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Goddess "" Earth "" Cosmology "" Women's Health "" Reader Contributions "" Book Reviews "" Editor's Desk

Thinking Like The Mayapple

Given enough time, western science will, by its own methods, arrive at an understanding of life, "nature," and reality long since achieved by a variety of spiritual thinkers, cultures, and communities. Recent examples: (1) Conservative scientists are slowly beginning to agree with elements of the Gaia Theory, though they use other language to save face about their earlier doubts. (2) Scientists are now saying that "everyone can read minds" because they've proven it scientifically. (3) All of life is One; We are all Connected. (4) Thought and emotion affect "reality".

Spiritual seekers have known these things for quite awhile, but it's interesting when the scientists — the ones our culture trusts to know what's what — start validating our notions of reality. One bit of scientific confirmation that recently caught my eye was the announcement that scientists have proved that plants think — that plants have intelligence. Whether they have consciousness is still debatable in scientific circles....

Hardly articulate, the tiny strangleweed, a pale parasitic plant, can sense the presence of friends, foes, and food, and make adroit decisions on how to approach them.

Mustard weed, a common plant with a six-week life cycle, can't find its way in the world if its root-tip statolith - a starchy "brain" that communicates with the rest of the plant - is cut off.

The ground-hugging mayapple plans its growth two years into the future, based on computations of weather patterns. (New research opens a window on the minds of plants)

When I first read the mayapple article I thought Yeah, one more thing that pagans and other earth-based thinkers have known for a long while. Whether we talk of nymphs or devas, nature spirits or totems, familiars or allies, we recognize the sentience of plants.

For the last 8 years I've enjoyed the rare treat of having a community of mayapples as neighbors, living in a thicket that exists as wild borderland between my house and that of several neighbors. A community of mayapples, I said. Yes, community. That's one of the remarkable things about the mayapple. From a human perspective, mayapples are many individual plants living in close proximity to each other. Underground, however, they all spring from one large root system; aboveground, they offer an illusion of individuality.

There can be as many as a thousand stems in these colonies, resembling miniature forests. Because all shoots from the common root system are genetically identical, an entire colony is actually a single plant. And a May apple colony has to be 12 years old before it flowers, producing its blossom that resembles a small satellite dish, followed by the fruit. The single stemmed new stalks that originate from the seed have to grow five years before developing a rhizome that can make a forked or flowering stem. These colonies grow very slowly, averaging around four inches a year. So a large colony may be over one hundred years old! (Plant information: American Mandrake)

So when the scientist says "The ground-hugging mayapple plans its growth two years into the future," he's not talking about a single stem of mayapple, but about the entire community or colony involved in community planning.

When I put all of this together, it occurred to me that plants are probably much smarter than humans. Thinking only of my Goddess sisters and various communities I've belonged to, I'd have to say that we don't have this level of sophistication. Some of us, to be sure, may be planning community growth two years into the future, but by and large we're not doing that as communities. In organized groups, it's the leaders doing the planning and the visioning, with or without some level of input from the entire community. In smaller groups, we often struggle to schedule time together for sabbats or esbats, much less make time for planning how we want to grow in the next two years. Too often, we let fear and scarcity-consciousness and our unexamined shadows determine who we consider to be "in" or "outside" our communities.

So how does a community plan? If by full concensus, the answer is: slowly. My most satisfying group experiences have been those that operated by full concensus, but this type of organization and decision-making is not for anyone who's in a hurry to get anywhere. I understand that we've all been in a hurry to dive into Goddess consciousness and immerse ourselves in it, but I hope once the newness of this incredible power and fulfillment wears off we'll be able to take things a bit more slowly. To plan together how we want to grow. To think like the mayapple.

And if we did think like the mayapple, what would we plan? How would we "read the weather"? What would we do to achieve our goals? I can't possibly provide answers by myself, but when I think about plants, and about the women who share their voices in MatriFocus, I find some pieces of food for thought:

  1. Strategize:
    As trowel-wielding scientists dig up a trove of new findings, even those skeptical of the evolving paradigm of "plant intelligence" acknowledge that, down to the simplest magnolia or fern, flora have the smarts of the forest. Some scientists say they carefully consider their environment, speculate on the future, conquer territory and enemies, and are often capable of forethought - revelations that could affect everyone from gardeners to philosophers. (New research opens a window on the minds of plants)
  2. Investigate and respond to our environments:
    Indeed, extraordinary new findings on how plants investigate and respond to their environments are part of a sprouting debate over the nature of intelligence itself. (New research opens a window on the minds of plants)
  3. Communicate, calculate, remember:
    Not only can plants communicate with each other and with insects by coded gas exhalations, scientists say now, they can perform Euclidean geometry calculations through cellular computations and, like a peeved boss, remember the tiniest transgression for months. (New research opens a window on the minds of plants)
  4. Challenge and exert power as called for:
    To a growing number of biologists, the fact that plants are now known to challenge and exert power over other species is proof of a basic intellect. (New research opens a window on the minds of plants)
  5. Connect with plant wisdom, as Susun and Jennifer do.
  6. Slow down and explore what truly nurtures, as Karin recommends.
  7. Explore and celebrate women's art!
  8. Claim The Charge of the Goddess as Pagan sacred text and explore how it might help us shape community ethics and practices, as Kila suggests.
  9. Take Boye's challenge: Step forward from anger into reverence and happiness and develop a lovingkindness practice.
  10. Expand our definitions of love, and consider how we support and/or challenge our sisters, our congregations, spiritual directors and spiritual congregants, as Bellezza suggests.
  11. Join Jeri's Godmother revolution and create new visions, as Theresa has done.
  12. Explore what others are thinking about and share this with your community, as Madelon and Dahti are doing.
  13. Let the Goddess speak through you; explore the connections between self and other; research and interpret old stories in the light of new thought.
  14. Or consider taking action to counter the thoughts and prayers of many fundamentalist Christians, Muslims and Jews, thoughts and prayers that are creating the reality of apocalypse:
    What would happen if we all agreed to believe in an impending event that will renew the earth, restore the health of oceans and skies, remove from danger the endangered species, catalyze the production and use of earth-friendly forms of energy and housing and locomotion, instill in human beings an instinctive consciousness of cooperation and compassion? What if we embodied our beliefs? Made bumperstickers, gave public talks, prophesied, wrote books about a New Consciousness for the Renewed World? (Anti-Armageddon, Anti-Apocalypse)

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