Thursday, December 5, 2013

Elder: Magic, Myth and Medicine

Elder: Magic, Myth & Medicine
With community herbalist, Sarah Preston
Saturday, January 18, 2014, 1-3:30pm

Elder (Sambuccus nigra or canadensis) has long held a place of importance in herbal traditions of both North America and western Europe.

In this class, we will look at contemporary and historical uses of Elder, and explore some of the mythology surrounding it. Elder is a wonderful remedy for colds and flu, as well as a daily tonic to prevent those viruses from invading our homes. We will discuss the history and healthful properties of Elder, and we will make a batch of Elderberry syrup together. You will go home with a small bottle of Elderberry syrup and recipe ideas, and the confidence to make syrup yourself!

Cost for this class is $30.

Class will be held in the classroom at Radiance.  To register call Radiance, 290-1517, or stop by the shop at 9 W Grant St, in downtown Lancaster, right across the cobblestones from Central Market. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Plant Spirit Botanical Sketching

Plant Spirit Botanical Sketching
Do you love plants?  Would you like to draw them? 

Led by local artist, Elisabeth Weaver, we will view plants in their dormant winter state, and portray their form, personality and spirit through drawing.  Join us in the classroom at Radiance as Eli teaches a variety of ways to observe, draw and document plants as a way of building deeper relationships.  All levels are welcome; the class will be geared toward beginner to intermediate skill levels.

All classes will be held at Radiance, 9 W Grant St., just across the cobblestones from historic Central Market in downtown Lancaster, PA.  To register call Radiance, 717-290-1517, or stop by the shop. 

Wednesdays 5:30 – 7:30pm
          January 15, 22 & 29, 2014
Bring to class: your sketchbook (5x7 or 9x12), pencils, erasers, colored pencils, markers or crayons.

$ 70.00 for the series of three classes or $25 for each individual class.

Elisabeth Weaver is a community-based artist, educator and plant lover.  She is co-founder of Lancaster Farmacy, a local medicinal herb farm.  She has taught art in schools and community settings, facilitating mural painting, block printing and botanical drawing.  When not busy at the farm or making herbal medicines, she enjoys playing music and spending time in the woods with her partner and new baby.  Check out some of the work she has done on her web site

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Coming to the Labyrinth...

Recently, I was asked to be the guest speaker at the first labyrinth event ever held at Frederick Community College in Frederick, Maryland.  It was truly an honor.  I’ve made a few minor adjustments to my speech, to help it make the transition to being read instead of spoken, but essentially this is what I said… 

I’d like to begin by telling you a story.  Sometime in 1993, I went to my friend, Linda’s house for a cup of tea and a visit.  While I was there, she handed me a small photocopied brochure with an image of a labyrinth on the front.  Another friend, who I knew casually, had gone to an annual Unitarian General Assembly gathering a few weeks prior, and had brought the brochure to Linda, asking her to pass it along to me.  This woman didn’t know quite why, but felt strongly that I should have the brochure.  So, that is the first time I remember seeing a labyrinth.  And I fell in love.  From that moment on, I have been building labyrinths and exploring different ways to experience them. 

But, it isn’t the first time I was in the presence of the labyrinth.  Two years before, in 1991, I had gone to France & visited Chartres Cathedral.  I had noticed an elaborate stone pattern in the floor, but it was covered with chairs and I couldn’t tell quite what it was.  I moved a few of the chairs, but not enough to uncover the labyrinth.  And then in 1994, I read Jean Shinoda Bolen’s book, Crossing to Avalon, about her personal mid-life journey.  She visited Chartres and did remove all of the chairs on the labyrinth, walking it in deep prayer.  Finally, I knew what the design in the stone floor had been!  And sometimes that’s the way it happens with the labyrinth.   A recognition, a calling from deep within.

By 1995, I had gathered a group of 20 or 25 people to paint a replica of the Chartres labyrinth on canvas.  At that time, there were no kits, not even any templates.  I went to northern Virginia to meet and consult with a few people who had made one, and spoke by telephone with a man in the Midwest (who turned out to be Robert Ferre), and emailed with Jeff Saward, the editor of Caerdroia, a labyrinth journal published in England.  I gathered measurements and advice.  We ordered 100 yards of sail-weight canvas, and paid a sail-maker to sew Velcro edges on six 42-foot lengths, each strip being 7 feet wide.  And then we had a 42 foot square canvas to paint on!  

Next, we built an enormous compass in the barn of one of the group members. The wooden compass arm was a 21-foot-long 4x4, and it perched on a wooden base pivot.  We drilled 13 holes along the compass arm to hold pencils vertically, so that, with a crew of people working carefully together, we could slowly draw all of the concentric circles we needed at one time.  It worked!  From large pieces of corrugated paper, we made a precise template for drawing the turns, one for drawing the petals of the rose at the center, and another for drawing the lunations around the outer edge.  Once all of the lines were penciled in, we carefully erased the unnecessary parts of lines from the original concentric circles and were ready to begin painting.

So, what is a labyrinth?  A unicursal path, usually within a circle, but not always.  There are a few squared labyrinths.  It is one meandering path, moving in and out and back and forth, filling all of the available space until finally the center is reached.  The same path is retraced to find the way out.  The entrance and the exit are one.  There are twists and turns in a labyrinth, but no wrong turns.  No intersections. No dead ends.  A labyrinth is not a puzzle or a game.  It isn’t a matter of skill or chance.  That is a maze.  A labyrinth is something very different.  A maze engages our left brain, our intellect, our rational mind.  A labyrinth also engages our right brain, our creative and intuitive self.  It draws us inward and offers us a metaphor for the spiritual journey of life.  The labyrinth helps to balance the left and right sides of the brain, as we wend our way back and forth, in and out, back and forth.  We connect to our more deeply creative selves, our intuition, our divinity.

Humans have been drawing and building labyrinths for 3500 to 4000 years.  We find them etched in the stone of cave walls, scratched on clay tablets, imprinted on ancient coins and in petroglyphs.  Always they seem to have a spiritual or sacred significance.  Labyrinths are found all over the world, from India to Scandinavia, from Peru to Britain, from France and Spain to the American southwest.  The wisdom of the labyrinth seems to arise in human consciousness in some spontaneous way, and then recede again.  Sometimes we are called to it, or it is called to us, and sometimes we forget.  It is the nature of life, the nature of the human experience.  

Anne Morrow Lindburgh wrote about Ebb and Flow.  She said:
“We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships.  We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb.”

The labyrinth offers us a kind of walking meditation, a metaphorical  journey, during which our bodies can learn to experience these truths in a deep and sacred way.  We encounter moments of autonomy, moments of coming together, moments of one-on-one relationship, and moments of moving away.  In the labyrinth, we experience a journey of metaphor.  The flow of life, and its ebb, is as fluid as the flow of water, always changing.  We can feel in our bodies the joys of intimacy and of community, and we can feel the pain and anguish of loss.  

The two most important Classical labyrinths are the older and less complex Cretan type with 7 circuits and the Chartres type with 11 circuits.  The labyrinth that we are walking today is a replica of the Chartres labyrinth.  The Chartres design seems to have been developed by a monk, drawing on the back of an illuminated manuscript he was working on, and is mathematically based upon the earlier 7 circuit design.  It was installed as a stone design in the floor of Chartres Cathedral in the early 1200’s and was used as the last part of a pilgrimage that many early Christians took, when they were unable to travel to their holy land.   Sometimes called the Rose Labyrinth because of the six-petaled “flower” at the center, this labyrinth sits in the shadow of the famous Rose Window at Chartres.  In fact, it is positioned so that if the tower wall that holds the Rose Window could be hinged at the floor and laid down, the center of the rose window would  precisely overlay the labyrinth.  Sacred geometry in architecture.

And yet, the labyrinth doesn’t seem to require such astonishing mathematical precision.  No matter how we draw one, it creates sacred space.  The lines of a labyrinth can be pencil on paper scraps, cornmeal on a lawn, pebbles, large stones, tall plants.  They can be drawn with lengths of looping rope, using a stick to form grooves in sand on the beach, or digging narrow trenches in turf.  They are on jewelry, pottery, coins, and fabric.  We find them carved into stone above church entrances, and etched into prehistoric cave walls.  They can be large enough to walk and small enough to carry in your pocket.  Walking labyrinths are found in cathedrals and prisons, churches and parks, hospice centers, private gardens and college campuses.  No matter where the labyrinth is, or how the lines are drawn, the lines are not the labyrinth.  Let me say that again.  No matter where the labyrinth is, or how the lines are drawn, the lines are not the labyrinth.  The path is the labyrinth.  The space we engage with is the labyrinth.  After all, it isn’t the walls that turn a building into a sanctuary.
So, the labyrinth is based on principals of sacred geometry and architecture, even astronomy, and has been since its beginning.  Before humans had developed a language to explain the geometry, they were still creating labyrinths that utilized the unexpressed concepts.  Sacred geometry is based on patterns that occur in nature.  Circles, spirals, meanders.   The Golden Mean.  The Fibonacci  Sequence.  The labyrinth is a physical representation of a deep wisdom that is held in what Carl Jung called “the collective consciousness”.  Labyrinths have arisen spontaneously around the globe for thousands of years, and then receded again.  No one knows why.   The labyrinth is metaphor made manifest.  And walking the labyrinth presents us with metaphors and insights into the Journey of Life.

Author, Oriah Mountaindreamer muses:
“What if… life is not a maze but a labyrinth, a path that meanders to give us different views, doubles back on itself to give us multiple chances to see clearly, lets us revisit our joys & sorrows but in the end always takes us to the sacred center – to Life, to Love, to the Wholeness of which we are made & by which we are held?”

So, how do you walk a labyrinth?  There are as many ways as there are labyrinths, as many ways as there are walkers, as many ways as there are walks...  Perhaps a walking meditation; heel rolling to toe and pause, heel rolling to toe and pause… Perhaps step, breathe, step.  Perhaps a even prayerful dance.  Early Christian pilgrims walked on their knees.  You can take a question to the labyrinth, ask it, offer it and then open yourself to insights that occur.  Looking for inner peace?  The labyrinth is a perfect tool.  Have a wedding in the labyrinth – perhaps one partner waiting for the other at the center.  

Walking the labyrinth can be about the lesson of surrender.  Surrender to the moment you are in.  As Ram Das says, “Be here now.”  Surrender to who we truly are.  Surrender to the path.  And then follow it.  One step at a time.

In walking the labyrinth, there are no decisions to be made once you have made the decision to put your foot on the path.  Again from Oriah Mountaindreamer, “It’s not a problem to be solved, not a test to be passed, but a journey to savour and drop into with each step.”
How might you prepare to walk the labyrinth?  Step up to the entrance. Pause.  Breathe.  Find your quiet center.  Feel the earth beneath your feet and the sky in your lungs.  Reach for the sun, the stars, the moon, and sense the balance in your earthly body. Walk from your center, perhaps peeling away layers of mask and costume, leaving them behind as you walk.  Becoming more and more your authentic self as you walk.  Pausing when feel it, moving forward when you feel it.  Stepping into the labrys at the turns if they call to you.  And then returning to the path.  Arrive at the center as your true and open self.  Wait there for as long as you will.  And then rise, and follow the same path, winding your way back out.  

I have another story to tell you.  Years ago, a group of us had taken the canvas that we painted to Millersville University at the request of the interfaith chaplain, and set it up in the student center for finals week.  I had family visiting from England and Canada during the same week & wanted to share this interest of mine with them.  I come from an interesting family.  We are a diverse collection of intellectuals and mystics, healers and computer programmers.  My aunt is a very rational, intellectual Oxford tutor of anthropology.  As our family walked together in silence, she began to weep.  She wept, and she cried.  And then she rested in the center, and emerged tender and open.  Later, as we were walking out of the building, she asked me about it.  She wanted a rational explanation.  I told her many of the things I’ve told you, about metaphor and about encountering ourselves on our life’s journey.  About the connection we can make to our deep selves, to the divine.  And she said, “That’s impossible.  That doesn’t make any sense.”  I looked at her and replied, “You are the one who just had the intense experience.”

So, if you remember nothing else, remember this.  There is no right way and no wrong way to interact with a labyrinth.  There is only what your body and spirit call for.  In this moment.

Please do not copy, share or reprint this without my written permission.  You may contact me at
Copyright 2013, Sarah C Preston  

Monday, September 30, 2013

Tara Mantra

For many years, I have loved the Tara mantra.  In fact, I took the 21 Praises of Tara training with Prema Desara.  It's a mantra I often sing during meditation, or when I'm stringing prayer beads.  A few weeks ago I attended a Dances of Universal Peace retreat and learned a new-to-me tune for the Tara Mantra, especially for the Fierce Compassion aspect of the goddess. 

I recorded the mantra so that I wouldn't forget it, and several people have asked to hear it.  So, I'm going to post it here.

If you are unfamiliar with the mantra, the words are Om Tare, Tuttare, Ture Svaha.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Weed Walk with Sarah Tomorrow Morning!

Thinking that I'll take my herbal apprentices on an informal weed walk tomorrow. If you'd like to join us, we'll meet at the parking lot for Kiwanis Pavilion 21 in the Lancaster County Park at 10:30. Cost will be $10. Bring a notebook and camera if you are inclined.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Let's Make a Corn Dolly!

Come make a corn dolly with organic farmer & magical crafter, Beth Weaver-Kreider
Sunday afternoon, August 11, 2013 from 3 until 5pm
in the garden at Herbs from the Labyrinth

A corn dolly is a small figure made of corn husks or straw. Corn dollies are part of the folk customs surrounding the grain harvest in Great Britain and much of Europe. In that part of the world, "corn" originally referred to any grain, especially wheat, and it is grain straw, that goes into making corn dollies. When European colonists came to North America, they brought the tradition with them and began using corn husks, the sacred grain of this land.  In this context, the word "dolly" is probably a variation of the word "idol."
In Europe, it was believed that the spirit of the corn lived in the growing crop, and the dolly gave the corn spirit shelter after the crop was harvested. The dolly was usually burned or ripped apart in the fields before planting time the next spring. Destroying the dolly released the spirit and allowed it to aid another successful harvest.
Join us on Sunday, August 11 at 3pm, in the garden at Herbs from the Labyrinth, LLC, at 1053 Wheatland Avenue, Lancaster. 
Cost of the class is $25.  To register, call Radiance at 717-290-1517, or stop in whenever the shop is open, 9 W Grant St, in downtown Lancaster, across the cobblestones from historic Central Market.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Herbal Fermentations with Ben Weiss, Saturday, August 17

Herbal Fermentations
A workshop at Radiance with local home-brewer,
Benjamin Weiss.
Saturday, August 17th, 1-5PM

Only within the last few centuries did hops become the main herbal ingredient in beer. From very ancient times until nearly the present, cultures around the world have been making fermented beverages with an incredible variety of herbs, fruits, sugar sources and other ingredients. Fermented beverages can serve as much more than just an enjoyment. These drinks can preserve the nutritional and medicinal properties of their ingredients for up to several years, and can play a key role in ritual and spiritual practice.

Benjamin Weiss, a local organic farmer, permaculture teacher, and poet has been experimenting with herbal fermentations for the past 7 years. Inspired by Stephen Buhner’s book Sacred & Herbal Healing Beers, Ben has learned to craft medicinal fermentations of many kinds using mostly local, organic, and wild ingredients.

This class will be useful for those who have little or no experience with brewing, and as a source of fascinating new knowledge for experienced brewers. Students will participate in the creation of an herbal beer as well as a mead (honey wine), and will see fermentations in all of the different stages of the brewing process. Basic techniques and equipment will be explained, as well as medicinal, nutritive, and ritual functions of brews, choosing, harvesting and obtaining ingredients, and pairing appropriate flavors. And an array of Ben’s finished beverages will be available for sampling!

This class will be held in the Herbs from the Labyrinth kitchen and garden, on Wheatland Avenue in Lancaster.  A few books and kits will be available for sale at the class. To register, call Radiance, 717-290-1517, or stop in to 9 W Grant St, Lancaster.

Cost of the class is $40.  Advance registration is required.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Barefoot Season is Here!

It's time to expose our toes!  And our heels... I've just made some Peppermint Foot Creme with gentle exfoliation (thanks to Apricot kernal meal).  The final smoothing touch to your personal pedicure...

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Baltimore Herb Festival This Saturday!

We will have our vending tent set up at the Baltimore Herb Festival this Saturday!  This is a really wonderful outdoor herb fair around a shady loop road in beautiful Leakin Park.  Wonderful plants, herbal products, garden art & herbal crafts.  Live music all day, delicious food, even a few interesting talks.  Come see us!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Want to Be a Garden Apprentice?

For quite a few years, I have taken on Garden Apprentices from Spring thru Fall. I haven't taken any for the past two years because my garden schedule was too unpredictable, but am ready to accept a few this year. We will work in the garden for a few hours most Mondays (with some flexibility for weather & travel) doing whatever needs to be done. We will plant, weed, prune, harvest & make medicine. I will teach by talking about what we are doing, what we encounter & by answering questions. No money changes hands. You will receive herbal experiences & deepen your plant knowledge; I will receive the help I need in the garden. It is an arrangement that works well for all... Tomorrow morning at 10, I will be in the garden. If you think you might be interested, let's talk...