Native American Healing Traditions

While traveling through the United States, we often thought about the native tribes who wandered freely through the forests and plains, just a few centuries ago. We wondered how they lived, traveled, what they ate and how they maintained their health throughout all of this. Luckily, we met people who could give us an idea about their way of living, their beliefs and their traditions, and thanks to the vast amount of knowledge on the internet, we could explore their traditions even further.

Healing and Balance

According to Native Americans, everything in our world is connected and to maintain well-being, in oneself and the community, it was important to find balance. An imbalance was often considered to be the reason why one was ill. During healing rituals, they sought to regain balance between the spiritual world, the community, the environment and oneself.

Rituals

Ceremonies were held for various reasons such as birth, death, or the success of a harvest. There were also important healing ceremonies, used to restore balance in the community. During those ceremonies, the community came together to sing and dance, and they were often accompanied by drums and the use of sacred (sometimes psychoactive) plants.

Purifying the body was a part of the healing process, and therefore building a sweat lodge was an important ritual in many tribes. A sweat lodge is a small structure, made of pliable young trees or branches and covered with blankets or tarps (earlier, they used animal skin). A pit inside the lodge was filled with hot stones, and water was poured over them, filling the lodge with steam. It was a ritual to purify and release, to sing, to pray, to connect with the spirit world, and the other participants.

Another tradition in some tribes was the use of a moon lodge, a structure build for the women of the tribe who were in their Moon Time (menstruation). A place for them to rest and regenerate, where they could be alone or together with their sisters of the tribe. Their family obligations were lifted from them, for as long as they retreated inside the lodge, and men were not allowed inside. It was a place for healing, connecting to each other and to the moon and the earth.

These beliefs and traditions vary from tribe to tribe, but a lot of similarities can be found between them. A great deal of these methods are still used today by several tribes, often combined with modern, allopathic medicine.

The Use of Healing Plants

The healers of the tribes combined the healing powers of plants with their connection to the spirit world. Plants were viewed as brothers and sisters and treated with respect. The healers asked permission to use the herb and expressed their gratitude when harvesting and preparing the medicine. These sacred herbs were used as herbal remedies, or as part of ceremonies, where they were smoked or burned.

It is said that Native Americans learned about the medicinal powers of certain herbs by observing animals such as deer or elk. They noticed that these animals ate specific plants when they were ill, and recovered after. The Native Americans understood that the plants must have some sort of medicinal benefits and started experimenting with them. Herbal wisdom was passed on from generation to generation until extensive knowledge was gathered on more than five hundred healing plants!

Balance of body and spirit is something very important in native healing traditions, and often forgot in modern medicine. An illness is seen as just that, and medicine is taken to suppress symptoms as quickly as possible, instead of listening to the body and working together towards healing. But times, they are a-changing! More and more people are interested in the wonders of traditional medicine and are learning to listen to what their body is telling them. After all, our body carries us wherever we need to go, bears the burden that we often put upon it and supports us throughout our lives, and it is something wonderful to honor this.

Resources:

Kathy Weiser – Native American Medicine https://www.legendsofamerica.com/na-medicine/

Mary Koithan and Cynthia Farrell – Indigenous Native American Healing Traditions https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2913884/

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Our American Adventure and Why We Started This Blog

We both grew up in Flanders, the northern and most populated part of Belgium, a tiny country in Western Europe. Our views were filled with fields, farms and a lot of houses everywhere, with not too much space for wild nature in between.

(Caro) I spend my entire childhood in the city of Antwerp. This meant I had a limited connection with nature growing up, but the memories I treasure the most were the ones from the park I spend a lot of time, or the family vacations to Luxembourg, where my cousins and I explored the forests, played games and were almost constantly outside. Getting older, that connection with nature got a little bit lost, being in the city constantly. But it immediately returned once we both decided to quit with what we were doing and embark on our big adventure, exploring the world.

(Tim) Growing up in the countryside, I could play and walk in the forest whenever I pleased. From a young age, I started sensing the wonders nature had to offer. The beauty of Autumn leaves falling from the trees, or the colors of the sky on a clear Summer morning or a warm Winter evening was something I truly loved as a child. Growing older, there were other things that had to be thought about, there had to be an answer to society’s call. Good grades, getting a job, and behaving appropriately became more important, and so the magic of nature slowly faded away as I grew into my teenage years. After dropping out of college and tuning back in with my inner self, by which I mean, growing up and becoming a child again, made me realize what I was missing out all this time. I opened up again, and before me was everything I never knew, waiting to be discovered, waiting to be explored.

Our American Adventure

Since a young age, there has been a fascination with American culture. When we were growing up, things often seemed to be a little bit dull, because you know what they say, the grass is always greener on the other side, definitely when you are a teenager. As a result, the whole Hollywood culture, and everything we saw in movies was very exciting to our young minds. Our interests shifted as we grew older, and we dove deeper into American culture. Jazz, blues, Beatnik literature and more …

For a few years, a special connection with the United States had been building up. The movies we watched, the music we listened to, the books we read, they all seemed to have come to life in this mystical continent, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. And one thing that was described in all of it was the American Open Road … A lonesome road, going on for miles, with a never-ending yellow stripe in the middle. White mountain peaks on one side, a high-desert on the other.

So, a few years back, we got the idea of embarking on our Great American Adventure, a road-trip, which we did in the summer of 2019. On August 14th (exactly six months after Valentine’s day, the day we returned to Europe from Asia), we left for North America.

“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.”

Song of the Open Road, Walt Witman.


After we flew to Canada, we bought a van in Montréal, which we named Lazy Lightnin’. We visited family in Ontario, where we spend a week converting our van into our tiny, cozy home, and we left for the United States at the end of August. There was a strong feeling that we had been called to the United States and when we arrived, we felt home immediately. The people we met, the nature we explored, the music we danced to. It all felt like a part of a bigger picture as if it were all little miracles being send our way, the universe telling us we were on the right path.

The natural environment of North America (especially the west, which we mostly explored) is one of the most diverse, most beautiful ones we have ever encountered. You can go from a lonesome desert to the mountains, to a wild coastline, all in one day. A lot of people live close to nature and wildlife is everywhere, even in bigger towns. Growing up, the only “big” wildlife we could see (if we were lucky) was deer, while in Ashland, a town in Oregon where we lived for a while, every day they could be found in someone’s front yard. Bears (and sometimes even moose) visited towns too. It was one of the most incredible things we noticed in the States, the thin boundary between human society and The Wild.

Our first time camping in nature with Lazy Lightnin’.


Discovering a New World

(Caro) We have been interested in alternative forms of medicine since our first travel to India, where we found out about Ayurveda, an ancient healing system. It opened our eyes to the wonders of holistic and traditional medicine, and we learned that there were a lot of alternatives to the western medicine system we had known all of our lives. These were ways of healing that were aware of the person as a whole, not just to a particular disease, and that worked together in harmony with our body, mind and spirit. The spark was there, in India, but the realization that this was something that I wanted to pursue came to me in the United States. A dear friend of mine in Oregon had told me that she thought of me as a healer, and those words gave me a very special feeling inside. I knew then that I wanted to learn more about all the wonderful, healing gifts of nature, and that I wanted to share this knowledge with my friends, and hopefully be able to help people along the way.

Tim and our van that just broke down, on a full moon evening in Wyoming.

We have traveled to different places, where we connect with different cultures and their ways to maintain a balanced life, and it would be nice to explore this further and deepen our knowledge about traditional medicine while sharing this with the people who are interested. And so, here we are, on our own blog, and we are very excited to start!

We want to highlight the fact that our aim for this blog is to share the knowledge which we acquire on our journey around this planet and from our own experiences. We don’t know the ultimate truth and believe that each body is unique and different, and what will work for somebody, is not guaranteed to work for somebody else. We want to share our own personal stories and ideas, and advise everybody to do their own research. That being said, I hope we can inspire people to learn more about everything that Nature has gifted us and all the different forms of traditional medicine.