Welcome, my swaying palm fronds, to the Botanarchy Newsletter: Summer Solstice Edition! Yang energy reaches its peak on the Summer Solstice, and together we are unfurling in full bloom, carried over the shoulder of the summer sun into the rubicund sunset. After this celestial event, the pull of the underworld asserts itself with a beckoning finger wave, as yang energy wanes and yin waxes. But before the Dark Goddess takes back her throne, it’s SUMMER Y’ALL! Fire season hath descended upon us like a frolicsome satyr looking to party.
Often consuming, sometimes overextending itself, and certainly with a penchant for transgressing boundaries, the Fire element exposes limits whilst simultaneously showing limitlessness. It expresses the capacity of the infinite by aligning our will with a higher power, allowing us to glimpse the immortal self through ecstasy & enthusiasmos. Let us lavish in abundance and call in Fire season like sirens soliciting strangers on a perch of barnacle’d rock. Let us honor the expansion and full florescence with erotic explorations of inner and outer nature. As summer crowns, so do we, let us take her hand and slowly whisper “I’ll stop the world and melt with you.”
Summer is the moment in the cosmic rotation where we are closest to the sun, the moon, and the stars. So close, that perhaps - PERHAPS - we can hear them whispering to us. The fire season is ruled by the heart, and the heart reaches apex aliveness during the summer. Intuition and xin - the heartmind- stir and rustle in the summer breezes. The capacity to sense with our heart awakens, and if we consciously open the doors of perception, we can directly experience the inherent meanings that flow through nature and connect with the living intelligence of Earth and her kin. In celebrating nature as a kindred being, we wake up our inherent wildness and learn to govern by the part of us that remains undomesticated, feral, in tune with our truest desires. In that spirit, here is a poem sent by a patient, who, like me, writes ecosensual paeans to Nature:
As is my seasonal custom, I made you a mix tape to soak up all the sonic alchemy the sun is layin’ down.
This might be my last newsletter for a hot spell, as I am taking the summer off from writing missives in order to finish my book proposal (😱). Wish me luck and honey-tongued eloquence!
In health and solidarity,
By Carolyn Barron
In thinking about the yang exuberance and epic aliveness encircling us like a solar flare, if ever there was a time to pick a flower, that time is surely now. Eos in her saffron-colored robe woven from titian-tinted flowers reaches out her rosy fingers to unlock the gates of heaven, and the Sun swaggers out on His grandest day of the year. The abundance of summer sunlight cascading from his chariot of winged horses coaxes plants into peak photosynthesis. Chamomile, Calendula, St John’s Wort, Hemp, Fennel, Elder… the blooms abounding during Midsummer hearken to tiny suns fanning themselves in the breezes. Our ancestors knew about the power of stored solar qi and the expression of heaven as she lives in a flower. Druidic healers believed that herbs attained peak medicinal value on the solstice, and would spend their stretch of solstice sunlight harvesting them to be used throughout the year. In Latvia, Midsummer’s Eve is known as ‘Herb Evening’ (every evening in my homestead), and garlands were gathered to be worn and paraded about during Midsummer festivities. Imagine! An entire eve devoted to flower-picking for ritual adornment. I swoon. In China, the solstice marks both the wheat harvest and the final unfurling of the Peonies, a sacred plant whose perennial potion graces herbal formulas in my clinic each and every day. Legend has it that Peonies were brought by the Chinese flower god to save us mortals from the plague, and our sacred peony medicines Mu Dan and Shao Yao are often called ‘The King of Flowers’ and ‘The Queen of Flowers’ respectively.
Though we are reaching peak florabundance, there is one fey bloom who asserts itself time and time again in rituals, recipes, and lore this time of year, and that is Hypericum Perforatum, St. John’s Wort. A lesson in etymology for my ladies in the back: The monicker “hypericum” derives from the Greek hyper - above - and eikon - (holy image/icon) - referring to the ancient tradition of hanging the plant over religious icon paintings on St. John’s Day, which is the Christianization of Midsummer honoring St. John the Baptist. A bastardization of our heathen forebears’ rites of purification and protection by herbs and fire, St. John’s Day was the time of year one banished evil from homes and houses of worship, coopted for the Christian cause by religious imperialists who then went on to essentially wipe European paganism off the map. But I digress!
St John’s Wort does its bloomin’ in the Solstice Sun and its healing all year round. It grows wild and hoary in the hedgerows, woods, and meadows, almost like a stalky golden lookout for a fairy to climb upon. You might even find some growing on the roadsides of So Cal where no thing doth tread (if you do, call a sister up). Look for it dotting the feet of celebrants in the film Midsommer, and see it grace the annals of myth and poetry as a bardic enchantress fierce protectress. Behold it bespeckle an old English poem that simultaneously condemns witchcraft and then teaches you how to spellcraft in one breath:
Its yellow spikes of flowers could be a choker around Apollo’s neck, tiny microcosmic suns that bring a gilded auric glow to all they touch. Like the hand of Midas, they leave trails of golden color wherever they go, and a maceration of the flowers in oil yields the most transcendent amber hue, used to flourish potions in antiquity. I once procured an oil made on the solstice by my essential oil teacher & ethnobotanist John Steele, and I swear it was the only thing that helped my sciatica when needles alone failed to turn the tides. If you waft St. John’s Wort in your midsummer bonfire, its powers increase threefold, for then it is said to hold the full magnificence of the sun. Medicinal use of Hypericum goes back to ancient Greece, and it is lauded pan-culturally in pharmacopeias across Europe for its wound-healing, pain-killing, madness-thwarting, and invigorating properties.
Forever in service of protection, a phytochemical assay of St John’s Wort finds it a suitable ally for inflammation, neuralgia, viral infections (particularly those with nerve pain like shingles & herpes), anxiety, insomnia, and depression, which in the lens of this medicine are symptomologies that speak to fire harassing the body and spirit. I keep a tincture on hand that I swig at the onset of a cold sore, and like casting a Cloak Of Invisibility Spell upon my lips, lo and behold she never appears. St John’s Wort is the key player in the Shine formula I prescribe at Botanarchy for PMS, depression, anxiety, seasonal affective disorder, and mood swings.
A natural calmative with a penchant for anesthetizing you like the finest ASMR videos of YouTube, St. John’s Wort is a bona fide antidepressant who’s primary active constituent - Hypericin - has been proven to be a mild MAO-inhibitor, which is a class of compounds (and pharmaceuticals) that treat depression, panic disorders and social phobias. Take heed, dear Botanarchists, for St. John’s Wort is no shrinking violet, and it does come with its share of caveats, particularly if you are taking other anti-depressants or pharmaceuticals. It should never be taken with other meds unless you consult a doctor or trained herbalist, as it can interfere with their mechanisms and give you a slew of surly side effects. Because of its temperamental nature, I don’t recommend trying it orally outside the purveyance of a professional, and never for those that are breast feeding or pregnant. If you are already in the throes of taking the herb, try to limit direct sun exposure, as it can make you quite photosensitive, something I learned the hard way when I self-prescribed this for myself as a teenager coming off of Prozac. This should not dissuade you from seeking its counsel, rather encourage you to be prudent and elegant like Nature herself whence choosing your medicines.
If you can’t tramp around the witchwood this summer solstice festooning crowns of Hypericum to wear at your neighborhood bonfire, here is a smattering of folks living their best Midsummer lives so that we don’t have to:
“The three months of summer are called the time of splendor and growth. At summer solstice yang qi reaches an apex and yin qi emerges; yin and yang commingle and all living beings & things prosper. Yang qi energizes all phenomena and yin gives them shape. Because of this yin/yang commingling, all things flower and fruit. People, like all phenomena, are included. They should follow the seasonal qi to preserve vitality.”
By Carolyn Barron
‘Following the seasonal qi to preserve vitality’ might seem like an outlandish mandate in the Tech Bro Nootropia™® known as Wellness 2021. Hetero-Patriarchy Monoculture comes with an implicit denial of our cyclical nature, traipsing about like a browbeating tyrant wantonly exploitive of natural resources and the body en masse. It is doing its best to co-opt the body for ceaseless production under the guise of self-actualization, chasing an endless summer of career highs and carb lows by the glow of an iPhone light. They will have you convinced that health is measured by maximizing your output in a capitalist labor market through increasing motivation and productivity at the expense of your own innate biorhythms. Nothing - nothing - in nature produces fruit all year round, with the exception of factory-farmed dairy cows and maybe the chili plant I had in my commune in Echo Park in the early 2000’s (and how fucked up is that). Do you yell at your Dahlia and pump her full of Modafinil when she refuses to flower in November after a summer of show-ponying around? You would NEVER!
Our version of healthcare is pillaging and pilfering until there’s nothing left, treating the body only when it is consumed by disease, and not very elegantly at that. But there’s a better way forward, my bourgeoning begonias, and it’s this. Place your right hand over your heart and repeat after me:
I pledge allegiance to the periodicity of creation, to the waxing and waning inherent in all natural phenomena.
Yang Shen - translated as ‘Nourishing Life’ - are traditions of health preservation and life force concentration central to the efficacy of the East Asian Medical Arts in treating and averting disease. Nourishing Life is an ever-evolving practice of prevention tied to living in accordance with nature’s dynamic changes and cycles… sunrise, sunset, yin, yang, seasonal pivots, and the revolving axis of your own life as you transition from maiden to mother to crone. It begs you to pay attention to change and engage with it gracefully, participating fully in the birth-death-rebirth cycles of life. Going against what is natural dissipates the qi and wears us out. Rather than focusing on treating ailments and disease once they’ve already taken hold in the body, Nourishing Life is about finding balance through an awareness of our connection to nature, to our own bodies, and to each other.
Summer is the time of fruiting and blossoming that we long for all year (or the opposite for us Nature Goths that put our thang down, flip it, and reverse it). We witness with awe and reverence the fire element’s will to live, love, and extend through the unfurling of petals erupting with power and passion in an open-armed embrace with the Sun from across the sky. It’s easy to give it all away this time of year, seeing as summer is all about oozing fluids with wild abandon, worshiping ancient sun gods, and flagrantly squandering our immortality. The Taoist sages believed that inappropriate behavior in summer leads to deficiency at the autumn harvest. Nourishing Life stresses that if we squander all summer long without preserving, we’re dead set on getting respiratory infections, allergies, joint pain, and exhaustion when the yin months of the year cast their icy spells upon us.
Tian Jiu, or Celestial Moxa, is a preventative treatment involving the use of mugwort fire on the days surrounding the summer solstice, as this is the time in the cosmic rotation that Earth is most abundant with heat and yang energy. It’s how we pad our coffers and sequester yang qi to strengthen the body and prevent disease later on in the year. As above so below, and as the solar qi swells and expands around us, so too does our internal yang qi, getting pulled from the depths to the surface of the body where our pores are as open as our hearts. This particular phenomena makes us most receptive to the benefits of external herbal treatments this time of year, a gift we should use justly.
Celestial Moxa is prepared from mugwort (Artemisia Vulgaris), which is prolific and endemic to Southern California and East Asia alike. The aromatic leaves are dried and repeatedly sifted until they are fluffy. The ‘moxa wool’ is then rolled into a long cigar shape and wrapped in paper. The cigar-shaped moxa stick is then lighted and held about an inch away from the desired area. The power of mugwort fire is very penetrating, making it effective for directing qi, yang, and heat deep into the reserves of the body. When applied to acupuncture points specific for deficiency, the body absorbs the heat into its deepest levels, restoring the body's yang qi and life force like a juiced up battery. If I’ve ever taken a lit cigar to a point on your body and wafted it over you, this is what I was doing.
You can see me for a Celestial Moxa treatment this summer, or you can call upon the Mugwort Gods in the comfort of your own home where they will smile fondly upon your Netflix queue and Nick Cave posters with beguiled glee. You will need a moxa stick (procured from me in office or via the ethers here), a lighter, something to extinguish your moxa (like an ash tray or bowl of water), a cigar cutter or scissors, and a partner. Yes, you will need a partner for this ritual, as the most potent points for storing yang qi are on the back of the body and are quite difficult/dangerous to self-administer (please don’t try). There is an amended point selection below if you find yourself unable to entice a compatriot into these smokey shenanigans. If none of your friends are fond of at-home pyrotechnics, you may want to consider finding new friends.
Before beginning, you will first want to locate and familiarize yourself with the acupuncture points you will use for the ritual. For moxa witches who have a partner that can access the majestic swathe of their back, I recommend the following points:
Du 14 is located on the posterior midline, below the spinous process of C7. Dà Zhuī quite literally translates to ‘large vertebra,’ speaking to the bony prominence of C7 that juts out like a preening flamingo from the shirking violet otherwise known as the spinal column. Dà Zhuī is the meeting place of all the rivers and meridians of yang energy that flow through the body. This point has big awakening energy like the Summer Solstice herself, giving a dynamic dimension to life and, as Taoist scholar Debra Kaatz says, “awakening us with a great surge of forward movement.” Thus is the cadence of summer, my friends.
When a tapestry is woven in accordance with old world techniques, a shuttle is used to weave the patterns of design. Not skimping on epic poetry, Dà Zhù translates to ‘The Great Weaving Of The Shuttle,’ alluding to the way our life can be woven in harmony with the cycles and patterns of life. Dà Zhù is located about 1 thumb’s breadth lateral to the lower border of the T1 vertebra. We access the majesty of this point during the summer solstice, for it aligns our actions with the breath of nature, and in doing so can help us to store summery yang qi in order to prevent disorders of the respiratory system like asthma, bronchitis, and sinusitis that might plague us later in the year.
Directly below Dà Zhù, Fēng Mén is located about 1 thumb’s breadth lateral to the lower border of the T2 vertebra. Translated as ‘The Gateway Of The Winds,’ if the gateway here is working well, then all of our meridians can flow in harmony with internal & external influences that blow through our lives like winds. As we might have learned whilst sleeping in front of a blaring air conditioner with wild abondon, winds can push pathogens deeper into the body, and WHOOPS WHO KNEW, now you have sniffles and the inkling of a cold. But winds are also vectors of change, and if we harness their diaphanous oscillations, they help us switch directions and amplify our forward movement. There is a concept in Chinese medicine called ‘grasping the wind,’ which is a process of engaging with change in way that is both assertive AND yielding, reminding us that the medicine of duality contains both stillness and action, as Nature is a switch who doms and subs with the best of ‘em.
The third in the series of points that cascade down a line behind the lungs, Fèi Shù is located about 1 thumb’s breadth lateral to the lower border of the T3 vertebra, directly below Fēng Mén. There’s a reason we are working these points behind the lungs, as the lungs are our emissaries to the outer world, intimately embroiled in the sordid affairs of our environment and innately responsible for our immunity and resilience. Fèi Shù translates to ‘Vital Transfer To The Lungs,’ speaking to the magic of inhalation that draws the vital force of life into the body temple with each breath. In penetrating this point, we are gathering heavenly qi in the body to infuse our life and the year ahead with vitality, purpose, and the heavenly mandate of the sun, moon, and stars.
For moxa witches that are dancing solo with themselves, I recommend a combination of Stomach 36 and Ren 6:
Stomach 36 - Zú Sān Lĭ is located about 4-fingers distance below the lower border of the knee cap, on the outer aspect of the leg upon the tibialis anterior muscle. Zú Sān Lĭ translates to ‘Leg Three Miles’ which speaks to the Taoist belief that walking our path takes reserves of strength, and it is here that we can tap into the nourishing energies needed to live out our tao with gusto. As the earth point of the stomach meridian, it functions like a silo where the harvest and its golden nourishing grains are stored to ensure survival for the winter and hard times ahead. Zú Sān Lĭ is also Sea Of Nourishment point, a special class of points that are storehouses for putting things into action.
Ren 6 - Qi Hai rests about the width of one’s thumb below the navel on the central midline of the body. Qi Hai translates to ‘A Sea of Abundantly Flowing Qi,’ describing the vast reservoir and sea of qi that rests within it. What we tap into here represents the universal energy that is contained within the smallest seed as well as the vastest ocean. This point contains prolific qi energy that can amplify vitality across the body, mind, and spirit continuums. This is also the place known in the Taoist alchemical traditions as the Lower Dantian, or the Lower Elixir Field, where we consciously store life force energy created and sublimated through meditation, martial arts, qigong, and communing with nature.
Many moons ago, I took a clinical moxibustion course with Dr. Lorraine Wilcox, a controversially craggy modern mountain hermit if there ever was one. Both a Classical Chinese Medicine scholar and Mage Of Moxa (read her book), Dr. Wilcox taught us some of the lesser known Nourishing Life practices culled from the annals of medical arcana, particularly a series of lists that come from Shòu Qīn Yang Lǎo Xīn Shū (New Book of Longevity for Parents and Providing for the Elderly) that espouse what we can do to adjust our mood and raise our level of contentedness. They are known as the Five Activities and Ten Pleasures, and they are described as such:
What I adore about the Five Activities and Ten Pleasures is that they’re tiny magic spells we can practice everyday, in addition to the flashier aspects of medicine like burning mugwort, brewing tinctures, and slinging needles. All that they require is participation in the majesty of the unfurling cosmos, and the willingness to witness, behold, share, and sequester (still working on ‘drinking a little until half intoxicated’). If this is all you have qi for this summer, dear Botanarchist, then may your life be nourished by supinity & simplicity.
By Gabriel Welchert Garcia
I sit down write and we are in the kindling of jejune days. Twelve months ago, we sat in quarantine as unprecedented fires terrorized our beloved natural world. This year, we are poised for a repeat, with drought and heat settling in. Tucson just set a record, 115 on June 15th, and in Death Valley at Furnace Creek, the temperature’s apogee was 128 at that same hour.
We’ve come to equate the summer fires on the west coast with human fault, a representation of our collective sin. And to be sure, much of it is a product of our hubris, neglect, illustrating humanity’s inability to understand our place and role in nature.
However, what follows are two chronicles of nature’s resilience and even dependence on destructive forces. There is no intention to negate the actions we need to take individually and collectively. I hope these words might express fire- cleansing in arboreal consciousness.
Behold the vast, magnificent, cyclopean Sequoia, whose very life depends on fire. Without the destructive swelter and seductive, radiant dance between arbor and earth, its seedlings cannot be reared.
Read on, you sex gods and goddesses, as the eroticism of the forest unfolds, beckoning you to worship and tongue-tie yourself in flattery of these libidinal, crimson-hearted giants.
When a fire sets to ravage forests, the trees stand more erect and at-attention than usual. As temperatures rise and waves of warmth twerk through, things get hot and wild. Animals depart, grasses and flower singe out of existence in preparation, and the skin of the earth starts to heave and undulate...
...in manner that would surely cause Nin, Miller, and Bataille to blush...
As torridity intensifies, foreign, musty scents rise up, caressing the ventricose bark of the giants. Thundering cracks and pops wail out as the dashing cones of the trees patiently wait, and then swell and reconstitute themselves. The holy repositories of seminality open up, allowing the precious seeds of jing to rain down onto the scorched, carbonized vulva of forest floor.
This is just long and patient foreplay if you can believe it... you see, after fire scalds the forest, the nubile earth orgiastically beckons more Apollonian poetry.
As the receptive land reposes still disrobed, a path for the sun to further bake her skin which eventually ignites the seed’s genetic potential embedded in her folds and soil.
After all this exertion the sweaty heat subsides, and Earth’s juices flow. Winter comes and wraps the land in snowy blankets invoking a deeply silent slumber. After a gently awakening in spring, melting occurs and water carves through these open swaths. This respite invites vital minerals onto lubricated paths, and the seeds can arise.
And from the imagination of pure mystery, precious coniferous spires then stretch, rooting in direct proportion to their reaching to the sky. As they grow, they represent the immaculate marriage between tree and soil and the seedlings take their place divinely interwoven into the verdant, carnal, and dynamic landscape.
May you know yourself as a sensual being, and may the Sequoias dance with fire allow us all to explore the unbounded nature of sexuality.
Behold the branch-charmed, patient and steady Oak, whose very life depends on fire. Without the destructive swelter of the clearing element, the tree cannot grow the broad and thorn leaf’d crown.
The winding, circuitous trunks of mighty oaks spiral, ruggedly wrapping themselves out and up for Owl, Crow and Hawk alike. The branches shooting off the trunk can lift to the heavens, while others dip, and hover the ground like lowriders. When fires ravage the rolling golden hills of California, the Oak holds a secret lesson that can only be learned by years of observation.
...there’s got to be a fire, in order for you to take notice of this secret
I must tell you, there’s a highland valley hidden in the Santa Monica mountains where massive granite monoliths punctuate the landscape. As imposing as these boulders are, the true stars of this place are the Oak trees, who love it here because of the slithering tributaries of creeks throughout spring.
Walk through this valley and you’ll notice every Oak is burned black these days, the rough, nobby bark wasn’t always that way, but now it has an inky, midnight charr to it, which only enhances the vast and deep green of its leaves lingering above. Occasionally some of the blackened bark falls away, revealing the honey brown sapwood of the outmost growth to be exposed for your viewing pleasure.
I’ve lived my whole life driving though these mountains, my first job as a lifeguard was not a mile from the valley of which I speak now. I’ve known these trees my whole life, and most of them were here before me and will be thriving after I die. I love them and you should too, for their secret is a lesson in letting go of what doesn’t serve you.
And so, from this small sliver of time which is my life, I’ve noticed that Oaks like to grow several limbs down to touch the craggy dirt clod encrusted ground below. Sometimes you can even encounter mistletoe growing on these low-lying branches within arms reach... on a tree that might stand sixty feet skyward.
I have no proof for what I assert here, but it seems to me that these trees do this intentionally, these low lying branches are fire ladders.
...so when you can’t outrun the pain, you might as well invite it.
Because, as the fire mightily swells and cracks around you, its also an opportunity to burn away.
...and this is how you feel bad, then feel good.
In unmanicured, wild conditions, the oaks grow branches that get infected, or have disease. They don’t get the same royal treatment as the trees in your yard. Likewise, humans have diseased branches in the form of avarice, resentment, ire and shame.
...no matter who we are, along the way we all pick up some horrible ephemera that follows us around, and we all like a good catharsis sometimes.
So why not grow a fire ladder and allow for some karma to burn away? The oaks preserve their life this way, ridding themselves of parts of themselves that need to die. The fire sweeps through and destroys these branches, and the diseases they might carry, leaving the tree battered but better off.
And from pure courage, they adapt to the devastating scorches. And they know how to invite the right kind of violence... violence in which pain is endured, for purposes of purification...
...violence so that you may see another fall, winter and spring, and grow unencumbered in your home, your psyche, your nature.
The Botanarchy Coven is comprised of gnostic naturalists both living and deceased who shepherd the spirit of Botanarchy. This is a treasure box of discoveries and cultural ephemera culled from excavations of inner and outer worlds.
is a visual poet whose picturesque paeans to the bucolic saunter of the Chinese countryside are like ocular xanax, or perhaps more akin to the moment before mushrooms kick in when the inherent animism in all things perks & percolates. I don’t even know how to talk about her without shedding a tear, a sentiment I typically reserve for only Kate Bush. Her arcadian idylls (on YouTube, of all places!) feature her indulging in antiquated rural Chinese handicrafts to soothing music whilst teaching you such things as Making A Peach Blossom Crown With Silk Flowers, The Best Time of Year to Consume Juicy and Tender Bamboo Shoots, Making A Dress Out Of Grape Skins, The Routine Thing You Shall Never Miss Every Summer: To Eat Green Plums, and the secret life of plant luminaries such as tomatoes, cucumbers, wheat, and peas.
Li was orphaned as a child, and when her family was unable to continue to pay for her education, she dropped out of school and began working in the city at age 14. In 2012, she moved back to the Sichuan countryside to take care of her ailing grandmother, and it was here that she began learning to homestead using ancestral practices and ancient traditions that emphasize living humbly in cadence with nature (though she is fond of riding a horse into the woods to collect Magnolia blossoms in a red silk cape and ruby lipstick, a woman of paradox and a lady after my own heart). In a rare interview, she says that one of the reasons she started creating these meditative videos was to teach city dwellers where their food comes from. Genteel & enchanting, her videos make hardscrabble handicrafts like sheep shearing & plum preserving look like a goddess playing the lyre of Orpheus, and to quote my hellenistic homme Simonides of Ceos, she could ‘charm the birds, fish and wild beasts, coax the trees and rocks into dance, and divert the course of rivers'. Li Ziqi is a living fable whose work connects us to the land spirits and elemental dance of China, which has deepened my relationship to the medicine I practice with honor, respect, and reverence daily.