To be engaged by the livingness of nature, the person chosen to walk the green path of healing begins their journey by following the call of a plant. For many, we come to this path through a need for our own healing, and subsequently Veriditas enters into us via whichever plant we first engage with. Along the way our paths are shaped by various plant allies, teachers who remind us of who we are and what we are made of, and where we need to be going. The following account introduces you to one of my plant allies. My power plant if you will. The first account was written a year ago after my first meeting with the plant. The second part explores its nature more deeply and comes from our second, more recent, meeting. A different sort of monograph develops and will continue to develop as I go to sit with it on an annual pilgrimage.
The First Encounter.
“My beloved went down to his garden. To the beds of spices, to feed his flock in the gardens, and to gather lilies.” (Song of Solomon 6:2)
There are plants of power that inhabit this world. Some might think of Cannabis or Ayahuasca or Iboga, or any one of the so-called entheogens that alter consciousness and take you on journeys to kaleidoscopic worlds of cosmic awakening. But in truth any plant might be a plant of power. For some, it might be as commonplace as nettle, or dandelion, or daisy. Rather than how many alkaloids, or psychoactive principles a plant may have, a plant’s power perhaps lies more so in where on your journey it meets you, how it speaks to you, and as equally importantly, your receptivity and response to it.
Almost always, the plant draws you to itself first, and capturing your attention, it begins to sing to you. Your receptivity to its song may be a tiny crack in the door, a trepidatious curiosity that looks past the chain and says, “Um, okay. I’m ready.” But are you truly ready? Do you then just lunge at it, ripping its metaphoric shirt off, expecting it to give you everything and when it does you’ve lost your mind, or do you tread carefully, respectfully, fully aware that it wants to teach you to come home to yourself and you must be willing to let it lead?
So, you check yourself, and when you are truly ready, truly receptive, you allow the plant to determine that first move. It begins to gently caress and coax, and whisper of promised ecstasy as it begins to open those parts of yourself that once for whatever reason, you had closed off. And you begin a dance as old as time, entwining serpentine, senses quivering as parts of yourself that had been shut down or closed off and perhaps long forgotten, begin to open and blossom once more. Or perhaps you blossom for the first time. A heady mix of fear and hunger drives you on as the dance gains momentum. Hunger, because your soul longs to feel the exquisite bliss of liberty, to slough off the old skin of stories that no longer serve you, the old belief systems that tie you down. Hunger, as you strive to open to endless possibility. And fear, because you know that in this awakening, old stories will emerge, and their demons must be confronted. And so, as the dance progresses and you allow yourself to surrender completely, you find yourself arriving, climaxing, at the edge of reason, where shadows disperse, the imaginal coalesces with myth, and suddenly – electrically – a brightness engulfs you, and waves of ecstatic freedom ripple, pulse, and throb through your consciousness. A consciousness now merged with the vast ocean of awareness that transcends the mundane world.
You have changed. Deep in your core, once hidden things are now exposed. You may not be aware of what has changed, but you feel different. Something -tangible- has awoken. You feel a little more bold than you did yesterday. A little more confidant. A little more free. The plants work is done. The paradigm has shifted. How you carry on with the energy that was generated is now up to you. How will you live your life from this new starting point?
Or does this make you feel uncomfortable?
I want to linger, just a little
in the land of the lotus eaters
where well-muscled men
caress my soul
and make love to my mind.
Plant medicine is sensory medicine. It asks us to engage our sense perception in our inner, and sometimes outer worlds in order to effect healing. Some plants, like the subject of this story – the Blue Water Lily (Nymphaea caerulea), invite us to awaken and explore our sensuality in and of itself. The Miriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘sensual’ as; relating to or consisting in the gratification of the senses or the indulgence of appetite.
To be a sensual being – to engage our senses and indulge our appetite, is the first thing we arrive into the world knowing. It defines our experience of the world around us and the level to which we perceive it. As newborns, we have various needs that must be met: nourishment, touch, safety. As newborns, our sensory gating channels, those neural channels by which we receive information about the outside world for processing, are wide open. This is why babies are largely kinetic in their expression. When they encounter something new – a bright coloured ball, dappled light filtering through green summer leaves, the prickly tickly texture of grass on chubby bare feet – their eyes widen in delight or wonderment and their whole body trembles as a result. They may squeal with joy, or draw a long gasp of air, or make some other delighted coo. This is sensuality. In this divorced society, we forget or supress this memory of being, and we tend to equate it only with sexuality, or food (which for some odd reason we have also applied the term ‘sexy’). Yet sensuality is so much more than sexuality. It is so much more than the gratification of the senses. To be sensual is to feel on multiple levels, and to imbue such meaning in our response to this feeling, that others can’t help but notice.
If we turn our attention to the energetic architecture of the body, the sacral plexus speaks to our ability to feel nourished, and therefore to enjoy life. Sitting just below our navel and centred in our pelvis, this energy plexus is the next progression up from our energy centre of survival, security, and feeling protected – our root. When the root is healthy, our next need is to delight in the things that life has to offer because we feel nourished. According to ancient understanding, this sacral emotional energy centre is also associated with pleasure, sensuality, passion, intimacy, connection, and creativity. Passion resides here, for whatever pursuit it may be directed. It is here in its physical cradle that the primal, sensual, sensate being that we once were arose from. I believe that in a healthy, balanced state, this centre for feeling, (and feeling nourished) dovetails with the perception that the heart employs and the depth that it offers to this feeling sense. A heart that gives nourishment must also be nourished. A clear connection between the sacral and the heart is then paramount. Steven Horne equates the sacral plexus with the navel energy centre on the Tree of Life model of energetic architecture. He describes the positive state of this centre as a person being able to feel worthy and deserving of love, of being able to bond with others in long-term loving relationships and feeling confident that one’s physical needs will be met in life. He describes this as the Philia aspect of love (in the Greek definitions of love, this is the familial aspect.) The energy here therefore develops with nurturing, particularly from the mother, and any emotional traumas here such as from abandonment issues can lead to physical issues related to digestion, addiction, infertility and other reproductive concerns.
Returning to this place of sensuality, Steven also describes that people with emotional wounds or blockages in this centre tend to live too much in their head, avoiding the body and physical life. Unfortunately, as the waters have been muddied around this area and sensuality has become synonymous with sexuality, much detrimental conditioning, rigid belief systems, and trauma has caused the sacral centre and the heart to close for many people. For them, only guilt and shame reside here. Their feelings, and their ability to feel, to create, and to be passionate about life has been cut off. Repressed.
Incidentally, in my own personal journey, I fractured my sacrum when I was eleven years old, at a time when I had just begun puberty and the shift in hormones and thoughts around my own sensual experience in the world began to emerge. The impact of the fall also left me with a permanent slight twist to my pelvis. This, along with birth and inherited trauma to the associated energy centre, created several wounds or blockages.
Therefore, do we dare to gently – tenderly – coax it open once more? Do we dare to allow ourselves to feel? To allow ourselves to be nourished and to enjoy life?
Sometimes the universe conspires against you – or perhaps secretly with you, and a plant begins to sing those first ethereal, enticing notes of its siren song. Sometimes this plant might be one that you least expect, and sometimes its reputation precedes it, its song recorded in the annals of antiquity. Nymphaea caerulea,or the Blue Water Lily is such a plant as this.
The ancient Egyptians also succumbed to the Blue Water Lily’s spell. It’s also known as the Sacred Lily of the Nile, being indigenous to the region, and perhaps its first recorded use was by the Egyptians. We see it adorning the walls of their temples and their tombs as a key motif in their artwork. It is a recurring motif in their funeral rites, erotic art, and rituals for healing. In fact, the dried flowers were found scattered all over Tutankhamens mummified body when his tomb was opened in 1922. Across the Atlantic, the Mayans also adopted the water lily into their ceremonial life, and we see it as a recurring motif in their artwork as well. For the Egyptians however, it represented surrender and rebirth. For one who has had the pleasure of swimming amongst these ethereal blooms on a warm Summers day, it is easy to feel why they were so revered. How captivating the scene of bathing amongst the papyrus reeds beneath an azure desert sky with the Lily’s heady scent infusing the air, a beguiling note played on the zephyr. Sublime. This is the Lily’s essence. Relaxing and euphoric. Often described as narcotic in nature, it is not the dull and heavy cold sedative that we might associate with the Opium Poppy and her chemical children so often employed to numb the pain of living in our harsh and cruel world. Nor is it the intoxication of alcohol and loss of self-control. Instead, it is simply a surrender into bliss, a gentle ride on a long and undulating wave of euphoria. A sensual experience that invites us to be who we are on our truest and deepest level. And to release any fear, shame, or unhealthy guilt attached to that. Blue Water Lily simply invites us to be our core essence, our ethereal integrated self. To be reborn.
The element of most obvious association is water, mutable and fluid, with the Blue Water Lily perhaps being one of its most archetypical plants. I really love Keith Robertson and Danny O’Rawe’s description of the qualities of the water element in their book Celtic Herbal Medicine(2018);
“ Water energy is moving and cleansing. Without the Water of Life nothing can grow. Water is a remarkable solvent that should really be a gas at room temperature, but its molecules are bound by light hydrogen bonds and so they follow each other up the capillaries of trees and over waterfalls in a gleeful dance. Water in the body surrounds everything bringing nourishment and taking away waste. It demonstrates its emotional nature by giving us the precious water of human tears. It is centred in the kidneys and the urinary tract but is also associated with fat, our drainage and immune functioning lymphatic system and our sexual life which requires emotional connections and fluid lubrication. If we are unable to let life flow around and through us as it should we can experience problems in these systems.”
This dovetails beautifully with the essence of the Sacral energy centre. From these aspects alone, we can begin to see where the Lily is going to begin its interaction. Interestingly many of the flower essences used for healing the emotional wounds of the sacral/navel energy centre are lilies. Matthew Wood also says that many of the lilies can be used interchangeably when treating issues in these areas.
The Second Encounter.
When I first met the Blue Water Lily, it was during a five-hour swim at a special swimming hole known as the Tea-tree Lakes situated in the sub-tropical climate of northern NSW. As I floated and swam and chatted to my friend who I was with, I kept feeling drawn to go and swim amongst these lilies that shone like jewels in the midday sun. At intervals, I’d breathe in deeply the exquisite fragrance. I drank in the Lily’s essence as it wove its way into my soul, and the most notable effects lasted a full three months after this first beautiful encounter. It inspired the piece written above, and yet I didn’t feel ready to publish it at the time. I still felt stuck, as though I was still seeking to do it justice. So, I began to work with other preparations of the plant over the course of the year. I experimented with drinking a tea made from the dried flowers, and taking drops of a spagyric tincture made from the fresh flowers. But that initial meeting and the stirring it caused within me paved the way for the second meeting not four days ago. And I feel that it had to work through the physical and clear the inherited shame and guilt related to sensuality then in order to reveal the deeper insights which came next.
The insights which followed have come much from observing the Doctrine of Signatures of the plant (that is, ascertaining its tissue and organ affinities or its sphere of action by its appearance and how it appeals to the senses). As the physical healing of the emotional wounds held within the spheres of physical sensuality gave rise to the heart-connection of compassion, this then opened up a higher vibration again, because suddenly I had the eyes to see it. That of the spiritual lessons to be learned and internalised.
“Consider the lilies, and how they grow. They neither toil or spin, and I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these.” (Luke 12:26)
The context of where the plant chooses to grow is as much a part of the Doctrine of Signatures as what the plant looks like, how it feels, how it tastes, how it smells, and how it sounds. In this regard, the Blue Lily that lives within my heart grows in a freshwater lake (a remnant of sand-mining carried out in the region many decades ago) close to the beach, so it has a sandy bed to anchor its roots into. The lake is situated within an indigenous reserve surrounded by groves of Tea-tree (Leptospermum and Melaleuca spp.) – Australian natives, and the lake’s water is tinged a rusty colour because of the tea-tree’s tannins and oils. The tea-tree itself carries many medicinal properties and an interesting history. Many will be familiar with the essential oil extracted from its leaves which has anti-septic and anti-fungal properties, as well as being an uplifting and refreshing scent. The tea-trees are so-called because early settlers used the leaves as a substitute for china tea (Camelia sinensis). The Australian Bush Flower essence of the Peach-flowered Tea-tree (Leptospermum squarrosum) is for people who experience extreme mood swings, who have trouble committing to and following through with various projects due to becoming easily bored, and hypochondriacs. It helps people take responsibility for their own health without being pre-occupied by it.
Even from this brief look at where the lily grows, we see a picture emerging.
The sandy bottom is symbolic of the foundations we ‘build our house on’. Our core values and belief systems, and what we put our trust in. It has been written;
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does them, shall be like a wise man who built his house on the rock, and the rain came down, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not do them, shall be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand, and the rain came down, and the floods came, and the wind blew, and they beat on that house, and it fell, and great was its fall.”
There are two aspects to where the lily puts down its roots that illustrate these words. The first is that in propagating the lily, it needs a soil mix of coarse sand, aged manure, and loamy potting mix. This creates a muddy, nutrient rich mire from which the seed can sprout and begin to send up its leaves and then finally a long upright stem. This mix needs the manure to hold it together or it will break up and the soil will float away when watering. The Lily itself doesn’t like to grow in turbulent or fast-moving water. Perhaps because it knows that it could quite easily get swept away. Once the roots are established though, in a lake, damn or pond, it snuggles in quite contentedly around the waters edge. Where it grows in the tea-tree lakes, the edges of the lake are re-enforced by the roots of the tea-trees, providing some stability, protection, and a foothold in which many of the lilies take root. This dependency is interesting in itself.
Water is usually symbolic of the emotional state of a person. Dreams of turbulent and rough seas often belie some inner emotional turmoil, whereas dreams of still millponds and lakes usually typify satisfaction or contentment around a situation. In this context, the lakes are still and serene. Swimming and floating there is very calming and relaxing, and a very peaceful experience. The lakes are away from the hustle and bustle of civilisation – even that of small country towns. The people who visit sense and respect the serenity, keep to themselves and sitting almost hidden amongst the groves of ti-tree, reveal themselves only to swim in blissful meditation. Occasionally, clothing is optional for some visitors but still a sense of peace and respectful distance pervades.
The water, being tinted with the constituents of the ti-tree is like swimming in a herbal-infused bath. After swimming there, people comment on the softness of their skin and hair, the freshness of their scent. It’s a cleansing experience. The worries and foolishness of the world is washed away.
From here the lilies verdant green round leaves float on the water’s surface, a covering for small freshwater fish, a landing pad for the iridescent dragonflies that dart and hover across the lake, or a shelter for small frogs and other tiny creatures seeking rest. Green is the colour of the energetic heart. It symbolises abundance, fertility, welcome and compassion. The fact that much of the vegetation that covers the planet is green echoes the compassion of Divine providence.
Green stems – sometimes single, sometimes a few, then arise straight and upright from the centre of the plant, with a single bud on each stem that blossoms into the Lily’s most precious jewel – it’s flower. The flower is ethereal, radiant and captivating – in design, to look at and to smell. The purple/blue hue of the petals are symbolic of intuition and spiritual vision – the ability to see both the forest and the trees, and the holographic pattern that sustains all of creation. The petals are arranged in a radiating pattern – like a bright and glorious star that permeates all things, sees all things. The centre of the lily flowers is, quite literally, its crowning glory. The bright white-merging with golden hue of its stamens reflect our crown, where we are infused in the womb with the light of Life and we connect with the Divine. (One could argue that it’s golden yellow centre could also reflect the solar plexus and its representation of intestinal fortitude and core grounding and connection between the spiritual and the physical, and perhaps it has that aspect as well, but my initial sense was of the crown and its openness to the Divine. The pattern of colours invokes a sense of the ethereal rather than the material) It also speaks of our Higher calling, or purpose in life. Again, we see these stamens tipped with the indigo of intuition and spiritual vision. We might also see the merging of male and female in these patterns. The divine expression of both attributes complementing each other.
I had opportunity to meditate on and integrate this deeper, more embodied essence of the Nymphaea caerulea two days ago. Having ventured some 700kms north of our home to sit with the Lily, and catch up with family and friends, my plans for the rest of our visit were thwarted when my car broke down. I was forced to cut my trip a couple of days short, as the car was unable to be fixed by the roadside assistance mechanic and the best option was to have the car towed all the way home. So, during the wait for the initial Roadside Assistance, and then the tow truck, and then the 8-hour journey back home in the cab of the tow truck (thankfully it was air-conditioned) I had ample time to reflect. I realised that the things of the man-made world are foolishness and unstable. The Lily reminded me to rise above this, to wash away my bad attitude and wash away the worries associated with my car breaking down and the initial panic of what I needed to do about it. It reminded me to have compassion for my sixteen-year old son who was my traveling companion and also had his plans to spend time with his friends changed. Above all it reminded me to put my trust in a Higher power, my Creator and God who sustains all, and for some reason allowed this to happen. It allowed me to raise my consciousness. As it turned out, if anything could be gained from the experience, it gave me opportunity to consider the Lily and how it grows, and I gained the vision to see its patterns and its teachings. To me this is true euphoria, because it doesn’t just reside in the sacral/sensual centre, it connects the spirit, the mind, and the body and points the focus back to the Divine to let it guide me and direct me.
The Blue Water Lily is a glorious creation. A beacon of peace, of soul nourishment, and a deep joy, a hope in a turbulent world. Perhaps next year, I shall make a flower essence from it and make it available to all. In the meantime, its scent lingers on my nose, its quintessential nature lives in my heart. The journey continues. I hope that you also have the opportunity to meet with this beauty and infuse your life with its joy.
Nymphaea caerulea (Blue Water Lily, Sacred Lily of the Nile)
Constituents: volatile oils, apomorphine, flavonoids, kaempferol, phytosterols, alkaloids, posphodiastrates, nuciferine, nupharine, nupharidine, quercitin, nymphayol, starch, tannins, catechins, and saponins.
Tastes: sweet, astringent, bitter
Fragrance:a sheer, light earthy-floral, musky, slightly green, sultry, sweet-aromatic, sensual, ephemeral.
Tissue/Organ/System affinities: mucous membranes, pancreas, nervous system, digestive system, urinary and reproductive system. Sacral plexus. Heart centre. Crown and Pineal energy centres.
Virtues: euphoric, mild sedative/hypnotic, anxiolytic, astringent (flowers) demulcent (rhizomes), cardiotonic (flowers), mild bitter.
Parts Used:Flower, buds, stem, rhizomes, leaves.
Traditional Preparations & Usage: dried flowers steeped in wine. The dried flower smoked. Water infusions of the leaves and flowers. The starchy rhizomes have been traditionally eaten. It is also used as a water purification plant. Used extensively in Ayurvedic and Unani Tibb medicine in digestive disorders, to calm the emotions, as an aphrodisiac, and as a cardiotonic. It has also been used to regulate menstruation, in leucorrhoea and other female discharges. It has also shown anti-microbial and immunomodulating actions and the seeds, flowers and leaves are infused in a topical wash for the treatment of skin infections.
Potential Therapeutic Uses: Researchers in India found in 2016 that the seeds and rhizomes proved effective in controlling the blood glucose and lipid levels in persons suffering from Type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Combines well with: rose and damiana (self-nurturing, useful for menopause)