: Plants And Their Spirits

The Beloved Dead: Mother Rue

The sorrow in our lives almost invariably stems from loss - property destroyed, illusions shattered, and loosing those we love.  We give a part of ourselves to those we love and when they leave, they take a part away that can't be returned or rescued.  It's no wonder that grief overwhelms.

In grief, the desire to communicate with our beloved dead can be all consuming.  Everyone reminds us of them; we see their faces in those around us and remember.  The remembering can become constant until we are haunted.  Relief can't be found anywhere because, just as we gave part of ourselves to them, they gave themselves to us and we carry those memories so close they begin to fester.  An obsession dogs at every thought: one more word, one more glimpse, just to let them know they are remembered, just a small thing to carry with us.

The death goddess Hela releases the ties that keep us bound to the past and separates us from the things that hold us back from progress.  Unlike many death goddesses, Hela carries no weapons; She herself is the instrument of separation.  She is merciless in bringing about these needed separations, but acknowledges the need to mourn.  Hela's implacable silence is one tool that allows us to mourn, and She has an ally that can also help.  Mother Rue is a spirit allied with the Lady of Helheim who facilitates communication with loved ones who have passed on.

Rue is supposed to be the bitterest herb, and has a long association with loss; it is used poetically to symbolize regret and bitter lessons. It has a ceremonial role in Jewish practices that recall the hardships and sacrifice of ancient Hebrews. Rue has the reputation of preventing loss, as well; in ancient Greece rue was used to prevent poisoning and later the plague.  It was also defense against witches and magic.  The Christian tradition calls rue the Herb of Grace; holy water was sprinkled from bunches of the herb.  In modern magical traditions, rue is still used to deflect negative energies and to ward against malevolence. 

It is also a "mother's herb;" rue is an abortifaciant, offering the loss that can be embraced as a choice.  The spirit has a particular affinity for mourning mothers and for the spirits of children.   Part of Mother Rue is caught in mourning; she has a deep, wild feminine grief.  Another part of her has finished mourning and is healing; she offers relief to those who are so drowned in sadness that their whole lives may wash away.  "I have experienced all loss," Rue seems to say; "Give your sorrow to me.  I can hold it all."  The dark olive-green leaves are round, opening softly like hands and arms to accept any grief we can't carry ourselves.  I have seen the spirit as a dark haired woman, tears streaking her pale face, reaching out her arms for a child that has disappeared.  I have also seen her standing in a silent tended garden in Helheim, surrounded by the spirits of young children; she touches them gently and smiles, finally at peace.

Mother Rue is a quiet spirit; even her grief takes place far away from direct words and she doesn't often show her overly emotional side.  Generally she is reserved, gentle, and accepting.  Approaching her with respect will win her approval, though it may not happen quickly; the emotional cycles that are so much a part of her personality don't move quickly, so neither does she.  Talk to her, tell her your pain, and she will hear you.  Keep a rue plant near and know that nothing you can feel is greater than her capacity to hold.  Whisper a message to a cluster of the leaves, then clip it when she allows you to.  The sprig will dry; repeat the message if you want, then burn it.  The smoke opens the channels between worlds and Mother Rue carries your words to your loved one.  They might have a message for you that arrives later, but this opportunity is mostly for you; the dead experience separation in their own way.  Use rue as a messenger in order to relieve your pain and begin to heal.  Interestingly, the Greek root of rue's scientific name (Ruta graveolens) is reuo meaning "to set free."  Don't let this communication become an obsession or Mother Rue won't help you; like all plants, she is interested in making things whole so that they are in harmony with their environment. 

Rue is a quiet, graceful plant with a multitude of open arms reaching out in all directions; the soft foliage hides a poison that offers the power of choice and consequence.  What do we loose when we sacrifice?  Can releasing the pain of lose be a sacrifice as well?  When we sacrifice, we make sacred - when we make our pain into a sacrifice, we make it sacred as well.  Rue is a plant of holy pain, of destruction wielded by will, and healing that is only gained through suffering.  She is mercy, and she is grace. 

-Margaret Grieve; A Modern Herbal (1971, reprint)
-Rue, the Herb of Grace; http://health.learninginfo.org/herbs/rue.htm
-Rue; http://www.herbs2000.com/herbs/herbs_rue.htm
-Regarding Rue; http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/herbalism/33928
-Private correspondence (2006)


© Silence Maestas, 2006