[Note: The quotation used in this artwork is from Storl, W.D. (2017) The Untold History of Healing: Plant lore and medicinal magic from the stone age to present. Berkley: North Atlantic Books.]
It’s the full morning light when I wake and my mission to take remedies to the sick in Saumur is no less urgent.
The woman working in this garden sees me briefly then scurries into the cottage. I knock at the closed door and call after her that I need to gather some remedies for plague.
“Wait in the garden. I will get what is needed in a bit.”
“Very well. But there is an urgency and I have already spent a night.”
She is probably afraid of me because she saw me and knows I’m shorn as a monk or a Christian mourner on these days while my work has me at the scriptorium at Poitiers and likely she is not a Christian. In these times when Barbarian Pagans and Roman Christians are barely touching toes with one another starring into same faces to assess differences, each is accusing the other of false faith and superstition though both are so much alike. A hag is called upon when Christian prayers seem too ethereal for earthy things like plague. Concoctions of herbs and egg and feathery creature seem to be of earth. But then so was Jesus of earth. Christians and Pagans alike are earthbound creatures as surely plague reminds us. Like all the beauty of this garden and like all the people of earth we are also of the Holy Creation.
Thank you God for beauty.
In silence she walks in the garden passing by me as though I’m invisible. She is wearing a broad hat and covered head to toe in bee netting. There are skeps for hives here. I’m sure she keeps bees. But I also think she chooses to hide herself.
She is not what I would expect of one called a “hag.” Lean and straight, agile in the form of a younger woman who has neither birthed nor suckled children. In veils and silence she bears the mystery of a virgin and none of a hag’s wear of age.
She gathers bundles of herbs filling a large sack. Then with the same intention she applies to rosemary stems she comes close to me, face-to-netting, to deliver the bag with instructions. Her voice is gentle, clear with purpose and I understand the instructions for the remedies.
“Do you know the direction to the village?” she offers.
“I know this road as well.”
“My brother has already gone to them to dig the graves. You will find him there on the hill with the donkey cart.”