Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Monday, May 23, 2005

Vesak: Full Moon and Meanings

With the full moon today, Buddhists around the world rejoice, meditate and mourn together.

This May 23 is one of the most sacred days of the year for Buddhists. Known variously as Vesak, Wesak, or Visakha, it marks three phases in the life of Siddharta Gautam, known as the Buddha.

imageWashing a lotus

Kelaniya temple, Sri Lanka

May 23, 2005

Photo: Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi, for Reuters

For it was on this day that the Buddha was born, and 35 years later awoke to the unexcelled right self-awakening, and another 45 years later passed away into total nibbana. In each case, these events took place on the full-moon day in May.” 

As such, it’s a day of joyful celebration and parades, but penance and meditation too, of focus on service, and blessing with flowers.

In Sri Lanka, Buddhists washed lotus blossoms. (Further, the Sri Lankan Army announced last week it would arrange Vesak celebrations and, quite reasonably,  lift the ban on public movement so that people could attend these celebrations: “to promote better understanding between communities and religious amity and to stress permanent peace in the country,” according to a major general).


In Portugal, Bathing Buddha for Wesak

Photo: Buddha’s Light de Lisboa

In England and Portugal, statues of the Buddha are ritually bathed in pools surrounded by blossoms in observance of Wesak.

Not being a Buddhist, I found this passage from Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo—translated from Thai by Thanissaro Bhikkhu—especially helpful:

“We bring flowers, candles, and incense to offer in homage to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. This is called amisa-puja, or material homage. This is a form of practice on the external level—a matter of our words and deeds. It comes under the headings of generosity and virtue, but doesn’t count as the highest form of homage.

“There’s still another level of homage—patipatti-puja, or homage through the practice—which the Buddha said was supreme: that is, meditation, or the development of the mind so that it can stand firmly in its own inner goodness, independent of any and all outside objects.”


Vesak, in the Netherlands

Photo: Kennisnet

Posted by Julie on 05/23 at 06:15 PM
Religious RitualsPermalink

Flower Girls Throw Royal Tantrums

New generation of Canadians loses patience with Olde England.

You’ve been standing out in the hot sun with a wilting flower. You’re half the size of everybody else in the crowd and fear being trampled by a bunch of rubbernecking grown-ups. By the time the old lady with the oversized handbag arrives, you’ve had it and fling yourself on the ground in a fit.


Queen Elizabeth II, leaving church with the Bishop

of Edmonton, meets obstacle Brynn Noble.

Photo: The Telegraph

Makes sense to me.

Two year old Brynn Noble did just that yesterday, after waiting for the Queen to leave church services in Canada’s Jasper National Park. “We told her to wait for the Queen and she had hold of a flower for her,” said Brynn’s mother.

The English monarch is touring Canada for nine days.

In many parts of the world, it’s customary to have children approach visiting dignitaries with flowers of greeting. Why put children up to this? Why can’t adults do their own sucking up?

Likely, it suggests deference to have a tiny person with a flower come forward from the host country. Furthermore, when an anonymous person emerges from a crowd and approaches a world leader or other big shot, it’s no cause for alarm if that person is a weenie. Call off the beefeaters. It’s just a little child.


Losing it, regaining it before the Queen in Saskatchewan


But today’s Canadian youngsters seem to want no part of this ritual. Five days ago, this time in Regina, Saskatchewan, another girl pitched a hissy fit over having to present flowers to the queen. She managed to collect herself once Her Majesty stepped forward. Chastened by the handbag, no doubt, or those big scary shoes.

Posted by Julie on 05/23 at 09:19 AM
Secular CustomsPermalink

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Plowerful—San Isidro

With monster carrots, cannas and calla lilies,  the patron saint of farmers receives his due.


Parading on the Festival of San Isidro

Photo: Beatriz Inglessis

From Merida, Venezuela, Beatriz Inglessis has bountifully sent along some glorious photos of last weekend’s festival of San Isidro, in nearby Timotes.

Saint Isadore is the patron of farmers, and honored on the hoof: a parade of oxen festooned with leeks, cabbages, and giant flowers. Beatriz writes, “Everybody was drunk (even the bullocks, it seems to me).” And indeed this looks like vegetable revelry. If you’ve got a field of huge white callas, why not flaunt it? especially if they thank the saint who makes it rain.

After some study, I admit the legends of Saint Isadore (San Isidro in Latin America) perplex me.

One version says “Isadore refused to stop working his farm on the Sabbath, despite Gods threats of locust plagues and flooding. He eventually conceded and God rewarded him by sending an angel to farm his land.”

But another story goes that Isidro angered the other farmworkers because every day he’d drop what he was doing to attend Mass. They complained to the boss, who came to reprimand Isidro in the field, and instead found two angels with white oxen, working alongside him there. Triple the plowing.

So did Isidro work too little or too much? Who can say when hagiographers disagree.

The point is that his work was blessed, and produced the kind of luscious harvest we can see from Timotes.

Quite a crop of images, Beatriz! Thank you.


Timotes, Venezuela, May 15, 2005

Feast Day of San Isidro

Photo: Beatriz Inglessis

Posted by Julie on 05/21 at 06:54 PM
Culture & SocietyReligious RitualsSecular CustomsPermalink

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Set Pieces and Odd Fellows

Wheels, stars, compasses—Floral emblems have faded from view, along with the civic groups they symbolized.


the Kiwanis emblem


Poles apart from the “loose garden arrangements” popular now, funeral flowers in the first two decades of the 20th century tended to be giant, fragrant badges. These “set pieces” were just that: metal armatures shaped into hearts, crosses, and the insignias of organizations.

The local Rotary Club might order a broken wheel to memorialize the loss of one of its members. The Masons would send a compass of carnations, and the Odd Fellows Lodge would be represented by three flower-studded chain links, their emblem of solidarity.

It’s rare to see flower arrangements like these anymore, so thanks to the Museum of Funeral Customs in Springfield, Illinois, for putting together an exhibition of them.

Curator Jason Meyers writes, “These floral pieces reached the height of their popularity in the United States around the turn of the 20th century and into the first two decades.  Most of them faded from use starting after World War II.” Meyers rummaged through the basements of old flower shops to find the armatures, many of which had not been used in decades, and Jean’s Flower Shop of Springfield produced the set-piece arrangements. The show of silk flowers and related memorabilia will be on view at the museum until June 5. 


imageOrder of the Eastern Star


It’s not surprising that you don’t see the five-toned emblem of the Order of the Eastern Star done up in flowers at funerals; there’s probably no chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star in town anymore.

The heyday of set piece arrangements was also the heyday of American civic organizations. Robert Putnam in his book Bowling Alone, described the Gilded Age and Progressive Era that followed, from roughly 1870-1915, as the “most fecund period of civic innovation in American history,” when “most of the major community institutions in American life today were invented or refurbished.” These groups provided a kind of “armature” for social life, structuring work and friendships, even shaping bereavement—into wheels and compasses.

imageMasonic emblem


Putnam’s study tracks how rapidly these groups declined, especially after 1970. And the shapes of sympathy flowers reflect these changes too. In her fascinating article on changes in funeral flowers, Kathryn Rem reports, “Customized flower arrangements that reflect the interests or vocation of the deceased also are becoming more common.”

Today’s funeral flowers bring comfort not with anchors and chains—reminders of our affiliations—but through carefully selected tokens of the individual. “Stacey Winch, owner of Winch Floral Shop in Springfield said families sometimes request that special items be inserted into funeral arrangements. She’s put small musical instruments into an arrangement for a musician, scissors and garden tools into one for a gardener, and toys and dolls into those memorializing children.”

In flowers, as in society, the set piece has given way to the signature.

Posted by Julie on 05/18 at 11:10 AM
Culture & SocietyFloristsSecular CustomsPermalink
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