Living WildMelissa Abrahams
Shaman at Kuan Yin Healing Arts
Interspecies healing with the land
Reconnecting women to the source of life
Queen Beyoncé HoneyB series by ToeB
I first met Melissa Abrahams in her capacity as my acupuncturist, to help me heal my regular migraines.
Four years later, it is hard to describe what her role now is in my life, except to say that Melissa is my favourite wise woman.
Over the last twenty years journeying with different therapeutic modalities, no practitioner has had much success in unlocking my long-held defenses against life. Her intelligence and wit are unsurpassed, but it is her gentle compassion that is slowly unwinding me.
Because she’s my favourite it was a bit scary unveiling Melissa to you – I was worried I would sound like a sweaty, breathless fangirl.
We talked about male witches, the pill, healing with the land, and being a shamanic beekeeper.
You have taken on many roles in your life already – from solicitor to acupuncturist to shaman. Can you share what you learned on this journey, allowing your heart to take you down so many paths?
I often reflect on the word courage. It comes from the French word coeur, meaning heart – so courage has a vibrational quality with the word heart. When I think about what I’ve done, the decisions were heart-felt and heart-made decisions and they had a quality of courage about them.
But they also had some quite clear decision points.
Some people say “I found myself doing this and then this and then this door naturally opened” – well, that has not been my experience with my life. Everything that has happened to me has been a conscious and active choice on my part, and for good or bad, I’ve always felt that I’ve worked quite hard to achieve the things I’ve achieved.
Which is not necessarily the best way.
I now understand there is also a yin way of being in the world. Chinese medicine or Daoist philosophy has a phrase ‘Wuwei’ which means doing by not doing. So at this point in my life, this is my practice, which is perhaps how I can get to Shaman now.
But previously the Path of Heart felt rocky and required attention and intention and a lot of courage.
How has your more recent work as a shaman helped you become a better woman?
I don’t think I would say a better woman, but it has been a mutually beneficial relationship – the more I am woman, the more I am a shaman. Coming back to Chinese medicine and Chinese philosophy, the original shamans in China were women. We might call them witches now and they were the ones that practiced The Medicine. The medicine was channeling the divine knowledge and divine energy from heaven down to earth through the human.
That is the philosophy of Chinese medicine – yang heaven and yin earth meet in the human and that was the role of the Shaman who was a woman. That makes complete sense to me – as women we bring material energy up through our feet and we conceive and manifest life in our womb.
For me, the more I come into myself as a Woman, the more I come into myself as a Shaman.
You facilitate Women’s Circles, Rites of Passage Circles for young women, and other life cycle events. How did you first get into women’s circles?
When I was 30 I was told by a spirit guide to go to India – which sounds terribly trite – but it’s a cliché for a reason because there is something about India. I went to India and that’s where I met my first witch. He was the first person to introduce me to circles and we stepped into circle together.
From then on, there was no looking back.
The first couple of years after India I did practice with men and there wasn’t a clear moment when I started to sit in circles with women. It’s interesting reflecting on it now – I can’t even remember the first circle I ran. And yet, it seems to me like the most natural thing in the world to sit in a circle with women.
In doing so, it’s almost like the way trees grow or babies learn to walk. It is just part of what it means to be alive on earth – like a human, an animal or a tree – that as women we should sit in circle.
I’ve often heard the phrase that women’s monthly cycles mimic the cycles in nature. This is a concept hard to grasp if you are 30 and you’ve been on the oral contraceptive pill for 12 years already. How do you support women considering this transition back to their natural selves?
It’s actually something I do, if not weekly, then monthly in clinic. Most of my clients are women, definitely the majority of them come to me with what I’d call “energetic problems”. They might have low immunity, a tight body, digestive or reproductive problems and all of these problems are energetic problems where the qi (pronounced chi) is stagnant, stuck or deficient. In Chinese medicine terms, the qi flows and it flows in a particular rhythm and that rhythm is the cycles of nature.
So when a woman comes to me and says, “my shoulders hurt”, after diagnosing or treating her, I can explain to her that her body has a natural rhythm that flows with the moon. The moon flows from dark to whole to dark again in 28 or 29 days and that a woman’s natural cycle of bleeding to ovulating to bleeding again is 28 or 29 days. If she is on the pill, which is a chemical that explicitly stops her from living that cycle, then she will become stuck and blocked in her body. That’s why she has – tick any of the boxes – sore shoulders, headaches, bloating, stomach cramps, digestive or reproductive disorders and on and on and on.
In that moment, 99% of the women that I explain this to, the penny drops pretty quickly, if not instantly. I don’t have to work that hard to bring some awareness to it.
Like sitting in circle is just being our natural way in the world, for a woman to hear that her cycle is also the same length as the cycle of the moon, it’s like something just goes Kaching! in her brain: “Oh yes, I am that being.”
I’m tearing up – it’s so fucking tragic what the pill has done.
Look, don’t tell anyone but it is one of my missions as a practitioner and as a woman to bring as many women off the pill as I can because I am so passionate – not only what it’s doing chemically to our bodies in terms of hormones and brain chemistry and our fertility, but what it does to our spiritual and psychic and energetic being.
The pill removes us from the source of life, from our own fertility, our own creativity and our direct, material connection to the living, breathing world we live in.
I don’t think it’s such a long bow to draw that women on the pill = the earth being destroyed. If we were cycling and touched our blood, literally touched our blood and put it onto the earth and we had a specific tree in our garden where we put our blood, our love for the earth would be material and manifest. Destruction of the earth wouldn’t be happening!
Every time a woman goes off the pill in my clinic I just feel like shouting “Yay! One to the Good Guys” or rather, “One to the Good Women”.
Perhaps you need to start a Pill Garden where you plant a tree every time a client comes off the pill?
That’s a nice idea. Perhaps I’ll ask the women to plant a tree for themselves!
Whenever I sit in circle with you or attend any of your education events, you acknowledge the people of this land. It’s a familiar concept to me growing up in New Zealand where indigenous Maori culture is more respected, but it’s not something I hear Australians doing often. Why is this important to you?
I don’t know why it’s important to me, but it’s always been important. During my childhood, I spent a lot of time in the country. As a teenager I wanted to become a lawyer to work with Indigenous people and through my law degree I focused on human rights and international law. As soon as I finished Articles I quit corporate law, and went and worked in a community legal centre called PIAC (Public Interest Advocacy Centre).
I went there because they had taken on the Stolen Children’s claims and I became 1 of 7 solicitors running those claims. The ending wasn’t what we’d hoped for but it was an incredible experience, honour and privilege to work with those survivors.
I was born in Australia and don’t have Indigenous blood, so I wouldn’t call myself Aboriginal Australian in any way, but it’s something I feel in my body. I feel the land.
Very often in circle, I hear the sticks and feel or hear Aboriginal women elders talking and sitting behind me. I can’t understand what they are saying because they are speaking in their own language, but I feel I don’t need to understand every word.
I feel their presence and I feel the resonance or vibration of what they are saying to me.
For me it’s not a matter of ‘acknowledgement’, it’s not something to just do and tick off at the beginning of circle. It feels like they’re here, so let’s say hello. They’re sitting next to me so they are probably sitting next to you too. This is the reality, these people sit with us. The ancestors of the land sit with us.
You talk about serving the Great Mother and you are dreaming about a place in the country that can facilitate that. Can you talk to me more about those dreams?
I spent a lot of time in the country as a child and like many people I think, my world was full of fairies and spirits. The trees spoke to me, feathers were magical and bird cries were telling me things. I didn’t think that was unusual – this was the world I lived in.
Then at a certain point, one keeps these things to oneself and it stops becoming a dialogue.
And then I went to India… and I discovered India! And there, that is the norm, that dialogue is acceptable.
There I met my first witch and he explained to me that this internal experience, it was the Sacred Feminine and Goddess Practice.
I don’t know how, but I had gotten to 30 and I didn’t know of these practices. I mean, they were my internal experience but I didn’t have a vocabulary for them. Then the goddess Kuan Yin came to me and I travelled with her in India a lot, and from then on, made a very explicit commitment that I would serve in her name – that’s why my business practice Kuan Yin Healing Arts is named after her.
Having a place on my own land has been a dream since I was 6 and asking ‘How do we heal?’ That is the main question I ask myself most days. What does it mean to heal? How do I assist in healing?
I now think it’s the therapeutic, vibrational relationship between the practitioner and the patient that is most important – it doesn’t matter really what the technique is, I could be doing acupuncture or drumming or whatever – so that we can get to a point together where the divide dissolves.
I believe that healing is not only enhanced but true healing happens with healing with the land. I read this word recently – interspecies – that it’s not just a human to human healing that has to happen. Healing has to happen between humans and stones and trees and soil and animals too.
You are a beekeeper. Your name Melissa means honey bee in Greek. In mythology, it is the name of a princess of Crete who was changed into a bee after she learned to collect honey. Is there anything you want to tell me?!
Chloe, Jules Joseph Lefebvre
Oil on canvas – 260 x 139cm
(Laughs). Well the story in my family is that I was named Chloe originally, but my paternal grandmother was very adamant that I not be named after the naked woman in Young and Jackson’s Hotel.
So my mother changed my name when I was 3 days old to Melissa, a character in the Lawrence Durrell novel, The Alexandria Quartet.
Melissa is a prostitute who dies of tuberculosis in the first chapter – which is hilarious because the book has some very strong female characters that my mother could have chosen from! Nonetheless, I love my name.
The bee connection was not strong for me until in my 30s and I was living in London with my family. I was having a conversation with a friend and she told me about a Shamanic practice called The Path of Pollen. In that minute, I felt my antennae grow!
We were literally driving past Stonehenge on the A40 so it was quite surreal. She started telling me about Simon Buxton and his partner Naomi Lewis and this ancient European secret shamanic practice. I became fascinated and I read his book, The Shamanic Way of the Bee which I found deeply inspiring.
I didn’t get to do any shamanic beekeeping while in England, but I did once speak to Simon on the phone in my front garden in London.
I had a handset and two bees came and sat on my fingers as I was talking to him, and so I said:
“Simon! There are bees on my fingers!”
And he just said “Yeah, they can hear my voice.”
It was one of these experiences where I thought, this is really happening, this is true!
I came back from London determined to buy a country property for many reasons, and one of which was set up a beehive. I went back to England and did the first part of the Path of Pollen shamanic practitioner training, which I don’t really have words for, to tell you the truth – I’ve never done anything like that in my life.
I saw on your Instagram feed that you talk to the bees about big events.
There’s an old European tradition of ‘Telling the Bees’.
When something significant happened to the beekeeper and their family, it was important to go tell the bees.
The bees were included in all weddings, births and deaths.
Sometimes in my dreams I enter into my hive and commune with my bees.
I don’t understand the theory enough to explain it, but I know it in myself and it makes sense to me.
Whenever I go up to my farm, I go visit the bees and let them know what’s going on; telling the bees, opening my heart, re-weaving the wild connection between humans and the Earth.
You have a full life as a healer, two children, husband, house, dog, two cats, a garden etc. Can you share some of your self-care rituals with me?
I’ve been meditating since I was 23 and I joke to people that it’s a of matter life and death – except that’s not a joke at all, because I don’t know how I would be, if I hadn’t meditated most days since then. It isn’t every day but it is most days. It just is. That is my base and from that the 10,000 things rise.
Meditation is my main spiritual practice and my main life practice. Other than my husband, it is the most consistent thing in my life.
For me, practicing meditation means that certain decisions become really clear – like my reduction in intoxicants. I have almost no pharmaceutical drugs in my life, I don’t drink coffee and I drink only a little alcohol. We eat almost only organic vegetables and chemical-free meat in our house, and I ride a bike most days.
It’s going to sound utterly ridiculous, but I quit being a lawyer because I didn’t feel like I could maintain that adversarial practice as well as my meditation practice. That’s a really reductionist view of what happened, but because meditation is the baseline, certain things then necessarily follow.
Can you share some of your rituals that you perform on full and new moons?
My sons and I like to wash our crystals on full moons. We don’t do it on every full moon, but one of us will go “I think I need to wash my crystals” just as someone else in the house is going “Hmmmm, I think I need to get my crystals out” so we happily do that.
I also love drumming up the full moon, particularly on my farm.
On the dark moon, I love consciously travelling to the underworld. Not in a state of despair and not to wander, but just to check in. The moon is dark; it’s an opportunity to make Inanna’s descent to visit Ereskigal and pay my respects. Again, it’s not a monthly practice but I do it as the muse calls.
If you were in a position to lead a group of women, to lead them into a life more wild, a life more feminine, what would your battlecry be?
I might start it off with:
Come up to my farm and take off your shoes…
and walk in the grass…
and smell the trees…
and slowly unveil yourself.
I need to hear more stories about strong women leading beauty-filled and spiritual lives, and so I created Empress Crow and Rabbit. It’s a forum to showcase the inspirational stories of women in uniquely feminine careers. It's also a bridge between what we think we know and what we feel is right. Thank you for joining me – let’s all learn, grow and celebrate the feminine together.
Photo credit: Lucy Spartalis