The Sacred Lotus, Nelumbo nucifera
The leaf reminded me of a textile, very fibrous and tightly woven, one that would hold its shape for any number of purposes.
The flower buds express the same tight, pointy quality as the leaves, and later also unfurl into a chalice-like multi-petaled blossom with a central head or urn-like pod. The pointy buds are all green, multi-layered, and tightly outlined, with no color initially. As the flower bud begins to mature, it gets more relaxed, pinking up, but still maintaining the tight symmetry of the upward pointing bud. The fully opened blossom falls downward, away from the central cupule. When the petals drop, the central pod enlarges and ripens, also expressing the same shape as the flower. The flowers appear very delicate in relation to the rest of the plant.
The roots are buried in the mud, and the stalks of the leaves and flowers are strongly attached to the root, resisting the tug of human hands to pull them out without cutting them. The stalks are also very fibrous, bending closer to the water as the stalk dries and the seeds mature. I did not observe any stalks that were actually broken off.
Photo from pdphoto.org
The flowers and the leaves all appeared to be reaching for the sun. The flowers closed in the late afternoon. I am not sure what time they open, but their motion definitely seems to be in relation to the sunshine. The leaves and pods remain upright, facing the sky, until they bend at some point in the stem when they are dying or ripening. Then these parts of the plant seem to return to the surface of the water, back into the depths and their roots.
The Lotus was very sturdy and well anchored. Although the flowers looked delicate, the petals were fairly substantial, at least to the touch. The strong stems of flowers and leaves were tubular and hollow, like conduits from the water upward.
The leaves, flowers and seed pods all have a similar signature: transforming from deep within to high in the air, then bending downward again and returning to the depths.
Each individual plant was not discernible to me, as many plants appeared to cluster together. Leaves, flowers, and pods appeared in random numbers on the pond, and also within the geometry of the plant. There was a lot of variation in the number of leaves, number of pods or number of seeds within each pod. I did observe that the seeds are arranged in a circle around the perimeter of the pod, with a variable odd or even number, surrounding the center seeds, which were also arranged in an odd or even number. The leaves occasionally had a bend or actual spiral in the stem, but the orientation for all remained upward.
The pods/seed heads contain the Lotus seeds within little circular chambers on the flat surface of the top of the pod. These circles appeared to cradle the seeds, which are round, within the pod until fully ripe. Both the chamber of each seed and the seed itself got larger and larger until the pod bent over to finally release the seeds into the water.
The visual effect was upward, upward, upward and then unfurl, and stretch outward; soak up the sun, ripen, ripen, ripen, bend downward, downward, downward, and return to the depths.
The signature of the plant and the cycle appears to follow a circular or even spiral path. The shape of the leaves and the flowers from bud to seed head had a very similar look and feel.
The Lotus grows in a aquatic environment, sinking its tough, tuberous roots into the mud. The plants and flowers seem to prefer the full sun, but the plants at Terra Flora also had some dappled shade cover and were flourishing. All the Lotuses I observed enjoyed the company of water lilies. The Lotuses were able to take advantage of their upward orientation even if surrounded by water lilies crowding the surface of the water.
The Lotuses were surrounded by living creatures. The insects I observed were the dragonflies and mosquitoes, the latter especially this year in Illinois. In my home observations, I noticed many birds in my yard. The sparrows and smaller birds like finches perched on the edge of the tub my Lotus was growing in when I removed it to build the larger water garden. The birds drank from the water and cautiously bathed in it for the few days the Lotus was “dry-docked”.
Lotuses prefer the still water of lakes and ponds. They seem to need the mud to get a strong foot hold. The Midwest is full of dense clay and tenacious mud. I’m not sure how these plants would do in sandy soil.
The Lotus embodies all four elements. The plant springs from the mud (Earth) and must be firmly rooted there. Water is necessary to sustain the plant and the stalks are hollow and filled with milky sap when growing. The leaves and flowers rise from the depths and are held above the water’s surface, representing Air. Also, the orientation of the leaves and flowers until they dry is upward, reaching into the air. The air spaces within the stems maintain buoyancy. The flowers and leaves unfurl, representing transformation or Fire. The pink Lotuses I observed held within the blossom’s center the bright yellow cupule or urn with yellow, fibrous sepals. Surrounded by bright pink petals, this gesture was reminiscent of a ring of fire. The Lotus flowers are sun-lovers and are generally intolerant of the colder weather. The petals of the Lotus flower close to control the plant’s inner circulation of water, so it is not less affected by weather. Lotuses do not bloom during the cold of winter.
Summer, or the season of Fire, is when the Lotus blossoms. In spring, and through the summer, the plant is vigorously growing, enjoying the warmth and humidity. The flowers open in response to sunlight, usually opening in the morning and closing in the afternoon. (This is not a direct observation; I did not see many flowers over the course of a full day). In fall, the Lotus leaves wither, the seeds within the pods ripen and eventually bend down to release the seeds. During winter, the plant sleeps beneath the water’s surface with dormant roots.
The plant has different degrees of hardiness, depending on the species and cultivar. The Illinois Lotuses are hardy to Zone 5.
Twelve windows through which to view the Lotus
Form, gesture, signature: This was mostly covered above. The form of the flowers, leaves, and pods are the cup or chalice. Stated in the “Twelve Windows of Plant Perception,” is the perfect description of the Lotus: “CUP—These forms have soft curves and create inner spaces, or chalices within the flower. …They evoke sensitive awareness of the inmost qualities of the soul life, such as heartfelt feelings of love and nurturance.” The description of the cup form seemed to embody the universally recognized qualities of the Lotus flower and why it is so widely viewed as a sacred symbol in many spiritual practices and diverse cultures. There was a beautiful symmetry to all parts of the plant, in all stages, which demonstrated the chalice: the inner gathering of, yet the outward expression of, beauty.
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta—Vascular plants
Superdivision: Spermatophyta—Seed plants
Division: Magnoliophyta—Flowering plants
Family: Nelumbonaceae—Lotus-Lily family
Genus: Nelumbo adans—Lotus
Species: Nelumbo nucifera—Sacred Lotus
The Indian Lotus, Nelumbonaceae, Genus Nelumbo adans, has three “direct children”:
Nelumbo lutea: Wild
Nelumbo nucifera Gaertn.: American Lotus
Nelumbo nucifera (aka Nelumbo speciosum): Sacred Lotus
It was interesting to read on the USDA plant website that the wild Nelumbo lutea is found in 30 states in the USA yet is listed as a “noxious weed” in 46 states. Further tidbits included: banned in Connecticut, listed as threatened in Michigan, listed as endangered in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. That started my thoughts wondering what the indigenous people may have used the wild Lotus for, and did it have properties similar to the Nelumbo nucifera?
Nelumbo nucifera is native to southern Asia and Australia and was introduced to Europe in 1787 as a “stove house water lily” by Joseph Banks. Ancient Egyptians worshipped the blue water lily, Nymphaea caerulea, as the “blue Lotus” or “sacred Lotus.” N. nucifera was introduced late in Egyptian history is now extremely rare or extinct in Africa in the wild. In its native habitats, N.nucifera is widely naturalized. It is the national flower of Vietnam and India. Many times, the term “Lotus” is applied to water lilies as well as the true Lotuses, although their growing habits and uses are very different.
Nelumbo nucifera is very large, vertically about 150 cm and spreading up to 3 meters (which explains why I couldn’t discern individual plants). The flowers can be up to 20 cm in diameter and the leaves 60 cm across.
Color: Glorious pink. Fleeting but unforgettable. The center cupule of the blossom is brilliant yellow surrounded by fibers of white with yellow tips (the sepals). The pink petals ring the edges. All the stems, leaves, buds and seed heads are a mellow spring to lime green that persists into the fall, even as the leaves and pods are withering and browning on the edges and tops.
Biochemistry: This was too much for me to digest, even drinking lots of strong black tea. There is a lot of research going on with Lotus japonica, but I wasn’t sure if this applied to the rest of the Lotuses. I did find from Kew Gardens online that ancient Lotus seeds contain an enzyme called L-isoaspartyl methyltransferase which repairs proteins and may play a role in anti-aging. I read many reports of Lotus seeds dormant for 1800 years sprouting, and also of plants sprouting up from dry ponds after years without water. More later on the implications of this with regard to the spiritual meanings of Lotus. There is also a note about the alkaloid, nelumbine, present in the leaves, fruit stalks, and seeds which can affect the heart. No cases of adverse reactions have been documented. Long considered a very healthy food, Lotus contains high amounts of dietary fiber and low amounts of saturated fat. Lotus also contains vitamin C, potassium, riboflavin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, copper, and manganese.
Medicinal uses, herbal lore, folk wisdom: I was overwhelmed by the number of references found for both traditional and Western medicine and decided to combine these topics, while separating out mythology due to the widely recognized sacredness of the Lotus in many spiritual practices.
It is amazing that the medicine of the Lotus has been used for centuries in Asia and continues to be used in contemporary medicine virtually unchanged. The Lotus plant is said to have no fewer than seven different parts of medicinal use, often for different purposes.
The traditional use of Lotus for treatment of diarrhea, fungal infections, fevers and skin conditions (such as leprosy and ringworm) are supported by Western scientific investigation. The latex sap found within the leaves, stems, and flowers has great anti-bacterial activity and has been used to treat sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis, as well as other bacterial infections. The astringent qualities of Lotus may be efficacious in treating hemorrhoids and dysentery. In folk medicine, the astringent qualities of the flowers make Lotus blossoms a frequent treatment for diarrhea and cholera. Western medical treatment using Lotus has been effective in certain kinds of diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
The following “folk wisdom” was noted in the Kew online papers:
Roots and Rhizomes: To treat smallpox, throat conditions, loss of skin pigmentation, coughs, diarrhea, and dysentery. Rhizomes boiled with sesame oil and rubbed on the head to cool the head, including the eyes.
Leaves and Stems: Prepared many ways to treat hemorrhoids (piles), leprosy, parasites and vomiting.
Various parts of the flower, including petals: For diarrhea, cholera, fever, liver conditions, bronchitis, skin eruptions, snakebites, and scorpion stings. Dried flowers are prepared into a syrup to treat coughs.
Fruits and seeds: To soothe inflamed mucous membranes, lower fever, and alleviate halitosis. Seeds taken orally with a rice wash for seven days can increase female fertility.
All parts of the plant—root, leaves, stems, flowers, seed pods, and seeds—are used medicinally and also for food. The starchy root or rhizome is eaten in China, India, Japan, and other parts of Asia as a vegetable. The large leaves are used to wrap food and even the stamens are dried to make into an herbal tea or tea additive. The seeds are eaten raw or dried and popped like popcorn. In China, the seeds are also boiled down into a paste to use for a sweet soup or combined with sugar to make pastries such as the famous mooncakes. In India, the Lotus seeds are called Phool Mukhana and used in cooking. The flower petals are sometimes used as a garnish and eaten. There was a reference to Nelumbo petapetala used as a source of starchy diet for the Native Americans. The plant may also be a source of food for wild animals in some regions.
The flowers are given as a sacred offering in many Eastern temples and the dried pods are used extensively for decoration and flower arrangements. A thread is made from the leaf stalks is used for making wicks for oil lamps in temples. Cloth woven from this yarn is believed to cure many ailments. I have a mala (string of prayer beads) made of Lotus seeds, which I began to wear when working on this project.
I found references to the flower essence being given to animals to encourage them to reach their hightest potential. It is said to have one of the highest vibrations of any flower. Thus, animals who are victims of abuse or trauma, or those transitioning can benefit from the gentle action of Lotus, rising out of the mud and transforming into Spirit.
|The fascinating part of this for me was seeing the Lotus as so valuable in the physical world for medicine and sustenance, while also maintaining the sacred and revered connotations for feeding the spirit. Thus, the Lotus lives in both worlds, the physical and spiritual, and represents the ultimate ability to be of service on all planes of existence.|
Cosmic and Earthly Relationship: The Lotus is the bridge between the Cosmos and the Earth. I found a plethora of research information about the spiritual meaning of Lotus; to me, this was obvious from observing how much metaphor the entire plant expresses. The Lotus root remains firmly in the mud, rooted within the primordial womb. To express its inherent beauty and ultimate potential, the flower, the Lotus pushes up through the water and unfurls from pointed leaves and buds into large, breathtaking rounded leaves and flowers. The chalice opens to gather and receive love and light. Although it rises from the mud, no dirt clings to the parts of the Lotus high in the air. The Lotus loves the sun and opens to its warmth. When the flower matures, the seed pod encloses the seeds in a cup-like womb. When fully mature, the stalk bends to release the Lotus seeds back into the water, into the mud to be born again.
|The Lotus seeds can survive an incredibly long time in a dried-up body of water and have germinated and grown into plants after more than a thousand years of dormancy. The Lotus lives in the world, but is not of the world.|
Mythology/Spiritual Symbolism: In the next section, I will describe what the Lotus said about spiritual symbolism, as I understood it. This section will briefly cover the symbolism that has abounded through the millennia. I did not undertake the study of Lotus due to abundance of information on the plant; rather, I wanted to understand the message that Lotus was speaking to me. The amount of information on the mythology and spiritual symbolism is staggering. I hope to adequately cover the highlights.
The Lotus is considered a sacred and divine flower in many religions, most notably Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Baha’i faith. The Lotus rises from the mud, untouched and clean, to open into a magnificent flower high in the air. The life cycle, stature, and perfection of the Lotus is perhaps the reason that it represents purity, peace, transcendence, enlightenment, rebirth, beauty, and fertility. The flowers open with the light of the sun and close with darkness. Each day is a new life, a new rebirth for the flower. The life cycles of the Lotus, both daily and seasonal, evoke how the human spirit unfolds: from humble beginnings in the mud to the blossoming of the soul in the ether and light.
In Hindu creation mythology, the whole universe was at the end of days, engulfed in an ocean and timeless darkness after the “great deluge” (the flood and Noah’s Ark?). Vishnu, the preserver of life, was asleep in the primordial waters, dreaming of worlds to come. The Lotus flower emerged from his navel as his dreams unfolded. Brahma, the creator, was asleep within the Lotus flower. As Brahma stirred, creation began to unfold and new life appeared. That ancient world was also likened to “chaos” and our world was born through a “Golden Lotus,” the opening from the womb of the Universe. Many deities in Hinduism and Buddhism are depicted sitting on a Lotus blossom or carrying a Lotus in one of their many arms. The Buddha is said to sleep on a giant pink Lotus blossom six months of the year!
Ancient Egyptian mythology also alludes to Creation springing from a blue Lotus (actually a water lily, Nymphaea caerulea). The Lotus sprang from the primordial waters at the end of days, and the flower opened to reveal a new child god to restore the Light and dispel the Darkness.
It is told that when Gautma Buddha was born, he was able to walk fully upright minutes after birth and the Lotus blossoms sprang from the forest floor where he walked, thus foretelling of his divinity.
|A symbol of the promise for humankind to rise above the muddy “soup” of life, the Lotus rises and unfolds, as the awakening and blossoming of those sincere on their spiritual quest.|
In Buddhist and Hindu symbology, the Lotus represents pure mind, bod, and speech, floating above the murky waters of attachment and desire. So it is believed that the heart can stay pure if the soul grows from the mud but does not partake of it. The Lotus is also a potent symbol of immortality and rebirth, as it can spring from the bottom of dried up pools after the rains.
Nelumbo nucifera, the pink Lotus, is the favorite flower of Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity. It is said that in India, there is a race between the businessmen and God each morning to procure the pink Lotus to offer to Lakshmi for material abundance or for honoring and devotion at the temples. The pink Lotus is said to also be a favorite of Brahma and used to describe the beauty and perfection of Vishnu, the “Lotus-Eyed One” or the “One-Eyed Lotus.”
The Indian literature also mentions the Lotus in reference to sensuality, beauty, and lovemaking. Other names of the Lotus include Padma, Kamla, and Kamalasana. In the Kamshastra (The Art of Lovemaking), the most beautiful and accomplished woman in this art is called the Padmini (the Lotus Lady). In Vajrayana Buddhism, the union of the hard vajra (thunderbolt) penetrates the soft, open Lotus and embodies the divine embrace of compassion and wisdom. Lotus’ virtues span both the physical and spiritual planes.
The Baha'i temple in New Delhi was designed in the form of a Lotus by the architect, Fariburz Sahaba. He said, “The Lotus not only has an association with all the religions of India but is probably the most perfect flower in the whole world. It is symmetrical, it is exquisitely beautiful. And how does it grow? It grows in a swamp, and it raises its head out of the slime absolutely clean and perfect. Now this is what the manifestation of God is in the world.” At night, it is said that the illuminated building appears to be floating on water.
Krishna and Radhe: I love the Lotuses blooming at night
Madame H.P. Blavatsky of the Theosophical Society spoke of the Lotus as a spiritual symbol in the late 1890s: “There are no ancient symbols, without a deep and philosophical meaning attached to them; their importance and significance increasing with their antiquity. Such is the LOTUS. It is the flower sacred to nature and her Gods, and represents the abstract and the Concrete Universes, standing as the emblem of the productive powers of both spiritual and physical nature.”
The chakras, or energy wheels, are depicted as variations of the Lotus. The crown chakra at the top of the head is called the “Thousand Petalled Lotus” and represents enlightenment. The gradual unfolding of the Lotus petals, one petal at a time, in response to the Sun, mirrors for us the awakening of our higher souls to self-realization or enlightenment.
In yoga, the “classic” meditation position is called padmasana or Lotus position. It is said to help keep the back straight for the transmission of energy through the spine and to help reach the highest level of consciousness. This symbolizes “reaching for pure knowledge while being rooted in the material world of experience.”
|Meditating on the Lotus is said to bring peace and stillness into all aspects of our being. The soul is said to live in the Lotus within the heart; thus, the crown chakra cannot be fully open without the heart being fully open as well.|
I spent many hours communing with the Lotus in my backyard, sometimes just observing, sometimes listening, sometimes asking for a message or a piece of wisdom.
I saw a very shimmering quality around the Lotus, her aura, I believe. It was not sunny out, just a typical grey, overcast, Chicago-type day. The dew and droplets of water on the leaves and pods really sparkled, however. I can only liken this to the ether around the Lotus plant.
There was little wind, just a subtle breeze. The Lotus leaves and pods seemed to almost imperceptibly nod or sway with the breeze, silently. At the Chicago Botanic Garden, it was fairly windy and sunny; the leaves and pods of the Lotuses were rustling but effortlessly.
Here is what the Lotus said to me:
“Put your toes in the muck—dig in! Rise with strong stems from the waters of life. Unfold to greet the Sun. Let beauty be your reflection.”
I contemplated for a long time what the flower essence of Lotus meant for me. In the FES Professional Course notebook, the use of Lotus as an archetypal essence is not described until the Meta-Flora Level Seven, dealing with the higher realms of the spirit and soulwork.
LOTUS—“To facilitate the balanced development of the crown chakra, opening the soul to the consciousness of higher worlds, but also helping the soul to see the false spiritual ego, inflation, or illusion of grandeur.”
I began taking the Lotus essence about two weeks ago and this is what I understand about my spiritual growth right now:
We are able to do our work here on the physical plane in a physical body. If we were already self-realized, we would be in the ether, not of the Earth. In order to attain that enlightenment, that self-realization, we must come from the muck, the trials and tribulations of the earthly life. It is only through the gifts of the body and being in the “soup” of earthly existence that we come through the transcendence process of uniting body, mind, and spirit and become whole. The key is to navigate the waters, be nurtured by the Earth and the Sun, always looking upward towards home.
|Lotus flower essence is helping me to be in the world, open my heart to the world, and not drown in the soup. The essence has a very earthly quality to me, while balancing the desire to be “up there.”|
Following is a message that came to me while traveling. It got my attention, as it came seemingly from “nowhere.”
Behold Lotus, out of the mud whose mighty leaves unfurl
Catching dewdrops like pools of glittering jewels with her embrace
Out of the mud I rise with buds and leaves tightly wound
To burst forth with color and form of delicate strength
Water is life. The Lotus grows in the water but springs from the mud. The signature of exquisite beauty from the muck of the primordial earth. Signature is Earthbound reaching spiritually skyward.
Embodies the four elements. Progression from earth/mud, through the water/life, within its cycles the fire of transformation/leaves and flowers unfurl, always reaching upwards towards the sky and sun into the air/ether of the spiritual kingdom
The Womb of the Lotus: an original parable
Lotus sleeps, deep in the warm muck of her Mother. Asleep, dreaming of nothing but warm and wet. She feels the weight of the water, the movement gently caressing her. She feels the stars, the light of Moon. She feels the brightness of Sun. Yet, she is asleep and cannot see them truly.
Up out of the muck Lotus must push strong stems. Her Mother does not cry as Lotus rises. This will always be home. So determined, so strong. No mud clings to her as she stretches forth. Up, up and now she knows what it is to feel with all her senses. She feels the air, the glorious lightness of air, so different from her earthly home. With glee, she opens her leaves, her arms, to embrace the air. She feels the breeze and the warmth. She basks in this warmth.
Time passes and Lotus feels she will burst with joy. So she sends up a shoot pointed straight towards the sky. So happy, so free, so peaceful. As Lotus smiles, the bud bursts open, so lovely and still. This is a greeting of love to Father Sun, an expression of natural perfection.
Later, Lotus encloses her seeds, like her Mother, in a fleshy womb. She will bend, not break, to send these seeds of her awakening back home to be born again.
“Nothing dies,” her Mother whispers. “We only slumber to awaken and live again.”
(This was written in my backyard in Northbrook, IL)About Share Siwek
Share Siwek’s love of flora and fauna led her to an undergraduate degree in agriculture and then to the University of Missouri veterinary college, where she received a traditional allopathic education. As a classic "late bloomer," she practiced emergency medicine after graduation in her early 30s. Seven-and-a-half years ago, she started a holistic/integrative practice, Kindred Spirits Healing Arts, where she was able to share her respect and admiration for the many gifts of the plant kingdom with her patients and clients.
Share has used plant medicine in many forms including flower essences, herbs of all kinds, and essential oils. Her practice also incorporates acupuncture, bodywork such as massage and chiropractic, and Reiki and other energetic healing modalities. Currently, she is exploring the deeper aspects of flower essences and intuitive healing.
After work, she tends to the stewardship of a beautiful 1/2 acre of Mother Earth in suburban Chicagoland, where she watches the miraculous interaction of flora and fauna unfold each day. The garden includes many trees, shrubs, perennials, grasses, water plants and many edible and medicinal plants that the climate will allow.
Share attended the 2007 FES Professional Course.
www.plantcultures.org (Kew Gardens)
www.theosociety.org (the Theosophical University Press Online Edition)
www.holisticaroma.co.uk (from an article published in the Aromatherapy Times (Vol. 1, No. 61)
http://en.wikipedia.org (Nelumbo nucifera )
http://plants.usda.gov (plants profile— Nelumbo nucifera Gaertn.)
The Flower Essence Repertory by Patricia Kaminski and Richard Katz
The Plant Study Guide from the 2007 FES Professional Course by Patricia Kaminski and Richard Katz
The Flower Essence Society 2007 Professional Course Notebook by P. Kaminski and R. Katz
Lotus cover photo from pdphoto.org
Small Lotus pictures from en.wikipedia.org
“If life is a journey…” card from Tree of Life Inspirations, www.treeol.com
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