She Gathers the Herbs for Battle

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July 7, 2018 by lucieromarin

I have arisen from the bronchitis-that-would-not-die to find that we’re just over a month off the Feast of the Assumption. That means it’s time to start preparing the fruit, herbs, spices, and teas for the once-a-year blessing.

The blessing of herbs on the Feast of the Assumption seems to be almost as ancient as Christianity itself. It certainly dates back to those apocryphal texts which speak of Our Lady’s Dormition and the Apostles’ discovery of her tomb empty, but filled with healing herbs. Eastern European women have a posy blessed which they  hang in the kitchen for the year. The blessing is so thorough and fearsome that that posy will ward off pretty much anything, especially when combined with the Candlemas light and devotion to the Virgin of the Blessed Thunder Candle (you heard it here first). The Western blessing I know is medieval and promises things such as the protection of cattle. Well, God knows what we mean, so I see no reason to change it. And I do have friends who own cattle. I also know one woman who used the blessed herbs for a tea which lifted suicidal depression (I have her permission to share this.) Call it a placebo if you will, but if it stops people killing themselves, more strength to it. If you think your parish priest might be open to this blessing on the Feast, the prayers are here.

The first time I carried blessed herbs on the train, a man smelt them from three carriages away. I saw him charging down the aisle of the next carriage; he shoved a pram out of his way with such force that bystanders reached out to steady it. He burst into my carriage, where I was standing up with a potted rosemary in one hand, and then stood right behind me, almost touching my shoulder, looking down at the plant, just looking and looking at it. Eventually, he said “What made you pick the rosemary?” His phrasing niggled at the back of my mind for a long time. “What made you pick the rosemary?” is different from “What made you buy rosemary?” Eventually I worked out what it was. The first question is what you ask when you have a choice between rosemary and something else. I had, indeed, had a choice. We had been offered the choice of rosemary or lavender at that Mass.

I have to admit that when I’d stepped into the church that day, and seen Our Lady decked out in lavender from head to toe, my first thought was, “Oh! This is why Protestants think we’re pagan!” These days, my thoughts are focused on the military-style operation of planning who will receive what, in what quantity and how I will present it all at Our Lady’s feet without looking vulgar. As the blessing is annual, and most churches don’t offer it, I’m preparing for a year’s worth of tea-and-herb distribution among friends, family and apostolates. That’s a lot of tea. I have a trauma-counselling friend in another state who shares the tea with her clients – not only with their permission but with their gratitude. Some clients describe themselves as spiritual-but-not-religious, and the blessing gives them a way to infuse their self-care with spirituality and grace, with no sermon attached. Others are simply grateful that someone on this miserable earth is willing to share something with them. In one case, the box of tea was the first gift that that soul had received, from anybody, in over a decade.

The annual blessing was established in my parish by my spiritual director. At one time, I thought that this would be the year that I could no longer bear to go. The last few years, the memories pressed too hard upon the joy. But now, a month out, I find that joy begins to dissolve the memories. The Feast of the Assumption turns out to be one of the things worth staying for. And, honestly, my inner witch finds the sight of a basket of little jars, labelled without and fragrant within, destined for a super-prayer and a journey into the sorrows of the world, deeply, deeply satisfying.

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