It took some time for them to settle back into their peaceful routines after their discussion of potential sabotage. Clary set wards about the place, and along with the publishers encouragement, there was a sense that the very core of the cottage was friendlier, more protective. Gradually they let sleeping dogs lie and the vibrant spring energy swept them up....
So much was going on out there, plants were flowering, growing, setting seed, so that Sam was too busy catching the moment on paper to think about much else. Drawing from fresh plant materials was just too good an opportunity, and Clary knew how to find them. They walked a lot, talked less and immersed themselves once more. Sam had tried to draw from photographs but the results weren’t as accurate, detailed, or satisfyingly like the plants. Later she could add other elements to the imagery a figure, an animal, backgrounds, this time was for getting plant portraits down to refer back to. They pressed plants too, and Clary worked to restore some of her medicine stocks.
One of Sam’s favourates was the Echinacea augustifolia, such a beautiful form the flowers had, petals almost weeping or dripping around that pine cone like core. So distinctive and petals easily translated into evocative wings like Clarys primrose.
“Its rare now to get tinctures made with the root older than 2 years, over demand.” Clary sighed “and a lot of the time its purpurea, which is easier to grow. Now they’ve started developing ornamental hybrids, greens, yellows, not sure what I think of that, still we’ve bred plants to our floral tastes for eons....” all said as she stood in her close to armpit high patch at one end, “These babies are 5 and counting!”
Clarys garden was a good quarter acre, add to that the large areas of abandoned farms, pasture and forest verges and there was much to explore. The native scrub contained medicines too, although not in such high percentages as the more agriculture touched places. “Weeds bring weeds the world over” Clary mocked, “Either that or they outcompete locals with attempted genocide and development.” It was not a statement lightly spoken...
“The story of people and plants is a multilayered one. Waves of seedings and cross pollination aren’t specific to horticulture, look at your granma, first generation eh. Now look at you, settled as that old fella at the bar of life. Born and bred here, but owing a heritage, and land, to the first peoples.”
They were silent a while on that thought...
Sam wondered what it must have been like for her granma in this new land, so expansive compared to Europe. Like a plant elder she had sown the seeds for generations to come, although in her family the seedlings got blown away in a storm. Now she was the sole survivor, at least her work with Clary could contribute something to any folk with the interest. Herbs don’t discriminate, well actually they do, but their reasoning, and offered secrets, are far earthier, less profit or religion based...
It seemed the more time consciously spent with the plants, the more information came to them but also flavoured with how much there was could still be learned. Single plants that Sam had associated with a specific symptom spoke up about their multiskilling abilities. Look at nettle, Urtica dioica, her most dramatic use of ‘urtification’, where joints swollen with arthritis were ‘hit’ with her formic acid bearing hairs, to draw circulation to them, was only one of her many talents. Here’s a plant that carries all the goodness associated with ‘greens’ into ones system. Great for building someone up, nervous systems with frazzled edges or food for strengthening the whole constitution. Steaming or drying, taking away her sting, which metaphorically could be seen as protection of her softer nutrient filled self, a teacher to women and bringer of awareness to harvesting. Where at first Sam flinched at the buzzing sensation picking her with bare hands brought, now she began to enjoy it, like a greeting from an old friend, that was if she could beat Clary to a patch. “Helps with me old hands, an brain, doing all this writing” she’d said. How could you argue with that!
Sam was curious and somewhat awed at the discovery of the grimoire from what almost seemed to be their predecesor. There was no name inscribed anywhere, the writing was hard to decipher at times. That’s one way to keep from having fingers point, besides stashing it under the floorboards, she thought as she handled the book gently and let it fall open. On the page was a diagram of the Earth, tilted on her axis and rotating around the Sun. A lesson on the forces that create the seasons, but also including the names of Goddesses associated with them, and there was Cailleach Beur.
Less inclined to be shocked by synchronicity these days, Sam was instead fascinated. The woman who wrote this must have been Celtic in her ancestry, a sweeping statement but one that explained the presence of the crone. She traced the circle with her finger around to spring and sure enough Brigid was there, but now instead of grieving for Cailleach, Sam noticed the flow of arrows that led from Brigid’s time back to winter once more. It was a cycling, just as the seasons. Which somehow comforted her, left her more open to the more youthfull goddess aspect. She certainly couldn’t deny the muse like quality of this time of year, its inspirational tangents would touch any artisan....
She wondered on her mothers cards suddenly, and went to find the obviously often touched pouch, softened leather greeting her fingers. Flipping through them there was less fear at what she might find and more a questing. ‘Ancestral tarot, they’ve got to be in here...’ she pondered as the images passed by, a robin hood type character, a fey woman, animal people, and there it was. A card of three women back to back looking out at the world, but joined at the base in the sturdy roots of a tree. The three made one, maid, mother and crone. At the trees base a cauldron brewed away.
Natural I’d miss out on the mother connection Sam thought, but perhaps with time I’ll grow to relate to her too. She continued to flip through the cards and sure enough, whilst the three had a shared card, they also had individualised ones. It was a light bulb moment. Brigid was depicted, with flames of inspiration coming from her forehead, one hand held high in invocation of the elements, the other on her belly, womb, Sam corrected herself.
She returned to the grimoire and on the next page was a diagram of the moons phases, again with the names of the goddesses overlayed. It was making sense for her, finally the seeming disparities between the women had a context....
Clary’s voice disturbed her process, she was looking over Sam’s shoulder “She must have been a woman of learning too eh? Which plants would you give to the triple aspected ones?”
Sam mentally scanned for associations. Was there a triple aspected plant and then individual correspondances?
“Well most herbs have three parts to their life cycle, seedling growth, reproducing, then fading or passing on to the next generation, if their an annual. But biennials, perennials the third phase is extended and the root becomes more potent medicine.
Cailleach would be a tree, juniper. Twisted and gnarled, almost bonsai, strong medicine, cleansing and protective. Brigid would be a flowering plant, red clover with her triple leaf to remind of the triple goddess and her lusty nature, of youth! Hasn’t it been said St Patrick taught the Christian mysteries of father, son and holy ghost with clover leaves, well I’d say there were goddess teachings went on before that.”
“Makes sense to me... “, was all Clary could reply, but she beamed the happy tutor in her silence...
“So who’s the mother energy, what’s her plant?” Sam quested, getting on a roll with the direction this was taking. She found she was anticipating her discoveries now that the flow of them was becoming apparent. She was so engaged she’d quite forgotten the grimoire that lay on the couch, having sparked this train of thought...
“Well, you’ll just have to wait until summer to have that revealed.” Clary said. “Tis the way of visions, they come when you least expect, and never when you demand it of them.”
Sam looked out peacefully on what had become her world, not by a conscious push to escape the rat race, although that had been her original intention coming here to Clary, but it all happened so organically. She couldn’t translate her freedom here back onto the old life, for one thing she may well have ended up in a psychiatrists office without the affirmation and encouragement of the blend of realities she now navigated with less fear, more curiosity ‘just as well I’m not a cat’. Humans have been seekers of such experiences for ages, yet in some its pathologised. The line between madness and spiritual visions is a fine one, she thought and some folks go looking for one and cop the other. Not to dismiss the suffering of mental illness, its the part of the spectrum that causes great pain to those involved, or a bliss out of proportion to daily life, and often resulting in isolation by others. Not very trendy. Sam could have ended up with a diagnosis through her grief at the loss of her family and the traumatic distortions it created, infact, she wondered at having scraped through the last ten years without one. ’There but for the grace of god go I’.
Certainly there have been moves in the right direction with treatments that allowed ones character to remain, not simply a stupefying with medications or locking away of eccentricity. Nowadays affording medications was a challenge in some countries without a pharmaceutical benifits scheme, choice limited again by control she sighed. If they really wanted to reduce the stigma the pills and counselling would be as cheap as booze, ice or any other forms of self medicating, including access to weapons.
Why is it the media grasps desperately to extreme situations of mental illness, thereby discrediting the whole of a group of people generally gentle souls, too sensitive to the worlds communal crazyness to carry on ignoring it. It was like people with mental health issues carried the shadow or underbelly of group consciousness, a bit like the crow. So often depicted as a cackling evil doer pecking the eyes from lambs, when in actuality they are amazing, intelligent birds, the only ones to use tools.
Sam thought of an old friend from high school who’d gone off the deep end of sanity when they were studying for final exams. Admittedly she was paranoid to an extreme, and it filtered into her life as a destructive force. She thought certain groups at school were witches practicing the darker arts to deliberately curse her, and that they were observing her behaviour with humour. It wasn’t so far from the truth, all the cliques that bitched and gossiped. With time and a supportive family she put the pieces back together again. Like the shaman fragmented by an initiation where the self is dismembered then healed, just not as cool. This stuff takes time, it’s not a one session miracle. Last time Sam saw her she was doing ok, she had her own place and was recovering from the emergence of the fact that she’d been abused as a child, the horror that haunted her given a name. What do they say about naming the demons in Buddhist practice...
It happens in the plant world too, she thought. Hallucinogens, the banes, weeds. Plants blacklisted and scapegoated with peoples fears, herbalism itself in some circles. It doesn’t create a situation where the plants roles as healers could be explored and discussed openly. She remembered her own feelings being spooked by the hemlock Clary had bound to the door and window frames as protection, it seemed an eternity ago. Now she had Clary’s biases instilled sturdily within her, and the Cailleachs, she smiled, but refelt the cactus like defences that covens must feel, the protectiveness of the loved. Now I feel that way about the plants. Her thoughts wandered back to her school mate and she prayed that she was well, and safe.
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