There are more than 70 species of poppy (Papaver) in the family Papaveraceae. Found throughout the Northern Hemisphere, the Arctic Circle and in southern Africa they’re mostly cultivated as garden ornamentals. Notably, the Papaver somniferum species is the source of opium, a narcotic that contains alkaloids used in the production of morphine, heroin and codeine. Poppies have been used medicinally and recreationally since ancient times. Because the narcotic is so powerful, worldwide production is monitored by international agencies which only allow the production of opium from the “oriental” poppy flower.
The seeds of the poppy are rich in carbohydrates, calcium and protein so they’re used to make cooking oil, salad dressing and margarine. The oil can also be added to spices for cakes and breads. Health-wise, the flower has been used since ancient times to make teas that produce a calming effect and relax the nerves. The color of the flowers includes white, lilac, pink, yellow, orange, red, violet and blue.
Papaver somniferum was domesticated and used for ornamentation by the indigenous people of Western and Central Europe between 6000 and 3500 BC. Between 4500 and 1900 BC the Sumerian people were cultivating it for opium. From there, via the Silk Road, by 2700 BC the Minoans in Crete were cultivating the plants for their oil and opium. In Egypt, the flower is depicted in jewelry and other art objects found in tombs dated 1550-1292 BC. Inscriptions indicate that their physicians used the seeds to relieve pain. In Greek mythology, the poppy was associated with Demeter, goddess of fertility and agriculture. Planting them in a field was said to yield a bountiful crop.
In the United States, poppies are the most popular among wildflowers, and they’re worn in remembrance on Armistice Day. Placed on tombstones, poppies symbolize eternal sleep, and this was evoked in the novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, where a magical poppy field threatened to make the protagonists sleep forever. The Eschscholzia Californica is the state flower of California. In Britain and the Commonwealth, poppies are used to celebrate those who died in all wars. And in 2004, 2008 and 2010, Canada issued special 25-cent coins with a red poppy on the reverse side. The 2004 quarter was the world’s first colored coin in circulation.
The poppy flower has many different meanings across cultures, but most have viewed it as a symbol of sleep, peace and protection from death because of its relaxing property. Other meanings derive from the flower’s various colors—red for passion, white for purity, purple for resurrection and so on. Considering the current challenges that are encouraging a transition from self to whole-centered consciousness, I prefer the perspective of a more contemporary and philosophical source (Universe Of Symbolism) that says the poppy “symbolizes riches and abundance…being grounded in your prosperity, having enough to share and bringing feelings of security and overall well-being.”
The richness of the poppy flower’s colors and the plant’s tendency to grow and thrive in abundance is evident. Less so is its grounding in prosperity and evoking feelings of security and well-being. What caught my attention were the values of abundance and sharing. They reminded me that the practice of sharing was a survival mechanism among the first hominoids, and that sharing evolved into the commonly held belief among indigenous people worldwide that “the good” (land and goods) were blessings to be appreciated, conserved and shared. For instance, Native Americans didn’t—and most still don’t—believe that anything can be owned. One of the fine ideas I encountered in the Jesuit seminary was how everything we had available to us—food, clothing, vehicles, tools and a variety of personal items including pens, photos of family members and the trunks we kept them in—were not possessions. The vow of “poverty” meant giving up ownership completely. We had the use of all these things, but the attitude toward them was identical to that of native people—everything is a gift. Even the things we wear or use over a long period of time are on loan to us—from God, the gods or the universe. When someone else needs my lawn mower, I give it freely. The same with a car, bicycle, book or basketball. The same with money.
Writing at a time when the Coronavirus pandemic is causing social havoc and taking lives, it’s wonderful to see so many people sharing what they have, be it food, talent or tangible goods, and finding innovative ways to communicate. My dear friend and mentor Dr. Beatrice Bruteau wrote in God’s Ecstacy: The Creation of a Self-Creating World that “It is the interactive union of the parts, the sharing of their beings, their energies, that actually constitutes the new whole.” Her reference was to a world where self-centered consciousness is on the descendent and whole-centered consciousness on the rise, largely due to the increasing integration of science and spirituality.
Now, it appears that the pressures of compounding social challenges—lack of responsible and collaborative leadership in government, the dumbing-down of popular culture, educating exclusively for jobs rather than personal growth, inadequate disease management, gun violence, climate catastrophes and the consequences of in-turning tendencies toward nationalism and preoccupation with electronic devices—all are urging us to create a fresh worldview and reality where separation and fear take a back seat to unity and love. In indigenous (and ecological) terms, it’s a world that’s sustainable for all and for many generations.
Whatever we possess becomes of double value when we share it with others.
Jonas E. Coblentz (Amish)
True accomplishment is not about winning, acquiring, or being on top. It is about sharing, giving and including.
Lewis Richmond (Zen Priest, Author)
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