The Arum of the Otherworld.Here we are, at the fading edge of the sunlight. Ready to leave this safe and stable world of the known and enter the shifting world of the maybe, the perhaps and the ‘lets hope not’. Let’s slip beneath the trees into the world of folklore and myth. Because Arum is in there as well, waiting for us. And we can’t turn back now. We’re almost at the end.
In the shades of our woods we find it, standing like a spirit from the underworld given shape in ours. A seasonal manifestation of something decidedly ‘other’. Its strange, hooded form challenging us to explain its presence. Is it friend or is it foe? Or is it merely indifferent; a being busy with its own unguessed at business?
What symbolic mystery is the Arum portraying in its strange shape? What meaning is it carrying? Our ancestors thought they knew. Sustained in our folklore, Arum brings us face to face with our most cthonic desires and fears: those life-twins of sex and death. From life-creating sexual desire to death dealing serpents, Arum is there. Midwife of the doors to and from this life. Encouraging us to create and saving us from death. Sometimes. The shaman plant once again.
Let us keep our wits about us then, but not too tightly, and step through these doors into the shadow space of our collective unconsciousness, into that oral repository of knowledge, both known and unknown, that is the shared inheritance of our own folk history.
Serpents.'Like cures like' according to the Doctrine of Signatures and Arum bites like the most dangerous kind of serpent. Even it’s leaves are spotted like the viper and hooded like the cobra. The signs are obvious and overwhelming and only a fool ignores them. Thus was Arum prescribed across the ancient world for snakebite. This originally oral knowledge grew in the telling into a prescription that a person need only carry a piece of arum root to scare away serpents and even burning the plant would drive them away from one’s presence. Is Arum useful in treating venom? As far as we know, no. But we don’t know very far because no one today has tested Arum for anti-venom properties. Perhaps it does. Maybe not. But remember that Dioscoridies also advised that merely smelling the flowers of Arum could cause an abortion and we have already seen the truth in that. While it is unlikely that carrying a slip of Arum root will send nearby serpents scurrying into the undergrowth, perhaps one day a diligent researcher will discover that Arum does indeed have anti-venomous properties and the Doctrine of Signatures will chalk up yet another notch of success. Until then, this use must remain as folklore. We’d better pick a little bit then, just in case.
Sex and Life. If medicinal folklore focussed on Arum’s ability to save one from death by snake bite, popular folklore focussed altogether on the opposite end of life’s stream: sexuality. And open sexuality at that. The potent physicality of this strange plant, impudently displaying itself in unashamed openness is self evident. How could Arum be anything else but a powerful aphrodisiac? Dioscoridies could not ignore it and counselled that when drunk with wine it stirred up “vehement desire to sexual intercourse”. That’s pretty strong. A ‘vehement desire’ is one which will let nothing stand in its way and will not relent until fully satisfied. Woah! But then, how could a plant with as priapic a form as Arum induce anything less?
The power of Arum to induce and symbolise unabashed sexuality is rampantly evident in the rich fecundity of its local names which allude to this. Dog’s Dibble. Gentleman’s Finger. Stallions and Mares. Willy Lilly. In this vein it is a plant which simply stands there and exposes itself for all to see. It shouts about sex and intercourse, fucking and ploughing its way through the Anglo-Saxon imagination, it’s very existence a living symbol of the sex act made real. It invites all who see it to be as open with their sex and sexuality as it is. “Release your desires!” it cries, “And rejoice in your springtime couplings and in the life and delight that your carnal celebrations create”. The maypole of plants with a hotline to Eros and Aphrodite both.
Yet it also symbolises an aspect of the erotic which is far removed from such earthy rutting. For in its physical form it displays in a fashion very vivid for us humans, male and female sexuality joined together as one. Neither overshadowing the other. The ‘pintle in the cowl’ is as good a symbol as any of the male and female each protecting and benefiting the other with their respective qualities and strengths. Though the outward manner of display is earthy and obvious, the inner meaning is spiritual and subtle. It is the union of opposites, made real whilst still remaining in and of this world. In the midst of ribald exoteric sexuality, every Arum in every wood, along every hedgerow, openly displays to every onlooker, a deeply esoteric message. For those that have 'eyes to see', as would say the ancient philosophers.
...much more in the book....