Our Oldest Myths
Since our ancestors first stepped down from the trees some four million years ago, humans have shared a dynamic relationship with nature and especially in how we have viewed other species as separate from our own.
While a lot of our more recent history has been characterised by an attitude of conquest and domination toward nature – the consequences of which we are just now beginning to experience – this was not always the way.
In its infancy, humanity lived more or less in concert with the natural world and our impact on the planet was marginal. A large part of this may be due to how we interacted with our environment on a personal and spiritual level although our lack of power relative to today was obviously instrumental as
Although plants have formed a part of our diet for aeons, many archaeologists and anthropologists have suggested that our relationship to flora may grow deeper than just our food.
There is significant evidence to suggest that our earliest religions and mythologies may have been linked to visionary plants, specifically certain types of mushrooms and the two plants used to create Ayahuasca – a visionary brew still used by several contemporary shamanistic cultures.
Even today, cultures, rituals and mythologies exist that give great reverence to certain plants either for their symbolic importance or as an ingredient essential to daily life.
Given the respect that we observe when it comes to plants, we thought we’d make a list of five of those cultivars whose cultural significance endures today.
1. Lotus Flower
Perhaps the most famous flower in Eastern mythology, the Lotus Flower is now recognised as a major symbol of transformation, growth, and the journey a spirit takes during life. Although these connotations bridge a gap between Hinduism and Buddhism, there is significant variation as well.
Hinduism often depicts the centre of the Lotus Flower as the seat of Brahman, the fundamental reality of which all else is composed, and thus the throne of perfect harmony. Buddhism adopts a more pragmatic interpretation, instead of seating the Buddha concept at the flower’s heart and thus creating a narrative of struggle and triumph as the flower rises, like a human being, above the mud of its origins to become perfection realised.
2. Aloe Vera
Ancient Egyptian records have consistently referred to Aloe Vera as the “Plant of Immortality” while the Mayan Empire dubbed it ‘The Fountain of Youth’ and it’s fairly obvious as to why.
First popularised by the Egyptian physician Dioscorides in the 6th century B.C., this plant has since been adopted for its ability to treat all manner of ailments from burns to stomach aches. In fact, Aloe Vera proved so effective that during the period of discovery, it was the only plant grown aboard ships for use as medicine.
Known in its native tongue as Yagé, Ayahuasca is a visionary brew composed of two different plants and although it’s not technically a species unto itself, we felt it deserved a place on the list.
The two plants in question are Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria Viridis, one of which contains a molecule referred to commonly as DMT which we actually produce every night while we sleep – in other
words, DMT is dream fuel.
Since its discovery, which is also shrouded in mystery given the specific nature of the synergy of two plants out of thousands of species within the Amazon jungle, Ayahuasca has become a fundamental part of many shamanistic societies throughout South America.
Among some of these communities, it is believed that the knowledge to combine these two ingredients came through direct communication between people and plants.
Arguably the oldest of all sacred plants, evidence of Cannabis usage in ritual practice has been found all over the world including in India, China, Egypt, and Taiwan. Despite its well-known use as a psychoactive plant, however, Cannabis has literally hundreds of uses that have nothing to do with THC – the active recreational ingredient.
Hemp is simultaneously edible, fast-growing, and incredibly hardy and so has formed the basis of many early agricultural societies as the plant that could do or be made into pretty much anything.
As a sacred plant, Cannabis enjoys the peak of its reverence within Rastafarianism whose scholars believe it to be the Tree of Life as referenced in the Bible and is vital to Rastafarian ‘reasoning sessions’
where members gather to discuss life according to the Rasta perspective.
Most know Mistletoe as the kissing flower, in days past you’d hold a sprig of Mistletoe above the head of your beloved at Christmas and kiss them beneath it for luck.
However, this tradition and its symbolism stretch back hundreds of years to the first century A.D. Celtic Druids of that time realised that Mistletoe had a unique property, it could bloom even during the most
frigid winters. As a result, they took the plant to be a symbol of vitality and would administer it to both humans and animals in the hopes of bolstering their fertility.
Thus ends our exploration of the history of plant medicines and their cultural legacies, hopefully, you’ve learnt something interesting about both your own plants and those of other cultures around the world. As always, thank you for reading.