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“Magic means to see All Heaven in a flower”
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Bits of history
The creation of gardens is definitely one of humanity’s earliest achievements.
Gardens appear in the most antique writings, and our word “paradise” has it’s origin in the
Arabian word “paridaeza” – hunting park. The beautiful leisure gardens of Mesopotamia, Babylon and Ancient Egypt have inspired the Jewish authors, who had left the mss, which have inspired the description of the garden of Eden in the bible.
Legend tells about the hanging gardens of Queen Semiramis; paintings of gardens decorate the walls of the ancient Egyptian tombs.
The ancient Egyptians had gardens at least from 2.800 BC onwards. Their gardens had developed from vineyards and orchards into pleasure gardens.
The Egyptian garden had a rectangular outline with flower beds, shadow giving vines and a pool or pond in the middle, as irrigation is the most important point of gardening in the hot and dry climate of the area.
The garden was a place to grow flowers and to enjoy shadow and water during the heat of the day. Sometimes lotuses were floating on the rectangular pond’s surface in the middle of the garden.
Flower decorations were part of the ancient Egyptian culture: flowers and flower garlands were offered to the deities, especially to the goddesses.
Banquet tables and wine jugs were decorated with flowery garlands, and people were wearing flowers in their hair.
A whole profession made their living of the winding of flowery garlands and wreaths. For a lady of class in ancient Egypt it would have been as inconceivable to appear without a lovely wreath of flowers at a society event as it had been for the Victorian lady to leave the house without a hat.
The Phoenician inhabitants of Byblos and neighbouring communities performed in their sacred grove spring rites to celebrate the resurrection of Adonis, youthful lover of the goddess Astarte.
The red anemone, which had according to myth it’s colour from the blood of dying Adonis, was growing here under the grove’s walnut trees.
In the groves, dedicated to Astarte and Adonis, the assembled worshippers offered tiny “gardens of Adonis” to the goddess and her lover. The “offering gardens” consisted of baskets or earthen pots, planted with several flowers, wheat, fennel and barley.
These rites were celebrated in Greece, Alexandria and western Asia, where the Phoenicians had their trading stations. Phoenicians are mainly known as skilful sailors and merchants, but they were skilful gardeners, too.
At the time, when Homer wrote down his Iliad they were commercial nurserymen and shipped their shrubs and ornamental trees all over the Mediterranean.
Ancient Greece had gardens and parks. Often a sacred grove had developed into a park like landscape. First there was a sacred grove with a well, lake or river. The first statues were put up – in most cases these were marble statues of the nymph, who reigned the well or river that nourished the sacred grove.
We do not have many resilient facts on the gardens of Ancient Greece, as it is the nature of gardens to be bio-degradable. Anyway, we know that they had fruit trees – pears, apples, pomegranates, olives and figs.
From these orchards the pleasure gardens developed, and flowers were raised for the decoration of altars and statues as well as for wreaths, which were worn at annual festivals, in processions and at other society events.
Beside the decorative purposes of flowers their fragrance was so important, that they were the chief crop in industrial gardens, which supplied the makers of unguents and perfumes.
On the daily flower markets of “violet-wreathed Athens” customers could choose from a variety of violets and roses, hyacinths, lilies, anemones, crocuses, iris, myrtle, lilies, narcissus as well as several sorts of fragrant shrubs – all that was available for the friend of gardening in Ancient Greece.
Flower girls went from house to house to sell the floral content of their willow baskets.
The garden of Ancient Rome hosted a mix of fruit trees, flowers and vegetables. The flowers were used for the decoration of the temples, sepulchres and the domestic shrines of the Lares and Penates.
The expansion of the Roman Empire and rising wealth of the upper class enabled the rich to have huge pleasure gardens created for them. A fish pond and artificial rivulets often were part of the Roman pleasure gardens.
Descriptions, which were left to us by authors as Cato and the younger Pliny, and archeo – botanical research have lead to a copious knowledge about gardening in Ancient Rome.
The Roman villa had a portico, opening upon a terrace, the open air living room, which was surrounded with flower beds. Crocuses , lilies, violets and other colourful and fragrant flowers pleased eyes and nose, and the babbling fountain accompanied the songs of blackbird and nightingale.
Bushes as box – buxus – often trimmed in fantastic shapes, surrounded that part of the garden.
The lower garden, which was connected to the upper one by steps or a grassy ramp had been planted with shadow granting trees. Pomegranate, citron and quince were found in many Roman gardens, and their fruits were used for both, food and decoration.
Laurel and oleander for decorative purposes were part of that planting, too.
Flower beds of roses, hyacinths and asters spread their fragrance in this part of the garden – the ambulatio.
Often the gardens of the wealthy upper class had a third section: the gestatio, a shaded avenue, were the owner enjoyed riding or walking. This part had been bordered by dwarf plane trees or fanciful cut box trees.
The medieval garden
Gardening in the west of Europe and in Britain has been inspired by the Romans and the herb gardens of the monasteries. These had a “hortus” – the vegetable garden and the “herbularius” – the herb garden.
In continental Europe the influence of Charlemagne’s laws had been a main factor in the development of gardening. In the Capitulare de villis vel curtis imperii, Charlemagne suggests more than 100 plants – trees, vegetables and herbs, which should be grown in the gardens, fields and vineyards of his empire.
The list includes herbs as angelica archangelica, several sorts of menthae – mint, marshmallow – althaea officinalis and sempervivum tectorum – Thor’s beard, which was thought to protect the house against damage through lightning.
A path to paradise
Greek mythology knows the garden of the Hesperides, located on an island in the west.
Pindar describes it:
“There round the islands of the Blessed
The ocean breezes blow,
And golden flowers are glowing,
Some on trees of splendour growing
And some the water feedeth.
Fair wreaths they yield, wherewith
The happy ones do twine their hands.”
The image of a lovely garden or park appears in the ideas of otherworldly realms in many religions and spiritual traditions all over the world. In European fairy tales gardens are often presented as places of enchantment and mystery.
Mother Hulda is living in a beautiful garden, a paradisal otherworldly realm for those, who don’t go to Walhalla, as that place was reserved for those, who had died in battle.
The goddess Iduna is living in a lovely garden, where she cares for the fruit trees, which carry the fruits of everlasting youth, that are nourishing the deities of Asgard.
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goddess of limitless compassion
When autumn storms are blowing and howling over the fields it is time for tales and myths.
So let us make a journey to ancient China, where in temples and farmhouses people love to listen to the storyteller; and one of their audience’s favourite stories is the tale about the transformation of princess Miao Chan into the goddess Kwan Yin, goddess of mercy, of limitless compassion and saviour of souls.
How the princess Miao Chan became a goddess
Once upon the time there lived a king, who had three daughters. The youngest of them was Princess Miao Chan, who had been a lot more interested in meditation and studying of the sacred writings of the Buddha than in the how-to-be-a-princess lectures, which her parents wanted her to learn.
So the king decided to pretend accepting his daughter’s decision to become a nun. He had her brought to a monastery and secretly he ordered the inhabitants to have the princess doing the hardest work with nearly no time to sleep or rest for her.
But happily Miao Chan fulfilled all the tasks, which had been given to her. She never complained, and the animals, who were seeing her working day and night without slumber, decided to assist her in doing all the hard work.
The king, when realising, that his plan did not work, furiously ordered his mem to burn down the monastery.
But his daughter put out the fire with her hands, and not a single flame left it’s singe on the maiden’s flawless skin.
Her father threatened her and had her beaten, but the princess still refused to marry, and still she wanted to live her life dedicated to the teachings of the Buddha.
As neither threats nor violence would change the girl’s mind, the king decided that the disobedient princess has to be decapitated. The small company had reached the place of the execution; the hangman lifted his axe.
At this moment the sky darkened, and only the vivid flashing of lightnings illuminated the place.
The tutelary deity of the place appeared in the shape of a giant tiger with glowing green eyes. Miao Chan mounted the tiger, and together they disappeared in the darkness. The tiger carried the princess to his residence, the fragrant mountain forest.
But she couldn’t enjoy this beautiful place for long, as Yama, god of the dead and lord of the underworld kidnapped her and brought her to his hell. Not unlike the purgatory of Christian belief or the dark home of the goddess Allat in Babylonian mythology the home of Yama is a playing ground of demons, a place of punishment, of torture and of suffering.
Now Miao Chan, instead of being tortured by the demons, enchanted them by playing beautiful tunes on her flute, and flowers were growing from the hellish ground, and they began to bloom, wherever the kidnapped princess sat her feet.
Seeing the suffering of the tortured souls, Miao Chan released all the good karma, which she had accumulated by her spiritual practice in many lifetimes, so that the unfortunate inhabitants of Yama’s realm were released for another cycle of incarnations.
Now the Lord of the underworld had to witnesses with disgust how by the mere presence of the princess his hell was beginning to change into a paradise, a place of beauty with blossoming flowers breathing their fragrance and radiating in most beautiful colours, birds singing in the branches of trees, loaded with all kinds of fruits. Yama, fearing that his hell might be ruined completely by that young female, spreading her flower-power, peace-love and compassion magic, sent her instantly back to the place in the fragrant mountain forest, where he had found her.
Again the princess followed her spiritual path – reciting her favourite sutra, the lotus sutra, and meditating in the forest, when Buddha appeared to her to give her the advice to go to Potala, the Blessed Land, and to give herself up in meditation there.
He presented his loyal acolyte with a peach from the garden of the deities. The magical fruit did not only preserve her from hunger and thirst for a whole year; eating from that peach also assured her eternal life.
The friendly spirit tiger appeared once again and carried Miao Chan to the place, which the Buddha had recommended to her.
Having reached the destination the princess stayed there for nine years meditating and practising compassion. She healed her father from a deadly illness, and finally her parents took refuge to the Buddha.
This is one version of the popular tale about how the princess Miao Chan became the goddess Kwan Yin, saviour of sentient beings, removing all obstacles to their attaining of Buddha Amitabha’s paradise. The goddess herself refused to stay there as long as any sentient being is excluded.
Bits of history and a scandalous outfit
The legend of Kwan Yin had been written down in 1102 AD. Buddhist, Hindu and Taoist deities appear on it’s stage; and indeed Kwan Yin is a goddess, who is worshipped by Chinese Buddhists and followers of the Tao likewise.
Her name Guan Yin is the Chinese translation of Avalokitesvara – literally he, who looks down upon sound, meaning ” he, who perceives the cries of the sentient beings who need help”.
Avalokitesvara is one of the Boddhisattvas, worshipped in Mahayana Buddhism and being able to appear in male or female form.
photo above by Jean Pierre Dalbera Continue reading “Kwan Yin”