Love and Magnolias

Love and Magnolias May 28, 2014

Magnolia in bloom




























“Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.”– Maya Angelou

The magnolias are in bloom.  A week ago they were just buds mostly, slim white fingers on big, dark, glossy trees.  Now they are a riot of beauty you can see a hundred yards away, driving down the road, hiking through the woods, everywhere.  Magnolias are a favored ornamental in the South and you can hardly find an old house here that doesn’t have one in the yard, but unlike many ornamental trees they are indigenous.  They grow wild.

They also loom large in the culture, literary and otherwise. “Moonlight and magnolias” was a mocking phrase used by Rhett Butler towards Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind when she came all dressed up in her curtains to wheedle money out of him.  It is also a name given to a sub-genre of historical romance set in the antebellum South (with insufficient irony if you ask me). Magnolias are iconic, an arboreal symbol of the South only matched by live oaks draped in Spanish moss. (Which also has magical uses.  Another time, perhaps…).  The media-culture meanings tend towards illusion and romanticism, frothy Southern belle sugar-won’t-melt artifice, which may say more about attitudes towards the South in general American culture than anything else.

The traditional associations are quite the opposite.  According to Cat Yronwode’s Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic, magnolias are used for spells of fidelity in marriage.  She doesn’t give her source for this (it’s not in Hyatt that I can find) but I can see why. Magnolias are beautiful, sensuous, with showy cream-colored lemon-scented flowers, but also evergreen.  Their big glossy leaves do not drop in winter, but hold fast. They grow tall and old, with lateral branches good for tree-climbing children (I speak from experience). In the South, their long-term status as an ornamental means they are often found around “the old home place.”  Their associations with family, longevity, legacy, and faithfulness make me think of the Ten of Pentacles from the Tarot. You might extend the comparison to use magnolia in spells for prosperity, stability, fertility even (one magnolia left long enough will produce a grove of them).  The lemony smell makes me think of Van Van oil and the uses of lemon for clearing away negative influences.  You might use a magnolia blossom, therefore, to break old bad habits in love, especially those holding you back from a long-term, stable relationship if that is your desire.

Now, most of this is extrapolation on my part, but it is based partially on tradition and partially on simply knowing the tree…which is how these traditions get started in the first place. I have seen magnolias all my life, seen their broad leaves shining in the Georgia sun, climbed them, smelled the scent of them drifting on warm breezes, crawled under their low branches for the shade.  I know they like water though not as much as a willow tree, and that they have smooth loose bark that is hard to get a grip on but horizontal branches at regular intervals, ladder-like.  They are beautiful but sometimes harbor wasps.  A mature magnolia is a big, showy, extravagant tree, drawing your attention and giving back beauty.

Love can be like a magnolia:  valued but wild, blossoming suddenly out of nowhere but also growing and lasting for decades, bringing beauty and transformation to your life, offering dizzying heights and a lovely view for the intrepid climber but not without dangers and pain. All of the things I mentioned above…family, legacy, prosperity, fidelity, even clarity, have their proper roots in love.

What plant or tree means home to you?  What speaks of love?

“Of all the things in Georgia I love,

hazy blue mountains,

long lazy rivers,

the people who surprise me with their kindness even though I have known that kindness all my life,

the way things are funny to them the same way they are funny to me,

when life hurts you, you cry

also when it hurts you, you laugh,


lightning bugs,

thunderstorms, the smell,

lemon smell of magnolia trees in summer,

snow drift of dogwoods in the spring,

boiled peanuts sold by an old guy in a hat by the side of the road

and a million other things including alligators,

I don’t think alligators are my favorite but I like them just fine.”

–from my poem “Talking Alligator (Blues)” published in Southern Fried Weirdness: Reconstruction. All profits from the anthology go to Red Cross disaster relief.

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