If asked to name the "most mystical" flower, many would name the rose, or perhaps the lotus. Some would, not so much for the flower itself, as for the drug derived from it, name the poppy.
Me, I'd say that the peony is, in and of itself, a mystical experience. All the years that I lived in my tiny apartment, I'd buy armload of peonies (buy it and never count the cost) at the farmers' market on Dupont Circle. The man who sold them once told me that every week, in season, he shipped tightly-budded peonies to a woman in southern Virginia who would put them in water, pour a glass of wine, and sketch them as, over time, they opened. (Put peony buds in warm water and you can pretty much watch them opening. It's magic.) I used to go the Freer Gallery just to look at the pictures of peonies. When I moved, at last, to my little Witch's cottage, I began to grow my own, all white, although that doesn't stop me from sometimes, still, buying an armload at the farmers' market or (scuffs feet in shame) Whole Foods.
This week, the peonies are in mad, ecstatic bloom all over northern Virginia and I am grateful for each bush planted on my side-road route to Lorcom Lane and on my deep-DC route back home. There are peonies on my bed table, peonies on my dining room table, peonies on my desk at work, peonies on the table on my screen porch, peonies on the desks of all 3 secretaries who sit near my office, and peonies on my altar.
Here's a wonderful Mary Oliver poem about peonies.
This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers
and they open ---
pools of lace,
white and pink ---
and all day the black ants climb over them,
boring their deep and mysterious holes
into the curls,
craving the sweet sap,
taking it away
to their dark, underground cities ---
and all day
under the shifty wind,
as in a dance to the great wedding,
the flowers bend their bright bodies,
and tip their fragrance to the air,
their red stems holding
all that dampness and recklessness
gladly and lightly,
and there it is again ---
beauty the brave, the exemplary,
Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?
Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,
with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
Peonies, for me, are the flower of the "great (alchemical) wedding," and the flower that will call me "half-dressed and barefoot" (oh, you cannot imagine) into the garden, and call me to be "wild and perfect for a moment." Just before I am blessedly nothing forever.
You come, too.
Update: Byron Ballard's lovely rose certainly makes a strong case for the rose. Good thing we don't have to choose! ;)