Tam Lin: a reunderstanding of desire

If you haven’t heard the Tricky Pixie recording of Tam Lin, go do that. I’ll wait. Really. (Eventually I’ll even edit in the right link, promise.)

Tam Lin is a story and a song that can be told many ways. For me, it might be a revolutionary reunderstanding and reclaiming of desire. I reclaim sexual desire of multitudinous forms even in the face of societal disapproval:

She’s come to the roses growing wild

she’s pulled a single one

when a wild young man appears

and cries ‘O, lady, let alone!

‘How dare you pull my roses out,

How dare you break my tree!

How dare you run in these green woods

Without asking leave of me?’

Says Janet fair ‘this wood’s my own

My father gave it me

And I can pluck myself a rose

Without asking leave of thee.’

This is my new motto: “I can pluck myself a rose / without asking leave of thee.”

QUILTBAG people ought to be able to pluck their roses without asking leave of the state, or, quite frankly, anyone. And if I want to use contraception, or have an abortion, I shouldn’t need to go begging leave. Roses and thorns will sort themselves out without any mortal pretending to superior authority apportioning them. I promise.

Reality’s funny that way, and really, the only way to be in a free relationship with reality is to honestly acknowledge and claim things like desire and love and the many other manifestations of the driving force of the universe.

There might even be a Christian idea hidden inside there. If our bodies are what God the Father gives us – and I don’t subscribe to that notion, but let’s just theorize – then “this wood’s my own, my Father gave it me…” might have tremendous theological resonance. Even if you want to replace “wood” with “hortus conclusus” or something similarly medieval…the conclusion is radically modern in terms of indivIdual rights, even for women, over their own bodies.

Whether you call it authenticity, or desire, or love, or any of its other myriad names, I think that some of the most beautiful pieces of art emerge from explorations of this theme. And if you want to cut off or limit the loving working-out of this moving force of nature, then you are the one who is unnatural, and you are the one driving yourself towards death, and you are the one who simply cannot stop and smell the roses, in your own garden or any other.

For that, I pity you.

Visualizations: Wind, Wheel of the Year, Desire

After all that heavy stuff this morning, I wanted to leave you with some visualizations my friend Grafton pointed out to me which I find absolutely amazingly beautiful and also spiritually meaningful to me. All of these come from HINT.FM, which is the collaboration of a couple of people very talented in both art and digital graphics. They’re doing some really amazing stuff, so if you like creative images, or you’ve read anything by Edward Tufte, you should check them out.

First up is a map of wind. You can look at the current wind patterns across the continental US, and you can also look back at different patterns that have occurred. I can’t say enough about how incredible this is. In one simple, lightly animated image, I can see the Rocky Mountains, I can feel the differential temperatures from Canada to Texas, I can grasp, in a totally nonverbal, visceral way, what not just wind but Wind, the Element of Air in action, is doing right now. I can see how my landbase fits into it, and also other places I’ve lived or loved.

Second is something called Flickr Flow, which actually tells us a lot about the Wheel of the Year. You’ve probably seen some of the representations that use icons to represent the way nature changes around the Wheel – a tree in four phases, or pumpkins at Samhain, snowflakes at Yule, lambs at Imbolc, etc. Well, this is sort of like that, except that it shows the Wheel emerging naturally from the random accumulation of photos on Flickr. The colors in photos change throughout the year: Winter is full of grays and blues, Spring has brilliant splashes of color, Summer is predominantly green, and Autumn’s leaf palette is more subdued. It’s a great example of how we all experience the tides of the Wheel, even if not in exactly the same ways, at the same times, or the same from year to year.

Finally, check out this image. When I first saw it, I thought it was a heat map, or an infrared image, where parts of the body that have lots of blood vessels close to the surface look brighter. Turns out it’s something like a map of desire: the “heat” is based loosely on how desirable people found certain areas of the human body. A lot of details are not explained on that page, and there’s probably a lot of interesting social construction of gender, women, desire, and so on wrapped up in it, but it’s still interesting to me how the results came out.

I think the creators made it look a bit like an infrared image deliberately, playing on the common metaphorical equation of desire with heat. I started to realize it’s not an infrared image when I started checking off major areas of the body with blood close to the surface: the face, lips and ears, are surprisingly dark, although they do get more attention than areas like, say, the forehead. The fingers, too, are almost wholly neglected, which I find odd: the spark of desire leaps between the gap of lovers’ fingers faster than a breath. Fingers and lips are instruments of desire and receivers of the same; perhaps that’s part of the difference between thinking about a person, a body, and an image on a screen. Regardless, as we approach the heat of Beltane fires, I encourage you to take a look at this image and reflect on it, and your own experiences of desire, whether sexual or other.

Beltane, botany, and desire

Hecate recently asked how we know it’s almost time for Beltane. She has an answer in terms of the deep relationship she has with the oak trees in her location. I haven’t lived in one place long enough to have the same specific awareness that she does, so my answer is more internal. I know it’s almost time for Beltane because of desire.

This year, though, I have a botanical example. The tulips by the Netherlands Carillon are beautiful.

Field of red tulips with Washington Monument in distant background.
Tulips at the Netherlands Carillon

I highly recommend Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World. Pollan investigates and meditates on the relationships between humanity and four different plants, each one catering to a different human desire. For the desire of beauty, he selects the tulip. In the opening of the chapter, he talks about how he had long preferred to tend food plants in his garden. The flowers of these plants, only a brief stop along the way to the bell pepper or tomato that he really wanted, he calls “teleological flowers.” In contrast to these purposeful plants, he sets out to rediscover what people see in flowers grown purely for their beauty.

This stands for that: flowers by their very nature traffic in a kind of metaphor, so that even a meadow of wildflowers brims with meanings not of our making. … Sometime long ago, the flower’s gift for metaphor crossed with our own, and the offspring of that match, the miraculous symbiosis of desire, are the flowers of the garden.

And although Europeans tried to find teleological uses for the flower, they failed: “The tulip was a thing of beauty, no more, no less.” He speculates about why this particular beauty captured the Dutch in the famous tulip mania:

I also think the particular character of the tulip’s beauty made it a good match for the Dutch temperament. Generally bereft of scent, the tulip is the coolest of floral characters. In fact, the Dutch counted the tulip’s lack of scent as a virtue, proof of the flower’s chasteness and moderation. Petals curving inward to hide its sexual organs, the tulip is an introvert among flowers. It is also somewhat aloof – one bloom per stem, one stem per plant. “The tulip allows us to admire it,” Herbert observes, “but does not awaken violent emotions, desire, jealousy or erotic fevers.”

Red tulip

Herbert was only partially right, as Pollan goes on to describe in the tulip mania. Today, when even the tulips look like wanton displays of desire, I know it’s time for Beltane.

Red tulip with outer three petals folded back