Part 7: Phoenix Flower
The next morning I could remember nothing, not even a letter, of the flower's name.
Later that afternoon, I went into my study, retrieved the wilted violet, and dumped it, unburned, into the garden. I half-hoped this would rid me of the shadow's presence.
A week or so passed before I found myself with a few moments to spare. I resumed my research into Yeats and came across a remarkable scholarly work entitled "W.B. Yeats and the Vegetable Phoenix." This fascinating study reviewed Yeats' Ghost Flower ritual from the point of view of palingenesis, an archaic, alchemical notion regarding the resurrection of a plant's spirit through arcane processes of distillation.
I soon came across the following lines: "Vallemont indeed warns that, ‘We must not expect a solid Body in this Apparition: ’tis only a Shadow; and if any one should rashly go about to touch this resuscitated Rose, it would fare with him as with the sacrilegious Ixion, who thinking to embrace Juno, found only a flitting Cloud, without any Consistency’." 1
This set my heart racing. Mann's dissertation on palingenesis reignited my determination to perform the full Ghost Flower ritual.
I'd seen the shadow that Vallemont spoke of. I'd forgotten it's name, but not its message. Something inside me still reeled with anger and shame at the shadow's warning against pornographic thoughts. I felt dirty, small, and in many ways pathetic.
That said, my heart soared with the beauty of synchronicity and the mystery of having seen such a wonderful thing.
I would burn another flower. This time I would take proper steps to do it right.
1. Mann, Neil. "W.B. Yeats and the Vegetable Phoenix." Yeats Annual 17, ed. W. Gould (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), pp. 3–35.
Part 6: Shadow Sleep
But if this was true how were we to live? The answer was that nothing truly died! It just transferred from one vibratory state in the aether to another. This did not make it OK to eat animals or kill people; quite the contrary, it placed an utmost emphasis on intent. Responsibility came from intent and not action.
This is why an act like sex could be both hateful and loving; the same went for giving a gift or for sharing knowledge. Intent mattered more than action. An inversion of the usual way of thinking. One that, for me, quickly began to gain in appeal.
After this initial experience which lasted about three to five seconds, I had another lightning-bolt realization. Of course the ghost of the flower had appeared as a shadow! It was a violet and it lived in shade. It was communicating its essence.
The eerie shadow dissipated, but a strange blackness seemed to hang in the corner of the room and I was scared. Not only of the experience and the lingering darkness, but suddenly, I was afraid to fall asleep at all.
Falling asleep felt far too close to the kind of surrendering of ego-consciousness that took place at death. Fear built to the point where it seemed like an embryonic phobia. I had the terrifying thought that I might never want to sleep again.
I don't remember what happened next, precisely, but I fell into the most restful sleep I'd in years, and when I woke, the sun was shining all through my room.
Part Five: Shadow Ghost
A strange shadow suddenly passed across the south side of the bedroom. The shadow was very dark and moved through the room rather than across the wall. It was there for only a few moments and a realization rippled through me that somehow, ridiculously, this had to do with the Ghost Flower ritual.
This was the flower's ghost!
But how could that be when I had not yet even burned the flower, let alone placed its ashes under the moon?
Never mind the questions! Tremors of fear pulsed through me. The flower-shadow seemed very powerful and slightly menacing. The flower-shadow spoke its name in my mind and I held that name, knowing that in doing so, I held the spirit of the flower.
The flower then imparted something to me that can only be described as anti-pornographic. It seemed to imply that I should raise my erotic awareness to a much higher level. I was troubled and offended at this.
The flower-shadow then intimated that plucking a flower to use in the ritual was exactly the same as using a human being as a sacrifice. This was a strange thought in that it seemed to imply that some flowers and some people were willing (or fated) to be sacrificed. It also seemed to imply that people and flowers, as well as weeds, insects, and any other life you care to mention were of absolutely equal value. This meant either way: one was as cheap or as sacred as another.
There could be no compromise or hierarchy. In sacrificing the flower, I had to understand that this was the same as killing a person. I found this very hard to accept, but I knew that it was actually the point of the shadow's apparition and probably the reason that this violet had come my way in the first place.
If this flower had anything to say to humanity it was: raise up out of pornography and start seeing the consciousness of all living things.
This was not an entirely new thought to me, but its power of realization at that moment made it seem extremely new and my mind raced to keep up with the consequences of such a truth. It wasn't possible to go through life without killing anything. I'd been a vegetarian from the age of fifteen but now I knew for certain that a blade of grass, let alone an apple or pear, possessed a soul and a consciousness just as any human being.
Part 4: Waning Violet
When I got home, I placed the sad little violet in a glass box. I decided to let it dry out and then burn it a week or so later. I had serious doubts as to whether it would generate enough ashes to even give the ritual a chance to work.
I felt deflated. All but a drop of my original enthusiasm had leaked away.
That evening I looked online for a proper bell-jar and decided it wasn't worth the money to buy one. Instead, I'd simply place the glass box in moonlight after I'd burned the scrubby violet.
By the time bedtime came around, I'd forgotten all about the Ghost Flower ritual and my mind was absorbed with plans for my day to day life. I got under the covers and hoped for a good night's dream.
The moon was visible through the partially open curtains of our western facing bedroom window. Its silver light leaked a latticework into the bedroom. I was watching the moonlight and the moon and thinking about how many times the moon had punctuated important events in my life. Once I had a vision of the moon as a Watchman who passed on regular rounds and cared for the earth and everything that lived on it.
For some reason I could never seem to shake that vision.
Part Three: Violet
My mood soured as I moved along the deer-printed path. The shadows lengthened and I realized, with finality, that my dream-rose was simply that: a daydream.
No phantom was going to bloom out of my red-rose into a bell-jar. I walked on, past the abandoned bootlegger's car that was pocked with bullet-holes and appeared to have crashed sixty years past into a wall of honeysuckle. Just beyond where the old car rusted a narrow path led up a steep incline to an open cornfield.
Sunlight called and I huffed up the hill. Once on top, I saw endless corn. I spied the Catholic cemetery across the field. I heard a very strange sound, almost like a baby-cry. An instant later, the biggest hawk I had ever seen flew over my head, screeching. The hawk, obviously hunting, circled overhead.
I turned back. My idea about following Yeats's Ghost Flower ritual seemed stupid to me now. But I'd promised myself to do it, so I reluctantly decided to just grab whatever flower I could find and go home.
Reluctantly, I picked the only kind of flower available, a droopy violet. It promptly came apart in my hands. So did the second one. The third one shriveled up as soon as I picked it, but it retained enough of its form that it still resembled a flower, so I put it into my water bottle and started the long walk home.
I now felt myself broiling with contempt. I had wanted a rose, not a violet. Now the whole ritual just seemed like waste of time. On top of that, I'd started feeling extremely thirsty about ten seconds after I put the violet in my water bottle. If I wanted to drink now, I'd have to drink out of the water with the scrubby flower in it. Wiping sweat and spiderwebs off of my face, I took a long drink.
It tasted flowery and cold.
Daniel E. Blackston
My experiences with William Butler Yeats's Ghost Flower ritual.