彼岸花 曼珠沙華 the red spider lily
This week I am starting a two part series (which may gain more parts) which I have decided to call Yin Yang Myths. This series will focus on mythologies, legends, and tales that revolve around characters who are seemingly contradictory, but compliment each other rather well. Hence the name, Yin Yang myths. Afterall, does the light not have a drop of dark, and the dark a drop of light?
Next week I will talk about Sun and Moon myths, and perhaps I will conclude this series with a special treat for you 😉 This week, however, I am being selfish and beginning the series with this newfound flower, the red spider lily. Scientific name: lycoris radiata.
This flower is surrounded in myth, crowds graveyards, and wards off animals with its scent warning poison.
Hanakotoba is the Japanese language of flowers. Beyond symbolism, in Japan, flowers took on secret messages which the deliverer wished to pass on. The red spider lily was said to have been planted around grave sites to prevent animals from devouring the dead before they were cremated, thus associating this flower, like its other lily sisters, with death.
It is said that if you were to meet a person and never see them again, these flowers will grow along the path they walked as they departed.
This flower does not rise with spring, nor does it take the stage with summer. It blooms with the curtain of autumn, apart from its leaves.
In Chinese mythology there is a legend of this flower’s uniqueness, as it does bloom when its leave shed, and wilt as its leaves grow. This myth involves love and tragedy. Two elves, Mañju and Saka were asked to guard the flower’s petals and leaves respectively. However, the two grew curious about each other, and arranged a meeting. It was love at first sight, but Amaterasu, the sun goddess, punished them for their disobedience. They were fated to never meet again, explaining why the leaves of The Flower of the Other Shore bloom without the petals. Because of this legend, the flower is sometimes referred to as Mañjusaka, and symbolizes the tragic cycle of lovers.
In both China and Japan it is rumored these flowers grow in hell, and guide a person to their path of reincarnation.
Myths of chasing lovers, and death, and springtime have occupied my head a lot lately. Both because of this flower, and because of the novel I’m writing. I know I’ve hinted at my book before with my post on Baba Yaga (also a paradoxical myth) but I don’t believe I’ve actually mentioned its title, nor what it’s about. The Coffin-Maker’s Basement is about Death and a coffin-maker, and how the two have a relationship though they’ve never met. Again, there’s this sense of being so close yet so far from another person, like Mañju and Saka. And so I’ve been thinking about opposites a lot lately, and how, they’re not really opposite. They have common ground, don’t they?
Mañju and Saka guard the same flower. Self-named Mort (Death) and Sasha (coffin-maker) both work in the death business. There is this idea of being unable to, or one forbidden from, seeing the other. So what is an opposite if not just another difference on the same playing field? And why do these characters often know of, but don’t see, each other?
I think it’s because they’re opposites. It’s like the philosophy of needing darkness to see light, silence to know sound, and death to know life. One cannot guard the leaves and visit the petals, the leaves will fade. The opposite is true for the petals. Yet if a guardian of petals exists, and the knowledge of leaves exists, then Mañju would at least wonder if there’s a guardian for the leaves. That is why these opposites know of, but can’t see each other. If one exists, the reverse must exist too, right? But if one were to see the other, they wouldn’t be doing their job.
I don’t believe any of these opposites listed, are opposites. And by opposite, I mean completely different from each other. Nowhere near the same. These characters are two sides of the same coin. Now that I’ve said it, even coins have heads and tails. And they definitely don’t get to see each other. But it’s all the same coin; it’s still 25¢. Darkness is worth as much as light when you can’t have one without the other.
Going back to the spider lily, it blooms in the autumn which points to death, surrounds cemeteries, and when one part grows, the other part dies. And yet, there’s still life in death. A flower is still blooming when autumn comes, when a person dies, when the leaves wilt.
When I was a kid, I was told by a mentor of mine, “It’d all be the same if it were different.” And right off the bat I knew what he meant. But this wasn’t something I could double-check. This was something I either understood, or I didn’t. Since I’d been told that little phrase, I’ve often thought about it, and with the amazing journey my novel has taken me on, I feel I’ve understood that phrase better. Maybe with this series, that phrase will be something you find yourself thinking of too.
Comment below if you have any “Yin Yang” myths you’d like me to cover.
Thanks for reading,
*Featured image isn’t mine, but it’s gorgeous