what extent is the medicine guiding and assisting, if not orchestrating, the genuine spiritual conservation interests now apparent from many different individual and organizational perspectives? Upcoming posts to this blog will provide details of different conversation projects and proposals, and interviews with the people involved. I guess we’re like the lost and found department of medicine. And the timing is everything and everyone.

Holy medicine. We can’t understand all your blessings in our world. Seen and unseen, thank you for the working of your ways in our lives.

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Let There Be Light

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