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Reflections of an autistic herbalist, poet, and Feri priest.

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Edge of the Woods

I have always walked at the edges of worlds.

Growing up in suburban Massachusetts in the 1980’s, nobody knew what to make of the kid who could give long lectures on American and Irish history but couldn’t tie his shoes or keep track of homework assignments and lacked the social skills to put together a Dungeons & Dragons game.

Nor did I know what to make of the people around me. I was constantly waiting for my people – who at various times included Luke Skywalker, the Daoine Sidhe, King Arthur, and Carl Sagan – to come find me and take me where I really belonged. But, they never did, so I disappeared into fantasy novels and into the swamp behind my house where sometimes strange creatures flashed at the edge of my field of vision.

In college, psychedelics gave me a framework of understanding the co-existence of multiple levels of reality and the fluidity of consciousness. And I began to realize that the difference between me sober and me on acid was roughly proportionate to the difference between sober me and sober anyone else around me.

It was a decade later when a visitation from Brighid and the subsequent purchase of my first copy of The Spiral Dance revealed to me that the worlds I crossed into and the beings I encountered in childhood were real, and that I could learn to engage with them again.

It was another five years after that before my career as a political organizer ended as one would expect the career of an organizer with minimal executive function skills and no ability to make small talk to, and praying to Brighid brought me first to herbalism and then to my Feri teacher.

It was a few years after that that I found out I was autistic.

To quote Autistic scholar, Nick Walker “"Autism is a genetically-based human neurological variant [. . .]" that "tends to make the autistic individual’s subjective experience more intense and chaotic than that of non-autistic individuals:[. . .] the autistic mind tends to register more information, and the impact of each bit of information tends to be both stronger and less predictable."

In other words, we see and experience things differently and more intensely than other people do – which makes living in this culture challenging at times. Some of our ancestors were more fortunate.

Cultures around the world traditionally sent the strange ones among them, the ones who thought and moved and spoke differently, the ones who might have been more comfortable connecting with plants and animals and gods than with other humans and the ones who didn’t draw sharp lines between the human and other-than-human and the living and the dead, to live beyond the edge of the village. But they kept them close by – because sometimes you need someone to intercede with other worlds and other species, sometimes you need someone to read strange patterns in the world, sometimes you need someone who thinks in non-linear ways to find a new approach to a problem that nobody else can serve. They became the witches at the edge of the woods.

This column is the attempt of a Feri witch at the edge of the temperate rainforest to communicate my experiences and perceptions. May my musings and reflections help you see your world in new ways.

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Sean Donahue is a highly neurodivergent wild forest creature who lives on traditional Klickitat territory in Trout Lake, WA and has an herbal practice in Portland and Beaverton, OR. He is an initiated priest of the BlackHeart line of the Feri Tradition of witchcraft, and carrier of the Green Wand. To learn more about his work go to.
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  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham Saturday, 01 October 2016

    Welcome to the PaganSquare blogging community. I look forward to your insights and observations.

  • Jamie
    Jamie Tuesday, 04 October 2016

    Mr. Donahue,

    Thanks for sharing!

    Being different seems like a curse when we are young, but the Deathless Ones have blessed you with the ability to see the world in a way the others around you can't.

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