The Story of The Brave Herbalist and the Den of Snakes

Enjoy this old story of initiation from The Weaving: Plants, Planets and People.

“A long time ago, a young girl went into Starodubsk, an old Oak forest, searching for mushrooms to fill her basket. As she wandered, a strange looking root caught her attention. Curious, she crept closer to the root and as she bent to get a better look, she saw the strange root was a nest of snakes. Horrified, she stepped backwards and fell into a hole. It was the hole where the snakes lived.

It was dark in the hole and hissing sounds filled the dank air. Around her ankles the girl could feel the snakes slither as their forked tongues tasted her skin. The girl froze in terror. Just as she was about to collapse in a faint, from deep inside the darkness of the hole a shimmering glow appeared. As the glow brightened and came nearer, the girl could see it was an undulating light, like the light of afull Moon on a still lake. The glow was the golden-horned Queen of Snakes.

The Queen of the Snakes comforted the girl and led her and the snakes to a luminous stone in the centre of the hole. The snakes licked the stone, and their hunger was satisfied. Seeing this, the girl licked the stone as well and her fear disappeared.
For the long, cold winter, the girl, under the protection of the Queen, lived as the snakes lived deep down in the dark hole with the luminous stone that fed and satisfied them all.

When the days grew longer and the earth began to warm, the snakes prepared to return to the surface of the world. Knowing the girl would need their help to climb from the hole, the snakes interlaced their bodies forming a ladder for her.
As the girl said her goodbyes and turned to climb the ladder, the Queen of the Snakes blessed her with the gift of understanding the language of plants. Knowing the plants’ language empowered the girl with the gift of plant medicine.

“However,” The Queen warned, “Never speak the name Chernobyl or you will lose the gift forever.” Chernobyl by another name is Mugwort. In Ukrainian Chernobyl means ‘the dark one’.

The girl carried her gift from the Queen of the Snakes for a very long time. She cared for the plants. The plants in turn cared for her. She healed many people and her many people and her fame as an herbalist spread far and wide until one day as she walked along a footpath a man asked her, “What is the name of this plant?”

“Oh,” she said, “Chernobyl.” And her gift vanished.

Old Ukrainian women say this is how Mugwort acquired its other name, Zabytko, “Herb of Forgetfulness.”

Excerpt From: Abrah Arneson. “The Weaving—Plants, Planets, and People: An Exploration Through Time.” available on Amazon or ask your favourite bookstore to order it.


Bear – A Poem



I feel you move through darkness –

a painful shadow.

The darkness of a forest – bare trees, moonless,

twigs snapping. I know you are there. Groaning,

alone in your heavy, tired body. Hunger

keeps you awake.


On my knees,

my finger traces your track, sticky in mud. I know-

where you have been.


I long to bury my face in your musky scent, know

the rhythm of your wild heart,

feed your hunger.


A twig snaps. Leaves rustle.

I feel you move through the darkness.



The question is the gift. The hardpart of the journey is asking the REAL question. The question that leads to the deepest, most intolerable pain of your being. The question that is like a finger wiggling in a wound. Poke, poke, poke.

Someone once told me it this question that brings us to another birth. She said that the spiritual quest is the burning dark question.  It is seeking the question that tears, rips, shatters, explodes. Then mends with the unknown – the unknowable. The gift is the most terrible question you have ever dared asked in the light of day.



You dig. Feeding on bitter roots

– the awful taste of medicine.

Dirt covers your tongue. You rip apart

rotting logs. Lapping up stinging ants,

grubs, beetles. All things known

for living on the dead.


It is said that when you dream of corpses and graveyards, (dreams that you leave behind in the dark and prefer not tell or write in your journal) the spiritual light within your soul will soon grow brighter. The more disgusting the corpse, putrid with decomposition, the greater the realization will be.


Perhaps –

it is not me tracking you?

Maybe –

you are waiting. Waiting

for the moment when

I let go. Accept

my fate, lay down

in the cold damp leaves and

let you

find me.


Perhaps –

I am pretending.

The longing a dramatic play.

A distraction.

The knowing concealed

by a sleight of hand.


She waited a long time –

to be found. No one came.

She dried up and

blew away like a leaf.


It took his keen sense of smell

to know her

as he dug up roots.

First, he uncovered her finger,

then her hand, breast, face.


He understood, how the light

blurred her vision. (Her eyes still

tender with darkness.) Because

he had slept long and dreamt deep

through cold winter after cold winter.

He knew only hunger

could wake her.


His heat, his hunger quickened her heart,

turning her blue flesh pink again.


He told me, “To awaken means to eat when you are hungry?”

“Is it ever satisfied?” I asked.


He knows her.