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Healing Herbs & Speciesism
"From Healing Herbs to Deadly Drugs: Western Medicine's War Against the Natural World"
by Marti Kheel

From Healing the Wounds: The Promise of Ecofeminism, edited by Judith Plant, Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1989

"The Origins of God in the Blood of the Lamb"
by Sally Abbott

From Reweaving the Web: The Emergence of Ecofeminism, edited by Irene Diamond and Gloria Feman Orenstein, San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1990.

Background on the context in which this essay was written.

Date Readings Were Discussed: December 8, 1991
Present: Colleen M., Catherine C., Cathleen M., Kalisa, Robin Z., Lisa B., and Ora M.

Marti Kheel's essay contrasting herbal healing with Western medicine provoked one of our most heated discussions. Some women took issue with Kheel for "putting herb lore on a pedestal," feeling that she was remiss not to mention that herbs, too, can be "deadly."

Her approach, one woman said, is a form of "starry-eyed romanticism" that disregards nature's destructive side, such as earthquakes, cataclysms . . . and potentially lethal plants. The woman found Kheel lacking a sound scientific grasp of botany.

Another woman countered that this sort of accusation parallels those hurled at studies on prepatriarchal goddess cultures: bad scholarship, poor documentation, no legitimate historicity, etc. Herbal tradition—primarily oral and the realm of women—will always be considered flawed in a society where rationalist, techno thinking dominates and alternative approaches are debased.

Several women emphasized that as a philosopher Kheel's focus has less to do with herbs versus pharmaceuticals per se than in exposing the Western medical attitude of the body as a battlefield. Holistic health, on the other hand, is thousands of centuries old and works with the body as an ally for attaining self-balance. One woman felt that we "need to combine the best of both traditions."

Most women vehemently questioned whether this was even possible. One woman passionately declared that the allopathic world view and the homeopathic world view are "mutually exclusive." The American Medical Association (AMA) "successes" are nothing less than wars on the minds and bodies of women.

Prepared with statistics, another woman pointed out that five out of every ten major operations in this country are performed on women's reproductive organs, and that fifty percent of all U.S. women have had either their ovaries or their wombs removed by the time they are sixty.

Given the paucity of discourse devoted to alternative viewpoints, some women were indignant at the suggestion that the merits of AMA-identified medicine should be accorded our energy. One woman informed us of an ominous case-in-point concerning the medical establishment's proactive efforts to obliterate the alternative healing profession and expropriate the burgeoning natural health market for itself.

The Congressional Health and Environmental Subcommittee, she explained, is currently studying Bill HR2597, legislation designed to make over-the-counter nutrients fall under the regulation of the FDA. All herbs, vitamins, etc. would be available only from AMA-licensed physicians, akin to prescription drugs. And yet, ninety percent of all medical schools do not even offer classes in nutrition!

A primary tenant of ecofeminism is the premise that the domination of women and the domination of nature are fundamentally connected. Proceeding on this continuum from the plant world to the animal world, Sally Abbott's essay probed the relationship between human animals and nonhuman animals. She writes:

"Shamanic tribal religion had its origins in hunting magic at the onset of the Ice Age, close to 40,000 years ago. Scenes on the walls of caves in Europe depict the slaying of "souls" of animals through art to be followed by capturing their body in the hunt.

After the hunt, the slain animals' bones were ritually buried to appease their souls....Thus, I believe occurred the first separation of body and soul...[and that] ritual and religion might have been brought to birth by the necessity of propitiation for the killing of animals."

One woman felt that if Abbott's theory has validity, then perhaps the archetypical patriarchal practice of objectifying other beings was formulated (however innocently) in men's early hunting rituals. Another woman proposed that women's ancient rituals were primarily centered on bonding with nature (ex., connecting our menstrual cycles to the moon's rhythms), as opposed to honing separations between body and soul.

The first woman added that an examination of the roots of nonhuman animals as potentially the first oppressed "other" may perhaps shed light on the dominant-subordinant duality paradigm intrinsic to contemporary patriarchal culture. Overall women were extremely interested in exploring whether this transition in thought actually occurred, and if so, how exactly did it evolve.

Women also discussed the massive violence human animals inflict daily on nonhuman animals: raising and eating factory-farmed animals, zoos, laboratory experiments, rodeos, the fur industry, etc. Such barbarities have spawned even greater psychic pain, angst, and need for propitiation than the dilemma faced by early shamanic tribes—especially since most of the industrialized world is bereft of a nature-based spirituality or rituals to expiate speciesist behavior.

Our session ended with one woman informing us that chayot is the Hebrew word for animals. Tellingly, chayot is a feminine-gendered noun.

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