Debi Varvi, the Henna Crone
I discovered this ancient art in 1999, in a lovely little book. Perhaps it is the fact that it's a very ancient form of adornment, perhaps it's the magic of a green leaf that produces a red dye, or the thought that I am a link in a centuries old chain of mostly women artists; henna seems to have an inherent magic all its own.
Henna is a shrub (Lawsonia Inermis). The leaves produce a reddish dye that bonds to keratin, which is in the epidermis. The henna leaves are dried, and ground to a powder that is sifted until it is very fine, like green baby powder. It is mixed into a paste using lemon juice, or coffee or tea, or even just water, and essential oils and sugar are added. Cones are rolled from thin plastic film and filled with the henna paste, which is then piped onto the skin, very much as one would pipe a design onto a cake with icing. In ancient times the henna was drawn onto the skin using twigs.
After allowing the paste to dry for a few minutes, it is dabbed with a sticky lemon juice and sugar solution, just to keep the paste stuck on, and the design is left alone for several hours. When the paste is removed the resulting stain is orange, but gradually darkens to the beautiful red-brown color over a couple of days. The design can last seven to ten days on the skin before fading away completely.
Over the centuries henna has been used to sooth, protect, adorn and bless. It is a beautiful way to celebrate life!
I have had the pleasure of working various festivals and events, both public and private, over the years: The Upland Lemon Festival, The Huck Finn Jubilee, Cairo Caravan, Tribal Fest, The Big Bear Yoga Fest, 3rd Coast Tribal, and The Viking Fest among others. I have also been privileged to work with a variety of companies and universities, including, Ugg, Sundreams Productions, Nordstroms, American Eagle Outfitters, University of California at Riverside, University of Southern California, University of Redlands, and the University of California at San Bernardino.
All images used courtesy Debra Varvi.