Earth-Dreaming: Marigold Transformation

posted in: Garden Sanctuaries | 29

In this story a humble marigold brings an alchemical transformation, a flowering of consciousness, emotional healing, and a return to love (with a little help from a couple of small animal companions, that is).

A golden flower bud Dream: A woman leaves her little daughter outside while she goes into her local bar to drink. I hear her tell someone about a young man who lives on the ground floor of her apartment building. He has a small shelf by his street door, and on this shelf he’s growing a marigold with very large buds that are about to open. She says that he somehow transforms everything into that marigold, his neighbors’ trash, garbage, insults.  At that point I watch this process happen. It’s as if everything is potentially made of substances transmutable by the mind, as if trash and insults, material and non-material, are somewhere in their mind-structure the same as marigold. All is food for the marigold! It seems that at first the neighbors just dump their trash near the man’s door. Then they begin doing it on purpose, because they don’t like him, because he’s not like them; he doesn’t react. Then they do it out of curiosity, because they notice something is happening. Finally, they figure it out and are affected spiritually. They are themselves transformed.


This is one of those rare “big” dreams, those dreams that we can spend the rest of our lives working on, being nourished by, and trying our best to understand. Dreaming this some thirty years ago began for me a life-long interest in the process of transformation as an ongoing, personal experience of psycho-spiritual growth towards the divine and in all the small lines that we cross every day, moving from the profane toward the sacred by acts of remembering and by acts of choice.

I am interested in the decisions we make each moment to stay in ordinary mind or to allow transformation into larger, what might be called, sacred mind. This is a paradox: How do we invite, stimulate, or relax into such transformation by choice, while the experience itself often comes, if it comes at all, not through any action of ours, but by grace. Transformation is a metaphoric process of movement from inertia to motivation, from being stuck in the limited thinking-mind to having access to the wisdom of the collective unconscious, from the habitual perspective of the ego to that of the larger Self.

Openness to conscious transformation as an ongoing daily process is based on a trust that we are evolving beings on an evolving world in an evolving universe and that our growth is effected by watching and listening for clues, for guidance. Guidance is Spirit speaking through our expansive “higher” Self to our more limited, “lower” ego selves. Each of us has to discover the forms of attention through which guidance speaks most clearly to us. For me nature is often the presenting agent of transformation. Here is a story about how we invite, nature presents, and we respond:

For a year or so I had been deeply involved in a question: what does it mean when the fairy tales and children’s stories of various cultures say that animals speak to people? As a result of intensely asking this question and being alert for clues, I had been having many experiences of animal communications. One day my then ten-year-old son and his friend were playing in our moss garden and had carelessly trampled all the wildflowers. My husband discovered this just as we were about to get in the car to go out to dinner nearby with the friend’s family. Driving to meet them, everyone in the car was silent. I was still annoyed and frustrated and unable to get out of my bad mood. I wanted very much to shift this state of mind, but I had no idea how.

All of a sudden we had to stop the car, because there, in the middle of the road, was a turtle. My son got out to put the turtle over on the side of the road that it was facing, as instructed. “But Mom,” he said, “I can’t. It’s walking straight down the road.” So he brought the turtle into the car. We saw that it was not an ordinary box turtle, as we expected, but a mud turtle, which none of us had ever seen before. Instantly the entire mood changed. We were drawn together in our mutual interest in and concern for the turtle. Emotional stuckness was transformed into compassion as we shared our love for nature. Was this a meaningless coincidence? No, it was a synchronous event: two unrelated lines of causality converging in a meaningful pattern. I had invited an emotional shift, the turtle had presented itself, and we had responded. This was a form of animal communication. To many Native Americans Turtle represents Mother Earth and signifies compassion.  Yes, the turtle brought the motherly kindness I sorely needed in order to heal my relationship to the children.

When we got back home we released the turtle near the creek in the woods behind our house. A month later, as we were getting ready to leave for school, my daughter, out of the blue, asked, “Mom, what do you mean when you say animals are our teachers?” I said, “Well, you remember when the mud turtle appeared, and we learned how to be loving again?” We got in the car and there, right in the street in front of us, was the mud turtle again, as if to confirm in case we had any doubts!

Invitation, Presentation, Response

We invite, nature presents, we respond. Invitation can be direct or indirect. Direct invitation would be what shamans do in drumming to access their power, singing songs to call their animal allies. Indirectly, we can maintain an alert expectancy while we hold an inner question and act as if the outer world is intimately related to us in mutuality.

Synchronicity, dreams, and creative breakthroughs come on moving energy. We can practice keeping our mental, emotional, and physical energies moving. We can keep breath moving freely through inner space and body energy moving via yoga, dance, or other energetic activity. We can keep our feelings moving by noticing, acknowledging, and sharing them. We can practice being drawn out of our acknowledged pain toward what we love, what we are interested in, and what our souls need.  We can practice giving care, attention and compassion to nature in order to keep that relational energy flowing. An ongoing personal practice, besides providing the actual energy movement, is grounding, cumulative, and affirms the continuity of the ongoing process of transformation. Re-choosing every day to detect and align with moving energy, within and around us, is a form of indirect invitation.

In presentation the sacred reveals itself in everyday life; the divine infuses our humanness and nature. While we are holding a question or concern, something appears, often from the natural world, and meets us, bringing a gift of the unexpected, an emotional surprise. I believe we will continue to lack the psychic energy to be motivated enough to honor the Earth and save our environment — the habitats of turtles — until we realize nature as sacred, revelatory, and intimately related to us in our mutual evolution; us caring about nature, nature, in turn, caring about us.

Response occurs when we allow ourselves to be moved. Rather than being objective and distant, we can take the world into us through heightened senses while allowing an emotional response, a bodily response, and an association of ideas (poetic thought) to meet it, receiving what the world presents to us and honoring it as a waking dream.

Transformation is evidenced when there is a felt shift, an expansive sense of life moving ahead with meaning, a freshness, a joy, a softening, a yes! For this process to flower and bear fruit, it is helpful to have a creative vehicle through which to express the transformation, celebrate it, actualize it, and invite it to continue to grow and blossom.

Altar for Dwali in India covered with orange marigold flowers
Alter for Diwali in India

The marigold dream is a metaphor for the transformation or flowering of consciousness. At first the neighbors just dump their trash or hurl their insults unconsciously. Their beginning to do so on purpose, because they don’t like the young man, represents a shadow form of consciousness. When they do it out of curiosity, because they notice that something is happening, this represents the emerging of directed consciousness. Their figuring out what is happening, that their insults are becoming fertilizer for his flower, represents the realization of the transformative process. They see that through his consciousness the young man transforms ugliness to beauty and fear to love. He does this by going to the fluid, changing, imaginal field of consciousness where there are no fixed categories, no boundaries between levels of energy, the Unus Mundus, where material and spiritual are not yet separated, where past and future are present now. Under the Bodhi Tree, aligned with the axis of ego/Self/Cosmos, Buddha’s enlightened consciousness transformed Kama-Mara’s fiery, hurled objects into flowers.

Day of the Dead altar with orange marigolds
Altar for Day of the Dead in Mexico

Why did the dream Self choose marigold as the flower of transformation? Marigolds are often the flowers that clothe altars of transformation. Mexican ofrendas honor death and light the way for the return of souls to their families on the Day of the Dead. Altars strung with marigolds focus rituals celebrating Diwali, the Hindu New Year. Diwali honors the goddess Lakshmi who dispels misfortune and brings peace and prosperity to the family in the new year. Indian weddings have traditionally been decorated with marigolds.

Pot marigolds, Calendulas, native to Europe, are herbs brimming with much medicinal and transformative healing power. They lift mood and are symbolic of light and joy. French marigolds, Tagetes, native to the Americas, were sacred to the Aztecs.  As companion plants in the garden they repel harmful insects and help vegetables to flourish. The alchemists sought to transform base metals into gold as symbolic of the psycho-spiritual transformation of consciousness.

Drawing of orange marigoldWanting to honor the marigold flower, the dream, and the grace that brought me healing within my family, I picked some marigold blossoms and began drawing them. When I had drawn all I could see of the golden petals and the green leaves, I looked through a magnifying lens to see the sexual parts of the flowers better. Peering close, I thought to myself, I wonder how these get pollinated? Suddenly a big stick jabbed at my eyeball. I blinked as my head jerked back. When my eye adjusted to the closeness of the object, I followed it down, down into the forest of leaves. There, hidden in the foliage was a daddy long-legs that had thrust one of its legs up at me when I’d come down too close.

It started to move. I said, “Oh don’t go, don’t leave. I want to draw you, too.” I watched as it waved each of its legs slowly in the air before moving it ahead millimeter by millimeter.  Little by little it moved one leg, then another, until it ever so slowly worked its way up to the top of the flower, skimmed its belly across the pollen parts, and stopped in full view, one leg still held straight towards me, warning me to look but not touch. I drew him sitting there on the flower, but in those few moments my static idea to draw the flower had become a dynamic experience of crossing a boundary of separation and being drawn into intimate contact with another order of being. I was transformed from mere drawer to lover, experiencing once more the alchemical marigold of the dream. Like the mud turtle, this small insect also communicated with me in its own way. They both taught me how to love again.



An early version of this piece was written for a class on the Psychology of Religion at UNC with beloved professor Bill Peck to whom I remain grateful for his love of our spirited Earth. A later version was published in the Newsletter of the C.G. Jung Society of the Triangle, September, 2000. Two other stories in the Earth-Dreaming series are Earth-Dreaming: Liminal Waters and Earth-Dreaming: Heartscape

Text and drawing (c) 2019 Betty Lou Chaika

Photo of Diwali Altar from

Photo of Day of the Dead Altar from


Share this story

29 Responses

  1. MariAna

    Love this posting…will go back and read more…thank you for sharing your insights

    • Betty Lou Chaika

      MariAna, glad you enjoyed the story. May we each share the insights and visions that Earth gives as she dreams her dreams through us, so that we may all contribute to the great transformation that is being required of us at this time.

  2. Nancy Corson Carter

    Thanks, Betty Lou, for this reminder of the sacred messages waiting for us to read and to take into our beings. So many things like the marigolds & the daddy longlegs are here for us to notice and to be blessed by. Let this be so in abundance in the New Year!

    • Betty Lou Chaika

      Nancy, you, wonderful poet that you are, understand that we must slow way down in order to become attuned to the teachings that nature is so graciously and generously giving us every day. Yes, may we graciously receive nature’s blessings in, as Mirabai points out, this new decade.

  3. Mirabai Marquardt

    Such a beautiful Teaching on this, the first day of the new decade. So grateful…

  4. ann loomis

    I love it that “marigold” has “Mary” imbedded in its name. Also, I’m reminded of the “gold” that is in the shadow, if we are curious about our shadow side. The marigold is a powerful image for the New Year!

    • Betty Lou Chaika

      Ann, with your deep attunement to the Divine Feminine, it is fitting that you point out to us the connection between the natural light of marigold and the spiritual light of Mary. We certainly need to bring light to the darkness we have been living, so that whatever gold is hidden in the shadow can reveal itself.

  5. Riverdave

    BL, I had a hard time following this thread of thoughts, having to jump from one image rapidly to another … RD

    • Betty Lou Chaika

      Someone just sent me this poem by William Stafford. Too much of a synchronicity not to include it!

      The Way It Is

      There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
      things that change. But it doesn’t change.
      People wonder about what you are pursuing.
      You have to explain about the thread.
      But it is hard for others to see.
      While you hold it you can’t get lost.
      Tragedies happen; people get hurt
      or die; and you suffer and get old.
      Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
      You don’t ever let go of the thread.

      ~ William Stafford ~

  6. Laurie Lindgren

    I love your beautiful way of unwinding a story, a thought, a transformation. Nature takes her time, and so do you. I find your drawings also to be so lovingingly and thoughtfully rendered, a slow-motion transformation.

    I have always associated marigolds with the energy of Mary. They are common and sturdy, but so complex and beautiful in their form and color. And useful! No wonder they are used in so many ceremonies. And of course, the gold of the alchemists!

    I wonder what the daddy long legs came to tell you. He seems like a guru spirit guide. His long sensitive legs can perceive truths outside of his immediate body surroundings. A wise old teacher.

    I love the way you let nature take the lead and then you attentively follow. After all, we ARE nature and are participants in what is happening. You help us be aware of that. Thank you. Let the rising of the light be blessed by Mary’s golden spirit.

    • Betty Lou Chaika

      Thanks, Laurie, for reflecting that unwinding the thread of a story often takes place in slow motion, like the movement of the daddy long legs. Perhaps his message is to be patient with this process; give it all the time it needs; don’t get frustrated that a story is not emerging as quickly as you think it should (which I often do). Following the lead of this teacher, he encourages me to develop more sensual sensitivity to the world around me, what David Abram calls “somatic empathy.” As a child everything had a feeling in my body. He reminds me that it’s possible to open to those felt-senses more fervently again. Perhaps he brings these messages to us all in these hurried and too-fearful times.
      Laurie, you give so many of us your gift of sensitive mirroring of our deepest longings. I’m grateful for the golden light of compassion with which you, like Mary, surround us.

  7. Suz Robinson

    I knew as I saw the title to this it would unfold my passionate love of nature once more. Intentionally I waited until I could allow your story to slowly unfold. As I read images, experiences and the truest of our essences was revealed. What a beautiful story when so much love is needed in our world.! Immense gratitude for sharing with us, Betty Lou 💞

    • Betty Lou Chaika

      Suz, it makes me happy whenever I hear that something I’ve written has helped someone reconnect with their love for nature. You are one who knows those deep and quiet places of mystery where we are connected with nature and with loved ones in spirit.

  8. Jean McKinney

    Betty Lou, your beautiful dream brought to my mind the Buddhist practice of “tonglen” A website called “The Lion’s Roar” defines it this way: “In tonglen practice, we visualize taking in the pain of others with every in-breath and sending out whatever will benefit them on the out-breath. In the process, we become liberated from age- old patterns of selfishness. We begin to feel love for both ourselves and others; we begin to take care of ourselves and others.”
    My own understanding of this powerful practice is that one takes in the suffering of others and transmutes it into something beneficial, even beautiful.

    • Betty Lou Chaika

      Jean, I’m grateful to you for making this connection between the Marigold’s teaching and tonglen. Periodically over the years I have engaged in a practice of tonglen, primarily through the instructions of Pema Chodron. Thank you for reminding me of this truly transformative breath practice. Yes, the young man is doing a form of tonglen, taking his neighbors’ pain in to where it transmuted by the greater Mind, and the healing becomes visible in the vibrant blossoming of the flower.

  9. Sandra

    Betty Lou, I am inspired and lightened by your wonderful story and the pictures you project, by word and by image. As I read, I so enjoyed the golden-orange beauty of marigold in all her facets; and I was struck by your brilliance in communicating how we might encourage deeply meaningful events, synchronicities, into our own lives, for guidance and for richness of experience. Thank you so much, dear friend!

    • Betty Lou Chaika

      Thanks, Sandra, I’m delighted that you found the story, and Marigold herself, inspiring. Yes, my experience has been that so many spirit-filled plants and animals, whether in the wild of nature or the wild of our dreams, are eager to relate with us. If we are emotionally vulnerable to asking for contact or help they often present themselves to us with wisdom and compassion. When we allow ourselves to be deeply moved and to respond bodily, emotionally, creatively a relational bond forms. I know you, too, Sandra, experience a deeply intuitive relationship with the natural world.

  10. Jill Over

    Betty Lou,
    This post was a nice reminder that every day in our ordinary world we can practice being mindful to keep all our energies moving as we experience transformation that may be very subtle. I love the metaphor of the marigold. The natural world is always presenting herself. Let’s allow ourselves to be moved!
    Thank you, jill

    • Betty Lou Chaika

      And you remind me, Jill, that our energies can be stopped up by fear-based thoughts of unworthiness or inadequacy. For many years after having the dream I found it helpful to practice being mindful of all such self-insults and give them to the Marigold to transform. All is food for the Marigold! was my mantra. I will take up this practice again, because it is all too easy to turn my anger, sadness or helplessness at what we are doing to nature back against myself. I need my emotional energies available for responding to, for being moved by, whatever the loving nature spirits present.

  11. Barbara Janeway

    I am alarmed that at the beginning of the dream the mother leaves her little girl outside while she goes into the bar to drink. What happens to the little girl? Later in your narrative, I am delighted that the mud turtle appeared to you and your family twice! A real sign, for sure. The drawing of the marigold is lovely with the daddy longlegs! And, I was gladdened to see in your notes mention of Bill Peck’s The Psychology of Religion class – this was by far my most favorite class of my whole experience at UNC – he taught it so well and I will never forget that work together. This whole accounting that you write here I will return to reading again and again, for it is pertinent to my own present life…………thank you for sharing…………

    • Betty Lou Chaika

      Barb, thanks for your concern! The little girl is me. She is the “I” who hears the mother tell the story. Yes, all of the several times that mud turtles have appeared have been moving, meaningful experiences. They hold a special place in my heart. Bill Peck is still around and still delightful to be around! I’d love to hear how Marigold’s wisdom is relevant to your life situation, if you ever want to share that.

  12. Barbara Janeway

    Betty Lou, Oh, I am so delighted that Bill is still around! He had the most influence upon me of all my instructors at UNC. His teachings are an integral part of who I still am. Ah, the little girl is you…… So, this that you wrote:
    “I am interested in the decisions we make each moment to stay in ordinary mind or to allow transformation into larger, what might be called, sacred mind. This is a paradox: How do we invite, stimulate, or relax into such transformation by choice, while the experience itself often comes, if it comes at all, not through any action of ours, but by grace. ” This describes the situation I live in, via various spiritual teachings, my own patchwork of spiritual sources that invite or stimulate transformation, plus things like saying mantra at any of the numerous long red lights in traffic where I live, or making sure I get out into Nature even if it is desert looking down upon views of the large urban-ness I live in the midst of, or, holding a stone or gem that is sacred to me, or, spending time intentionally alone and quiet away from digital devices. Regarding Marigold: always this has been my favorite flower, both the smell and goldenness of color. I love to drink in her smell! And, this is what I have done, and wish t o do more of: spiritual bathing and here is THE person who I met in Carrboro who taught us this: And I notice animals, birds, insects, minutely, as they are always bringing signs………….

    • Betty Lou Chaika

      Barb, I think having ongoing spiritual practices, saying mantras, holding a stone, getting out in nature, quietness, and noticing, as you describe, are ways to be both grounded in the body and aligned to spirit so as to be available for grace to bring an agent of transformation into your awareness. Oh my goodness, spiritual bathing in marigolds sounds absolutely incredible!

  13. Marie

    Ah Betty Lou you were so right, I love this one. I am very drawn to Marigolds (it is also my nickname) and love the transformation aspects of her. She was my inspiration for Marigold Moon Herbals!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.