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In Memory of William LeSassier, NEHA Journal Spring/Summer 2003
Photo Credit Jean Larivee
Our deepest sympathies go out to Daniella Noe, William’s wife, for her loss. William’s passing is a great loss for the herbal community too. Many of us thought there would be time to take his classes next week, next month or next year.
There will be a Memorial Gathering on September 13, 2003 in New York City. The length of the gathering will be open and there will be food served afterwards. All who want to remember and honor William are welcome. For information or to send memories and/or pictures of William contact Claudia Keel at 212-260-5075 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NEHA is honored to publish the remembrances of William LeSassier’s friends and students in this issue of the Journal.
Matthew Wood: William LeSassier was one of the most profound, insightful people I have known. The psychological and spiritual depths which constituted his normal arena of perception were only a rumor to most people. He was able to see the human spirit and soul, the life energy, prana or chi, the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the sublime and the banal.
To be able to sense the deepest aspirations of the soul or the whisperings of the spirit does not make one immune from the crassness of the everyday world but rather sharpens one’s perception of that metropolis of chaos and suffering. Many people rise above this experience with idealizations which protect them from the onslaught of a continuous background vibration of pain, sadness and banality, but the seership William possessed did not allow him an idealized view. He saw with an eye, too ancient and experienced to be tricked, an uncensored view which is a lot uglier than most people imagine. Wisdom did not bring him happiness, power or wealth.
We talked about the unsatisfactory nature of life over dinner at a cafe near William’s apartment in Little Italy. Suddenly he lit up with intensity. “They sure won’t be able to get me to sign up for another stint on this planet again.” he said. When he passed over to the other side I did not grieve for William, but for those of us left behind.
What brought William solace was the green world. I still see him in my mind’s eye, wandering like a child in wonderland, in deep contentment and happiness, in an enchanted forest full of mushrooms and the secret, magical artifacts of Mother Nature. Bringing the things of that world back to people in this world brought him a second deep contentment.
William was a master of his trade, or several trades - energetic diagnostician, herbalist, bodyworker. He developed to the maximum extent talents which he had from birth - talents which would never be appreciated or even noticed by the wider world around him. He did not waste the gift this world offers - the ability to be a creative person with a positive influence on the course of evolution.
William touched upon the four elements - earth, air, fire and water - and then upon the fifth element which changes everything, as in the ######### of an eye, in a magical moment when no one sees. And then he was gone. We thought we could always learn from him, but suddenly the book was complete.
Richard Mandelbaum: William did not merely share his vast knowledge with us when he spoke. He did not merely teach as a reflection of all the facts and information he had collected over the years.
When William was feeling light, he would crack jokes. When he was feeling ornery, he wouldn’t hide it. When he disliked the subject at hand, he would change it. And when he was passionate about the topic, he would teach at a dizzying level of detail that would be hard to match.
Every conversation with William was a window into his Self. Every teaching was a sincere sharing of his perspective on plants, people, the world, the universe.
The last time I saw William he gave me an unexpected gift, which I will treasure. But it was this generosity in sharing himself in such an unedited way that was the far greater gift - and the one he gave to all of us who knew him.
David Winston, AHG: I first came across William LeSassier’s work in 1974 or 1975. I had been studying herbs for 6 years and was frustrated with the simplistic “this herb for this condition” approach I read about in books. William’s work was different, challenging, radical, and brilliant. In 1976 I studied with William and found that he was also different, challenging, a radical, and brilliant. He opened my eyes and mind to energetics, triune formulas, Chinese herbs, differential diagnosis, and much more. He introduced me to a system of clinical practice that influences my work to this very day.
William was not one dimensional - he was interested in many things including palmistry, geology, and psychology. He even went back to school a few years ago to get training in traditional Chinese medicine.
He was my teacher, my friend, and a valued colleague. Over the years we hunted Ginseng together, he taught at my school, we talked about our love of minerals - flourite, amazonite, herkimer diamonds. He came to my classes and I went to his.
Twenty-seven years was too short a time to spend with such a complex, humble, brilliant, humorous, and wonderfully flawed human being.
William, you will be missed.
Jean Larivee: I’ve been thinking about what to say about him: A Farside cartoon always comes to my mind when I think of him. It’s two polar bears eating an igloo. One says “Um, good, crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. That’s how I think of William. Hard and crusty on the outside, and soft on the inside. He was so good with my daughter, drawing pictures with her, letting her read books that had belonged to his children, telling her stories about the plants and his children. He just seemed to me to be such a tender man, although I had expected the opposite from all the stories I had heard about him.
Hollis Melton: When I heard that William had died it rocked me. I liked him so much, he gave us so much. Memories of him flood my mind. I first heard of him when I was studying with David Winston. He would talk of him as his teacher, as an eccentric, as a genius. He invented the triune formula structure, which David taught us and I use when I craft formulas for people. It sounded like there was no one like this William LeSassier. The first time I met him at Green Nations, I was totally intimidated. He spoke so eloquently, so convincingly. He was talking about blood, and looking at peoples’ lower lids to see if they were anemic.
It took me many years to get up the courage to call him. I watched as Dina Falconi studied with him, grew and evolved, talked to Violet Snow about what an amazing teacher he was for her, but even though I had his number written in my address book at the top of the L’s, I didn’t have the courage to call him.
Two years ago I was taking Matthew Wood’s class down in Virginia and he said he was going to a special week at William’s land in Virginia and would share half his scholarship with anyone who would like to drive him there. My hand shot up and I got to go spend a week at William’s. It was an amazing wonderful week. His land his beautiful, The Meadows of Dan, way down in the southwest corner of Virginia. There were seven of us. We camped out in the woods. William lived in a big trailer. Matthew got to sleep in a little cabin nearby. The outhouses were Rhododendron shrub chambers, very elegant, spacious, and the Rhododendrons were in bloom, soft lavender blossoms. In the mornings we would get up and do Qi Kung with William, he taught us a bunch of different movements. We’d all eat breakfast on the porch connected to his trailer, overlooking his garden of fruit trees, herbs, and roses. He even had ####### Ash bushes in his garden. Then we’d go for a plant walk, each day going to a different place. I saw and tasted many plants that I’d never met before. He knew the area so well; he knew the plants so well. I had my first taste of Calamus on one of those walks. He told us the story of his very special relationship to Blood Root. In the afternoons we’d have classes and went through all the organ systems in one week. He shared his recipe for a Wild Cherry cordial which was out of this world and very labor intensive to make. Sometimes after lunch we had a chance to bathe in the river that ran by his land. We felt like Rhine maidens. It was an awesome week, the other people were great and it was very special to spend that time with William and know him on his Virginia land.
He was an amazing body worker. He never gave a whole body massage, just worked on specific areas that needed work. When I’d go for the massages, we’d talk. He was full of stories, strange arcane knowledge, humor, comments on the state of the world, and I always came away feeling better in my body and mind as well.
After 9/11 he asked me if I could drive him up to Green Nations. A lot of the teachers were unable to get there and Pam asked him to fill in. We had a very strange journey up and back. William was hyper vigilant. He connected things in a weird way but made them very cogent.
Last year I hosted a 5 weekend class that William taught. Claudia Keel organized it and there were a lot of people there who had also studied with David. It was an intense series of classes with an emphasis on Chinese Medicine; we all learned a lot. I loved his teaching, he was so clear, so elegant, his knowledge of the organ systems and the plants that were specific to those systems was incredible. He had a deep sure connection with the Earth, the plants, the body and the way he expressed it made a deep impression on me.
I was privileged to be able to attend a smaller class that he taught each month at Claudia’s. We could ask him about our cases, about anything, and it was always very full, rich and special. At the last class we had with him, which was a couple of weeks before he died, he spoke very emphatically about diet and nutrition, how unless someone very dep-leted was nourished by food, that no herbs were going to be able to turn things around.
William was a unique, amazing being, a teacher of the teachers. I’ve never met anyone quite like him. It seemed like he knew about everything. As I write this I can hear his feet on the gravel as he demonstrated the Qi Gung moves, see his baseball cap, his smile, hear his voice, his laugh. He shared so much with us, gave us so many gifts, I miss him.
Violet Snow: Unlike many herbalists teaching today, William LeSassier worked for many years as a clinical herbalist, and his encyclopedic knowledge was based on direct experience with thousands of clients. I studied with him for two years, in 1995-96, visiting his tiny office twice a month to sit on his massage table for an hour while he ate lunch and spouted information for me to scribble down, before returning to his clients.
Until then, I had studied mostly Wise Woman healing, which had changed my life, but I felt it was lacking in the area of diagnostic tools. William’s diagnostic system was based largely on traditional Chinese medicine, with a lot of other things thrown in, such as sclerology and facial diagnosis. I liked it that, although he worked from a Chinese viewpoint, he used mostly Western herbs, which I could harvest myself. Sometimes I felt overwhelmed by the breadth of his knowledge, which encompassed hundreds of plants and brought in information from the Eclectics, Native American teachers he had known, and many other areas. Once he explained how he had cured pneumonia with water of varying temperatures, when the patient had been unable to eat or drink anything else.
Sometimes I think William was lonely because he was so much more intelligent than most people. They simply couldn’t follow him to all the places his mind could take him, and he got impatient when they couldn’t keep up. When he came back from Green Nations one year, he talked enthusiastically about Matthew Wood, whom he had met there, as someone he could share ideas with.
William was intense, complex, and extremely unconventional. His was not an easy life to lead. I wish he could have stayed around longer.
Dina Falconi: William LeSassier has been one of the most influential teachers in my development as an herbalist. He provided the bridge from herbal hobbyist to practitioner. It was his generosity and genius that carried me to a place where I felt qualified to practice herbal medicine. He gave me the tools to work with and a place to begin.
His generosity in sharing his wisdom with me began in April of 1992 when we met for lunch in his garden located at his office in Manhattan. This meeting was intended to see if we were compatible enough for me to study with him. Prior to our meeting, I wrote William a letter to inquire if I could study with him. I explained in the letter that I wanted to further my studies with the goal of becoming an herbal practitioner. I had recently attended “Beyond Herbology 101” in the summer of ‘91 up at Rosemary’s with Ryan Drum and Amanda McQuade Crawford. If I wanted to pursue my studies as a clinical herbalist, Ryan and Amanda urged me to seek William out, stating very clearly that he was one of the great herbal clinicians of our time. In this period of my life I was working as a farmer on a CSA and earning very little money. In the letter I asked William if I could pay him with fresh herbs and/or baby sitting (Ryan’s suggestion). As one might expect he didn’t respond. However after more letters and phone messages my persistence paid off. We met, and I began my tutorial with William that would last two and a half years.
William would often embellish our study periods with stories of his colorful and sometimes shocking past. He was a man of many facets ranging from extremely compassionate to outright belligerent. He relished the tales about eating a variety of wild game such as tortoise and snake. William loved nature and plants in particular. He was passionate about tending his garden, filling it with medicinal herbs, beautiful flowers (especially roses), and tasty fruits. When the weather permitted we would have class in his garden. It was always heavenly to be surrounded by all its beauty.
The entire training was bartered, with no money exchanging hands. He was always delighted to receive fresh herbs from the country. One winter all I had to offer was venison and he was overjoyed. Occasionally I had nothing to give but this did not disturb him or have any impact on our tutorial. Although I always took great care to provide him with what he would use and appreciate, I was always impressed with and heartened by his generous spirit.
My training was fueled by my desire to learn and William’s desire to teach. It was my responsibility to compensate him for his time and knowledge as he never demanded anything. He did not even keep a tab to calculate if he was being appropriately compensated. The spirit of our exchange was very unique, outside the paradigm of our cultural norms. This allowed me to study without economic restraints and I felt truly blessed and honored to have found such a generous and brilliant teacher.
Twice a month I traveled to William’s office on East 29th Street from my home in the Hudson Valley to eagerly fill my notebooks with his gems. While learning his theories, protocols, tools for diagnosis, and herbal formulations, I always felt like he was giving me nuggets of gold. I began to see clients and would bring the cases to review with William. We had been meeting for over two and a half years when somewhat suddenly William informed me that he would miss me but that he taught me all he could. He gently but boldly stated “get out of here, you’re done, it is time for you to go and practice.” He said I could contact him anytime I needed to review a case or had any questions butin essence my apprenticeship was over. I had graduated.
I will forever be thankful to William for what he shared with me and will try to pass on his teachings as much as I am able. I hear his voice while creating formulas for clients, and his teachings continue to instruct me as I practice. Jen Prosser and I had the privilege of hosting one of his last classes, and although our time with him was short, I am thankful that I was able to learn again from him. I will always be grateful and indebted to such a generous and brilliant man. I am glad that he did not suffer long. May William LeSassier be at peace wherever he is.
Margi Flint: Spirit and wind are the same word in Greek. To inspire is to breathe in. We all share inspiration, our breath. All beliefs share breath. To inspire is to excite with passion. William was my inspiration to be a better practitioner. William always liked an “Amen corner”. I am not alone in that corner.
William LeSassier. I remember saying his name and having the sensation of awe. The mystical teacher of all my teachers, he who had dropped under the radar for so many years, the famous and infamous William LeSassier.
It seemed that every teacher I was drawn to study with would eventually tell me that his or her formulation and diagnostics were learned from William, teacher after teacher for twenty and more years. The man lived somewhere in New York City. In a reclusive state doing . . . no-one really knew.
When Matthew Wood came to teach we thought it would be so nice to have William’s facial diagnosis posters. I had his phone number from years before when I met him at Green Nations. So I called and left an order. “William LeSassier called and left a message on my phone!” my young Sarah exclaimed. Obviously the legend had also become rich in her imagination. I returned the call immediately. He was so gracious. I ordered posters, expressed my gratitude for his teachings and their influence on my herbal practice. He didn’t miss a beat and said with that subtle Virginia drawl “Well why don’t I come teach at your school?” My eyebrows flew up as “Yes.” bounced back to him. I hoped to entice him with lots of monetary reward, fine food and excellent herbal company so that every aspect of his being would be inspired to continue teaching.
When he arrived in Boston I felt like a schoolgirl, all flutters and awkwardness. He had me feeling at ease by the time we had turned toward the ocean and home to Marblehead. The diagnostic weekend had attracted many top herbalists, including Matthew Wood, Betzy Bancroft and Kay Parent. William was brilliant. The flow of knowledge was magical. Humor interspersed and lighter entertainment between the meatier portions of tone and color, nails and tongues. His grasp of each line of the face, each subtle marking, explained, and drawn so beautifully. That smirk and his delightful wry comments sneaking in at just the right moment to tickle the joy button of the whole experience.
How fortunate we were.
When the Twin Towers were hit I was so worried that he was dead. I called, and reached him. I told him I suddenly understood how much I loved him. How important he was to me. How grateful I was to have him in my life. He had a quiet deep laugh and drawled emphasizing the whhhh, “Why thank you Margi.” He returned to teach again and again over the last years. He was smarter than me and I love that! I could look to him for answers and he had them. I could laugh at myself with him. I saw how much more I had to learn to be a better practitioner. I thought he would be here to ask more, to learn more, to eat more. I had no idea he was leaving. I had no idea he would go.
It’s as if a
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