Works included in Lavender Imagined at The National
Lavender Imagined, 2021, Bronze, velvet – installation of 3
Enchanted, 2021, Blackened bronze, quartz bejewelled ball, sparkle

Calling the Sentient, 2020, Pearls, pins, fire-blackened red cedar, rope, wax
2021, Bronze

Cornered, 2021, Bronze


Lavender waits. Weights.

Lavender is patient, very patient. Inhumanly so. Perhaps that is its great advantage, being deliberate, not just as a plant, but as a plant with certain properties.

Humans are hampered by what is known as apical dominance. If we lose our heads, at the apex, we are lost. Plants on the other hand bifurcate and make new leaders.

Waiting is perfect hope. Amid received ideas.

Its smell, its perfume, is not subtle, but directly arresting. Where one might bury one’s nose in a rose and smell it deeply, there is nothing soft in which to burrow with this plant. Quite apart from it not being necessary to do so.

Its volatile oils are strong, clear and affective.It is a pharmakon of strength, soporific, purifying. A philtre that works on adults and children without their direct awareness.

The flowers reach out from a twiggy plant that grows in dry, hard soil.

It responds to harsh winters gratefully and flourishes in the hot sun like a lizard, drinking up the heat and hard light. Its blue isn’t really blue or purple but a greyish blue with purple dusty dusk.

Bees come to it and are rendered drunk and drip off the plant, becoming liquid from its potency, falling gently to the ground, cushioned by their fuzz and received by the ground-cover or leaf litter where they nod. What delirious stoned dreams or visions do they have?

Pacific Blue, Violet Intrigue, Avice Hill are among the most common varieties grown commercially in Australasia for oil extraction. Pacific Blue’s olfactory profile is simple, clear, and the most powerfully soporific. The word SLEEP appears out of it in a late 1960s hallucinogenic Detroit-Grande-Ballroom neo-nouveau graphic face.

Agri-business extraction involves steam in stainless steel stills, as the oil derived from lavender can tolerate this robust process. Other more fragile oils like rose and jasmine require gentler wax-based extractions to protect their volatile aspects.

The physical distillation of the essence of a magical plant can seem peculiar.

As a scientist, I am not closed to mystery or other possible ways of understanding being. In my early twenties I experienced the remote viewing of trees, but did not use these particular words. This was something I learned quite by chance as a young man while doing foliage surveys deep in the bush between Canterbury and the West Coast for weeks at a time in university holidays. I found that I could plot major trees over ridgelines before I had seen them optically. I asked a fellow worker if he had noticed this happening as he worked, and he said that he had. We were both shaken by this revelation of realities that the empirical processes we had been schooled in could not measure or chart.

It is a matter of tuning in to the mauri of the bush, of dominant trees. Tuning in to the mauri of a tree is to tune in to the mauri of everything, and tree auras are a good place to start. The band of light around them can become prismatically split after a time so that the spectrum of colours is visible as a narrow rainbow edge. It is marvellous to then close the eyes and enjoy the dappled retinal light and the flares of colours that can come, blooms of violet, green, red.

Deep information can come from a sublingual source. Coal and Cole for example can be conflated in our interpretation, and we must work out of this basic matter – from sound, feeling, images, bubbles, mists. We are not alone in this space, just as we are not solitary when we are in this physical dimension where the temptation is to learn empirically. There are presences everywhere. Especially when the veil is thin – Samhain, Beltane

Lavender can be co-opted into magic spells, standing in for something one does not have. Improvising from shared use of particular force and participation in a mutual rite, the components need not be definite as they might to make a sponge. Spells are non-recipes and are endlessly flexible because intention is everything. Lavender is a pedestrian magical stand-in. A neutral power.

Ask for things on the new moon and ask for things to be removed on the full. Pray standing up with arms raised, not in submission.

Lavender is all wands. Anything can be a magical instrument. To this extent they are all fictions, the projections of the intent of adepts. Ours is not an all-seeing god we cannot see. Rather, multiplicity, immanence.

Lavender is used in magical practices for strength, potency, cleansing, and in banishing spells to smooth the journey of a spirit or malingerer. To it could be added rosemary for stringency of purpose and dragon’s blood for power. Lavender has feminine characteristics – calming like an energy sink, anchoring the universe. It is very direct. Balancing male and female energies, its wand-like sprigs point another way, a lead and a void. It is an indisputable wand, pathway pointer, purifier.

Lavender cools the mind, like right now. Its half-orb body’s hum is part insect, part energetic. Gates. Lavender head.

A ring of mushrooms around a Hawthorn in flower is possible only in fantasy. The May-blossom comes in the spring. The mycelium puts forth fruiting bodies in the dark of autumn, following the first frosts and cold rain. Let’s go there anyway.

Text: Gwynneth Porter. Image: Jen Bowmast, Lavender Imagined (2021), photographed by Sarah Rowlands. On the occasion of Jen Bowmast Lavender Imagined at The National, Ōtautahi Christchurch, 5-29 May 2021. 

Mitchell Bright Photography