Emergence: Poem to a Plant Goddess

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Her name is Datura.

Delicate fluted deep-throated trumpets open to

hungry honey bees and summer rains.

She communicates through scent.

 

In the fall I collect her sharp-needled pods.

They rattle like dry bones.

I chill them.

In the spring I coax seeds to sprout

wrapping each in papery white cloth,

sing love songs – siren calls

to rouse each root from winter’s sleep.

 

I am patient…

a woman in waiting for the heat of the sun

and the mystery of becoming

that is re-acted in spring.

Only seeds know when to swell and burst.

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Wooly hairs branch out from a single root.

Curling themselves into screw like shapes,

They leave it to me to untangle head from foot!

 

I hear the Old Ones call her Sacred

West wind whips red sand into my face,

as I place each sprout in well dampened soil.

 

Within a week green wings unfold

– twin leafed plantlets

lean into the fierce light of a golden eye.

 

Each seedling seeks its own form.

DNA meets the pattern of becoming

held by cosmic forces in a spiral round.

 

I imagine a bush of sensuous pearl white trumpets

– lacy lavender tipped edges unfurling at dusk.

Datura converses with the Hawk moth under a blossoming moon.

 

An ancient plant with unknown origins

Datura bridges continents,

passed on by Indigenous story and feet.

A muse full of secrets

she is known by those

(who have been initiated into her ways)

as “Grandmother,” whose poison is deadly.

She is also a visionary and healer.

 

She comes to some through dreams.

The un- initiated fear her.

 

They call her devil, thorn apple,

witches wildflower, in woeful ignorance

of the breadth of her power.

 

“Dementia!” they sling arrows of ignorance,

accuse her as one who would kill or maim.

 

As well she might.

 

To those who would use her

without respect or care,

she mutters a warning:

Beware.

 

Working Notes:

Datura flowers are startling, huge, trumpet shaped – pearl white and luminous, tinted with pale to deep lavender around the edges – and in northern Mexico, intensely fragrant after rain. Last summer, like the bees that hummed around the flowers from dawn to dusk, I too couldn’t get enough of the sweet scent of literally hundreds of undulating lace edged trumpets that opened each morning or evening after a rain. These wild plants are also known as devil’s trumpet, moonflowers, devil’s weed and thorn apple.

 

Late last fall I collected prickly seed pods and stored them over the winter. This spring I coaxed seeds to sprout, planting them here and there, imagining a summer desert filled with clumps of fragrant blossoms.

 

Datura has the ability to shapeshift – literally. Depending upon growing conditions this plant can develop into a large four or five foot bush, or spread its small umbrella of pointed leaves and flowers over a dry desert wash, barely reaching twelve inches in height. The plant can change its shape as well as the amount of its toxicity which confused botanists for years!

 

In service to Life Datura removes lead from the soil and stores it in her roots and leaves. While the plant provides nectar for bees and other insectivores it forms an intimate partnership (mutualism) with the Hawk moth, an insect almost as large as the human hand. Datura furnishes the moth with nectar and shelters its eggs (newly hatched larvae are served a tasty leafy meal by this mothering plant). But in return pollen is transferred from moth to flower enabling fertilization to take place. With the help of the moth, Datura can then produce fruit and seeds for another year.

 

Datura belongs to the classic “witches weeds” according to Wikipedia, along with deadly nightshade, henbane, mandrake, hemlock and other toxic plants. “It was well known as an essential ingredient of potions and witches brews,” according to this  source.

 

Indigenous peoples across the globe have been using this plant for millennia to seek spirit helpers through visioning. All parts of this plant are lethal and only those that are initiated through the (secret) oral traditions know how to neutralize the poison.

What the Red-Winged Blackbirds Say

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Yesterday it snowed. Great white flakes fluttered down like butterflies from the sky and stuck to every leaf and thorn – covering the red earth with a delicate lace shawl. A spring snow is a benediction.

I opened the door and was serenaded by black robed women with wings, singing with wild abandon from the nearest cottonwood tree, as a coffee colored river rushed by… Nature is crafting her own harmony,

Red Willow River is the chorus.

Red –winged blackbirds soar, their high- pitched trills creating a symphony of sound.

Flashing crimson wings whir like fans as they fly by.

I feel hope pulsing through each cell of my body as I join the crowd.

My mind falls silent as I breathe in deep peace…

Oh Daughters of the Night, gift us with your blessing; for you teach us that only the present moment matters… that cycles of becoming are what is – and participation is always our choice.

We must not forget that our strength comes with numbers –

that each life matters.

Life births life,

as death sleeps soundly in the heat of the rising sun.

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Working Notes:

Spring in the high desert is a wondrous event, and I have been blessed by living on Red Willow River close to those who carve relationship out of song.

Spring in the high desert brings wildflowers – primrose and globe mallow – “forget – me –not’s” dressed in delphinium blue – big gray green sage captures all but the most numb through intoxicating scent – and every day births a seed for becoming.

The arrival of the red winged blackbirds ushers in the season of love.

I germinate Datura seeds…

And plant twigs with roots.

We circle big sage with prayer.

Black birds remind us that Nature is both –

fragile and tough.

Nature is Love.

 

In the Beginning

A Day In Santa Fe

 

Indescribable Art.

 

Roxanne Swentzell is a contemporary pueblo artist who “focuses on interpretive female portraits attempting to bring back the balance of power between male and female (that is) inherently recognized in her own culture.”

 

Photographs are forbidden in the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture but I copied down this Creation story that was written on the wall behind one of Roxanne’s sculptures. Roxanne comes from the pueblo of Santa Clara, a Tewa speaking people.

 

In the beginning

tucked in the dark womb

of Our Mother,

the urge struck us that we

might venture out.

At the same moment

Our Mother tilted the bowl

of Life, and poured us

Forward into our lives.

The Journey begins.

 

Flowers on Tsikumu*

are calling us.

We step forward.

The birds’ wings

Fan our feelings

We step forward.

Tracks in soft dirt

of antelope, bear and lion.

We step forward,

our breath joins all there is.

We joyfully step forward.

Mother of all things,

Bless our journey,

as we step forward.

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* Sacred Mountain

Thank you Bruce.

 

Witches in the Weeds

There she is in flight,

a shooting star on fire.

There she spirals eyeless

her blue wind births chaos.

There she moans bitterly

churning up dark waters.

There she plows fiercely

heaving up  mountains.

Her Datura pods explode,

broadcasting black seeds ..

Fire, Air, Earth and Water –

Old women stir the cauldron.

Shapeshifting into birds

they stalk fish in every marsh.

Black crowned night herons?

Owls with second sight?

Ah, these are the women with wings…

soaring through the night.

Listen to the reeds applauding.

Brown Cattails are humming.

Bitterns sing love songs to

Witches in the Weeds!

Working Notes:

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In folklore Old women are believed to control all aspects of Nature – Fire, Earth, Air and Water, but in myth and story they have a special relationship with water.

The title and poem “witches in the weeds” emerged after I did some research on the Datura plant. This plant is usually associated with old women and sorcery in myth and story. For example, in European mythology, the dark goddesses, Hecate, and Baba Yaga are associated with Datura. Datura is considered to be a ‘witch weed’ and is categorized as a poison along with deadly nightshade, henbane and mandrake. The seeds and flowers have a history of creating visions, delirious states, and causing death. Datura thrives in wilderness areas. Old women, dark goddesses and Datura have a lot in common.

Women and birds have been associated since Neolithic times so it seemed natural to use them in the poem. Scholar and mytho- archeologist Marija Gimbutas unearthed many bird-women sculptures that were fashioned out of clay in “Old Europe”. Old women in particular are most often associated with owls, herons, crows, ravens, and black birds of all kinds. It is probably the relationship between women and birds that is one of the roots behind the belief that old women can fly. The other root behind flight can probably be found in the relationship between women healers and the plants they used. Plants like Datura  contain alkaloid properties (scopolamine, hyoscyamine, and atropine) that are capable of producing visions of flight and are used by folk healers and medicine women and men.

The reference to marshes in the poem is important because it is in liminal space – that place between earth and water – that lends itself to transformations of any kind. Goddesses like Hecate inhabit such places, and with good reason because “transformation” requires suffering and death to old ways of being. It’s important to have a Guide.

According to Wikipedia, Datura “was known as an essential ingredient of potions and witches’ brews.” Since there is no such entity as a witch, I was surprised to see the above sentence in print on a research site. The word witch was first coined by the King James version of the Bible which appeared in the 1600’s. A women’s holocaust occurred in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries when thousands, perhaps a few million rural women of all ages were burned as witches. In a nutshell, women have been healers since ancient times. When men became “doctors” they took over the role of healer from women, and conveniently dispensed with the latter by burning them alive.

Whenever I see the word witch I stop to consider the context because inevitably the word is associated with older or old women who have power. Women healers were naturalists who observed, experimented with plants to learn about their medicinal properties, and used these herbs to heal, to birth a child, to abort an unwanted fetus, and to help humans die peacefully at the end of life. It takes a lifetime to acquire the necessary skills, so younger female healers were usually apprenticed to their elders and their secrets passed from one generation to another.

Patriarchy continues to dismiss women as needing equal rights, including the right to end life if it becomes necessary. Our need to have sovereignty over own own bodies is a threat to this system of oppression. We are rejected as folk healers, and as leaders out of fear. If we dare to speak out we become witches, bitches, or nasty old women. We are irrational and emotional, unpredictable, incapable of making sound decisions due to our biology according to this Patriarchal story. We are also a genuine threat because as thinking/feeling women we can reject the either or/black or white perspective of Patriarchy and seek “both and” solutions. We are capable of thinking with both parts of our brain, and have access to Nature’s secrets because we can develop intimate relationships with plants (and animals). Many women recognize that we are a part of nature and can choose to advocate for the Earth understanding that to do so is also to advocate for all life on this planet. We can choose not to separate the parts from the whole. Women and the Datura plant belong together because both are potential visionaries.

Datura flowers are startling, huge, trumpet shaped – pearl white and luminous, tinted with pale to deep lavender around the edges – and in northern Mexico, intensely fragrant after rain. Last summer, like the bees that hummed around the flowers from dawn to dusk, I too couldn’t get enough of the sweet scent of literally hundreds of undulating lace edged trumpets that opened each day. These plants are also known as devil’s trumpet, moonflowers, devil’s weed and thorn apple. Datura plants also are capable of removing lead from the soil and storing it in their roots and leaves. While the plant provides nectar to several creatures in the desert food chain it has formed a partnership (mutualism) with the Hawk moth, an insect almost as large as the human hand. The Datura furnishes the moth with nectar as a food source and a shelter for its eggs. The newly hatched larvae are served a tasty leafy meal by the plant. In return Datura are pollinated. The plants’ male pollen is transferred by the moth to the female flower parts, enabling fertilization to take place. The Datura can then produce fruit and seeds for another generation.

The seeds of Sacred Datura are used by Native peoples like the Navajo to bring on visions during ceremony. It’s important to understand that Indigenous peoples who use this plant for visioning also have learned how to detoxify it (as women healers have) and are not sharing this information with outsiders. Overall, Datura species are considered to be highly poisonous; even bees that drink the nectar of the flowers can produce honey that is deadly. All parts of the plant are poisonous but especially the flowers and seeds.

The plants’ precise and natural distribution is uncertain owing to its extensive cultivation and naturalization throughout the temperate and tropical regions of the globe. It’s distribution within the Americas and North Africa is most likely restricted to the Southwest regions of the United States and Mexico in North America, and Tunisia in Africa where the highest species diversity occurs. (Brugmansia, a South American cousin with similar properties differs from Datura in that it is woody, reaches the size of small trees and has pendulous trumpets).

Strangely, all nine Datura species can also change the size of their individual plants, leaves and flowers! The plants’ size, shape etc. apparently depends upon the location of the plant. I find the correspondence between the plant’s ability to create visions or to poison, and it’s physical ability to change its shape, color, size, leaves, depending on location fascinating. It’s as if the plant is advertising its literal ability to shapeshift, to alter its identity in the wild where it can thrive even as a weed. This kind of co-creating between plant and (powers of) place is probably much more common than we realize.

We are fast approaching the end of October. All Hallows and the Feast of the Dead occur over a period of three days beginning October 31 on All Hallows Eve, and ending on All Souls Day, November 2nd. In the United States this honoring of the dead has been distorted becoming Halloween, when children dress in costumes and go trick or treating, but retain the fear of old women as “witches” flying through the night with their familiars.

In contrast, European and Earth based religions honor this three – day period as Feast of the Dead, All Saints Day and All Soul’s day. We begin by honoring the dead through prayer. On the latter two days we can choose to make contact with the deceased – saints and family – because “the veil is so thin.” It is at this time that we can call upon those who have gone before us to pray for us, or guide us…In some earth based (Celtic) and most Indigenous traditions we also acknowledge that this feast marks the end of the calendar year…For the next few weeks we live in the “space in between” until the advent of the new year which begins at Winter Solstice.

This year the Presidential election occurs on November 8th five days after this festival ends. If ever there was a time to celebrate “witches” as women of power it is now. We need to gather together with all the other “nasty women” and support Hillary Clinton by getting out to vote for her. Then we can pick up our prickly Datura pods and soar away into the night on the broomsticks that our distorted cultural story has provided for us!

IMG_2742.JPGPostscript: I want to make it clear that I know a number caring men with great integrity who do not support Patriarchy in its death throes (just as I know many women who do). This country is fortunate to have many such men all of whom will be casting their vote for Hillary Clinton as next President of the United States. We need to acknowledge how critical their support is and how much courage it takes for a man to go against a culture that strives for power over at the cost of losing access to genuine feeling.

Hecate’s Moon

 

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Lupita, Guadalupe –

Your agave points of light glow in grave darkness.

 

Hecate’s Moon is Red.

The Raven slices the sky into shards.

The River catches shivering stars.

 

We remember the First Mother…

Patiently, painfully,

we return the parts to the Whole.

 

See the Wolf who hides behind the Tree?

Welcome him in.

Only then can we begin…

 

Lupita, Guadalupe –

Your agave points of light glow in grave darkness.

 

Photo credits: I took this photograph when visiting the studio of artist Armando – Adrian Lopez whose work in mixed media produced this vision of Guadalupe.

Working notes…

Guadalupe is the Native “Mother of the Americas” – not the Virgin Mary as often suggested but an ancient Earth goddess. She is dark skinned and an Indian. Curiously, Lupita is the diminutive form of Guadalupe. Lupe means wolf. I was surprised to learn that the name Guadalupe means river of black stones or valley of the wolf. I was intrigued by the inclusion of both dark and light (wild and tame) in Guadalupe’s naming. She is a goddess of wholeness whose light continues to shine in a broken patriarchal culture.

Hecate’s moon is the last moon of the year according to some earth based traditions, and here I aspect her as the goddess who ushers in the dark months ahead in the northern hemisphere and the return to chaos.

Harvest Moon

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At dawn this morning I beheld you in the sky –

a perfect pale round.

Last night your blue light guided me home.

The deep desert silence was

broken only by coyotes

singing just for you.

At midnight the Great Horned owl whoos,

narrating Her story.

The harvest is upon us;

The sun slips low on the horizon and shadows deepen.

(Oh, the gift of changing Light)

A multitude of seeds are scattered by west winds…

Give thanks for this abundance!

Grandmothers, you

bring dreams on your wings,

and hope for hungry hearts.

The dove will sing again.

Gratitude flows through me like the Chama

winding her way to the sea.

I pause this morning to hear Earth’s symphony.

8/17/16

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Reflections:

All month I have been living in the kind of chaos that disturbs the natural cycles that guide me through my life. Only during the last few days have I finally had some relief, and I have had deadlines to meet that have taken precedence over everything including the waxing of the second full harvest moon. But I have been participating in “the gathering in” just the same making trip after trip into the desert to gather sweet sage, pinion nuts, sticky pitch laden pine cones – to feast my eyes on the abundance of wildflowers that spring out of desert sand. I am saying good bye to the hummingbirds, wishing them well on their arduous journey. I watch with deep pleasure the covey of quail that come in for seed. I keep a sharp eye out for the baby rabbits, and each night look forward to that time -in the crack between worlds – when the sky catches fire and the light shifts every nanosecond. I am so much in love with the desert sky. As soon as the sun slips over the horizon Venus has begun her climb and will soon rise over the horizon to join Arcturus already positioned higher in the western sky. This month I give thanks for Lily’s life, for neighbors whose kindness fills me to the brim with thanksgiving and joy, and for being in a desert that has made me feel so at home…

Little Red Hills

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Little red hills startle a serpentine mountain,

burnish gold in twilight.

Ancient junipers grow crooked –

cry out to wind and rain to shape them.

Baby whip-tails streak over red skinned

dirt at high noon.

Silvery sages call to me through scent at dusk –

“pick a twig and let me heal you.”

 

Five petaled periwinkle flowers

have leaves like bristles,

birth stars under pinion pines.

Diminutive pin-cushions sprout

pink and magenta blossoms in dry washes,

(invisible to all but the discerning eye).

 

Cottontails feast on delicate gray green twigs;

Black tailed hares leap skywards over a waning moon.

The desert is alive with wonder –

Double rainbows arc from horizon to horizon

showering this patch of cracked earth with blessings,

Gifting Her with Rain.

 

8/29/16

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Postscript:

 

Living in the desert makes change seem irrelevant. Clouds cast shadows from mountain to mountain shifting the sky every second. Thundergods rumble fiercely in the distance. Nothing stays the same here – the light determines what I see or what I don’t as the star at the center of our solar system illuminates or blinds me during the daylight hours. Arcturus rises in the western sky at twilight bringing down a curtain of black velvet over a sky of red coals. In the early morning the Great Bear enters her cave in the west under earth made of sand and red dirt. The silence of the red hills and dry washes rings a bell in my heart.