Flowers, Myth and Magic

 

Happy Midsummer (or Midwinter)  Solstice!  There are a whole bunch of cool flowers said to have magical properties which are associated with the Solstice.  I thought it might be fun to review a few.  First let’s take a look at WILD PANSY.

Queen Elizabeth I may have avoided a husband and maintained a life of celibacy as a result of  this little flower.

According to Shakespeare,  in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”,  Cupid once aimed his arrow at  “A fair vestal, throned by the West”  (meaning a western virgin queen). Cupid “loosed his love-shaft smartly from his bow, as it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts.” The arrow, however, never made it to Cupid’s intended destination.

This “vestal” (or vestal virgin) was England’s reigning monarch, Elizabeth I.  Cupid’s arrow missed the Queen and landed instead upon a flower.  The flower  had previously been “milk white in color”, but now turned purple with the  wound from the arrow.

Because of this incident, Queen Bess was destined to never fall in love. Shakespeare says she “passed on in maiden meditation, fancy-free” forever known as The Virgin Queen. The flower, however, absorbed all the love potion from Cupid’s arrow.  On Midsummer night when Oberon the fairy king and his servant Puck decide to make mischief with star-crossed lovers, they of course use this flower.

‘The juice of it on sleeping eye-lids laid 
Will make or man or woman madly dote 
Upon the next live creature that it sees.”

The first creature Titania saw just happened to be a donkey 🙂

The flower ‘s technical name is viola tricolor. It has several fun nicknames, including heartsease, heart’s delight, tickle-my-fancy, Jack-jump-up-and-kiss-me, come-and-cuddle-me, and Oberon’s favorite, love-in-idleness. 

In addition to being a love potion, wild pansy has been used in folk medicine to treat epilepsy, asthma, skin diseases, and eczema. It is a natural expectorant and is helpful with respiratory problems such as bronchitis, asthma, and the common cold.

HAWTHORN

Thomas the Rhymer was a 13th century  Scottish mystic and poet. He claimed he once met the Queen of Elphame (Elf’s Home) beneath a hawthorn tree.

“Her skirt was o the grass-green silk, 
Her mantle o the velvet fyne, 
At ilka tett of her horse’s mane 
Hang fifty silver bells and nine.” 

The Elphame Queen led him into the fairy Underworld for what Thomas thought was a brief visit. However, upon returning to the human world, he discovered he had been gone for seven years.

 “When seven years were come and gane,
The sun blink’d fair on pool and stream;
And Thomas lay on Huntlie bank,
Like one awaken’d from a dream.”

Themes of people being taken into the Underworld by fairy folk is common in Celtic mythology. The hawthorn tree is one of the most likely places where this could happen,  and Midsummer is one of the most likely days, so beware of standing near hawthorn trees today, unless you are planning a visit to fairyland!

The hawthorn is technically called Crataegus and is also known as thornapple, May-tree, whitethorn, and hawberry. It bears edible fruit, similar to small apples, which can be used in jellies or salads.

The fruit is quite healthy, containing phytochemicals such as tannis and flavinoids, valuable in purging toxins from the body.  In modern medicine, a salve made from hawthorn trees has been effective in the treatment of cardiovascular disease. (Further proving that the fairies give us some goodies along with their magical portals!)

FOXGLOVE

This lovely plant, which reaches full bloom at Midsummer is a favorite among fairy folk. Shaped like bells, it is said that the fairies designed them for foxes. One story tells of foxes wearing them around their necks. The ringing bells cast a spell to protect the animals from hunters.  The spots inside are made when fairies touch the flowers.

Another story tells of a fairy giving them to a fox to put on his toes so he could sneak into the chicken house and silently rob it without being caught.

The technical name for foxglove is Digitalis (derived from digit, meaning finger). They are also called witches’ glovefolks’ glove, (folk meaning fairy) and fey-glew, meaning ‘fairy music’.  (Listen closely to hear the bells!)

Foxglove was once thought to be effective in  epileptic seizures, but this idea has since has been debunked as quackery. Some historians believe that Vincent Van Gogh suffered from digoxin toxicity from the foxglove that was used at the time to treat his epilepsy.

It has been speculated that Van Gogh’s frequent use of the color yellow in his painting (art historians call it his “yellow period”)  may have been due to the disease. Victims often see the world in a yellow green tint, or surrounded by yellow spots. Cutting off his own ear may have been caused by grief and complications from the disease as well.

Also, Van Gogh painted a portrait of his doctor, Paul Gachet, holding a strand of purple foxglove, so the flower must have had significance.

At any rate, the plant is highly toxic and should never be eaten! Foxglove are also called Dead Man’s Bells. Consider yourself warned.

Have a safe, happy and healthy solstice!

 

 

 

 

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Happy Birthday Georgia O’Keeffe

 

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Today we celebrate the life of Georgia O’Keeffe!  She was an American artist, most famous for her abstract paintings of flowers, bones, and natural landscapes. She herself was a force of nature as well, leaving an imprint and legacy not easily forgotten.

Once you experience her artwork — well — flowers will never look the same again!

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Born on November 15, 1887, in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, Georgia was the second of seven children. Her parents were dairy farmers who valued education and encouraged their children to explore various interests. The wide Wisconsin landscape, with its vibrant hollyhocks, lilies, irises and greenery, no doubt influenced the young Georgia.  Artistic talent seemed to run in the family, as two of her grandmothers had been amateur painters.

Georgia attended college at the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago, quickly climbing to top of her class. Later she studied at New York City’s Art Student’s League. It was in New York that she was first introduced to modern art movements of the early twentieth century. She visited galleries, in particular Gallery 291, founded by photographers Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen.

Located at 291 5th Avenue, 291 frequently introduced new work of modern European and American artists.

291

It was Alfred Stieglitz who first displayed O’Keeffe’s work — a series of charcoal drawings — at a gallery exhibition in 1916. The unusual drawings were an overnight success. Within two years, Georgia, who had earned her living through teaching, moved to New York City and became part of a group of avant-garde artists.

For a woman, recognition in the male dominated art world was dubious and rare. Nonetheless, Georgia held her own, winning recognition among critics and patrons. She became the highest paid female artist in the US. O’Keeffe, however, never considered herself a ‘feminist’. She wanted to be thought of as simply ‘an artist’ rather than ‘a female artist’.

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Although Alfred Stieglitz was a married man, and twenty three years older than O’Keeffe, the two became lovers. In 1924 Alfred left his wife to marry Georgia.

Like all aspects of his life, Alfred made his new bride into a work of art.

Georgia_OKeeffe 1919

Georgia continued to develop her craft. She began to experiment with perspective, painting close-ups of flowers. The first of these was Petunia No. 2, which was exhibited in 1925, followed by works such as Black Iris (1926) and Oriental Poppies (1928).

oriental-poppies

“If I could paint the flower exactly as I see it no one would see what I see because… the flower is small. So I said to myself –  I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it – I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.” — Georgia O’Keeffe

I should mention that these are no quaint little blooms, but more like Alice Through the Looking Glass, grow-so-incredibly-high jungle blossoms, painted on canvasses big enough for you to walk into.

For almost a century, art critics have been insisting that O’Keeffe’s flower paintings were meant to resemble female genitalia. Georgia herself vehemently denied this. What do you think?

Georgia O'Keeffe art

“I feel there is something unexplored about women that only a woman can explore.” — Georgia O’Keeffe

In the 1930’s, Georgia found new inspiration in the American west and Navajo culture when she began to visit New Mexico. She found simple yet sublime beauty in the desert, frequently painting landscapes and animal skulls. Cool, huh?

georgia skull

Meanwhile, back in New York, Stieglitz had begun to mentor a young photographer named Dorothy Norman. The two developed a close relationship and – you guessed it! The married Stieglitz began an affair with Dorothy. Georgia became jealous and suffered  bouts of depression. In 1933 she was hospitalized for a nervous breakdown and did not paint for a whole year.  The nervous breakdown was reportedly due to ‘a broken heart’.  (Oh Alfred, you philanderer!)

Her recovery lead her back to New Mexico where she eventually bought property at Ghost Ranch and lived there permanently.  However, she never divorced Stieglitz who remained her one true love.

In his later years, Stieglitz’s health deteriorated. He died of a stroke in 1946 at the age of 82. Georgia was with him when he died and was the executor of his estate.

In 1949, Georgia was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In the 1950s and 1960s, she continued to paint and travel the world, finding inspiration in places she visited.  In 1970, a retrospective of her work was shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

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“Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing.  It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis — that we get at the real meaning of things.”  — Georgia O’Keeffe

Unfortunately, as Georgia became older she suffered from macular degeneration and began to lose her eyesight. She painted her last unassisted oil painting in 1972. However,  she never los her love of art and her desire to create. She still continued to create art in the form of sculpture and writing. Her bestselling autobiography Georgia O’Keeffe was published in 1976.

Georgia died on March 6, 1986 at the age of 98.  Her body was cremated and her ashes were scattered, as she wished, on the land around Ghost Ranch (perhaps becoming its final ghost?)  The spirit of Ms. O’Keeffe will remain influential forever!

“I have lived on a razor’s edge. So what if you fall off? I’d rather be doing something I wanted to do. I’d walk it again.”  — Georgia O’Keeffe

Happy Birthday Georgia!

georgia okeeffe

 

 

 

Daffodils (a tanka)

 

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Rain shatters deep earth

Roots burst yellow perfection

Long awaited blooms

Arabesque before the sun

April healing winter’s cold

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** Note: Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’.

“April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”  
Happy National Poetry Month!

Lilacs in November

 

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I live in the Midwestern United States. Clearly the Northern Hemisphere. It is definitely autumn  here, and lilacs only ever bloom in May. And yet.

Here is what I find.

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A while back I wrote a story about Persephone, the Underworld and reversed seasons.  But I did not think it would actually happen 🙂

I’ll take it, gladly!

Give them some crystal energy…

lilac-7

 

We can always use a bit of spring in November 🙂

fairy water pd

A Quest

 

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A QUEST

Defined by listlessness I seek                                                                                                             the lonely evening as yellow                                                                                                            bellwort lowers its

head in the meadow, giving                                                                                                             faith to a brazen  day.                                                                                                                           How I long to dispatch myself

straight  and hard to the                                                                                                                          humongous                                                                                                                                     whirl of purple sky!

But no.                                                                                                                                                       I am human. Weak. Ignorant. Foolish.                                                                                          Nothing but a noddy.

I sigh in physical haughtiness                                                                                                                 and  wait                                                                                                                                                for a new break of day.

purple sky

 

This poem is in response to Bojenn’s poetry challenge

https://bonniegjennings.wordpress.com/2016/05/20/a-poetry-challenge-by-bojenn/