[This issue, we sit down with Angela Paine. Tree-lover and author, Paine here discusses her books on traditional healing plants among the Celts and Greeks, and healing plants in Greek mythology; as well as her upcoming projects.]
ev0ke: How do you define your personal spiritual practice? Does it have a name, or it is more intuitive and eclectic?
Angela Paine: I do not belong to any religion, though I tend towards many of the beliefs within Buddhism, such as the sacredness of all life, the interconnectedness of all aspects of the natural environment. I believe that ancient peoples and many tribal people today had and have a better understanding of the sacredness of the environment. I am not one of them so I cannot participate in their ceremonies and rituals but I can learn from their beliefs.
ev0ke: Which Deities, spirits, or other powers do you honour in your practice?
AP: For me all trees are sacred. It is a terrible crime to cut down an ancient tree that has been growing for hundreds of years, providing shelter for birds, animals and insects, preserving the soil and holding the ground water. I would like to remove all the sheep from the hillsides of Britain and allow the trees to grow. One could always protect the trees, once grown, and allow the sheep back.
ev0ke: To date, you have released two titles through Moon Books – The Healing Power of Celtic Plants; and Healing Plants of the Celtic Druids. How did these books come about? Why books on the herbs, flowers and other plants used by the ancient Celts?
AP: I was cured of an apparently incurable disease by a herbalist, which triggered my interest in the medicinal properties of herbs. After completing my degree in Human Physiology and PhD in medicinal plant chemistry, I left London and went to live on the borders of Wales, where I became steeped in the traditions of the ancient Celts. I decided to study the plants which were indigenous to the area I was living in and eventually wrote a book about the the ancient Celts, their beliefs, customs and healing herbs. Years later research uncovered interesting information about the ancient Celts. It turned out that they never invaded Britain. They were already living along the western shores of Spain, France, Britain, Ireland and Scotland. I decided to write another book, exploring this new knowledge and investigating another set of healing herbs native to Britain.
ev0ke: What sort of research went into these books? Long hours online? Stacks of library books? Walks through your garden?
AP: Long hours online, as well as many books and papers from the British Library. I also grew many of the plants and collected others from the wild, drying them, making oils, ointments, tinctures and teas.
ev0ke: Your third book, Healing Plants of Greek Myth, is set to be released in April. How did you decide which plants to include? Were there any that you had to leave out of the book?
AP: I discovered that there were hundreds of references in Greek Myth to healing herbs, roots and above all, trees. I couldn’t possibly include them all. I selected some of those with healing properties which could be useful today.
ev0ke: There are so many plants in the myths that have been handed down to us from the ancient Greeks. Which plant-related myth is your favourite, and why?
AP: The Valonia oak at Dodona is one of my favourite, because it was the most ancient sacred tree in recorded Greek history. Many myths are associated with it and it was growing there in prehistoric times, during the era of goddess worship, when the earliest inhabitants of Greece were living there. At that time the lives of the people were inextricably intertwined with those of the trees and smaller plants that surrounded them. They believed that trees were living, sentient beings, who communicated with those who could tune in to them. Trees were particularly sacred because their roots went down into the ground and connected with the under-world, the mysterious abode of departed spirits, who were wise with knowledge of the future. The oak tree at Dodona had special prophetic powers because its roots pierced the earth more deeply than those of other trees, reaching all the way down to Tartarus. In pre-Helenic matrilineal Greece trees were alive with a supernatural essence. People who spoke the language of the spirit of the tree, who tuned in to the rustlings of the branches, could interpret the messages the tree wanted to convey.
ev0ke: What advice can you offer to someone who is interested in making use of these plants? And what resources would you recommend?
AP: Learn to identify the plants you want to use. In the case of the Celtic herbs, you will find many of them growing in the hedgerows and wild places in Britain. Grow your own herbs, in your garden if you have one, in pots on a windowsill, in an alottment. Re-connect with the natural environment.
ev0ke: Where can readers find your work?
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
AP: I’m writing about life on a hop farm in Kent. Hops have many interesting properties.