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Plant Teachers and The Path of Eve

Plants were the first of Earth's creatures to establish extraterrestrial contact. First Contact. Beyond the sulfur vents and the acid radicals deep in bedrock, the seafloor ruptures. The first to contact the greater cosmos.

Intelligence collectors, electron transfer chains up an entropic pathway, latent complexities of space, a shamanic balancing act at 1 AU.

Every carbon atom in our bodies has at one time passed through the chloroplast membrane of a plant.

Plants are the placenta of all animal life, from when the humans (homunculus, humus, hence "earthlings") were a mere wisp of dream in a chancy future.

Love and strife, Empedocles maintained. The sieve of selection and the fandango. Fit survival, but also the peacock's tail, exuberance, excess. A great swirling, and a song arose. Katydids, cicadas. Munching on green. Autophagia really. Or eating the god.

And the gods fought back: alkaloids, CNS poisons, tryptamines, beta-carbolines, lianas snaking from the canopy. Fungi garnered the recycling trade. Partnerships, parasites, nothing standing still.

Oils, terpenes, carbohydrates, even protein, the main course of the teachings. And beyond, like a graduate school, "secondary metabolites," the poisons, the medicine.

Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. (Genesis)

The Original Prohibition, our first drug law.

To plant people everywhere, certain plants are regarded with a special reverence: the sacred plants, sharing something of godly nature. That which had been attacked, that which resisted, the rebels, "thus far and no further shalt thou come."

Plants represent immediacy, a seamless suchness. No comments. No philosophizing, no rationalizing. Just the Fact. The Buddha once preached a whole sermon by holding aloft a flower. Kasyapa understood and smiled.

We can find the songs in ethnopoetics, or hear the prayers from those who have maintained the archaic connection, but it's all in Milton:

O Sacred, Wise, and Wisdom-giving Plant,

Mother of Science, Now I feel thy Power

Within me clear, not only to discern

Things in thir Causes, but to trace the ways

Of highest Agents, deem'd however wise.

There was a great taming, leaching the tannins or cooking out the cyanide: acorns, cassava, breeding the tame ones. Women's work. Root gatherers and kitchen chemists. A few of the god-plants entered the chagra, the circle, like barbarian nomads finding a fertile valley, but mostly they stayed wild, became a specialty of those daring to eat wildness, the bitter. Plants with a voice: the Tree of Knowledge.

On a large bronze door cast around 1020 in the cathedral in Hildesheim, the Tree has a vague mushroom shape. It may be modeled after local daisies, small nub of disk flowers, the ray petals drooping, or perhaps a deadly Lepiota, L. castanea, or, some say, Psilocybe semilanceata. In a fresco on the ceiling of the Romanesque church in St. Savin in central France, the Tree resembles Amanita muscaria with tiny fruit hanging from the cap. This is perhaps a Byzantine stylization of a date palm. Or is it?

O Sovran, virtuous, precious of all Trees

In Paradise, of operation blest

To Sapience, hitherto obscur'd, infam'd,

And thy fair Fruit let hang, as to no end

Created; but henceforth my early care,

Not without Song, each Morning, and due praise

Shall tend thee, and the fertile burden ease

Of thy full branches offer'd free to all;

Till dieted by thee I grow mature

In knowledge, as the Gods who all things know.

Eve has many depictions, sometimes thin, sometimes fleshy or nubile, sometimes like Isis. On the north portico of the Gothic cathedral at Rheims, she cradles a small reptilian creature in her arms, tenderly. Blake made her voluptuous. From a distance, his painting of Eve accepting the apple from the mouth of the serpent looks like an act of fellatio, Eve's hand caressing the serpent's head. At Notre Dame it's a threesome, our loving Forebears joining their hands together around the Serpent's arboreal phallus. Eve's way, the one who dared. The one who shared. The patron saint of the poison path.

Shall I to him make known

As yet my change, and give him to partake

Full happiness with mee, or rather not,

But keep the odds of

Knowledge in my power

Without Copartner?

Eve is also Pandora, the gifted and the all-giving. Poisoned apple, poisoned gift, all the sorrows of life on the great wheel of becoming. German gift, poison, related to Anglo-Saxon words for espousal, the bride-price. Something must be given. Something must be let go. Poison and medicine are samsara and nirvana, forever wedded.

In an African version of the Pandora story, what was left at the bottom of the casket was a gourd of beer, that given by the gods. Enthusiasm is ebriety. God within.

As with new wine intoxicated both They swim in mirth, and fancy that they feel Divinity within them breeding wings. A playfulness in the sacrament: within the poison, a gift. Thus, dialectic. The truth, as glimpsed by Hegel, "is thus the bacchanalian revel, where not a member is sober." A fugitive quality, a beyondness. Atalanta fleeing, the Great Matter, ultimate seriousness, but it never quite stops dancing. We can point to it, we can present it, but in the end it refuses definition. And we are grateful.

So saying, from the Tree her step she turn'd,

But first low Reverence done, as to the power

That dwelt within, whose presence had infus'd

Into the plant sciential sap, deriv'd

From Nectar, drink of Gods.

—Milton, Paradise Lost