Stephanie Rose Bird is a cum laude graduate of Temple University, Tyler School of Art and an MFA graduate of the University of California at San Diego where she was a San Diego Opportunity Fellow. She was assistant professor at the School of the Art Institute, a Fulbright Senior Scholar, and has taught at the Chicago Botanic Garden and Garfield Conservatory. Bird is a professional member of the International Center for Traditional Childbearing and the Herb Research Society of the American Botanical Council. She is author of Sticks, Stones, Roots and Bones: Hoodoo, Mojo and Conjuring with Herbs, Four Seasons of Mojo and Herbal Guide to Natural Living, and A Healing Grove: African Tree Remedies and Rituals for Body and Spirit. Bird is a practicing herbalist and aromatherapist who lives with her husband, family and animal friends in the Chicago area. You can visit her at Author’s Den at www.authorsden.com/stephanierosebird or her new website at www.stephanierosebird.com.
We interviewed Stephanie to find out more about her new book, The Big Book of Soul.
Thank you so much for this interview, Stephanie. Can we begin by having you tell us what your new book, The Big Book of Soul, is about?
Stephanie: You’re quite welcome! “The Big Book of Soul: the Ultimate Guide to the African American Spirit: Legend & Lore, Music & Mysticism, Recipes & Rituals” is a book that explores the phenomenon of soul and the rise of soulful practices in the African diaspora with particular interest paid to earth-based religion, the arts and herbal healing.
In your book, you explore the healing, magic and divination traditions of ancient African earth-based spirituality. Can you give us an example?
Stephanie: The ancient earth-based spirituality is largely drawn from ancient Egypt’s Khemetian practices. From that tradition I discuss elemental healing, that is, using the elements in an effort to heal.
How have these practices evolved in contemporary African American culture?
Stephanie: Well for one thing, there is a love of the fire element with special scented, creatively named incenses—this began in ancient Egyptian times and has continued in practice to the current day. There is also a love of water in healing with bath salts, Epsom salts, minerals combined with certain herbs and also herbal/spiritual floor washes. These solutions combine the earth element with the water element. Water-earth healing is a prominent practice in the Americas and Caribbean in the practices of Hoodoo and Quimbois among others.
You also offer recipes that you can heal our lives. Can you give us an example of one?
Stephanie: This is an excerpt from Chapter 9, Elemental Rituals: Ancient Egyptian Therapies for the Sacred and Mundane:
Pain Relieving Salt Soak
3 cups Epsom salt
2 cups coarse Dead Sea salt
1 cup baking soda
½ cup sea kelp
1 teaspoon each: Tamanu oil and lavender essential oil
Large glass or metal screw-top container
Combine first four ingredients in bowl. Sprinkle with essential oils. Stir. Pour into the container. Shake. Let rest 48 hours. Use two cups per bath. Soak for 20 minutes or more.
You also offer rituals that can heal our lives. Can you give us an example of one?
Stephanie: This is an excerpt from Chapter 9 as well:
Queen of Egypt, Nefertiti was acclaimed for luminous beauty that radiated from the inside out. She was an active leader and vibrant companion to King Amenhotep III. The two had a unique vision, previously unheard of in Egypt: They wanted their kingdom to workshop one almighty god, Aten the sun god. They designed the capital city of Amarna to shine with spirituality and the arts. Queen Nefertiti was a wisewoman we can continue to contemplate when overwhelmed by life. Here is a ritual to aid your contemplation while transporting you to a different time and space.
- Play authentic Egyptian music on CD player; try Fire Dance, Music of the Nile, or Drummers of the Nile (“Halawa Ya” track).
- Place salt pyramids for purification and protection in the cardinal directions of bathroom. (Mix a cup each coarse sea salt, fine sea salt, and Dead Sea or Himalayan salt, and then create the mounds.)
- Place lotus, neroli, and rose candles on a brass plate or glass with golden rim (symbolic of Sun god). Surround the candles with river rocks, representing the River Nile.
- Set an Isis and Osiris statue with an ankh amulet on the edge of bathtub or nearby, if desired as a focal point for reflection.
You are a practicing herbalist and aromatherapist. Can you tell us more about this?
Stephanie: I practice a type of holistic Herbalism and aromatherapy called magickal Herbalism. Issues involving the mind, body and spirit are addressed through herbal healing, aromatherapy with essential oils, hydrosols (floral waters) and hand-made incenses or a combination of the two disciplines. I started exploring these practices in-depth about 10 years ago. I’ve been very excited in the process of my research to learn more about African diasporic Herbalism and aromatherapy. I write about it in “The Big Book of Soul.” My background is in arts education. I teach herb crafting and aromatherapy in workshops across the country. From the reaction of clients, readers and workshop attendees it is safe to say that herbalism is making a definite come back and aromatherapy is here to stay.
Thank you for this interview, Stephanie. Can you tell us where we can find you on the net?