HC SVNT DRACONES

THE STORY OF TEA

An ELIXIR is an alchemical substance intended to prolong life and confer immortality. Eluding emperors and philosophers for millennia, it has always existed in the mundane world. The elixir is not an unobtainable treasure; it is a universal panacea.

TEA plays a significant role in the physical, cultural, and spiritual realms of human existence. It represents a plant ~ human symbiotic relationship emerging from prehistory to arrive in the present, each leaf and bud the outward expression of a root that penetrates deeply into the mysterious origins of human consciousness.

坤輿萬國全圖
Kunyu wanguo quantu
‘Map of the Myriad Countries of the World’

Matteo Ricci
circa. 1604
If you want to know the location of the river source which produces the herb, it is just in the southwest, its original homeland.

The Secret of the
Golden Flower

In the far southwest of China, the Lancang River flows from Himalayan headwaters, eroding perilous gorges on its spectacular descent towards Southeast Asia to become the mighty Mekong, Mother of Waters . Here, preserved within subtropical forests, we encounter the remote origins of tea, agroforestry gardens established by the ancestors of indigenous Mon-Khmer language-speakers. Present-day communities of Wa, Bulang and De’ang, along with several other ethnic communities, steward these biodiverse gardens, some having been passed down through ancestral inheritance for a millennium or more.

In the heart of the Jingmai Mountains, atop Mangjing Village’s highest peak, stands the Tea Spirit Terrace (chahuntai), ritual platform and cosmological axis around which revolves the ceremonial life and cultural identity of this Bulang community. These mountains, newly inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are home to some of the world’s oldest tea gardens.


Each Spring & Autumn, seasonal flushes of tea fulfill the promise of ancestor Paya Alaung, ensuring cultural continuity and a market supplement to an otherwise subsistence lifestyle. Ninety percent of village income is procured during the two month spring harvest. With the arrival of rains in mid- to late-March, shrubs and trees awaken, the entire mountain effloresces. During this time, every able body is up early in the morning until late at night ensuring plucking and processing is carried out in a timely manner.

Between first and second flush there is celebration, the Theravada New Year, during which time villagers also honor Paya Alaung with the Tea Ancestor Festival. These conjoint events represent the syncretic belief system of the local people, an admixture of animism and Buddhism. They take place over three days, villagers busying themselves each morning with preparations before engaging in long days of prayers, offerings and festivities.

茶魂台
Tea Spirit Platform
Jingmai Mountains,
Mangjing Village

Tea is imbued with ecological and cultural potency. It flows from mountains to valleys, rural outposts to urban centers, spreading throughout the empire. In the Tang Dynasty, tea establishes itself as a quintessential substance, becoming a potent symbol of Chinese culture. It expands beyond the borders of that civilization over the following millennium before experiencing a widespread dispersal throughout the world beginning in the 17th century. To follow this movement of tea is to trace a ritual continuity emerging from ancient primary forests and extending to all of humanity. Thea sinensis, an ephemeral expression of harmony at the confluence of celestial and terrestrial:

桑康节 / 茶祖节
New Year & Tea
Ancestor Celebrations
Mangjing Village

THEA, daughter of Uranus and Gaia, Sky and Earth; also known as EURYPHAESSA, wide-shining, mother of Helios the sun, Selene the moon, and Eos the dawn

Θεα
Εὐρυφάεσσα

THEA, daughter of Uranus and Gaia, Sky and Earth; also known as EURYPHAESSA, wide-shining, mother of Helios the sun, Selene the moon, and Eos the dawn

Θεα Εὐρυφάεσσα

Θεα
Εὐρυφάεσσα

THEA, daughter of Uranus and Gaia, sky and earth;
also known as EURYPHAESSA, wide-shining, mother
of Helios the sun, Selene the moon, and Eos the dawn

Tea emerges from prehistory to arrive in the present, a global ritual substance enjoyed with varying degrees of ceremony. It offers moments of solitary repose and sublime encounter, a form of quiet contemplation and gentle hospitality practiced throughout the world. Moreover, tea tacitly touches upon many themes preoccupying the planet today, from biodiversity conservation to social harmony to climate adaptation. All this and more in its quest for balance between heaven, earth, and humanity.

Theasophie is praxis, daily engaged in the work of inner cultivation and collective worldmaking. It is also storytelling – interweaving indigenous knowledge, comparative mythology, early modern alchemical treatises, history of medicine, and the literature of tea to examine perennial questions of the vital body and its place in the cosmos. Distilling these ideas and considering them in light of a fully embodied tea practice reveals the path of tea and the quest for the elixir to be compellingly similar projects.