I met Tonja Reichley earlier this year when I first moved to Ireland via internet serendipity. I was searching online for an herbalist in Kinvara (the village I first landed in before Galway) and found Tonja's website. She is an American (Denver-based) who lives part-time in Ireland and leads herbalism-focused pilgrimages to Ireland. And it just so happened that she was going to be in Kinvara a few days after I contacted her, so we met for coffee and discovered our mutual love of Hildegard of Bingen. I wanted to know more about Hildegard's herbal practices and Tonja wanted to know more about her monastic roots, and so a meaningful friendship was born. I am so delighted to welcome Tonja to our Abbey community, I have been studying herbalism with her this past summer and have been deeply blessed by her presence in my life.
Read more from Tonja about becoming a monk in the world:
The limestone grey stone walls reverberate with our chants of “Awen*, Amen” as we collect stinging nettles and viriditas-infused cleavers. The echoes of our chants mingle with the ancient melodies of the monks who tended to this place for hundreds of year. We feel their presence through the herbs and through our chants. We are a group of pilgrims, monks in the world, harvesting healing herbs in a 12th century infirmary, now sky clad, just as the church it stands next to in the Burren of West Ireland. The herbs who offer their medicine to us today are the same lineage of plants that the monks would have used hundreds of years ago. We, too, create nourishing teas and tinctures with these herbs and are nourished body, mind and spirit, just as our ancestors would have been.
I am an herbalist and this is how I walk through the world as monk. Brighid and Hildegard are my teachers as are the plants themselves who offer thresholds not only to deep healing but to divine connection.
Brighid of Kildare is one of the patron saints of Ireland and prior to her manifestation in human form, she was a triple goddess of this land: a goddess of healing, smithcraft and poetry. She was a midwife and a healer and some of her favorite remedies are now mine: dandelion, blackberry, sleep, water and laughter.
Brighid was so relevant to the Irish people that with the coming of Christianity with St Patrick in the 5th century, she was born as a flesh and blood woman. She traveled the countryside with her white, red-eared cow, offering healing remedies and unlimited amounts of milk from her cow companion. She established a monastery in Kildare and she and her nuns tended to a sacred flame that still burns to this day.
Brighid, the saint, the monk, the herbalist. She is my teacher. I tend to her flame, which burns perpetually in my botanical shop in Denver, a gift from the nuns in Kildare. I visit her holy wells and harvest dandelion to use as medicine. This is how I move through the world as a monk.
I walk in the footsteps of Hildegard of Bingen, a mighty woman who established monasteries and worked with the healing power of herbs 700 years after Brighid of Kildare. Like Brighid, she and her nuns tended their herb gardens and harvested the wild herbs from hedgerows and forests and fertile fields. As a monk in the world, I, too, tend to my herb garden and harvest the humble herbs that grow along boreens in Ireland and in the mountains of Colorado and the alleyways of urban Denver. Tending and harvesting these gifts from God, this is how I walk through the world as a monk.
One of Hildegard’s favorite herbs was rose. She believed that adding rose to her healing remedies made stronger, deeper medicines. Rose, in all of her beauty and sweetness, is a great healer for the heart: opening, strengthening, inviting self-love. I, too, use rose in many of my healing remedies believing in the transformative power that it holds, subtly encouraging healing from a place of self-love. Using the herbs that my teachers used, this is how I walk through the world as a monk.
These women, these monks, created and built the paths that I now endeavor to walk. Paths of deep healing and nourishment, offered by God through the plants and through the alchemy that we, as monks and ritualists, infuse into our herbal medicines.
The sun shines brightly into my Irish cottage, as the hands who harvested nettles and cleavers and blackberry from the ruins of the monastic infirmary, now transmute the plants into medicine. We sit in circle as our ancestors did, we look upon a landscape of grey and green and hills and cairns, a landscape little changed in hundreds of years. We give of our love and intention as we create medicine. We receive.
This, this is how I walk through the world as a monk.
*Awen is a Gaelic word meaning creative inspiration, divine wholeness, bliss. I like chanting Awen and Amen together… the W in Awen representing woman and the M in Amen representing man. Divine wholeness, yes!
Herbalist (BS, MBA) Tonja Reichley spends her time in the urban alleyways of Denver and on the windswept coast of western Ireland foraging for wild herbs to nourish, heal and revitalize the whole self. She loves the power and connection of ritual and ancient Celtic monastic traditions. She created MoonDance Botanicals, a herbal boutique where all products are handcrafted by a collaborative herbal community and is the author of The Way of Brighid Oracle Cards, a 33-card deck dedicated to Irish goddess and saint, Brighid offering reflections, meditations and affirmations.. Her new book The Holy Wildness: Awakening to Ancient Rhythms of Sacred Irish Landscape explores how the turas, the holy journey, offers thresholds to sensual secrets, deep yearnings and spiraled awakenings. Visit her website at www.dancingwiththewild.com .