A few years ago, I went to a suicide prevention training at my workplace — as a large university, we have a wide set of support services for both students and staff, which is really wonderful. The training was a good one, very hands-on and empowering, but obviously the topic is difficult. By the end of the session, I found myself overwhelmed with emotions, and with a strong desire to pray, specifically to the Matronae. I’ve written before on this blog about these widely attested but poorly known goddesses, and I now include them regularly in my prayers and devotions. At the time, though, this was unusual: I’d only begun walking a pagan path a few months earlier, and though I’d read a few mentions of the Matronae, that was literally it.
And yet the call was strong. I was full of hurt and sadness for those whose unhappiness is so great that they want to end their lives, and I wanted to share it with a greater power who could protect and comfort me. Moreover, that call was oddly specific: though at the time I usually prayed outdoors, that day I wanted, more than anything, to go to a cool, dim temple and light a candle. Pagan temples are, of course, thin on the ground in Central Ohio, but as I was leaving my building on campus, a new thought occurred to me: churches are nearby, and Catholic churches often have candles, and those candles often honor Mary, the Mother of Jesus. A different mother, but a holy mother nonetheless, and one I’d always felt attached to as a Catholic.
I went to the Catholic student center just off campus — the same one where I’d worshipped regularly a decade before, which was an odd homecoming — and asked if there was a statue of the Virgin, and a candle to light. The priest told me, regretfully, that they didn’t have any candles in the church, but that I was more than welcome to pray before the statue of Mary in the side chapel. Better than nothing, I thought, and went where I was pointed. There, before the dark wood of the carving, someone had placed a vaseful of sprays of bright yellow flowers. It seemed exactly appropriate: each blossom glowed like a small, unwavering flame, and the whole arrangement felt like a gloriously tangled candelabra bridging my outdoor, pagan present and my indoor, Catholic past. I prayed to the Matronae, including Mary in their panoply, and walked home calmer for it.
Ever since, I’ve associated yellow flowers with the Mothers. Yellow roses, dandelions, forsythia, black-eyes susans, daffodils, no matter: yellow flowers call them to my mind. And yet, none of the blooms ever clicked just right. They were welcome beauties, but when I brought the Matronae offerings in the temple of my mind, I always held a single large bloom, golden petals cupping a small cluster of stamens in an arrangement that looked almost Platonically distilled, the very idea of a flower. I searched my brain for the bloom — tulip? lotus? — but never could quite find it.
And then, just before the equinox, I found it in my neighbor’s lawn, the first flowers erupting from the earth in the early spring thaw: crocuses, gleaming triumphantly bright against the dead winter grass and fallen leaves. The blooms were smaller than those I held in my mind’s eye, but they were exact: the cupping curve that opens to separate, rounded peaks, the bundle of tightly grouped stamens, the color glowing like the sun. How clear, and yet how easy to overlook. Crocuses are evanescent, withering away almost as fast as they open, but they are the bold harbingers of the coming springtime, waiting expectant throughout the winter until they surge forth near the equinox. I welcome them, their royal purples, and I smile at them, their brilliant whites. But most of all, now, I will honor them, their burning yellows, small flames of the Mothers’ lifeforce propelling us into the growing light.