The Allium Flower: Symbol of Unity And Strength

Within the Allium genus of 800 there are about 1250 species of perennial bulbous plants, notably the cultivated onion, garlic, scallion, shallot, leek, and chives. “Allium” is the Latin word for garlic. The species name—Allium sativum—means “cultivated garlic.” Native to Southwestern Asia, the plants are grown throughout the world. Because of their beautiful globe-shaped heads, they’re mostly planted in flower rather than vegetable gardens. One of the benefits of being in the onion family is the warding off of rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, and other animals. Some gardeners purposefully plant allium and daffodil bulbs in their lily beds to keep these critters away.

Blooming in late spring and into summer, allium flowers range in size and shape with globe-shaped clusters that can be purple, pink, blue, white or yellow. Researchers found the onion variety to be among the world’s oldest cultivated plants, particularly in India, China and the Middle East. Ancient Egyptian inscriptions refer to the spherical bulb as a symbol of the universe. Cut in half, or hung on a string, Eastern cultures used allium to keep away bad luck, sickness and even witches. Russian botanists discovered alliums in Central Asia and brought them to the Imperial Botanical Garden in St. Petersburg. When the British learned about them they began a breeding trend, and one of the “new” varieties is named for Mount Everest where it  grows today.

In addition to the Allium representing strength, patience and prosperity generally, married couples and long-time friends sometimes include the flower in a bouquet as a sign of unity. The latter because the Allium cluster displays the union of many blossoms that together constitute a whole more beautiful than its parts. The dynamics of union is sometimes misunderstood and underappreciated, so this—and the aspect of strength—prompts my consideration for this posting.

Dystopian movies such as 1984, Brave New World and The Hunger Games have painted a picture of human unity as a condition where individuality and free will are suppressed or lost, and people are ruled by dictatorial overlords. The perception of individuality and freedoms lost is bolstered by the image of beehives and other insect colonies where this appears to be the case in nature. In the human context, the capacity to self-reflect, imagine, create and choose, which is largely the function of consciousness, tells a different story.

In the first place, no lives at any level could exist or function without the underlying unity of life.  Celebrated in the movie The Lion King, every living thing has it place within “the circle of life.” The proof of this is the food chain; to sustain, all life feeds on life. Those of us who place a high priority on the quality and sustainability of the environment and the climate challenges ahead, recognize that all human beings are dependent upon the need to eat to survive. It’s so obvious its easily forgotten—if all life forms other than ourselves were to die or become toxic, we would all die. That’s why environmental and health issues transcend all other issues, including jobs and the economy.

As the world population has grown and the availability and quality of food, resources and goods have been disproportionately distributed between nations, our species is becoming more vulnerable and stressed. We see it in the rise of gun violence, terrorism, internal dissension, social polarization, the trend toward nationalism, the widening gap between the wealthy and poor and the Covid 19 pandemic. What each of these crises has in common is an underlying pursuit of the individual good without concern for the security and health of the whole body. And it’s the defining characteristic of cancer. 

The solution to vulnerability and escalating breakdowns lies in the strength of unified numbers. It’s not reasonable to expect everyone to see or understand this, but it’s realistic and arguably the best solution because its based on billions of years of evolution. Whatever the species, the principle is the same: “United we stand; divided we fall.” The current pandemic slogan that “We’re in this together” is a recognition of this. As more people and necessary systems experience the pressure of breakdowns, at a certain point a threshold will be reached that will affects a shift  from the consciousness of separation and fear to unity and love. And it doesn’t need everyone to provide a demonstration of its survival value—or to operationalize it. The message life is sending is the evolutionary imperative to “grow or die.” And the growth that affects change most rapidly and effectively is the growth in consciousness, how we see ourselves, others, the planet and the cosmos.

As consciousness becomes more refined, that is, compassionate, aware of the whole, focused on quality rather than quantity, wanting to contribute to the whole and uplifted by feelings of appreciation and joy, goodwill (constructive relations and sharing between all people) will emerge as the everyday norm in global thinking and acting. Evolutionary theologian Ilia Dulio specifies that “I do not exist in order that I may possess; rather I exist in order that I may give of myself, for it is in giving that I am most myself… Being is first a “we” before it can become an “I.” There is no being who can stand up and say, “I did it alone.” 

In his studies of paleontology and evolutionary processes, French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote extensively on the dynamics of union. His principle of “Creative Union” describes a quality of joining that differentiates and personalizes the individuals as they give their unique gifts to the whole. The model he sites is the fabric of nature where smaller whole unit to form larger whole systems—atoms to molecules, molecules to cells, to organisms and so on up the chain of life including social bodies such as communities and nations, and the universe itself. He wrote that “love-energy marks the history of the universe. It is present from the Big Bang onward, though indistinguishable from molecular forces. It amplifies itself by way of union because it is the most universal, the most tremendous and the most mysterious of the cosmic forces. The physical structure of the universe is love.”

At every level, as entities unite based on this energy, they maintain their identities and create emergent properties beyond the capabilities of the constituent living systems. At the biological level, the new whole comes about through the interactive sharing of the part’s distinctive energies. At the human level, the uniting forces are primarily the energies of affinity—the full spectrum of love.  

Evolution works by interaction, making new wholes of the union of previous wholes. This compounding creates new entities, new relations, new behaviors, and new abilities to create yet further compounds of interactivity. This is the ‘self-creating’ aspect of the universe.

Beatrice Bruteau

Unlike the dystopian movies where individuals merged into a homogeneous collective, persons and groups in creative union enable each other to preserve and express their identities, develop their distinctive uniqueness, experience creativity and enrichment and reach their higher potentials. Teilhard applies this equally to husband and wife, parents and children, members of a team, social groups and large international bodies. Dr. Bruteau describes the process of bonding.

It is the sharing of energies that constitute the bond, or principle of union, of the new level entity… Thus, each time a new type or level of being appears, it appears because it succeeds in uniting from the inside elements of the preceding level.” As a philosopher of both science and religion, she observed the process at work in the realm of spirit as well.

To paraphrase: When we liberate ourselves from identifying with our predicates—appearance, personality, wealth, power, occupation, status—then the energy spent protecting and amplifying these becomes available for the radiation of goodwill to others. Beatrice again—

We will have realized ourselves as the Self that says only I AM, with no predicate following, not “I am a this” or “I have that quality.” Only unlimited, absolute I AM. The interesting thing is that as soon as you experience yourself this way, you at once find that you also are saying to the world, ‘Let it be!’ It seems to be the nature of that which is I AM to say, ‘Let it be.’ This is the love that is called ‘agape.’  It is love that seeks the being, well-being, full being, ever-fuller being of the beloved. It is a love that is not a reaction to the beloved but rather a first action, an action beginning in you, coming out from the center of your being because of the nature of your being. The True Self in us is constantly radiating this willed goodness.

Dr. Neel Burton, writing about love in Psychology Today, defined agapé as universal love, such as for strangers, nature or God, encompassing the modern concept of altruism, the unselfish concern for the welfare of others. “More generally, altruism, or agape, helps to build and maintain the psychological, social, and indeed, environmental fabric that shields, sustains, and enriches us. Given the increasing anger and division in our society and the state of our planet, we could all do with quite a bit more agape.”

The Allium flower’s part-whole makeup demonstrates that there’s tremendous strength and beauty that comes from treating others as we would like to be treated. It doesn’t mean we have to like people who are different from us, interact with those we don’t know or join a group or movement. It’s enough to acknowledge the spark of divinity in all people (by virtue of their indwelling light) and respect their unique expression. 

Knowingly or not, all of us are embarked on a common journey in consciousness whose goal is our full awakening to unity with everyone and everything.

Anna Lemkow


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