Theres a plant geneology that has been shaped globally by Latin names to describe the connections between family members, but that’s only one aspect, a rather juicy one in its time. Classification by sexual reproduction could cause a riot in its day, though to this generation it can seem a little dry, but makes sense. Perhaps because it’s the structure we’ve learned, but there are other ways to classify plants, particularly medicines. Sam thought of Ayurveda, Chinese 5 element theory, where its an energy that describes, both the plant, the body and where the two meet. Heat, damp, cool, moist, pitta, kapha. Perhaps thats why so many folks are drawn to study these ways, offering a different approach...
“The early western herbals had it too lovely. It just kind of got lost in translation, literally. A language to rediscover, a reclamation. The humours, astrological connections....”
Where does the plant grow? Does it like it hot, or cool and shady, near water, desert dry. How is this built into the very cells of a plant. Look at aloe vera, shes a desert baby but cooling and soothing to sunburn, perfect! How often does dandylion, or sow thistle, grow in urban situations where folks are pushing their livers to extremes? When you think of a rambling rose you might not even know its botanical names but it evokes an energetic response and associated stories abound, as well as texts. After all a text is just a written down story, it aint set in concrete. Oral traditions just aint so easy to catch, sometimes there’s a riddle, or the information’s encoded. The ancestors couldn’t make it too easy, or we’d never learn to think for ourselves. Don’t even get me started on the twisted stories tortured out of the midwives, wise women and people with none of the knowledge. Why would you share healing secrets with people who’s intention was to destroy all you held sacred, regardless of what you told em. I’d be thinking let em rot!”
Sam realised that in those times, the work they were doing would be at the expense of their lives, if it was discovered. Better to pass it on in a tale, that’s less easily grasped, or used as evidence. It was a very sobering thought but only served to strengthen her resolve to help Clary with this. Herbal wisdom she realised was potent and attempts to control it, as Edna and Clary had seen, were a reflection of this, not its lack thereof. Otherwise why bother? If it’s so ineffective why not let sleeping dogs lie? It’s all about control...
A rather pleasant side effect of Sam staying on with Clary was the improvement in her health, despite late nights and intensive focus, or perhaps because of it. Wandering the gardens and into the forest plant hunting was slowly but surely eroding her stress levels, and she no longer regretted not having her mobile phone. Work thought she had gone completely nuts, but hey if this was crazy, what was her previous life?
She was dipping into her savings, but most of her food was harvested round abouts, and her main cost was keeping herself in paints and paper as she made roughs to later be copied into the book with final touches.
Clary was head illuminator, with just a few Sam style touches on capital letters at the start of a chapter. Messy notes morphed into beauty. She was amazed at Clary’s knowledge store and any gaps in it they referred to her and Edna’s clinical notes, and of course the endless library. They knew some of the information had been previously written about, but not from a Clary tangent, which drove her to record her experiences with the plants and that of the people she had worked with.
“Won’t know what to do with myself if we ever actually finish this!” she laughed at one point, Sam didn’t believe her for a second, but they were engaged in an epic task, so that particular worry would come later.
“I do want to encourage other women to trust their experiences with the plants” she said, “if every woman wrote down what she had gathered, our tome would pale, and that’s a good thing. I don’t want some intimidating textbook, but a living evolving point in a process that the readers can continue with...”
“Rebel to the end eh Clary?”
“Well damn the regulators if we can’t sell our medicines we’ll get folks making their own, in their kitchens on the quiet! Damned higher than thou regulators probably never even given the herbs the time of day, how are they going to understand!”
Sam awoke with the desire to leave her paints and revisit her mother’s cards, she’d rather nervously put aside for a time. As she handled the pouch they were housed in they felt less alien, more like an old friend you hadn’t seen since kindergarten. Somewhat familiar in features, but also changed by time passing. The cards had certainly known significantly more about how things were going to unfold then Sam herself had at the time. She thought also of her mother, who had a secret, quiet side that even her daughter couldn’t touch, only sense, like an unsolvable riddle, she was a mystery to her daughter in many ways. Smiling at the appropriateness of her cards coming to her, very like her to own something like them unknown to her daughter.
She remembered how when she was off school sick her mum would drag a mattress out of the house and lay it in a sunny spot, with rations of apples and cheese and leave her to rest amongst the flowers and leaves. Inevitably afterwards she felt recuperated and refreshed. By the end of the day her mind had turned towards faeries and other natures spirits.
Bloody sensible when hospitals had large gardens for patients to wander, or sit amongst, she thought. An ideal that had, unfortunately, fallen by the wayside with rising land prices and cost cutting.
The pouch was soft leather, deerskin at a guess with beaded tassels and imprinted with a design of knotwork interlacing that she now traced with her fingers. Gently she pulled the cards out and started flicking through them. It became slowly rhythmic, almost trance like looking at the different figures, blends of animals, plants and humans...
“They really have crept into your artwork haven’t they?” Clary commented over her shoulder, breaking the mesmerising effect the cards were having.
“What, sorry....um yes, that and more.”
Clary reached over her shoulder and picked out a male figure, masked by a kangaroo hide with a blend of different horns of water buffalo, elk, goat and deer. “Now there’s a character who could cross borders, geographical and metaphoric eh?”
She handed the card back and wandered off on a tangent, leaving Sam pondering the globally adorned Cernunnos who seemed to stand a little prouder. I suppose that’s what keeps gods and goddesses alive, she thought, those who acknowledge and honour them. Otherwise they simply become an echo, a memory. The cards did seem from another time and place, and they certainly had the desire to be remembered encoded in them. What would Jung call them, archetypes, kept alive by collective consciousness. The pictures seemed to leap out of their printed world, in an at times alarmingly accurate way, so who’s consciousness was collecting them, her own? It was a chicken and egg type question...
Clary flowed past again, “You know your mother did some of the artwork”, she went to glide off again making for a pile of notes, “What? When?” Sam turned square to look at her, gods how she knew to drop a bombshell as if it were a casual line. “Yes, before you were born she was part of a collective who worked on them in university. ‘Ancestral tarot’ or something similar. Actually that fellow has a touch of your father about him, inevitable i guess. Why are you looking at me like that?”
“You didn’t mention any of this when you gave them to me. When you said they were mums I didn’t take you literally!”
“Well I really didn’t want you taking them too seriously like she did. I’m sorry love, if I said the wrong thing, I’m sorry.”
Sam had no idea how to take this. She knew Jane had painted at university but stopped when Sam was little, tending towards the practical horticulturalist, as a way to make a living. Ancestral tarot, the very idea made her spine shiver. Both her parents had gone missing in a yacht at sea, never found. Not long enough ago for Sam’s grief and missing them, but long enough ago for scar tissue to begin to form. The connection to the cards reopened the wounds. Her ‘quiet’ visit to Clary’s this time round was having all kinds of unpredictable consequences, and this one blew her out of the water. She put the cards down and exhaled deeply, gods alive Clary. The horned man took on another layer....
Picture a flaming hearth fire, on top a pot bubbles away with a soup, or stew, or stir fry, flavoured with herbs andspices. Smoke from the fire is mixing and blending with the scents of cooking, slightly tinged with the particular tree who gave of their wood to this scene. Perhaps some bread is baking, to dip into the meal. This picture is taking place all over the world, the localised herbs and spices varying what hungry noses are tempted by. What we are observing is highly likely the origin of incense...
Plants, and the scents they release when burned, have inspired, blessed, healed and comforted for eons. Be their form chunks of sap, branches or leaves straight from a tree, or the more processed mixtures of dried and powdered herbs burnt on charcoal, bound to a stick or swung in censors.
A newborn baby is held over a small fire, laced with leaves, be they spinifex or eucalypt, depending on what grows nearby, there is a blessing and welcoming into her new environment by passing through the smoke. A connecting to plants, and the hearth. For who is the bridge between earth and animals, even human ones, if not plants, it’s been thus since we were pondscum feeding on algae.
On the other side of the planet sage is rolled into a stick, bound in thread and allowed to dry like this, to be later lit and used to ‘smudge’ before a ritual dance, ceremony, or soul retrieval. The smoke brushed around the body using a cluster of eagle wingtip feathers it curls into where its needed, then rises high into the sky, and upper realms of spirit.
Incenses origins often reside in resins and barks. Sandalwood is so desired, that all the trees in Mysore, the place it occurs naturally are government property wherever they occur, and harvesting is watched over. There is also an Australian sandalwood, Santalam acuminatum, a interior species that’s being used similarly as an alternative. The seeds of which were traditionally made into necklaces, not unlike the ones in India that Saddhu’s wear and consider holy. They look like small round brains, interestingly enough, considering the sacredness of them.
With such deep ancestral memories and associations is it any wonder that incense has been adopted by nearly every kind of faith, including atheism, on the planet. A precursor, and codeveloper, with perfume and aromatherapy, varying scent to mood and occasion. How blessed are we to have such a tool for shifting consciousness at our fingertips? It doesn’t have to be expensive, with a charcoal block any mix of dried herbs can be sprinkled on and encouraged to share its smoke.
Home feeling a bit stagnant? Setting a romantic or meditative scene? Taking a luxurious bath, got a candle going? Bit blue? Why not light up?”
Sam did, watching the smoke curl into the crevices. No wonder it’s a space clearer she thought, it gets places untouched by broom or mop. Although that wouldn’t be to hard around here, it’s difficult to have a project like this on the go and not end up with chaos. Part of the note soting process, relatively appealing and inspiring but still did your head in every now and then. Now was one of those moments and Sam decided to go outside.
She let Clary know and set out through the rambling gardens, noticing the wild roses as she walked, must try infusing some of them in oil, bet that’d make a wicked addition to bath water. It was a decent day out and she decided to do just that on her way back.
She had a favourite spot my the creek, to just sit and listen to the water, the sound cleared out the cobwebs. Bubble burble toil and trouble fire burn and cauldron bubble she thought with a smile then lay back in the grass...
Before she knew it she was journeying back to the cottage of the blind woman, who was seated in front of her fire gazing into it and at the big pot atop it...
“Hello lovely come in, come, sit.”
Her wolffriend was there by the woman’s side, finishing off a bowl of soup. Amazing to Sam considering the distaste which he had shown human dwellings previously. It was, however, winter here, and the hunting at such times might well be as slim as the figure himself suggested. A wild waif come to knock on a door of someone he obviously trusted.
The dance of the flames was as mesmerising as last time and the air was scented with cinnamon, warming, it blended with the woodsmoke. Sam turned to look at the woman, to her face and details, but in a moment her form shifted and she became a fearsome being, kali like and demonic, surrounded by a kind of malevolent smoke. The urge to run burst forth, Sam beheld her fears embodied in this creature woman. She saw madness, suffering and hopelessness, but stood her ground feeling there was a need to, although difficult “I know you, you are the destroyer as well as the giver of blessings, I know you”. The woman laughed wickedly, heartily, and morphed just as quick and easily into her more gentle, familiar form, “well done my sweet”. The wolf crossed the floor to sit by Sam’s feet.
“What is your name?” she asked. The wolf replied “Callieach bhur”. Another riddle thought Sam, but consciously imprinted the words for later, she was learning what seemed random and nonsensical in these shifted states often made sense later. She cautiously touched the wolf, who growled slightly and asked if the elder woman had any tasks that needed doing, despite her previously furious incarnation. “Some firewood from outside would be of help” she replied, obviously. Sam got up and went out into the cold three times bringing in wood, split and piled against the cottage wall. The elder was obviously pleased...
Gradually the licking of flames and panting of a wolf became burbling brook once more and Sam opened her eyes. These journeys and dreams were somewhat bewildering but they did share recognisable geography, and she remembered the words clearly upon waking. There was some reason to them, working with the herbs, Clary and those cards, but what it was evaded her. Forgetting the rambling roses she went straight to the library. “A herb Clary, ‘Caliach’?”
“A herb? Hardly, try a blue faced elder Celtic Godess of Winter! She was said to rule the cold part of the year and then either turn to stone, or back into a maiden once again, depending on your story at the coming of spring. She carried a staff that turned all it touched to winter. Also a friend to the wild animals in such times, a solitary kind of figure....”
“Where are you getting these questions from?”
Sam sat down, and Clary read the signals, “I’ll just pop the kettle on then.”
It all came tumbling out, the visions, the dreams, the nightmares, the cards, the herbs and her parents jumbled together. “I don’t understand Clary what am I supposed to do with this information. Am I losing it?”
“No love, perhaps finding it though. You’re more like your mother, and grandmother, then you know, their sensitivity. My advice is to work with its flow, don’t question for now, just let it be. Take some time with it all. You know this cottage isn’t just ramshackle because of my lifestyle, it’s been here a good hundred or more years. Sometimes I get the feeling that if these walls could talk there’d be a story of some of the peoples you’re envisioning, and perhaps a wise woman who suffered because of her skill. This place is healing with us and there’s bound to be a few meltdowns for all of us. We feel it’s big work we do, and yet it’s a pinprick on life. Just let things be precious one. Perhaps we can use some of the herbs you’re being introduced to. It does seem strange that they’re tending to be old materia medica plants that rarely get used these days. Perhaps you should browse some on the Physics garden?”
“A garden set up specifically for apothecary apprentices to learn to identify the plants they’d be working with. One in Chelsea, started in the 1600s and its still growing today. Imagine yourself as a gatherer like those early folks would have been. Write it down, draw it out, just because you’re not travelling in the general sense of the words, doesn’t mean what you gather has any lesser value. Infact, you’re not doing any of the harm colonialism bore out upon the worlds. If you can face up with Callieach bhur and carry wood for her, you’re not made of weak stuff my girl. Both your parents would be proud of your paintings, and you.”
Sam collapsed into Clary’s arms and cried her guts out.....
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