Fire to heat you,
Earth to hold you,
Water to heal you,
With the wind in your arms, now rise
I don’t remember where I read that, or even if it’s an accurate memory that I read it at all; it came back to me this morning when I was suffering through yet another coughing fit from my usual bout of late-summer bronchitis. I tend to get it when the weather turns cold and damp in the mornings, right before the rains come. It’s the kind that lags on for weeks, bothersome not so much for the coughing (though that’s annoying) but for the aches and fatigue that come along for the ride.
As I think I’ve mentioned in another post, houses, kids, pets and gardens need care even when you’re sick, and the advice to “take it easy” is pretty laughable (something you can’t do because you’ll trigger another coughing fit) when cars break down, ants are making exploratory forays into various parts of the house, kids need rides, the dog gets sick and has to go to the vet, the new herbs you’re counting on are shriveling visibly, and everyone is suddenly out of clean underpants.
It’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed at times like this. When it happens, I usually retreat back to the Middle Ages. (I highly recommend this approach — it doesn’t have to be medieval Europe, it can be any ancient epoch, anywhere. Pick one that appeals to you.) The legend of the Phoenix was the first thing I ran across in my books. Cultures from ancient China and India to Arabia and Europe share the story of a beautiful and wise bird that consumes itself on an incensed fire yet returns, reborn and new. It is an image of a terrible trial, a vision of horrifying suffering and yet, somehow, great hope.
Medieval European alchemists used the figure of the phoenix in their writings as the clue to the element of sulfur, the color red, and the representation of a fire that at first seems to destroy, but instead purifies and transforms what it touches.
I had a request for more soap today, and I had a very small new batch that was cured and ready. It’s a classic coconut, olive and castor oil formula with a very rich element of shea butter and the addition of organic crushed chamomile flowers from my garden. With the idea of the phoenix in my mind, I stamped it and brushed it with copper and white micas. The fragrance is, I think, a very appropriate milk and honey.