Tuesday 23 September 2014

52 FLOWERS: 49 Vervain

Vervain Close-upVervain is from the last section of 52 Flowers That Shook My World, Flower- mind. It is one of the unpublished pieces that focus on the invisible, solar aspect of the plant world - some of the flowers and trees that have been connected with the 'spirituality' of different cultures and its bonds through time. 

A small flower with a long history for Autumn equinox 2015. 

brightwell-cum-sotwell, oxfordshire 02

It’s a beautiful little house. You want to walk up the path and sit there in the garden amongst the flowers. The people who open the door are friendly and will let you wander about the garden, sit in the wooden armchairs the former owner of the house once made with his own hands, rest by the shady pool where the flowers surround you in all their colours in the brilliant July heat.

Mount Vernon is the house where the 'inventor' of flower essences, Dr Bach, lived for the last years of his hard-working life. By the time he arrived in the small Oxfordshire village he had already formulated the first 12 healers of his 38 flower cannon and the second 7 helpers in the English and Welsh countryside. In the nearby lanes he found the last 19 and finalised a formula, known as Rescue Remedy, his famous and well-loved mixture of star of Bethlehem, clematis, rock rose, impatiens and cherry plum.

The year was 1934, a hard time in history but a great unleashing of modern expression and ancient wisdoms that brought many original thinkers and seers to the fore. There was a longing for a new world and there were radical moves away from conventional thinking towards a deeper consciousness. One was made by a young Welsh bacteriologist, who influenced by these spiritual explorations, left a conventional Harley Street practice, and began to work on a set of seven homeopathic remedies for chronic conditions of the bowel.

As he sat beside his patients in the Homeopathic Hospital in London, he found that it was not the physical disease but the mind-set and emotional state of the people that determined their treatment. The same temperaments needed the same remedy irrespective of the disease. He began to treat these bacterial diseases with great success (the seven Bach nosodes are still in use today) but disliking the impure nature of homeopathic essences, he started to work with wild flowers. The first plant he worked with was a monkeyflower by a stream in Wales. It was his first remedy: for Fear of Known Things.

For the rest of his life, the doctor worked with flowers. He walked the length and breadth of Southern Britain, from Wales to Norfolk investigating the effects of flowers on human physiognomy and eventually gave up his medical practice entirely.  From homeopathy he took the method of succussion to extract the invisible workings of the plant material and form the basis of the mother essence. And he also took the practices of proving and profiling.  

Proving entails working with the quality of a given substance or plant, testing it on yourself, noting its particular effects (most medicine plants or substance contain both cause and cure, so that if you deliberately take a treatment when you are well, it will bring on the symptoms that plant or substance will treat). Bach reversed this process: when he found himself suffering from various emotional and mental states he would walk into the countryside and find the flowers that could release him from his torments.  

Profiling is the matching of a type of personality to the corresponding energetic structure of a plant or substance (e.g. a belladonna type, an arsenic type). Along the homeopathic principle of like cures like, the remedy stimulates conditions within your being that releases constricting patterns. As Bach experienced his own states of bitterness, loneliness, anxiety and so on, he built up a canon of “types” that corresponded to the character of the plants.

The first flowers and trees he worked with he called the Twelve Healers. The number was no accident. Deeply esoteric, a Mason, with a keen interest in astrology, the Healers corresponded to the twelve zodiacal signs, Each plant represented not a personality but a soul-type. In the esoteric tradition, each person is present on earth to undergo one of the twelve lessons of the soul, based on the ancient principle of reincarnation. The flower essences helped to remind you of your particular soul-lesson, your challenges, your strengths and weaknesses. Illnesses occurred due to a clash or separation between your ego and your soul, and in these cases the Healers could act as a bridge.

Dr Bach played down the astrological correspondences of his work, preferring to promote a simple system of remedies. The second nineteen of his canon addressed the seven categories of emotional and mental state and make no reference to the soul.  His followers in turn, and indeed most modern practitioners, downplayed the spiritual aspects of his work. Fifty years later it is hard if you go up to the door of Mount Vernon to see these underlying influences in the normal-looking brick cottage, amongst the familiar labelled bottles on the shelves. And yet they are there.

I had not taken any of the remedies when I sat in the garden. But I knew most of the plants and had explored some of their correspondences with Bach’s system.  I had stood under the shivering leaves of an aspen and shaken with unknown fears, dreamed of a honeysuckle that pulled me adroitly back from the past, felt the cleansing energy of crab apple blossom in a Welsh hedgerow. But some of the flowers did not correspond as neatly as the remedies suggested.. Some of them in fact struggled within the fixed and narrow band the flower essences had placed them.  One of them appeared to have no time for it at all.


As I walked through the gate at Mount Vernon my eyes lit up: a giant turquoise dragonfly, an aesthena, was resting on a dead rose, and beneath them there was a vervain plant in full flower. Before my mind had even time to name it, my face had broken into one of those deep broad smiles that come when you have wanted to see a plant for a long time and one day chance upon it. For years I had read about these 'inconspicuous' wayside plants with their mighty reputations. And here suddenly it was. Vervain has been called the king of the herbs but you wouldn’t realise why at first glance. Nor it is easy to come across in the wild.

Once you find it, however, you know it forever. It has a dry bushy form with typical wavy verbena leaves, but it is the flowers that immediately arrest your attention – hundreds of tiny mauve and white flower that shine at the end of a myriad stiff stems. When you take a second look you see a complex head with a hundred eyes on stalks, looking at you like an ancient mythical creature, and you cannot but help stare back, your own eyes whizzing about, delighted, not knowing on which petalled point to rest your gaze. Oh, a seer plant! I thought, as I stood transfixed by its luminescence, as you might be caught spellbound by the sudden sight of stars in the nightsky.

Vervain is a traditional herbal medicine for the eyes, as well as a peerless nerve tonic, working on the human nervous system as an anti-depressant, relaxant, sedative and anti-spasmodic for tense and jittery stomachs. Its bitter-tasting leaves restore the body after illness, allay fevers and anxiety, migraine and virus colds. But it is more famous as a plant of the spiritual realms, as a talisman flower, a fortune-teller’s plant, a protector and luck-bringer that throughout history has been sought to ward off plague, avert evil, bad spells, calamity and in more modern usage, to heal holes in the aura. It was once an altar plant (its Latin name verbena means altar) claimed by both Druid and Roman priests and is the chief of the nine sacred Anglo-Saxon herbs. In some Celtic lands it was known simply as “the herb” and so highly regarded that you had to wait for one to be bestowed upon your garden.

In Dr Bach’s system. these high leadership qualities in the homeopathic system of “like cures like” becomes a remedy for righteousness, unrealistic idealism, over-enthusiasm (especially in regard to ambitions for humanity) and burn-out.
“Vervain is for those with fixed principles and ideas, which they are confident are right, and which they very rarely change, they have a great wish to convert all round them to their own views of life. They are strong of will and have much courage when they are convinced of those things that they wish to teach. In illness they struggle on long after many have given up their duties”.
Vervain was one of Bach’s core remedies, one of the original twelve. In his system of astrological correspondence in which the placement of the moon is an indication of soul-type, Vervain corresponds with those born with the moon in the fiery fixed sign of Leo. Which made the doctor of flowers  a 'Vervain'.


Nothing happened in the garden. We sat in the doctor’s chairs. We sat in on the garden bench, and it felt comely and sound in the way you sometimes feel in Wales with the wild and mythic just out of reach beyond the tidy stone walls. The flowers were at their height and grew in profusion: monkeyflowers edged the pond, great stands of blue chicory and St johns wort surrounded the bench, roses tumbled over the doors. It was beautiful and yet something troubled me: what was it?

I found I could not speak about my experience. Afterwards I realised I had felt walled in  and unable to think for myself, trapped in the garden of a dead man. And then I had felt the flowers, all 38 of them trapped, like thousands of minute geniis in a bottle, waiting to serve sick and neurotic human beings who never would meet them, never talk with them or know their beauty and intelligence,, and I shuddered. After this day, I would not make a flower essence again.
Mount Vernon had been bequeathed to Bach’s devoted assistants and now has become a monument to the man and his work, as well as a training centre. Like many of the original spiritual thinkers and mystics of this time, Bach depended on his followers to transmit his discoveries. And, like other great men who depart and put their systems in the hands of followers, difficulties often ensue in the houses they leave behind. No one is ever the match of the original. There is a struggle to emulate the man who now takes on a holy hue: more Krishnamurti than thou, more Gurdgieffian than thou. Confined in the centres preserved by the faithful, it is hard to encounter the original energy of their creators. It is difficult to trace the doctor of flowers, to discover what led him to those conclusions about vervain. You are faced with a system that is fixed and perfected.: 38 formulas, 12 healers, 7 Helpers. You sit in the garden of Mount Vernon, and feel repressed by the quiet-voiced, white-coated people in the house.

You don’t want to and yet you cannot help feeling controlled by the business of healing, by the relegating of your soul to a type. You try and find out about the man, only to find that he has erased his own steps. His followers, adherents of the perfect system, offer few clues. You know however that the man was not perfect, he was impatient (many considered Bach an Impatiens soul-type) and that those chairs in his old consulting room were not constructed out of fancy, but from lack of funds (the doctor famously never charged for his flower treatments).

In between the glowing reports published out of Mount Vernon and in his own modest literary output you discover he died at 50 from exhaustion, weakened by a near-fatal illness suffered whilst working in a war hospital. Like many inventors and creators, Bach underwent a demanding alchemical process - the burning of dross, the darkness of melancholy, social rejection, the interior tussle with the formulation of new ideas, as he  faced the complexity of the cosmos, saw the stars of the vervain sparkle overhead. And yet of this personal struggle, there is no report.

The problem with spirituality is that it leaves out the creative, experiential process behind any original work. The creator is sacrificed for the system, his head laid upon the altar. He dismantles his own path in favour of the goal. What rules in his place are the managers of the system, the high priests of temples and pyramids, the secret masters skulking in Himalayan caves, under the Gobi desert floor.  

The doctor wishes the ideal to work, the soul-types to work, for the pure and simple flowers to be the solution for all our ills, when we are on a planet teeming with bacteria and complexity.The doctor wishes the hospitals to be clear calm places where the state of the soul is considered first before any remedy is sought, but the reality is they are filled with the maimed and the wounded from the trenches. In the ideal Bach world you move gently and quietly. You do not get impatient, get cancer, walk away from two marriages, face being struck off by the GMA and have to suffer every day.  

After an operation on his spleen in 1917, Dr Bach looked at death every day for nineteen years. But he doesn’t write  like this. He erases the underworld, the poison, the war hospitals, his own pain and poverty. He wants to get as far as possible away from those intestines and their filthy, chronic states, to render something intensely complex, pure and simple, without stain. All vice can be cured he declares, by flooding ourselves with its opposite virtue, as he sluices his ravaged body in cool water, dresses himself in white robes, sets out to make a flower essence in the purity of the early day.

Still the vervain waits in the garden, and still I feel uncomfortable with this altar plant within my sights. In his elegant, if now old-fashioned, pamphlet Bach begins his discourse with the statement that all disease has one cause, which is action against Unity and these actions are divided into types: “the real primary disease in man are defects: pride, cruelty, hate, ignorance, instability and greed. All these versions of self-love, every one can be cured by flooding it with our selfless devotion to serving humanity”. Our vice, he wrote, is our great challenge, “or there would no no need for our existence here”.

But when the people came to his surgery, sat in this room, in the depression of the Thirties, when the spectre of the Great War had ripped through every family and village in the land, did he see this too as their souls wanting a lesson?  Did he not ask himself, as they sat opposite him in those wooden chairs, that if this ancient, all-knowing system worked, that after all these aeons, we would have learned our lessons by now, and be treating each other and the planet in a more enlightened way?

And does not the plant with its myriad eyes still shine the garden by the gate and ask us to see what lies beyond the ever-whirling zodiac?


It is the in-between times in middle England, when we are returning from Wales, trying to find a home. The following day after visiting Mount Vernon, I go to Oxford, to walk the towpaths and the nearby territories of our former plant inquiry. Beneath the great lime tree thrumming with bees I collect lime flowers in a brown paper bag for tea, collect St John’s wort flowers in the resplendent wasteground for oil. It is a hot day, and the river sparkles and beckons with its rich scent of water. I sit on the bank and cool my feet in its green shallows; the river flowers - skullcap, purple loosestrife, hemp agrimony and gipsywort - shimmer all about me. A barge goes by slowly. Small boys leap off the bridge and splash into the pool by Port Meadow. The willows and black poplar leaves rustle in a small breeze.

In the garden you are in a small space, in limbo, and someone else is in control. People are looking out of windows. The plants by the river live in big time, outside history, beyond this control, out of the garden. They don’t see the walls. They don’t even see you sitting there, unless you get down to their wavelength. They are getting on with life. You with your vices, your self-love, your controlling gardening shears, what are you getting on with?

Here I am considering the 38 flowers of the Bach canon, surrounded by those outside the system, considering myself as a social description, a soul-type, a personality, a state, and find I do not fit. Outside the garden, the wild plants live in their own worlds:  the horse chestnuts fly through the sky and rain conkers on the garage roof. The aspen creaks in the salt wild, the crab apple holds you in her embrace on a summer’s day. I have come to earth, like everyone else, to serve experience: to sit by the one who is dying, to suffer my own failure, to lose the sight of the land I have loved and my companions. To find a new home in a dark time. I have learned to forge meaning from all these experiences. Meaning can be found, I have realised, in the most difficult of circumstances, even in prison and war, as poets and seers frequently have told us. But this is not to excuse the prison, the empire or the wheel.

At some point you have to question the altar on which you lay your head.


Bach’s estotericism, his love for his brother masons with whom he kept close contact, even in his most isolated years at Mount Vernon, had bound him to a ancient wheel. His soul-types belong to a belief system that says all souls have to undergo the challenges of the twelve constellations. It is a rigid system that insists that earth is a kind of school of hard knocks for human beings, so that we can be made perfect, like diminutive well-behaved gods.

The problem with esotericism is that it is esoteric, that is hidden. Decrees about your destiny have made by special and high-ranking entities behind closed doors, and yours is not to question them. When you consider your soul’s challenge, you do not consider the parlous condition of the civilisation you find yourself in. Least of all do you look at the brotherhoods of man, secret societies, priesthood’s that are central to all of them.

All Western esoteric traditions and healing systems originate within the sanctum of Empire and everything within them, hidden or on show, is made to serve its cause: the vervain that lies on the bloody Roman altar, the laurel leaves inhaled by the priestesses of Delphi, the mushrooms taken by Aztec high priest, the flower essences that consolidate our consumer lifestyle. When healing asks us, as Bach does, to consider the soul, it puts all responsibility of the world’s difficulty on our shoulders and diverts our gaze from Empire. You did something wrong, now you need to fix-it! If you were good and clean, these diseases would not come to you! In this taking of total responsibility, in performing this perfect service expected of you, you are leaving something vital out, something that the vervain is supposedly curing: your acute sense of injustice, the fire of your indignation, your Self.
“We should strive to be so gentle, so quiet, so patiently helpful that we move among our fellow man more as a breath of air or a ray of sunshine, ever ready to help them when they ask: but never forcing them to our views.” (from Vervain – The Twelve Healers)
On the great wheel of reincarnation, you quietly accept your lot, whatever you station. Like the caste system of India, it is a matter of karma, not history that you are where you are and who you are. You do not question whether there is any real sense in the human world, or that it is fair that the man in the mansion is the man in the mansion and that you serve him. This is not because you are not capable of asking such a question, but because you cannot see the manifested world clearly, as it is; you see it divided into vice and virtue, morally shaped, idealistically-bound, by the spirituality and the gods that you admire.

July 2002 - Meadowsweet - Thames
Unbound, I sit by the shining river, feet immersed in green water, beside meadowsweet and purple-flowering mint. By 2002 I have listened to too many quiet and humble people, with their all-powerful opinions about the cosmos, with their ideas of perfection, of ultimate reality, with their squeaky-clean ideals, with their temple fantasies about Egypt and Rome, with their notions of Mother India with her masters and karmas, followers of the world’s wise healers and all their wise wounds. I have sat in the Quaker House library and come to my own conclusions about the great white brotherhood of saints and martyrs. I have argued too many nights and days with fellow travellers across blue tables, where the only reason we are at odds with another, are in a realms none of us wish to look too deeply into.

We should have looked at all the ramifications, and deconstructed the wheel. But we didn’t. We were too busily persuading each other to flood ourselves with virtues, to shakes our souls free from entangling relationships, playing doctor, medicine man, priestess and missionary. To see the wheel you need to look at everything, all at once, objectively, with your vervain eyes. And though it appears noble to alleviate suffering, to offer advice, no one in this business of helping and healing is able to look at what created that suffering in the first place, with the facts of history in front of our eyes. Without considering our own experience within that history, we are blind.

And the plant, the vervain that stands by the gate in the brilliant July sunshine, what does it have to say? The vervain flashes its lights. Switch it all on! The plant is no way the servant of any civilisation or its gods, of Jupiter or Thor, Jehovah or Ra. It is entirely a being in its own right, in whom we seek guidance on how to proceed along the way. The vervain includes everything, all stars in the sky, not just one. Spirituality works within a narrow band, a duality of right and wrong, within the simplification of an artificial linear system, rather than within the complexity of living systems. Its creed: if only you people behaved properly the world would be all right! Its spokesmen, the priests and the doctors, speak on behalf of the wheel of humanity, not for the earth or the human heart. To question its supremacy, you have to go to the river, feel its flow around your feet, revisit the garden in your mind’s eye, with the flower that stands beside you.


Originally the plant did not come alone. It came with two companions, which the flower guides will tell you are watermint, the wild mint of the English river, and meadowsweet, the rose of the wetlands. The guide books do not say why these humble plants once held special divinitory powers for the Celts, any more than they say why vervain is chieftain over the nine herbs, the Anglo-Saxon lucnunga, which include the other great roadside plants, plantain and fennel. You have to see for yourself why this is so.

I did not come across vervain during our original flower inquiry in Oxford, but I did find it in French Joe Canyon one awkward afternoon with Mimi and Francisco. There was a stand of the American blue-eyed vervain under a white oak. I sat beside the flowers among the scratchy grasses a while, and afterwards went swimming in a waterhole. I realised that this trio of ancient 'visioning' plants were about seeing in time. The meadowsweet was about seeing into the past, the watermint, the future. Vervain was about the present, about seeing in all-at-once time, many eyes in one place time. Seeing what is staring you in the face.

Born in a fallen house in a fallen time, I could never make any claim for purity, nor did I ever seek to become an immaculate abstainer, born-again, an example to all unfortunates. How could I? The solar path is an alchemical path, a medicine path, a poison path. The old habits you kick become your katchina; your once before loves, your materia. The blue pill, the tin of tobacco, the glass of vodka, the elicit affair. These substances are neither your shame nor your enemy, resisting them has given you the inner strength to walk from Empire. Like all creators, your struggle has kept the flame of spirit burning inside your heart. With this flame you can hold the poison of the rose:  spring cherry, wild plum, crab apple, meadowsweet,

The poison of the rose is particular. The source of prussic acid and cyanide, it is a taste you sometimes catch biting into the kernel of an apricot or peach. The poison’s characteristic odour of bitter almonds is most striking in meadowsweet, once highly esteemed as a strewing herb in Elizabethan parlours and dining halls. When you bring the fragrance of this rose to the doctor’s house, something unexpected happens.

In Oxford the queen of the meadow stands tall in the waterlands: fluffy-headed, scented, mysterious. The wild mint by the bank stands like young god, laughing, with horns on his head. The Thames sparkles alongside them. United with its companions, the vervain flashes its lights, no longer dusty and dry by the roadside. In the Arizona canyon I had swum alongside the little garter snake in sharp-cold rainwater and afterwards lay naked on the rocks to dry. Something troubled my heart as my companions gathered their healing plants beneath the shadow of the red rocks. Something vital between us was missing.

You enter the garden, coming from the outside, bringing your experience of those difficult moments with plants and flowers with you, bringing fluidity in your wake. The meadowsweet and the mint live beyond the garden, in the wild lands, in the watery meadows, everywhere that is moist and free-flowing. Bringing succour to the dust-headed king, chief of the nine herbs of the wayside.

Meadowsweet brings back the poison of the past. Dr Bach, scrubbed clean, white robed,  pure-minded, sees the building of god beautifully constructed. It matters not if you are born high or low, he says, everything will make sense in the end. There are challenges to face, but no shadow. Disease will one day be conquered. The hospitals will be quiet meditation places. The light around us is ever-lasting. The earth is god’s garden. All manner of thing shall be well.  As we look through his eyes, we are look towards this uplifting future, but the past is weighing hard upon us.

The meadowsweet lives outside god’s empire, tall in the damp woods, in the marshlands, carries the pain-killing properties of aspirin in her tough stems and leaves, her ability to decrystallise, to release all trapped energies in her fragrant and flowing presence. The rose enters the room, with her faint odour of cyanide. The doctor stands amongst the flowers redeemed from the margins, god’s chosen healers, without history or mythical association, without any poison in their veins: American monkeyflower, Himalayan balsam, African blue cerato, Dutch honeysuckle.

The meadowsweet brings wildness and complexity into the garden and floods the order of Empire; brings her poison to the doctor’s door, poison that would cure a broken spleen and heart.


dsc_0612 Like all seer plans, vervain is a tranquilliser. A tea from its leaves brings you into a relaxed state so you can access your heart and imagination, your own flowermind. It brings a stillness that allows you to find the inner pathway to the sun, in the darkness, in the deep night time of your soul. Sometimes what you behold are not images, but feelings. In Dr Bach’s garden, I had felt claustrophobic. This feeling of being spiritually trapped was not personal, it was alerting me to souls that were held trapped on the wheel, like so many genii in tiny brown bottles. Somehow I needed to find my way out of the garden.

The bush by the gate lights up your mind, so you see everything-at-once, in all its complexity. The flower essence guide will tell you that this remedy for 'overdoing it' can be seen in the plant’s  structure, the way it branches out rigidly in many directions. All that effort just for those small flowers! The stiffness of the plant is your stiffness. Like cures like. But this is to not acknowledge vervain as a plant of seers. Standing at a certain distance, your body experiences the plant in its entirety, as it appears like a globe. You get the vervain total effect: it electrifies your circuits, lights up mind, body and heart in a split second. That’s when you realise why it is the king of the herbs, commanded by the regal lion of the firmament.

With all your strict vervain eyes, with your switched-on heart, you are not fastidious, You look straight on, at all the ramifications. The spiritual system wants everything neat and tidy, boxed up and numbered,  a solution for every problem, with all the bad things and inconvenience out of the way,but the earth is not neat and tidy. It is vast and complex, a free-form interweaving of myriad lifeforms, in which each human strand with its many subtle hues, with its stories and experiences, runs through like a silvery thread flashing through silk. As you see a tiny corner of this fabric is revealed to you, a microscopic strand of many dimensions that reveals the giant complexity of the whole. Our unique and subtle appearance in this web cannot be relegated to a formula. If this were so, the earth would be a machine. And it not, it’s a transforming matrix of dimensions, most of which we cannot see in daily life, and some we will never see. And the very nature of this creative and transformative process means life can neither be  pure, nor simple. Anymore than bacteria, whose archaic forms constitute the very soil which feed the plants so life can happen, can be cleansed forever from our hands.

To see  with your vervain eyes, is an art, a voyage into the unknown, a task. The work it exacts is to acknowledge with unwavering clarity what appears in front of your eyes and translate it into daily terms. It is to see what is. What is requires you look unequivocally at what lies before you, without dismissing what you are seeing, fighting, superseding it but keeping it steady within your sights. From here you ask questions and receive readouts. You question what you see. Switch it all on! Nothing hidden, no god, no ulterior purpose, no esoteric principles, no masters, skulking in caves for aeons. Only you and what you see. You hold a fixed position because, belonging to Leo, the sun is not going anywhere. You can’t leave yourself out because without you, without the sun, core of the self of all human beings, nothing is seen. You are the eyes of the cosmos, the light that switches itself on in the dark. What you see in the dark doesn’t happen without you. To see with the heart means you cannot let the mind interfere with its eternal say-so, with its great tuppence worth of opinions and criticisms, but most of all with its predilection for ideals.

Ideals blind the seer. To hold an ideal means you desire to see things as they should be, rather what than are, within the movement of transformation. With the vision of perfection before you, you start wishing that everything on earth were otherwise that it actually is. Spirituality promotes the ideal perfect state without pain, from which you have fallen because of your imperfection. Believing suffering is wrong, you start constructing realities where pain does not exist. Realms where masters walk in robes, temples where everything is pristine and orderly.

Suddenly you are not on the earth, in time. You are inhabiting a perfect, clean world in the future. You wish you were as you imagine you can be in your mind-sphere. You start erasing and excluding those things that are not perfect, with simple clear cut choices of all spirituality (good and evil, right and wrong, love and fear). The system you have invented you realise is perfect, but you are not. Pretty soon you end up not being that important. Soon you are irrelevant, squeezed out. You are a number, a soul-type who fits or does not fit the system. Spiritually, politically, it’s a dangerous road. War is the worst of its manifestations, Dr Bach’s 38 flower canon is a less dangerous system than most, still I feel squeezed in the garden, on an earth whose only raison d’etre is that fallen human beings evolve and learn their lessons.

The stems of the vervain are rigid because they hold the light, the structure of light intrinsic within all living forms. When you bring the structures that hold of the world to light, you see whether they tally with the living systems or not. This ability to look at any individual and collective action in this multi-light (of the vervain) enables you to ask the question: for what purpose this war, for what purpose this inequality? Does my action bring liberation? Does it serve life? Does it bring the light of the sun to bear within all things?

When you ask the question, you realise that all artificial systems of the world- political, religious, scientific, medical – serve only mystify and divert the human ability to see what is. None of them encourage our innate ability to directly perceive the fabric of life.  To see into the river of life, into the fluid and dynamic non-linear dimensions is a radical act, the dangerous act of creators, since the Empire is founded on rigid and linear system of duality. They require allegiance to the perfection of the artificial mind. But the hearts of seers and creators are not loyal to empire, they are true to the sun, since it is the sun that brings the light to see in the dark.

After the Great War, when new world orders were being drawn up and new world servers recruited, two of the century’s greatest seers, Rudolf Steiner and Krishnamurti walked away from the theosophical spirituality that influenced Edward Bach, and forged their own ways of seeing the hidden dimensions of the world. Both conducted their own individual investigations into the perception of reality, and spoke and wrote about their findings.  Some of their most illuminating insights come from their direct encounters with nature: Krishnamurti walking in the early morning light amongst the live oaks of California, encountering an owl under his bed in India; Steiner in Austria and England, investigating the alchemical effects of wood ants and bees, wild camomile and horsetail within the living soils of the planet.

The sprit shines like the sun, permanent, endurable, but the soul walks a different path. Like the moon, waxes and wanes, brings tears, redemption, inspiration, keeps close to us in our lives, hold our accounts, makes the changes in our spirits possible. Bach’s vervain soul has a fiery core, ruled by Leo, the lion-king. In his small book, this fire flashes when he speaks of animal vivisection, the cruel relatives who trap their children, the friends who bind you to their will.  To be free is the path of all souls he says. Krishnamurti looks at the world of matter with his eagles eyes, his rishi’s eyes. All is laid bare beneath the Brahmin’s gaze. Steiner, like some forest salamander, glowers strangely amongst the ashes of his crucible, looks deep at the workings beneath your skin. Though their work is engrossing, illuminating, somehow there is something not quite human about the way they look at you.

 Doctor Bach leans quietly forward, his round Welsh face like a full moon, as he shines a light into your heart. There is no penetrating analysis of the people who came to see him, nor in the flower’s alchemical workings. You are not shown the interiors workings of beehives, or behold the cosmos or the face of the tigers. You find his words, pious, almost frustrating. And yet, it is the inconspicuous doctor, whom you  accompany, as he walks through the gate and goes down the Oxfordshire lane, to drink a beer and to sing a song with the people of Brightwell-cum-Sotwell on a summer’s day.


PIC (4)
  Dr Bach sought out the wild flowers and in a time of crisis, which was his own  and that of history, they came to his assistance. His followers in white coats, may not follow him out into the Oxfordshire hills or along the seashore of the Norfolk coast or speak with the humble vervain of the wayside. But inspired by him, some of us go and sit in the canyons.

When we sat beside these flowers, these bushes and trees, we realised to release yourself from the wheel you have to look at consciousness itself. You need to go beyond spirituality and esotericism, and look at the role of the seer with your own heart and inner eye. You have to imagine the relationship between the sun and its technicians that forms the basis of all consciousness. And find a way out of the garden.

The Empire prowls the world seeking ancient wisdom. It seeks secret knowledge, like physical treasure, as a power, a tool of supremacy. It goes to the temples and pillages the tombs of kings and sages, scours the constellations, looking for signs and star-gates, mighty position and talisman. Where is the secret of immortality? It must be here! No one finds it. Great Thoth has hidden it somewhere, the seekers declare. The shrewd and wily philosopher, Derrida, stepping outside the pyramid, overhears a dialogue behind closed doors at the beginning of Empire.

It went like this: when the artifex of medicine, Thoth asks the king for his bless his new invention of writing, The Pharoah Sun-King shakes his head: writing is a substitute for the real thing. You say the text is a tool for remembering but because of your tool the people will lose their memory. You say it will contain wisdom, but the people themselves will not be wise. The text will become more powerful and all-knowing than themselves. The king said it was a poison, a phamakos. And from that time on all writers and inventors have suffered Thoth’s fate, the fate of the pharmakon: they invent a cure that is also a poison.

When Dr Bach invented the flower essence, he substituted the remedy for the flower. Soon enough the people thought the essence was more important that the flower. In fact they did not know the flower,, nor the territory in which it grew. While his flower essences were sold in their millions in the health boutiques of the world, his healers and helpers were vanishing from the English countryside: the water violet was quietly disappearing from the dykes, the elm trees could no longer grow tall and stately as once they had, the rock water had became poisoned and it was hard to find the small scherlanthus in any neighbourhood. Meanwhile the creator found himself in a wilderness, a holy goat loaded with the sins of the world upon his shoulders.

To redeem the pharmakon, the creator of all kill-or-cure medicine, you need to look at the doctor, at the heart of the man, who suffered like all men. To redeem the creator is to look at the flower, in all-at-once time, with the poison of the rose. It is to look at the origin of all things, at the role of the sun and its technicians within ourselves.

In the spirit of leonine generosity, Dr Bach left his methods for people to make the essences themselves with the flowers and trees of the wild places. Which all modern practitioners of flower medicine, all plant seers around the world have followed until this day. As indeed I had until I walked into his garden and found myself shudder. Soon after we left Oxfordshire, we found a house, and one month later, walking the lanes of the East Anglian countryside, found large stands of wild vervain, in full flower, along a sandy track. Oh, You are here! I exclaimed, as I stood among their great constructions of dotted light. 

There was the sound of the wild ocean behind me and a heathland before me. The land was in restoration, recovering from long agricultural use, skirted by small woods of larch and hornbeam and wild rose. I sat down by the track and felt at home. That’s when I knew why vervain is the chief. When you look for the origin of all things, you find the sun. When you sit in the wild company of the flowers and ask life’s great questions, you find the tablets of wisdom inscribed in your own heart. This is the way home, said the doctor, smiling, as the heather and the gorse glowed in front of me, as the wind soughed in the pine tree, the centaury shone along the cliff edge. Your medicine is everywhere, I said and laughed, as the vervain, shimmering, became alive with bees.

Images: vervain (flowering steams); Mount Vernon; vervain in Leonhart Fuch's De Historia Stirpium Commentaria Insignes (Basel.1542); Dr Bach; meadowsweet by the Thames; vervain (single flower); heather, Suffolk; vervain along the track (whole plant), Suffolk

Monday 1 September 2014

Doing the Butterfly Shift - new edition of Transition Free Press out today!

TFP06_2014-09_CoverToday is publication day for Transition Free Press No 6, one of the big deadlines I've been working towards this summer. Now distributed to UK Transition initaitives and posted to our subscribers we've also just gone on line.

Some highlights include: Tom Crompton on intrinsic values. 350.org's Danielle Paffard on being radicalised. Rob Hopkins on telling the story of Transition through brewing, Kate Rawles on seakayaking; plus standing alongside First Nations, foraging for scarlet mushrooms, saving seeds, fermenting rose petals, getting to the root of plant medicine, getting into maker spaces and most of all tuning into the zeitgeist which this autumn all about climate action. Here's the editoriial I wrote on behalf of the TFP collective.

This changes everything

There is a story that has sustained us through these changing times: it’s known as The Butterfly Shift and is based on the biological transformation that happens when a caterpillar turns into an imago. At first the immune system of the caterpillar defeats the ‘imaginal cells’ of the new form. Then the cells re-emerge, but this time hold fast by joining forces.

The caterpillar is the dominant narrative of Industrial Progress, chomping its way through the planet’s ecosystems, and the governments and corporations who follow the ideology of ‘free market fundamentalism’. “Our economic model is at war with life on Earth,” as Naomi Klein says in her new book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. It’s also at war with every emerging butterfly that stands in its way.

One of the inspirations for Transition Free Press was The Occupied Times and the conversations that many Transition groups were having with local Occupy camps in 2011. The media we wanted to create would cohere the ideas and actions of many different grassroots enterprises under one colourful wing.

So true to its original blueprint, our autumn edition focuses on the people and communities everywhere who are resisting the assaults of the global caterpillar and at the same time making steps to transform our culture into something completely new. Because, as Klein clearly states: “Climate change isn’t just a disaster it’s also our best chance to demand and build a better world”.

 In 2012 Occupy tents were torn down, Transition Initiatives ‘burned out’. We realised that raising awareness and planting radishes in our windowboxes was not enough. We had to start up collective projects in the real world. We had to change the story and use words as they were originally meant to be used: as a medium for connection between us; a reminder of what being human really means. That, as storytellers and change-makers, we need to keep the door open in a time of cultural lockdown.

In this sixth issue you can find our signature mix of the practical, political and the philosophical. In line with a renewed push towards climate action this autumn, we’re focusing on fossil fuel divestment and climate activism. We are also showing how the humble acts of fermenting cabbage and saving seeds are also radical acts of liberation, why in the face of increased corporate control we are out digging fields, brewing beer, helping our neighbour, telling our own story, doing art in whatever place we find ourselves:

Bv5LwwiIUAAdk4bBecause Transition is not just in what we do but how we do it. The caterpillar mindset is cold, unkind, and solitary. The future of the butterfly is warm, open, spontaneous. It works together with its fellows and is at home on the Earth. When activist Danielle Paffard describes taking part in the Viking protest at the British Museum, you can’t help noticing these ensemble acts embody a certain intrinsic spirit: they're witty and colourful and alive, and when they take place everything else feels gloomy and somehow out of date.

“One of the most amazing things was this song which everyone was invited to sing. It was a way for people to engage, but it was also really beautiful. It wasn't what people expected of a protest. That song changed the dynamic of everything.”

Because it’s not just about listening, it’s also about singing. When you do, you’ll find you are not on your own. We are all out there.

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein (Allen Lane) will be published on 16th September; Mirko Bonne, one of the five writers on the Weatherstaions project, Free Word Centre: gathering beetroot at Leigh Court Farm, Bristol, from the documentary Voices of Transition (photo: Milpa Films)