I and J: International Womens Day and images of jasmine and juniper

I and J….
A year ago on International Womens day I was storytelling at ‘Tramways’ in Glasgow as part of the ‘sit and knit a bit’ day of events organised by garterstitch100.posterous.com it was a fantastic day I told Seven Swans; a fantastic classic, which has a central focus the sister weaving shirts of nettles to save her brothers from enchantment and whilst versions feature in collections by both Hans Anderson and the brothers Grimm, variations appear across Northern Europe…including Scotland’s ‘Seven Ravens’, anywhere in fact where Nettles have a long history of use as a fibre for making cloth. At the same event my good friend went into labour, heading for the birth of her own wee International Woman, and me and mine had a fab time doing a workshop with The Scottish ballet.
This year having finished the Storyboxes and regrouped, the house having been Spring cleaned, the daffodils  fluttering winglike petals of gold and lemon in the garden, the blue tits  stuffing down catkin seeds on the tree outside my window: I’m embroiled in heavy research for my session at Edinburgh International Science Festival ‘Which came first the Science or the story’ : 

The issue that keeps coming up time and time again with this one is the one of metaphor…. I really like metaphor, I like symbolism, I like twisted upended meanings, interlaced with hidden clues and answers, I like those conversations at the beginning of relationships that utter truths hidden behind chiffons of metaphor and paper thin hints, they’re beautiful like a dance….but within that lies the problem: like  dance not everyone is conversant with metaphor if you rely on it, misunderstandings can occur. Modern science and metaphor do not make easy partners….I’m putting lots of stories, as I work on my research, into boxes marked use for something else….stories where the herbal use, the role of the plant is suggested, hinted at alluded to, they’ll all be used for other projects other groups, other days.

One I know quite well, lies in a Pandoras dark box like purgatory, a story far more experienced storytellers than me will not use, one they will not use quite rightly. Its ugly, it chills my blood, sends a shudder of distaste up my spine, but I try to conceal my distaste to its face. In its historical context, with an insight into heavy infant mortality and the status of women at the time the Brothers Grimm pulled it into a collection. Its just darkly tragic to me. As a mother, a herbalist and a storyteller, it is a metaphor, a sad dark metaphor…and it revolves around one of Junipers best known uses anecdotally. Like the Juniper tree itself it requires respect and knowledge to best be used….I will keep it box bound for a women’s group, or herbalists maybe one day…a group that can take it and accept it as a tale of a complex plant, of a historical attitude to women, stepmothers especially, a group who can work with it beyond the immediate gory fairy story and see it as a dark sad metaphor…..please digest it carefully, and remember metaphor….

Sooooo….on with Mothers ruin…Grannies Handbag thats where I’m heading, juniper scented, trickling bombs of Juniper fall from the Gin bottle, like alcohol depleting a urban landscape of newspaper cuttings, each one talking about the role of women in the modern world, of forgotten women, of successes and traumas. The bottle of ‘Hendricks’ finest Scottish rose scented juniper laced beverage of dubious reputation falls out of the handbag in my storybox. Each item that falls out is a modern vehicle evolved from timeworn herbal cures. 
The Stories that I found that tell of some of their roles are often woven in metaphor, mysterious like the depths of any well used handbag. Alongside the Gin is a another classic, telling one woman’s story that of its creator, that of the icons its associated with, and another story hidden in the depths of its aroma, the lingering fritillaries of Jasmine and Rose : Chanel No 5. Damascus Rose that symbol of virtue, its associations with virtuous woman alongside that other herb a symbol of woman like her sister Juniper. Again like Juniper with a reputation unvirtuous, but unlike Juniper that mother protector and destroyer in one, Jasmine is a harlot, a beguiler of men, wanton twining,spirals climbing, its chaste white flowers disguise a siren like scent.  Ernest Beaux its french Russian creator knew of the duality of the symbolism of these two flowers: Rose and Jasmine, he created it for Coco to epitomise the new women of the 1920’s. It falls from grannies handbag with respectable allure, both herbs Jasmine in the perfume, juniper in the Gin paired with sweet natured Rose, all three symbolic of womanhood, with real uses relevant to women today, all disguised, repackaged, branded…

There are more stories in there….but enough for today…

I’ve got stories for scientists to find, free of dalliance, metaphor, symbolism. 

Tales which tell the pictures we now receive from research papers and empirical research….tale that carry the same knowledge. Knowledge  the way your Grandmothers Grandmother and maybe her Mother before her told, tales which guide us through humour and moral, tales of corpulent kings and clever princesses.
Stories proven by scientific research 4 centuries later…..


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