A great sense of joy emerged as I wandered through the forest last weekend, with the midday light of May Eve beaming through. I had entered with a cluttered mind and heart of unfinished projects and unresolved emotions. But after a short while, I realized that pleasure was permeating my senses, awaiting my acknowledgement. I was immersed in the vibrancy of the plants, birds, mosses, and trees. Once I surrendered my thoughts and offered my complete awareness and admiration, a lightness entered my being that lingered the rest of the day. Merisana’s presence.
Our knowledge of Merisana comes from an ancient Ladin legend from the Italian Dolomites known as “Merisana’s Wedding.” Like her mother before her, Merisana was a Salvadega, a woman who lived in the wild among the forest and rocks. The woodland waters were Merisana’s sacred realm in her role as Queen of the Water Virgins. Named partly after her godmother, La Luce di Meriggio, “the light of midday,” Merisana brought happiness wherever her light shined as she wandered over the forest meadows at noon.
One day a Hunter King – or a King of Rays depending on the storywriter – passed through the forest and happened to see Merisana in the Brook of the Virgins. He experienced such joy in her presence that he wanted to marry her so he would always feel this happiness. After some thought and negotiation, Merisana agreed to the union, but only if all creatures were happy at the time of their marriage.
On the day of the wedding, everything was radiant and beautiful. Trees were in leaf and flowers were in bloom. It was the great flowering of May. But as the midday hour approached, Merisana noticed that one tree stood bare and alone. Merisana took her sheer green veil and threw it up onto a branch, where the wind carried it further above. The tree now shone with green in the iridescent light of the sun. And so, the marriage took place, and the larch tree was born. The seeds of this magnificent tree were carried by the wind throughout all the valleys. Even today, especially in the silence at midday, one can feel sublime joy in the presence of the larch.
I have often thought about this story, and its messages and implications. Merisana, like other magical women in the folk stories, is so attuned to nature that she merges with it and understands the right course of action. She agrees to grant this human’s quest for happiness, but only if the well-being of all the creatures can be ensured. She willingly gives her green veil for the collective benefit, and out of that something new is created that continues to offer the gift of well-being. Notably, Giovanna Zangrandi entitles her version of this story “The Veil of Merisana,” which seems to higlight Merisana’s gift rather than her union.
Pondering Merisana’s actions causes me to wonder: Who am I in this story? Am I paying attention? What is the green veil I offer? What wild seeds are calling to be born at this time? If we valued the knowledge of all beings, including those who have been regarded as “inanimate,” what wisdom and healing is available to us?
Brilliant scientists of our time communicate messages with resonant themes to those in this simple story. Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer emphasizes the importance of giving more than we take from nature. Her intimate knowledge of plants grows from indigenous ways of knowing, which includes mind, body, emotions, and spirit. Dr. Vandana Shiva seeds possibilities by talking about the “living memory of plants through evolutionary time” and “the intention of seeds.” Dr. Qing Li invites us to walk slowly through the forest, with our senses open – a practice known as shinrin-yoku, forest bathing – and lures us there with beautiful photos, poetic words, and measured health benefits.
“It is when we connect to nature with all our senses that the magic happens, and our lives can be transformed. Immersed in the natural world, we can experience the miracle of life and connect to something larger than ourselves. Nature takes our breath away and breathes new life into us.”[i]
Merisana reminds me to walk not only with her, but as her. Not ruling over nature but with sacred sovereignty in myself that is nature, aware of my larger connection with other-than-humans and the wild, instinctively called to care and protect.
[i] Dr. Qing Li, Forest Bathing, p. 222
Carl Felix Wolff. “Merisana’s Wedding” in The Dolomites and Their Legends. Translated by Baroness Lea Rukawina. Bolzano, It.: Vogelweider. 1930.
Giovanna Zangrandi. “Il Velo di Merisana,” [The Veil of Merisana] in Leggende delle Dolomiti. Chiari, It.: Nordpress, 2000.
Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants , Oregon State University Press, 2003, and Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, Milkweed Editions, 2015.
Vandana Shiva, “Living with Other Sentient Beings,” keynote address at the Association for the Study of Women and Mythology 2022 Symposium, April, 2022.
Qing Li, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness. Penguin Life, 2018.