In the misty haze of a lucid dream, I scribbled a message in the sketchbook next to my bed, then drifted back off into cozy blackness. Upon waking, I read the following in untidy handwriting:
You do not belong to that land of cruelty and concrete and men who mean you harm, dear one. You belong here with us shadow walkers, here among the wild winds and rocky hills. We accept your pure self as one of us, one who can talk to the Wild. We like the way you listen. No, you do not have to leave your world to join us on our twilight wanders, just remember that you are welcome to visit this mercurial home whenever you may need. Let the pain go, love, and join us in magic tonight. The darkness is never quite so dark as it seems.
Oh, what a dream I must have been having! This message from the Shadow Realms came to me at an important time. I’d been struggling for days with massive PTSD attacks about the assaults I’ve experienced, drenched again in the fear I felt on those occasions accompanied by crystal-clear and visceral flashbacks. I’d been falling into sleep fitfully, waking frequently with my heart pounding, triggered by a threat that was no longer there. But before scribbling those words in my lucid haze, I’d finally fallen into a deep, restful sleep. Perhaps that message came from my subconscious, offering me an escape from the pain, or perhaps this invitation came from somewhere deeper than my own experiences. I don’t really think it matters—what matters are the doors that message opened for me.
Ah, shadows. Those mercurial forms that follow us, changing shape and tone as we travel through different lights and environments. Perhaps they have a mind of their own, like Peter Pan’s shadow that managed to escape his grasp in the classic childhood story. But shadows themselves are not spooky; what we are afraid of are our own imaginations projecting our fears onto darkened stumps or inky blackness. The woods at night do not frighten me. I grew up as a barefoot little wild thing, running through the trees and building forts out of branches and moss. I know the woods hold the threats of wild animals, but I also know their behaviors and how to keep myself safe. The jungles I am afraid of are the concrete ones, full of alleyways and hooded figures, of alcohol or ill intentions. The most frightening thing I could stumble upon in the woods I love are other humans.
So I soften, I blend, I become part of the wildness that surrounds me. I turn into one of the shadows that frighten others, moving with tenderness and care. I wander, alert but relaxed, through a home that welcomes me into safety under its silky blanket of stars. These shadow wanders can be conscious and physical, a quest through dark woods at night with crisp air flowing through my lungs. Or they can be subconscious, as I sink deeper and deeper into self-hypnosis or lucid dreams. Maybe the same shadow that accompanies me through nighttime wanders is the shadow that dances through the mists of dreams. Perhaps our own shadows are our dream selves, wandering through the wild woods of our subconscious as our bodies rest.
So tell me, are you a shadow walker too? Do you feel drawn to sit in peace in the dark places, to venture beyond the comfort of light and explore—no, become—the parts that others are too scared to wander through? Do you understand the complex beauty of darkness and long to escape to its embrace and whisper stories of your travels to the rest of the shadows?
If you are, this recipe is for you. These Night Forest Bitters hold the magic of a forest at night in a blend that is complex and rich. They can be used in cocktails or sparkling water to add complexity or can be used as a tool of rituals and dreams, a sensory invitation to once again become a shadow walker, whatever that means to you. After all, the darkness is never quite so dark as it seems. Making Bitters: Designing your own bitters is an art form; there is no wrong or right way to go about it. Typically bitters are made of
bitter components (such as roots, barks, or pungent herbs) and aromatic components (such as spices or flowers). Some people prefer making many individual tinctures, then blending them to form the perfect balance. I prefer a more casual approach, using my understanding of the ingredients to create a balanced blend in one container. Bitters are essentially tinctures—flavors infused into strong alcohol—but are used sparingly since their flavors are ultra-concentrated.
Night Forest Bitters:
¼ cup raw cacao nubs
⅛ cup roasted dried chicory root
⅛ cup roasted dried dandelion root
2 tablespoons dried chaga
½ teaspoon cardamom pods, crushed
3-4 whole cloves
½ orange peel, cut into small slices
1 vanilla bean, split
¼ cup fresh elderberries (or 1 tablespoon dried)
2 cups 80 proof brandy, rum, or vodka
Blend all the ingredients in a clean glass jar and top with vodka. Let sit, shaking occasionally, for four weeks or until the vodka has taken on the flavors of the ingredients. Strain and bottle.
To use, add a dropper-ful to cocktails or sparkling water to add flavor and mystery. Let your shadow self enjoy. To decorate your bottles, use a silver and white permanent paint pen to draw crescent moons and stars!