All photos courtesy of GOODWITCH
The wildly lucrative, equally predatory business of traditional healthcare in America has been crumbling around us for years. In 2019, the biomedical powers that be finally took a couple salient hits. Purdue Pharma considered filing for bankruptcy to avoid paying billions in settlement payouts due to its role in the opioid crisis, while the oxycontin-pushing Sackler family is now a bona fide pariah. In a Pew Research poll from August, only 15% of Americans said they believe their doctors are transparent about potential conflicts of interest, suggesting a lack of trust in healthcare providers.
Elsewhere, we’ve seen the rise of several health and wellness trends, from the ever-present hype around CBD and the recent strides in medicinal psychedelics reform, to an endless myriad of meditation apps and even the popularity of Peloton. While the future of institutional healthcare doesn’t look optimistic, it’s clear that Americans, especially young Americans, are looking for nuanced, non-traditional ways to approach the concepts of medicine, healing, and self-care.
At the forefront of a budding movement that combines plant medicine with alternative healing therapies is GOODWITCH. In 2012, Remy (who asked that her last name be redacted) was suffering from chronic pain and a swath of other ailments, while she also lacked health insurance. The artist created GOODWITCH with the aim of establishing an interdisciplinary community that incorporates plant medicine, art installations and performances, and events focused on establishing a new language around healing. The brand also offers products, such as a “Flying Ointment” that includes full-spectrum CBD and other medicinal herbs.
“We try to communicate mostly through simple sensory experiences, in a way that leads people to enhanced body awareness,” Remy told MERRY JANE in an interview. “Awareness of how we’re moving and feeling in our bodies gives us power to make decisions and draw boundaries as we see fit, rather than depending on an external authority.”
She added that “so much of the visual and literal language around health, healing, and wellness is designed to break down our sense of self-trust — even in “alternative” healing spaces, which can be just as dogmatic as the biomedical industry. Obviously, GOODWITCH makes herbal medicine, but what’s in the bottle is secondary.”
The upcoming event “Water Meal,” taking place this Thursday (12/19) in Brooklyn, functions as a culmination of the kind of project that makes GOODWITCH distinct. The 5-course, family-style dinner (cannabis infusion optional) will be paired with natural scent extracts to heighten the culinary experience, all of which is designed to support bodily needs particular to winter. The event will also feature performances, installations, a guided scent meditation, DJ sets, and to top it all off, a “scent waterfall.” MERRY JANE caught up with Remy to talk about her complicated relationship to the biomedicine industry, how GOODWITCH has evolved, and (of course) weed.
MERRY JANE: Can you talk a little about your relationship to plant medicine and your interdisciplinary approach to healing. How did the GOODWITCH journey begin?
Remy / GOODWITCH: I started GOODWITCH almost 7 years ago. I’d been fired from my waitressing job, lost my health insurance, and was kind of spiraling healthwise — dealing with fibromyalgia, muscle spasms, joint issues, a few poorly-timed injuries and intense anxiety/depression/agoraphobia. I was home-bound and in a lot of debt, so I spent a lot of time in bed researching things I could access outside the biomedical and wellness industries. I landed on making my own medicine.
My health issues were very clearly mind-body connected — muscle tension and inflammation always flared up with stress. I got excited about weed because it was mood + pain medicine in one. It was actually my gateway herb — the first plant I ever extracted. And immediately I got a bunch of wild ideas about how I could play with it alongside other plants, and make it into something fun while also saying something with it. I really needed a creative outlet and the plants got me excited. Luckily, being stuck in bed can be super conducive to research.
Over the years, I got deeper into more technical, clinical herbalism and developed a practice by exploring sensations in my own body — combining plants (including CBD) with movement and somatic meditation. I couldn’t afford or physically manage to attend herb school, but found ways around it.
Explain the importance of trusting and listening to your body.
The biomedical industry is designed to make us dependent on an external authority. Awareness of how you’re feeling and moving in your body gives you the power to draw boundaries and care for yourself as you see fit. Plants can really support this relationship with yourself — giving you these really beautiful moments to check in with yourself and feel supported by nature. Even just taking a minute to notice sensation builds self-trust. Part of what makes weed really special is how it can turn up the volume on sensation and be an intense catalyst. Taking care of yourself can be so confusing! Sensation is the perfect access point because it’s so direct and accessible.
How does collaboration factor into your work?
One big way is in the packaging — I produce it in limited artist’s editions and develop it alongside different people each year. I’m really interested in creating collective language around health that evolves over time and includes the voices of people with all different types of body experiences.
Making a product to treat pain, you’re making implicit statements about what pain is. Same goes for mental health. People dealing heavily with those issues (chronically ill and disabled people) should be driving that conversation. I want to use image creation to develop ideas and learn and connect with other people, rather than presenting something static and dogmatic.
What do you see as the fundamental differences between Eastern and Western medicine?
Hmm. Those aren’t really my terms. I see tension between a capitalistic, reductionist approach (the biomedical and “alt” health/wellness industries both fall into this category equally: for example, hyping and branding one molecule in a plant as a cure-all, like CBD) and mindsets that acknowledge the interrelation and interdependence of all the parts of plants, our bodies and communities, everything — healing though connection.
Within this spectrum — or outside of it — where do you see your work existing?
I’m looking for ways to work around the weirdness of selling people plants that they’re entitled to by birthright. Healing doesn’t come from a consumer product, even though I really believe in everything I make. The part of GOODWITCH that’s a business funds itself as a creative and community building project.
What is your relationship with cannabis like, in terms of its role as a healing herb in conjunction with others, as well as on its own?
Weed got me really interested in plants and now I see it as one herb among many. I love that it draws some people into my work where they get interested in herbal medicine generally, and on the other end I love reintroducing people to weed via the herb world. My personal relationship with it changes all the time in phases. It’s on my body topically 24/7 every day forever. I’m turned off by compound and terpene isolation — I like whole plants.
Why do you think younger generations are showing increasing interest in alternative approaches to healing?
What people sometimes call “alternative” medicine is primary care for lots of people. It’s hard to get access to biomedical support for lots of reasons. Healthcare is structurally messed up. It can also be really alienating and weird, and so many other spaces are opening up that feel more welcoming and authentic. Just as many older people I talk to are on the wave, too. Mostly because people are pretty open to whatever might make them feel good.
People are becoming more sensitized and drawn to fluidity. I think they’re realizing that recreation and medicine don’t exist on a binary.
What’s happening with your upcoming five-course “Water Meal” in Brooklyn?
We’re serving a 5-course family-style dinner (infusion is optional), paired with natural scent extracts that color your experience of how the food tastes. It’s a chance to go really deep with scent, which is so intense and personal, in a fun collective atmosphere. The entire menu and atmosphere is designed to support the bodily and energetic needs particular to winter, when it’s important to slow down and take time to reflect and restore ourselves.
It feels really good to acknowledge and embody that personal process in a communal celebration. Lots of friends are involved and there are some really special performance and installation elements, opening with a scent meditation and closing with a DJ set. I’m even building a scent waterfall. Tickets are a great gift idea!
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