On the Death of a Mentor: Billie (Luisi) Potts
The Internet Age is odd sometimes. In the pre-internet past, an obituary may have jumped out of a newspaper, or an article about that person's life may have appeared in a quarterly. There were only so many places to find things, and you could always locate someone in the White Pages. Now there is so much infomation out there things can get lost unless you have the right strainer in the river of data.
The right strainer came to me yesterday when I learned of the death in 2013 of one of my mentors, Billie Luisi Potts, master herbalist, author, creative force. I first met Billie at the Michigan Womyns' Music Festival in 1983 where she was the co-ordinator of the herbal first-aid tent.
The amazing concept of first aid at this large music festival was that you could choose to use herb tea for your headache, or aspirin, or even both, and the healthcare model provided both of these streams of care safely in the same tent. It was truly an inspiration, that herbalists and doctors, for example, could work together well, a merging of alternative and allopathic models. Billie was one of the co-creators of this marvel.
Billie showed me and many others how to pick specific herbs, flowers, leaves, roots, seeds, and when to pick them. How to mix up tinctures, teas, infusions. She wrote books on herbalism and taught classes on the subject. She showed me how to recognize "plant ghosts", the dried stalks of medicinal herbs in the fall and winter, so you could go back in the spring and summer to harvest the fresh green plant.
Her principle was use one herb at a time ("simples") rather than complex concoctions, and to use the mildest form first, and to take breaks from using herbs so the body did not become accustomed to them.
In this she was ahead of her time. Billie was concerned that overuse of the heavy duty herbs like goldenseal, along with the general overuse of antibiotics, would encourage resistance in bacterium.
Billie lived in the mountains of Upstate New York, and wove a community of people around her. One of the projects of this community was A New Women's Tarot deck, with many different artists contributing to creating the cards. They were printed in black and white, and the owner of the cards could colour them in a personal way. This collective of artists was reimagining how the Tarot could be, and this was again prescient when we see how many different decks there are today.
Billie Potts took her name from the pots she threw over the years. She inspired many herbalists in many locations, truly a wise woman. She passed at the age of 73, in November 2013. In gratitude, Billie, in gratitude.