The Seeds are Sown

Geometry in Nature

"Where there is matter, there is geometry."
-Johannes Kelper, Mathematician, Astronomer, and Natural Philosopher

"A cause refers to the cause you plant, from which you can reap a corresponding result.  If you plant a good cause, you will get a good result.  And if you plant a bad cause you will obtain a bad result.  You plant a certain cause, myriad conditions assemble, and a certain retribution or result is brought about. 

Cause and effect are not a matter of belief or disbelief.  If you believe in it, there is such a thing as cause and effect; if you do not believe in it, cause and effect operate the same.  For example, if you go punch someone, you will certainly get hit back.  Your initial punch is the cause, and your being beaten in return is the effect. 

The cause is the seed.  What contributes to its growth is the conditions.  Planting a seed in the ground is a cause.  Conditions are the aiding factors which contribute to the growth -- soil, sunlight, and other such things..."
-Ronald Epstein, Buddhism A to Z, The Buddhist Text Translation Society, 2003

The Golden Ratio, represented by the Greek of letter Phi, can be seen in many aspects the natural world, an unexpected mathematical universality which blurs the already hazy boundaries between physics and mysticism. Sacred geometry is an underlying presence in almost all natural forms, but the beauty of the Golden Ratio, also known as the Fibonacci Sequence, is perhaps most elegantly expressed in the that of plants, flowers, fruits and trees. Named for the 13th century Italian mathematician, Leonardo Fibonacci, this mathematical sequence can be best understood as a law of accumulation, created by adding a number to the number prior, beginning with 0 and I. This formula governs how many botanicals develop – petal and leaf multiplying in a slow accumulation of growth, a process ultimately reflected in elegant geometric forms.

Pinecones and cacti, pineapples, and Sunflowers, for instance all display delicate double sets of spirals, each set adding up to their adjacent Fibonacci numbers. The gentle whorl of Rose blossoms and vegetables such as cabbages also showcase a Golden Ratio arrangement, each petal or leaf circling gracefully around a center stem. Even the Strawberry and the Cauliflower follow the geometric patterns of the Fibonacci sequence. The formula is also on display in the petal count of many flowers. From Daisies to Lilies to Buttercups, florals often reflect a Fibonacci number evolved to allow for space for each petal to best access water and sunlight.

The miraculous mathematics of nature are also often referred to as Divine Proportion a phenomenon that has been studied by philosophers, scientists and artists, an endlessly intriguing code embedded in the shapes and growth patterns of plants, trees, and flowers. This sacred geometry seems to appear everywhere one looks; from the closed. curve of a Lily about to bloom. in the circular labyrinth housing the seeds of the Sunflower and the Fiddlehead Fern, slowly unfurling its leaves to the sky.

John William Waterhouse, Psyche Opening the Door into Cupid's Garden, England, 1903
Psyche is trying to catch a glimpse of her secret lover in daylight.  Sometimes called 'the last Pre-Raphaelite', Waterhouse used his lush, romantic stile in this mythological scene.

Jasques-Ernest Bulloz, Claude Money, Giverny, France, 1905
The French impressionist painter photographed in his charming garden where he lived and created.

Valero Doval, Silent Spring, Spain, 2012
Named for the book by Rachel Carson that warned of the threat of global warming.  In much of his work, as the artist explains, "my tendency to look for beauty in contrast; in the combination of opposing concepts that mirror the diversity of man and nature."

The Art of Nature

"The gardener digs in another time, without past or future, beginning or end ... As you walk in the garden you pass ito this time -- the moment of entering can never be remembered.  Around you the landscape lies transfigured.  Here is the Amen beyond the prayer."
-Derek Jarman, Filmmaker, artist, and writer -- excerpt from Modern Nature, 1992

From the lush and ordered gardens depicted in early Egyptian and Roman murals, to ancient renderings of the great Hanging Gardens at Babylon, civilizations have long been transforming natural spaces into respites for both contemplation and celebration. The intentional, meditative planting of botanicals can be traced back to the earliest agriculture, to the very first humans placing seed into soil. In cultures around the world, simple farming methods eventually evolved into ornate and elaborate landscaping, with many of these gardens, some planted hundreds of years ago, still growing and blooming today. An existing example of classic Chinese garden design, first planted in the IIth century, remains a celebrated feature in the historic city of Suzhou. In the 16th century, the architect Niccolò Pericoli began building his masterpiece, the Boboli Gardens in Italy, which still flourish today. Construction on the famous gardens at the Palace at Versailles in France first began in 1661. Today, the historic land hosts thousands of tourists each year. In Tokyo, the centuries old Shinjuku Gyoen still entrances visitors with its bounty of cherry trees, blossoming into beauty each spring.

The garden has evolved as a private respite as well; the landscaped plots of artists, poets, and philosophers are places for both contemplation and inspiration. In 1907, the Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung, commissioned garden architects Walter and Oskar Mertens - working closely with them to create a home garden that would offer him space for study and meditation. A few decades later, the British writer Vita Sackville-West began building her now famous gardens at Sissinghurst Castle, captivating the public by publishing a series of poetic essays describing her progress on the land. In 1986, following his AIDS diagnosis, the filmmaker, artist, and activist Derek Jarman retreated to Prospect Cottage, his property on the bleak coast of Dungeness, England. The journals he penned there, collected into the 1992 book, Modern Nature, document his time at the home, much of it spent building and planting his exquisitely eccentric artist garden, an unexpected mix of plants, flowers, and sculptural elements. For Jarman, this cottage garden offered much needed peace, a sanctuary of calm as he slowly succumbed to his illness.

A century prior, the French painter Ca Monet spent two decades creating his garden in Giverny, a place built for artstic inspiration, which later provided solace amid the First World War. In 1914, he wrote of his gardening progress, "Yesterday I resumed work. It's the best way to avoid thinking of these sad times." Today visitor arrive from all over the world. Monet's garden is still a powerful reminder that nature. creativity, and work - can help to heal us all.

Plants in Myth & Spirituality

"As the flower of a lotus,
Arisen in water, blossoms,
Pure-scented and pleasing the mind,
Yet is not drenched by the water,
In the same way, born in the world,
The Buddha abides in the world;
And like the lotus by water,
He does not get drenched by the world."
-UDAYIN, Buddhist disciple -- from the Tipitaka (Verses of the Elder Monks), a series of verses
written in a three-hundred year period, with some dated as early as the late 6th centry BCE

Vasko Taskovski, Gemini,  Macedonia, 1999
The visionary work of Taskovski transforms ordinary realms into surrealistic fantasy worlds, rich with plant and animal symbolism. Here the zodiac sun sign of Gemini is rendered as tree-like forms emerging from a cosmic egg. 

The deeply rooted symbolism of plants found within the mythologies and religions of the world, poetically conveys our enduring spiritual connection with the natural realm. Flowers, fruits, trees, and herbs all play integral roles in the foundational narratives of nearly every global culture. In the ancient Mesopotamian epic of Gilgamesh, the young hero seeks the secret of immortality, diving to the bottom of sea in search of a healing plant said to possess the power of resurrection. According to the myth, Gilgamesh is successful in finding the plant, but it is ultimately stolen by a serpent, who uses it to molt and thus, be reborn. Water plants, particularly the lily and lotus, reoccur frequently in the spiritual and mythological symbolism of various cultures. The Maya of the Central Americas feature numerous depictions of the water lilies in much of their art, the plant seen as representation of sex, fertility, and birth. In fact, the name of the water lily in Mayan, "niktela", translates roughly to mean, "vulva of the water." Halfway across the world and along the ancient river Nile, thought to be the birth-place of the earliest civilizations,g rows the papyrus and blue lily, both sacred plants to the Egyptian peoples. Emerging gracefully from the muddy shores of the great river, the lotus mirrored the Egyptian myths of creation, death, rebirth, and the rising of the Sun God Ra from primeval waters. Ancient Egyptians integrated flowers and plants into many of their rites and rituals, from the delicate floral weavings that ornamented their dead, to symbolic artworks that depicted plants as a connection between earthly life and the realm of the gods. The date palm appears often in Egyptian murals and scrolls thought to symbolize Ra, while other species of palm trees often linked to the moon God Thoth. For the Egyptians and many other early pagan and pre-Christian cultures, deities reside among the living, alive symbolically within root and stalk, leaf, and bloom. 

In Hindu and Buddhist teachings, the lotus figures prominently, its roots deep in the muddy water emerging into many-petaled flower a symbol of the rising up from our lower depths toward higher enlightenment. The ancient Buddhist scroll, the Lotus Sutra, tells the legend of lotus flowers blooming beneath each step of the infant Buddha. In Hinduism, the goddess Lakshmi is often depicted standing astride a lotus, a symbol of purity and divinity and the god Vishnu is often depicted holding a lotus blossom in his hands. Lotus and other flowers are often offered at Hindu altars, along with other sacred plants and herbs such as Tulsi. The latter is a sacred plant in India, venerated for not only its medicinal qualities, but as a protection against evil and misfortune. 

Within the mythologies of the ancient Romans, even the Latin' word "flora" itself is aligned with a deity, the goddess of flowers, worshiped in the festivals of the "Floralia" which welcomed in the rebirth and renewal of the spring season. The delicately beautiful Narcissus or Daffodil flower, growing often along streams or riverbanks, is associated with the myth of the vain, doomed Narcissus, worshiping his own reflection in the water. The pomegranate fruit, red and rich with seeds, was believed in Greek mythology to represent fertility and the underworld, the plant originally thought to have emerged from the blood of the young Adonis, wounded by a boar, and revived by the love of the Goddess Aphrodite.  The pomegranate fruit is thought to symbolize the Goddess Juno, Queen of the Gods and wife of Zeus.

The fruit figures most prominently in the myth of Persephone, the maiden kidnapped and forced to marry Hades, God of the dead and reside forever in the Underworld. Persephone's mother, Demeter, Goddess of the harvest, was so enraged by the disappearance of her daughter she allowed the soil to go barren and the crops to wither and die. At this, Zeus demanded that Hades return Persephone to her mother in the world of the living. Hades, reluctant, but obedient, fed his wife six seeds from the pomegranate fruit, ensuring she would be forced to return to him and reside in the underworld six months out of every year. The myth explained the natural cycle of the seasons, the abundant blossoming and rebirth of spring, said to mark the joy of Demeter as her daughter emerged from the darkness. And the cold dark of winter represents Demeter's grief as Persephone makes her return to Hades. 

For the ancient Druids of the British Isles, trees were objects of worship, particularly the oak, which was considered sacred, a representation of their most powerful deities. In China. the peach tree figured prominently in early Taoist writings, thought to represent longevity. Peach blossoms are still often carried by Chinese brides to represent prosperity and a long marriage. In many Asia cultures, bamboo also plays a key role in legend and folklore and is often associated with strength and longevity. In Norse mythology, the goddess of spring, Idunn, is said to be the keeper of magickal apples which impart immortality. In the Greek myth of the Garden of Hesperides, golden apples were said to have grown, a wedding gift from the Earth goddess Gaia to Zeus's wife, Hera, the goddess of women and childbirth. These sacred apple trees were tended by the nymphs known as the Hesperides and protected by a great serpent. In a now-lost epic poem concerning the labors of Hercules, thought to have been penned in 600 BCE, Hercules, the greatest of Greek heroes, is charged with challenging the serpent to retrieve three golden apples for King Eurystheus. 

In Christian faiths, the apple is perhaps the most well-known and enduring example of plants as spiritual symbols. Plucked off the branch by Eve in the Garden of Eden, the apple represents forbidden knowledge of sin committed at the bidding of the snake, itself a symbol of evil. 

Later, the apple is said to have been held in the hands of Christ, and thus its meaning was transformed. The apple, held by Jesus in many artistic depictions, is thought to represent not condemnation, but rebirth, a second chance for humanity's redemption. Roses also figure prominently in Christian myth, with meanings often linked to color and shape. The five petals represent the wounds of Christ at crucifixion, the red rose associated with his blood and martyrdom. White roses are thought to represent the purity of the Virgin Mary. In many artistic depictions of the Virgin and the infant Christ, roses and other flowers encircle them, garlands or wreaths representing fertility and joy. Lilies are another flower often symbolically linked to Christian teachings, which tell of lilies springing up in each spot where the blood of the condemned Christ touched soil. 

Henri Rousseau, Eve,  France, 1906-1907
Amid a tropical garden Eve reaches for the apple offered by the serpent. The fruit in Christian myth is thought to symbolize forbidden knowledge and desire. 

Unknown, Radha & Krishna,  India, Unknown
Nidhivan, or 'forest of Tulsi' was a dense and lush garden of mystery where the God Krishna would visit. Radha at night. A sacred and medicinal basil plant to the Hindus, Tulsi is said to grow in pairs here, symbolizing their union. 

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Flora & Zephyr,  France, 1875
Flora the fertility Goddess of Budding springs, fruit trees and flowers is imagined with her consort, Zephyr, God of the west wind who dons butterfly wings.  Their embrace signals pollination in the circular painting.

Jesus' resurrection is often celebrated the Easter or Lily flower. Lilies also represent the virginal state of Mary, in the birth of artist, The Passionflower, is said to with its many spirals and tendrils, represent Christ's crown of thorns. And of course, grapes and wheat and cereal also important facets of Christian worship, with wine and unleavened bread said to symbolize the blood and body of Christ. 

While wheat and grains represent the body of the savior in Christian religions, corn and maize were considered the food of the gods in the belief systems of the indigenous South American peoples. Corn and other flowers were believed to have been divine offerings from the Mayan and Aztec gods. The great Xochipilli known also as, "Flower Prince" was said to be the Aztec god of maize. Corn was often depicted in Aztec artworks and carved totems as both a young man and a young woman, a plant which symbolized the powers of both genders and represented strength, fertility, death, and rebirth. In North American indigenous cultures, corn was thought to be a gift from the Great Spirit and considered a sacred food, used in ritual and worship. In Native American cultures a mix of plants and herbs known by the Algonquian word, "Kinnikinnick" were often gathered, which is an array of botanicals often including sage, cedar, and tobacco. The plants were then dried, mixed together and placed into leather satchels to be used as ceremonial offerings. 

Across cultures, mushroom species were also assigned various mythologies, symbolizing for instance, longevity and strength in Chinese and Asian cultures. In early Egypt, mushrooms represented immortality and were often depicted in their hieroglyph some thought to be over 4,500 years old. Circles of mushrooms found in the forests of Europe and Britain were sometimes referred to as "fairy rings," their appearance woven into the narratives of ancient folk tales as the signifiers of hidden fairy realms. Mushrooms also make an appearance in early Christian artworks and frescos, including depictions of psilocybin mushrooms. The use of mushrooms in ritual ceremonies is particularly prevalent in ancient Mesoamerica. Both Mayan and Aztec cultures were thought to use the hallucinogenic corn-pounds of mushrooms in various shamanic rites. Stone figures formed into the shapes of mushrooms or carved with mushroom imagery, have been discovered by archeologists at various sites across Central America, with some "mushroom stones," as they are known, dating back 1000 years or more. 

Again and again, across the world, our myths, spiritual beliefs, and shared stories are reflected in plants and nature. We see a mirror of our yearning for enlightenment in the lotus stalk, pushing up through silt and dark waters, seeking air and sunlight. We strive for the gentle purity embodied by the white Rose bloom. We see symbols of our shared joys and laments in the cycle of the seasons, in the seed birthing sprout, in the last dead leaf, falling softly from winter branches. We worship at the altar of nature herself, our deities continually transforming, taking the form of the plants, trees, flowers and fruits, the botanical world sustaining not only our bodies, but our spirits as well. 

"I've always been interested in the extravagance and the exuberance that is a flower. It's like a living jewel that everybody has access to. As a child, I used to watch my grandmother manipulate flowers into arrangements and into headpieces for her church lady hats and the transformation was quite magical to me. I've always been interested in the element of magic; I've always been interested in the idea of effortlessness — things that look easy but are hard to do. The art of flower arranging is exactly that. It's difficult to achieve simple shapes and dynamic arrangements. As a black child raised in California, surprisingly not surprisingly I didn't have a big connection to nature. It wasn't until I became an adult playing with flowers that I became interested in where flowers came from. Going on nature walks in Griffith Park, going on hikes in Malibu and perusing the botanical gardens at the Huntington really started to connect the dots for me between how I relate to nature and how important it is as a force. Being surrounded by trees, by blooms, by greens that you can eat, flowers you can smell is what it means to be connected to the circle of life. Which we obviously need. We need the oxygen that trees produce, and they need the carbon dioxide that we produce. I think that in most urban landscapes, we forget that nature has more power than we do. As humans we think we rule the world and nature constantly has to remind us that we are living in its world. The more present we are to the gifts that nature gives us, the closer we get to respecting our world."
-MAURICE HARRIS, Florist, Multimedia Artist & Performer, 2002

The Enduring Symbolism of Trees

"And I say the sacreed hoop of my people was one of the many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father.  And I saw that it was holy . . . But anywhere is the center of the world."
-BLACK ELK, from the collected works, Black Elk Speaks, edited by John G. Neihardt (1932)

Louis Comfort Tiffany, Magnolias and Irises, United States, 1908
Famed stained-glass artist portrays florals associated with feminine beauty, purity, faith, and hope.  The commissioned piece was created with a special glass which produces a rich, iridescent light and color.

As resonant mythological symbols and objects of veneration, trees have played a central role in our shared evolution on Earth.  Trees provide us with sustenance and support, not only spiritually, but through the offerings of nutrients and their secundity of fruit, nut, and seed.  And, perhaps most importantly, through their life-sustaining process of photosynthesis, the miraculous transformation of carbon dioxide into precious oxygen.  With life spans ranging from approximately hundreds to thousands of years old, trees are some of the oldest living organisms on Earth.  One, a recently discovered Bristlecone Pine, still growing high in the mountains of California, and dubbed "Methaselah" by researchers, is thought to have pushed its way through topsoil nearly five thousand years ago.  A sapling which swayed in the sunlight during the very dawn of human civilization, Methuselah was standing tall during the building of the Great Pyramid at Giza and the construction of the rock circle at Stonehedge.  Other species of "clonal" trees, named as such because they grow individually but are connected by a single root system, are thought to be even older.  A Norway Spruce currently growing in Sweden, for instance, boasts a web of rooted trees that have been alive for nearly 10,000 years.  

In her 2021 book, Finding the Mother Tree:  Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, ecologist, scientist, and scholar Susan Simard writes of the evolution of the trees and the ways in which they communicate and interconnect.  She speaks of the forest as a mirror of larger cycles of death and rebirth:  "Nothing lives on our planet without death and decay.  From this springs new life, birth, from this birth will come new death.  The forest itself is part of much larger cycles, the building of soil and migration of species and circulation of oceans."  Simard also explores the ways trees support not only each other, through a vast network of roots, but also how they support all other life on Earth.  "The source of clean air and pure water and good food.  There is a necessary wisdom in the give-and-take of nature - it's quiet agreements and search for balance.  There is an extraordinary generosity."

This generosity has long been understood and appreciated, particularly by our early ancestors, for whom trees were at the center of their earliest forms of worship and spiritual rites, as well as universal symbols of birth and life-giving bounty. Among world's many cultural mythologies concerning trees, nearly all are rooted in the symbolism of what is most often referred to as the "Tree of Life," thought to have its origins in the ancient Sumerian poem, The Epic of Gilgamesh, tale carved into clay tablets more than 4000 years ago. One of the oldest known pieces of written literature in the world, Gilgamesh, tells of a hero's quest for immortality through his journey in search of a life-giving plant.

Egyptian myths tell of a sacred tree from which all gods were born, the tree a representation of the cycle of life and seasons, death, rebirth and the connection between the physical, terrestrial world and the afterlife. In ancient Norse and Germanic mythologies this sacred axis tree was known as the "Yggdrasill." Its branches were thought to spread across the world, nourishing all living things and linking the gods to the human realm. In the sacred Hindu texts, the Upanishads, written between 8th century and 3rd century BCE, the cosmic tree is called "Asvattha," and is said to grow upside down, its roots deep in the heavens, its branches reaching down toward Earth. Sumerian, as well as early Babylonian and Assyrian mythologies all shared belief in a maternal goddess, a matriarchal deity associated with the Earth - with growth, life, and death. This goddess was often depicted as a great tree, branches lifted to sky, her leaves protecting all below, her roots running deep and strong in fertile soil.

Although meanings vary, the symbol of the tree as axis mundi, a representation of connection between our world and the heavens, roots and branches linking the realm of the corporeal to the realm of the gods, can be seen in early forms of spiritual worship across the globe. In the earliest iconography of the ancient Jewish gnostic tradition of the Kabbalah, the tree of life is referred to as the "Sefirot" (or "Sephiroth"), a sacred geometric diagram representing the birth of the universe as a tree-like form of divine archetypes and energies. In the indigenous Mesoamerican cultures of Central and South America, depictions of world trees have been discovered among numerous ancient artworks and artifacts. In Mayan, Olmec, and Aztec beliefs these trees are thought to represent the four cardinal directions, trunk and branches forming a central passage between the underworld, the Earth, and the sky.

In early African creation myths, the gods were said to have created the baobab tree, uniquely shaped to enable it to store water in its prodigious trunk. With its offerings of shade and nutrient-dense fruits, the Baobab was considered a symbol of hope and life amid a dry and arid landscape. In India, the coconut tree is particularly venerated, its fruits and leaves used often as religious offerings. Its name in Hindi, "Mahua" can be translated as "Great Gift." The mango tree is also considered sacred in Hindu cultures and utilized in various rituals and festivals.  Sandalwood is another symbolic tree across India, considered a link to the gods, specifically to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and good fortune.  Sculptures of various Hindu deities are often carved of sandalwood and placed as offerings at altars and monasteries.  

In Buddhist texts, Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment under the Bo or Bodhi Tree, known as the "Tree of Knowledge."  The spiritual symbolism of the Tree of Knowledge appears in Christian mythologies as well, specifically within the Biblical chapter of Genesis, which tells of Eve's temptation in the Garden of Eden, tempted by the snake to eat the Tree's forbidden fruit.  In the Old Testament story of Noah's Ark, a tree plays a symbolic role as well, a dove delivering Noah an olive twig to signify that God's wrath was waning and the floods would finally abate.  The olive branch continues to remain a symbol of peace in cultures across the world.