A Book Review: Red Medicine

Now that my semester is coming to a close, I want to refix my gaze onto another text that a friend recommended I read. In Red Medicine: Traditional Indigenous Rites of Birthing and Healing, Patrisia Gonzalesshares her formidable knowledge of herbals, indigenous birthing practices, oral tradition, storytelling, and symbol knowledge.

“In ceremonies, our prayers invoke the ombligo, a spiritual center where energy gathers and disperses deep in the fire of the earth. My interest in the ombligo (umbilicus or umbilical stub) began amid the element of the earth when mine was buried in the ground with special prayers, the ash from a hearth, and rosemary. It is powerful to know that a part of me is buried in the earth” (120).

As I study Native American literature, I am always peeling away another layer of understanding. As a non-Native, I realize that this will continue forever, because my understanding will never be complete. I appreciate Gonzales for sharing her knowledge in this text, as a deeper understanding will help me to better understand not only the texts I read and interpret, but also it will assist me in developing a holistic approach to healing in my current field of nursing.

I am familiar with the concept of the tree of life as I have read about it in several Native texts, but I had not read about it in context of the placenta before. Gonzales describes the tree of life in the placenta:

“I learned about the tree of life from other elders who saw the living tree in the placentas of their offspring. . . . Then I assisted as a birth attendant for a friend of mine who is Choctaw. When the placenta was expelled, I immediately saw the sacred story within the placenta and proclaimed, ‘It’s the tree of life!’ It looked just like a tree, with the veins as its trunk.

Though we came from different Indigenous traditions, my friend, in her postpartum daze, understood what I meant. There are many symbols and values shared by Indigenous cultures. One unifying symbol of Native knowledge, writes Cajete in his examination of Indigenous education and ecology, is that of the tree of life” (122-123).

I find Gonzales has so much to offer us in Indigenous wisdom about birthing and dreaming practices. I am reminded of my own family’s dream practice. When I was going into labor with my first born child, my mother told me she woke up from a dream of her deceased mother. Her mother came to her bedside in the dream and woke her, stating, “It is time for the baby”. Shortly after she woke from this dream, she received my call that my water had broken. She told me this story, and also shared a similar experience with her first born child. I think it is so interesting the connection that my maternal grandmother, my mother, and I have shared with each other in our birthing experiences. I am thankful for the opportunity I had to tell my grandmother about my pregnancy prior to her death. Even though she was aphasic from her stroke, she showed the elation in her face. Studying indigenous symbolism helps me to connect with the meaningful practices and patterns in my life, and brings richer meaning to my life.

Work Cited

Gonzales, Patrisia. Red Medicine: Traditional Indigenous Rites of Birthing and Healing. Tucson: Univ of Arizona Press, 2012. Print.

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