If there is one native plant that grows wild near my childhood house, and with whom I have been nurturing a relationship, it is Nettle. To be more precise: Urtica. A primary school teacher taught me how to make soup or tea with the leaves. Do you know the fairy tale of the princess and her 11 enchanted brothers? Their plus-one mum had turned them into swans. To break the curse, their sister had to pick nettles in graveyards at night, and knit clothing that would fit her brothers ? She was not allowed to speak either. In Hans Christian Andersen's version, it is emphasised how much this task hurts, yet she perseveres. Even when she gets married, and even after a false accusation of witchcraft almost ends up at the stake, she continues to knit and keep silent.
Nettle also witnessed one of my biggest threshold ceremonies. From my 8th until my 16th, I was a member of the local scouting organisation. At the age of 14, a ‘ threshold ceremony’ would take place during the summer camp where each member would get an animal name that would tell who they are. You have to know I had forgotten to pack long trousers, so the whole ten days of this camp I was only wearing short pants.
From the very first day, the 14-year-olds were full of excitement. Which night would it happen? What name would we be given? Years ago, we asked our seniors about it. Once someone said that the founder's name was Ant, and it is very rare to be called that. I wished from the bottom of my heart that I was called Ant. I had low self-esteem and I didn't say it out loud, afraid that people would laugh at my arrogance.
Then. One night when it was raining, thunder and lightning. Drum roll. We were called. At first I was still half in the dream world, but then the veil was pulled away with a smack. You get your animal's name. We hurried out of our tent. I was in my shorts, the others wore long warm trousers.
The leaders were unrecognisable, they were shadow creatures. This was not a normal night. I still remember being very confused, but also amazed, full of excitement about the hero's journey we would take to discover who we really are.
We all got a candle and the shadow creatures put us all separate in different places of the evergreen forest. We could not see each other. I did not hear the instructions very well. I heard something that at some point we would be called and had to find our way to the ‘big chief’. I waited. It kept raining. My candle went out. They called me. I walked in the darkness, following my senses. Suddenly, I felt the nettles stinging my naked legs. I do not know why I continued. I thought it was part of the journey. To endure the stings. I kept silent and moved on.
At some point, I was sitting with other kids inside. There was light. And then someone yelled. My legs! It was full of nettle dermatitis.
Later, I heard my mum’s family has many problems with arthritis , and that I might develop it too. Sometimes, I want to think that in some way the nettles are acquainted with me, so they can help me later.
I was named Ant.
© Wendy Wuyts 2021-10-17