We all know how heavenly tea is, but even from ancient times it has had a mist of sacredness about it. And in all the years the teapot has symbolized the sacred in women’s everyday lives on this blog, I have never written about the close connection between goddesses and tea. So, as the chilly early spring winds swirl around outside, make yourself a cup of your favorite tea and learn some goddess and tea lore.
Walk into any fine tea shop and you will find Quan Yin tea, a Chinese oolong tea. Quan Yin, also spelled Kuan Yin, as you may know, is a bodhisattva of compassion, “she who hears the cries of the world.” Her story is that she became enlightened and was about to enter into Nirvana, but was so moved by the suffering of other beings that she vowed to remain in this world until all beings had become enlightened. You can see Quan Yin in the photo above.
No one knows exactly how the tea came to be named after her, but I especially love the story that a poor farmer, a Mr. Wei, was despairing that her temple near him was rundown and in disrepair. He was led to a small plant. Mr. Wei cultivated it and became so prosperous that he was able to rebuild Quan Yin’s temple and named the plant’s tea after her.
In India, Tulsi is an herbal tea known as “holy basil” with myriad physical and mental health benefits. Besides its use as a tea, tulsi leaves are also hung in homes to promote purity, peace, and harmony. Tulsi is considered to be divine in itself, an incarnation of the goddess Lakshmi, who has come to Earth as the basil plant to benefit all humanity. One of my favorite teas pairs tulsi with lavender.
The abundant mint is not only a wonderful tonic and delightful tasting tea, but has its own goddess story. Mentha was a Greek goddess who was turned into the mint plant by Persephone, the wife of Hades, because of her husband’s love of Mentha.
Not surprisingly, herbs in general have many goddesses or female spirits associated with them. Airmed, an Irish goddess mourned her brother and, when she buried him, all the world’s herbs sprung from his grave and instructed her in their use. Circe, who lived on an island, tested out her herbal potions on the sailors shipwrecked on her shores. The Buschfrauen of central Europe were delightfully wild women spirits who lived in bands in the woods and might let their herbal secrets be coaxed out of them. There are many, many other stories associating herbs with female divinity – these are just some of the ones I enjoy the most.
The process of making tea is, in itself, a kind of ritual. You put water in a pot made of earth, heat it with the element of fire, then watch as the steam escapes into the air, and you are left with a transformed magically healing brew. Of course, the formal Japanese tea ceremony expresses this sacredness of tea perfectly. In fact, part of the ceremony honors yet another goddess, Huchi-Fuchi, a goddess of fire.
So, the next time you are seeking a way to bring sacredness into your everyday life, or to express your gratitude for the many mysteries and wonders of this beautiful earth we live on, or experience the healing powers of goddess, why not make your own tea ritual? As you pour the water into the teakettle, think of Sedna, Yemaya, or any of the other many goddesses associated with oceans, rivers, or water. When you turn on your stove, honor fire goddesses like Pele or hearth goddesses like Hestia. As you ready your teapot, feel its solidity and be reminded of all we are given by our Earth goddesses like Gaia or Coatlicue. When you put in your tea, thank goddesses of the land where it was grown. As the steam rises, send up on it gratitude to air or wind goddesses like Kanuga. When you finally have your cup of tea in your hand, thank yourself for all you have done today and know you deserve these moments of peace and enjoyment.
By the way, to find out more about these and other goddesses you may wish to add to your tea ritual, consult any of the many books that describe the world’s goddesses. My favorite is Patricia Monaghan’s New Book of Goddesses and Heroines both for its comprehensiveness and because it has a wonderful index in the back listing various symbols, like the elements, stages of life, etc., and the goddesses associated with them.