The Lost Female Healer: and How We Can Find Her Again

By: Guest Writer Shayle Sabo


Guest writer Shayle Sabo

Guest writer Shayle Sabo

When you work with plants, do you feel it? Do you feel like a piece of you - long dormant - is awakening?

As you utilize the gifts of our planet, do you feel energized, as though you are reconnecting with the most ancient part of yourself?

Do you feel like a part of a bigger picture, sensing that while it is incredibly complicated, that you are fulfilling a role in a larger interconnection?

As you enter your local apothecary, do you feel a sense of gratitude, thankful we have access to such natural healing?

We are here to say, maybe you are experiencing all of these things because they are real.

For those who Heal, no matter what stage you are at in your journey, we dedicate this to you.


The Healer Archetype

In cultures across the globe, the Healer was often revered. There are even cases where the healers were seen as a person with Divine abilities, having been blessed with gifts from the gods or goddesses they worshipped. Chronic disease, injury, ailments, illness, and pain have always been a part of the human journey, and the ability to provide a solution to these has been considered sacred to many populations.

The Healer throughout time can take multiple forms. In some cultures they are shamans, using profound knowledge of natural remedies. Or perhaps they are the Ayurvedic practitioners of ancient India who looked at the interconnections of the mind, body, and spirit; working with those who suffered from chronic disease to identify not only remedies, but lifestyle choices to find balance. Maybe we see the gurus or teachers of the world as the Healer in other cultures, providing not necessarily just physical assistance, but guidance mental and spiritual well-being through meditation or seeking the advice of the ancestors before them.


Photo by Katherine Hanlon

Photo by Katherine Hanlon


In more modern times, the Healer was the face you met in your community’s local apothecary. What is an apothecary? It can almost be thought of as an early medical clinic, but instead of fluorescent lights and glaring white walls as we have come to know them today, an apothecary was owned by an herbal practitioner. The apothecary was - and still is today - a place where one can find tinctures, tonics, teas, salves, and many other forms of herbal remedies that can be used to alleviate ailments we experience as humans.

The Healer can be found in some way in almost any human society anywhere on the planet. However, as time passed from the more ancient societies to the more modern ages, the concept of the Healer began to shift, particularly for female healers. Though healers throughout history have been predominantly women, a dynamic change occurred, in which healers were no longer revered, but ostracized and thought of as evil. 

We invite you to join us in exploring how this shift came to be, how time continues to evolve and mold the archetype of the Healer, and how we today, are reclaiming this title.


The Female Healer

The Female Healers have always been an important and integral part of society. Women traditionally have been the gatherers, working inherently with plants and natural elements of their environment. Additionally, because of the fact that women traditionally served the role of home-maker and had nurturing instincts, they were the ones who were called upon to make and provide remedies for ill family members, or serve the role of care-takers. Women were also the midwives, guiding new life into our world and providing support to birthing mothers. 

However, before the understanding of science, there was always an air of unknowing as to how the human body worked. This is likely where the mysticism surrounding the practice of healing arose, as it almost seemed as though healers were able to perform an art that had a real result, but without a fundamental understanding of how.

To understand the shift in the perception of the Female Healer it is important to understand that the women who provided these services did so for the people of their community. It is highly probable that the skills they learned were passed down from their mothers and grandmothers before them. They learned as a collective, working in circles together as a sisterhood in their community. These skills were acquired without the help of formal education, without access to books, and without many of the other avenues that have been historically restricted for women. 

This astonishing skill, combined with the mystery that surrounded them, created an avenue for fear, particularly among men of power, who did not know the extent of the women’s ability. Did it only end with healing, or was it perhaps more supernatural? The concept of women having the ability to be able to access power in a way that men could not access or understand was incredibly threatening. 


The Shift

As pointed out by authors Barbara Ehrenrich and Diedre English in their post for The Feminist Press in 1973, there are really two variables that contributed to this shift, and some of these factors can be found in our current healthcare system today: 

  1. Politics. The concept of vying for power is just as ancient in the human journey as the Healer itself. The suppression of the healer has become more apparent as medicine became institutionalized, and unfortunately, highly monetized. Those that were “allowed” to become doctors were primarily only men, and their practices became revered as having a basis solely in science. The healing ability of women, however, was largely attacked and attempts were made to discredit it, claiming that the practices of female healers was based solely in superstition, and not of any real scientific validity, despite the results showing otherwise. The work of healers even gained a new term, of which many of us may be familiar with today - “old wives tales.”

  2. A class struggle. As aforementioned, it was rare that female healers were of elite class systems. Instead, they were integral members of the community, serving friends and neighbors. This meant that they had formed trusting relationships and networks. This presented two problems: that people did not seek the monetized services of more ‘elite’ healthcare services, and that this provided middle-lower class, or event peasants, access to medical services. Both of these presented a threat to the higher class systems. Furthermore, the support of their local healer was perceived as rebellious.

Photo by Becca Tapert

Photo by Becca Tapert


This shift continued into modern day. Women were suppressed in the medical profession for decades, if not centuries. Women being anything other than nurses was met with huge resistance. Matter of factly, it was not until 2017 that became the first year in the US that there was a larger percentage of women enrolled in medical school than men, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges


So Where Are We Today?

Perhaps there is a part of you that feels grief. Maybe you are questioning - why did we let such a beautiful practice like natural healing go? Why did we allow it to become a practice that was forgotten, the skills long gone with our ancestors? 

We know when we feel herbs in our hands, or sip an herbal infusion, we feel a sense of longing. Yes, we hear the calling, and know in our intuition that there is a reason we are drawn to this art. And while we grieve the losses we have experienced in this practice, we hope you know there is hope.

How do we know?

We invite you to revisit the beginning questions we asked in this post. We have a feeling you may have answered yes to a majority, if not all of them. That is because we have never really lost anything. It is within us, and the skills are there for us to re-learn and re-discover. We can take back our power of healing. And our power as women. We are intuitive. We are caretakers. We are nurturing. And we are beautiful. The practice of natural healing aligns us with the very core aspects of ourselves.

It may be easy to feel overwhelmed or hopeless today. It is true, we are living longer, but we are arguably sicker than ever. We are breathing polluted air, and work ourselves into exhaustion. We ignore the stress sensors of our body. Really, many of us ignore a lot of what our body may be speaking, or even shouting to us. We no longer tap into the gift that is individual intuition, and instead seek quick fixes for the symptoms we experience versus seeking the root cause. 

We opt for screens versus genuine connection. We hide behind keyboards and use words that hurt with no remorse because we cannot see the person on the other side. We are catty and gossipy - a painful after effect of centuries of women being pitted against each other.

But all of this is why we as healers are so incredibly important today, probably more so than our ancestors before us. Our world is a little broken, and who better to put the pieces together than us? 

Susanna Barlow, on the concept of healers throughout time states this beautifully in her column titled Crossing Over from Pain to Peace Thresholds, “It is part of the human experience to be hurt, wounded, or injured in some way whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual. And because of this, there has always been someone that shows an aptitude for how to help the hurt person.”

You know what is incredible about this? We have always found a way to heal together, regardless of the walls built against us. And we will continue to heal, and find our way back together.


Taking Our Power Back 

So how do we take our power back? How to reclaim something that has become so villainized and return it to its rightful, sacred place?

The same way we as women have been progressing since the dawn of time, by standing together and lifting one another up.

Here are a few suggestions we provide:

  1. Never stop learning. There are so many incredible practitioners of natural healing. Seek their guidance, and continue the passing down of knowledge as our ancestors did before us. These skills cannot be lost as long as they continue to be shared. Matter of factly, as we find ourselves wanting to reconnect to the practices of our ancestors, there has been a resurgence in apothecaries (remember how we mentioned them earlier?). This is a great place to start, as supporting your local apothecary not only provides you with access to these ancient practices and remedies, but often times many of them provide classes or other opportunities for connection.

  2. Celebrate your Feminine Energy. Think about it - all things must be in balance. As with light, there is dark. With yang (masculine) energy, we must have yin (feminine). Not only learn about the essence of feminine energy, feminine health, and feminine sexuality - but celebrate these. Matter of factly, we offer a course on this very subject to get you started, and invite you to join us.

  3. Always strive for intersectionality. Divided we fall, but together we rise. Remember that there is a beautiful blend of cultures and lineages that have created the natural healing practices we know today. As pointed out by Sade Musa, an herbalist who leads the community education and healing project called Roots of Resistance, in modern educational texts and programs around natural healing such as herbalism, cultural roots may be omitted. For example, often times fundamental herbs such as turmeric and ashwagandha are typically attributed to Ayurvedic medicine, which is referred to often in modern western herbalism texts, and fail to also point out that the same herbs have been used by indigenous Africans for just as long and in similar ways. By educating ourselves, and choosing to be intersectional in our practice, we can ensure that we support and lift up one another - not exclude one another.


Photo by Julian Santa Ana

Photo by Julian Santa Ana


So continue to answer the call, and continue to follow this path, because you are continuing the journey of ancient practices. It does not matter if you are just beginning, use herbs to supplement your lifestyle, or have been practicing for ages. As a Healer, you will ensure that the practices are not forgotten, and there is nothing more powerful than that.

So today we celebrate you, Healer. We thank you for choosing the gentle, compassionate path. We thank you for seeing yourself as a connection, versus a ruler of this planet. We celebrate your awakening, and we have a feeling your ancestors before you do too.

Shayle Sabo is a freelance writer specializing in holistic health and wellness. Shayle can be found by visiting http://www.shaylesabo.com or by following her on Instagram using @shaylelikestowander.

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