Sam decided to do some of her own research, beginning as Clary suggested with the physic gardens.
Medicine gardens of course date back as long as we’ve been using and gathering herbs managing the wild....
Then there was the cultivation and preservation of herbs, kept alive in the relative safety of the monastery. Where monks, and nuns, were not only spiritual guides but practical healers, and the herb garden was an important part of daily living. Sam thought of the vellum calligraphy and illuminations she’d seen images of....
Saint Hildegard of Bingen came to mind. A German woman who was a nun, and then an Abbess. A visionary woman of the twelfth century, she stands out amongst a plethora of men in the story of written herbals. Rare also because she was able to blend the art of practical herbalism with the spiritual healing of incantations and not be burned at the stake for it, although at the time some might have tried.
A woman like Hildegard would have been lucky to survive in the fifteenth century. Those were times that came amongst the beginnings of witch trials in parts of Europe, dangerous times for women to speak out, or practice their art publicly. There was a shift towards male apothecaries who wouldn’t include women in their number, or trade secrets. The origins of a ‘medical establishment’ were taking root. Doubtless local women continued in their ways, perhaps covering them under sanctioned womanly arts in the kitchen, garden and crafts. I’m no historian, Sam thought, but the echoes of this are still rippling out.
A seer and translater of visions, a writer of music, manuscripts, and healer. Hildegard wrote two treatises on medicine and natural history, known in English as Book of Simple Medicine and Book of Composed Medicine, between 1151 and 1161. (In some manuscripts the two are combined as The Subtleties of the Diverse Natures of Created Things.) They are often referred to by their Latin titles, Physica and Causae et Curae. The number of manuscript copies of these works still in existence indicates that these works were widely read and influential in their time.
She was part of a intergenerational monastic tradition of doctoring monks and nuns, working for love not money. They were often well travelled and communication between areas allowed for exchange of information about treatments. At its best, they were not trying to increase their patient base, or turn a profit, but offered a kindly herbalism. Based on a practical knowledge of the plants in their gardens and surrounds, when practices such as blood letting and purging were popular.
An interesting aspect of Hildegard’s work was her belief in a force she called 'viriditas' meaning 'greeness' or 'greening power', a kind of nature based force. Hildegard wrote that God transmits life into plants, animals, and gems. People eat plants and animals and acquire gems, thus obtaining viriditas. Then they, may in turn, give that essence out by virtuous acts, in a kind of passing on of life force through, and with, intention.
Hildegard followed on with the ancient Greek belief that the four elements comprised everything in the universe... air, water, fire and earth, and that peoples bodies reflected as a microcosm of this in posessing four ‘humors’—choler (yellow bile), blood, phlegm, and melancholy (black bile).
Balance of the elements was seen to lead to health, imbalance to disease.
"Like billowing clouds, like the incessant babble of the brook.
The longing of the spirit can never be stilled.”
Sam thought of her journeys, nightmares and visions once again. A way of gathering intuitively, and then holding it up to the light with other information. Maybe I am just where I need to be, its only fear of a thing that gives it wings. Fear and misinterpretation, I wouldn’t be the first human to suffer those two things. As usual Clary’s right, if I can just relax into it and keep painting and journaling...
She thought back to that journey, where Callieach, before she knew her name, had given her the name of Persicaria. Increasingly less than usual she had thought the word gobbledegook, and more asked Clary about it, interested to hear what she had to say.
“Aaaah now there’s a plant with some fine common names!” she had replied, “Adderwort, Dragonwort, Snakeroot, Serpentary, Dracunulus...all common Bistort. You really are choosing an interesting line of herbs to question on.”
“Well, yes, or they’re choosing me....”
“Excellent! Bistort refers to the twice twisted nature of the root stock bis- twice and torta-twisted. One of the vegetable kingdoms most powerfull astringents, usefull for diahorrea, and tanning hides. A lot of tannins” she whispered leaning close as if disclosing personal information.
Maybe there is more of my mother in me than I’ve known. What did the trout man say, “touched you are like your grandmother”.
Now it was question time for Clary....
“Did you know my grandmother well?”
“Aaaaah Nell, yes quite well. Very like your mother, and you my dear. Quietly spoken, but when she did speak you listened. Visual like you, a watcher.”
“Yes, observed things before diving in, got to know the playing field so to speak. Gentle spirit but if you came anywhere harming one of her own look out. Quite a devout Christian, in her way, which wasn’t approved of by all church going folk. Closer to emulating the teachers, not a big one for converting others, or lecturing on sin. Went to church only on rare ocassions. Could tell your future by reading the tea leaves at the bottom of your cup, if you were game. Saw that your mother was going to have a girl, you know. Which was surprising, as the doctors said it was a boy. She was happy about it, following on the maternal line and all that. Do you think you’ll ever have children Sam?”
“Follow on the maternal line n all? Well as I have no luck in the cohabitating department, apart from with you, probably not. I do have my creative work though, and now this book. It feels a bit like a birth, don’t you think?”
“Always avoided births” Clary answered. “ Messy and painful, but I was there for yours.”
“ Clary, I had no idea...”
“Yes, that’s how long I’ve known your family, and worked with the herbs, spooky really. The ‘tome’ compared to birth, uummm, it’s a more long drawn out process, thank goddess for all mothers past and future. A lot of screaming is what I remember, her, and then you, when you finally came. ”
“I’ll bear that in mind.”
“Not to put you off, a child is a precious gem, each and every one, although its highly likely I carry romantic notions from a far...”she giggled
“Think I’ll stick with my arts for now thanks, they hold challenge and satisfaction enough. Without the screaming, with the mess.”
They both smiled like co-conspirators, Clary had been much the same at Sam’s age, knee deep in the herbs, no human kids. Except now she did have Sam, and that was more than she could ever have hoped for.....
Clary wanted an illustration of a Neanderthal burial. A blend of two times. Showing the remains as they exist now, overlayed with the freshness of when plants were laid out and skin still supple...
“They are some of the earliest evidence of people respecting and gathering the herbs. Yarrow, chickweed, angelica, dill...”
“You don’t think it’s a bit gruesome?”
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I’m hoping my burial will be as beautiful, evocative of mother earth and return my body for composting. I might even feed a tree someday!”
“Let’s hope that’s a while off eh?”
“It pays to have a plan though. No monuments of stone for me, except perhaps a cairn. Just put me back where I came from, and have a good party...”
Sam had been finding the drawings came with a nice flow, the red ochre earthy colours were right up her alley, echoing the blood of birth, or rebirth perhaps. The foetal position some bodies were placed in was evocative of the depth of the subject.
It also reminded her of the bog people who’s stomach contents showed recognisable grains and herbs, some which had even been sprouted. She thought of the idea of gnomes, earth beings dwelling underground. Also, the legendary Tuatha de dannan, people of the Goddess Danu, of Ireland who were chased into the hills, under them, by waves of colonising invaders.
Cave dwellers, it’s where we all came from, she thought. There’s something about those roots that lives on in us all and that we can tap into. Hunter gatherers living intimately with the seasons, with no other choice but to live off, and on, the land. Is it any wonder that they then worshipped the life in everything and would want to offer up their bodies to return directly to the land to continue its fertility. To pacify and honour ancestor spirits with ritual.
Sam thought of her parents, they’d had no funeral. A memorial service was all, and they’d have wanted it that way. The card deck was the first sprouts of her parents spirituality, and it certainly didn’t align with their later beliefs to have a church service, although her grandmother would have liked to, she respected their perspective.
Clary would definitely need bunches of herbs when her time came, Sam smiled. She saw suddenly the lineage of medicine women stretching back across time. Their people perhaps felt the same. Wanting to give them some of their beloved herbs to take across to the other side of wherever it is we go while spirit runs free.
In Asia there are tribes who have massive funerary caves where their ancestors bones live, and are treated as if still a part of the family. Brought down for celebrations, consulted on village business and fed offerings. It would be nice to have a place to visit, to connect with those who’ve crossed over, Sam just thought of her folks when she saw the sea.
Imagine the strength of knowing all your ancestors are in a certain part of the land you live on still. Gives a bit more of a position of respect to being ‘of’ the land, or country.
In some ways, plants are growing on the past of humanity, and other animals, like a gift from our elders. They must carry some of that energy inside. Perhaps that’s why we can understand their voices if we take it slow enough, voices from the first day. Voices from the past, plant and human spirits blended, each feeding the other in turn, in their time.....
This isn’t getting my watercolour finished! Ponderings and wanderings!
She traced the feathery yarrow leaves shapes, so tricky to get the detail without it just blobbing. The pencil lines beneath the wash held the structure together, so that if she went out of lines, the pencil marks showed through. That was why she used light washes, building up layers. The bones needed many different browns washed over them to get the complexity of texture, and she dabbed with a tissue to create highlights. It was an art in itself to know when to stop, to have said enough to suggest forms without flattening them from overworking.
She was happy with the paper shed found to paint on, it could take her at times brutal treatment. It was almost as thick as card with a beautiful smooth finish for fine work. Tough enough that she could draw back into the images to reiterate a line if needed, without it breaking down or tearing. Cost an arm and a leg, the impoverished artist kept so by a lust for fine materials she laughed...
But her mind was on her parents now. 5 stages of grief people had told her handing a photocopy that looked official enough. They forgot to add, guaranteed to jump out of order at any given time just to sneak up on you. A shapeshifter is grief, a series of waves rather than a polite line of steps. It frightens people too, like an elemental out of control reflected in the eyes of the person suffering their losses. Thank Goddess for Clary’s stable, annual, now semipermanent co-inhabiting, visits. When she was sore like a wounded animal she would come and stay, knowing she didn’t have to explain if getting out of bed was just too hard some days or that tears came when reliving a seemingly happy memory.
Mind you there’d been plenty of solitary times between when Sam had to go it alone, the questions the implausibility of them being gone, or that one day they might just walk back into her life. But slowly, gradually the tear in her chest eased and the pauses between the waves had increased, she’d been able to pick up a brush again, to connect with what she was painting as the veil of grief shifted. The dance of the seven veils of grief, that’s what should have been on that official looking handout. Taunting, teasing, suggesting the possibility that you’ll fall apart, or perhaps promise seductively that you can recover some sense of your life again.
Well girl, you’re doing ok nowadays, she mentally patted herself on the back. Somehow you just survive it with, and without, grace. She looked at the painting and was pleased with it. The hardest part is always those first baby steps on the inevitable blank page that stretches before you, starting a new image. The reflection on the finished product is, hopefully, satisfying. You can resolve a picture in ways you can’t necessarily do with life. Life is an evershifting canvas, she thought philosophically. Must write that down somewhere....
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