Monday, 30 May 2011


The Henbane in my garden varies greatly in size depending on its original growing conditions.  In general it has large, thick woolly leaves, which according to Culpeper are ‘much cut in, or torn on the edges, of a dark, ill greyish green colour;’ I like the colour, I wouldn’t call it ‘ill’ at all, but it does appear he is trying to set the stage for what will follow. He follows by saying;  ‘among which arise up diverse thick and short stalks, two or three feet high.’ My henbane's stalks  are shorter, perhaps due to the lack of rain. The flowers; he states are a ‘deadish yellowish colour, somewhat paler toward the edges, with many purplish veins therein.’ Ooh; sounds just great to me, I love them. He likens the root to a parsnip, but not so white, ‘so that it has deceived others.’he adds ‘The whole plant more than the root, has a very heavy ill, soporiferous smell, somewhat offensive.’
  Hyoscyamus niger is a member of the Solonaceæ family, whose brothers and sisters include the potato, tomato, tobacco and belladonna. Said by Mrs Grieve to have been named ‘Belene’ in old Anglo Saxon then ‘’Hen-bell’ and finally Henbane as the seeds were known to be fatal to poultry. Or, as indicated by Donald Law, ‘bane=poison’. Yet it has also been called ‘Hog’s-bean’ stemming from the Greek ‘hyos’ ‘cyamos’ or ‘the bean of the hog. It is said that this ‘animal can eat it with impunity.’ (Mrs Grieve) It is also amazing how many pests love henbane, something is  munching very happily upon some of my young plants, yet others are left alone, so that’s ok, I don’t mind sharing.  It even appears that ‘Potato pests are fond of the prickly leaves, and will leave the potato patch to feed on the Henbane plant.’(Mrs Grieve)
  The henbane’s seeds develop in a round apple shaped pod, and it was said by  Josephus that the headdress of the Jewish high priest was modelled on the fruit of the henbane.
Mrs Grieve points to its use by the ‘Ancients’ to ‘allay pains’, as recommended by Dioscorides and Celsus in the first century A.D, among others.  She  adds   Pliny’s point of view; that it produces a condition that is ‘of the nature of wine and therefore offensive to the understanding.’   Henbane appears to have fallen ‘into disuse’ for a period of time, and is missing from the London Pharmacopœia of 1746 and 1788 returning in 1809.
  Culpeper states of its ‘Government and Virtues’ ‘I wonder how astrologers could take on them to make this herb of Jupiter; and yet Mizaldus, a man of a penetrating brain, was of that opinion as well  as the rest; the herb is indeed under the dominium of Saturn, and I prove it by this argument: All the herbs which delight to most to grow in saturnine places, are saturnine herbs. But Henbane delights most to grow in saturnine places, and whole cart loads can be found where they empty the common Jakes, and scarce a ditch to be found without it growing in it.’
   Cunningham places henbane as a plant of Saturn, of feminine gender, and of the element water as he does with most poisonous plants.  Law on the other hand suggests that some ‘ascribe it to Uranus, others to Saturn. Manfred M. Junius places it as under the dominium of three planets Saturn with Jupiter and Neptune. I must agree with Culpeper, I do not get the Jupiter liaison; but Neptune; now that’s an interesting link which warrants further pondering.
 Culpeper finishes with a warning, ‘Take notice, that this herb must never be taken inwardly; outwardly, an ointment, or plaister of it, is most admirable for the gout, to cool the venereal reigns if the French pox; to stop the tooth-ache, being applied to the aching side: to allay all inflammations, and to help the diseases before premised.’ These diseases include, ‘gout’, ‘sciatica’, ‘worms in the ears’ ‘lice in man and beasts’ and adds that ‘The fume of the dried herb, stalk and seed, burned, quickly heals swellings, chilblains or kibes of the hands or feet.’ Mrs Grieve appears to also like his words as    she quotes ‘The leaves or roots eaten produce maniacal  delirium, if nothing worse.’
   She also quotes another ‘old writer’ who says ‘If it is used in either sallet or in pottage, then doth it bring frenzie, and whoso useth more than four leaves shall be in danger to sleepe without waking.’ Sound advice there by whoever penned those words.
  Cunningham suggests that to ‘bring love’ ‘a man should gather henbane naked, early in the morning, whilst standing on one foot.’ Then; when ‘worn it will bring love.’ Hmm, shan’t comment on that.
 There does appear to be some confusion as to  henbane in literature, as Shakespeare points in Hamlet to the nature of ‘the juice of the cursed hebenon’  and Marlow  writes that the ‘juice of the hebon’ is a deadly poison.  Yet ‘Hebenus according to Gower is a “sleepy tree.” It also appears that Spencer makes “heben” a tree and speaks of “the deadly heben bow’. (Mrs Grieve) So it appears that there may be confusion between the yew tree and henbane, or are the writers perhaps clear about the differences but pay tribute to both plants deadly nature.
  According to Mrs Grieve; ‘In mythology, we read that the dead in Hades were crowned with it as they wandered hopelessly beside the Styx.’ This adornment, is linked by many with the process of forgetting. 
  So whether one views the henbane as a plant of the ‘sleep without waking’ or as a plant of great beauty, it is still worth taking a closer look, but perhaps not too close.

Friday, 27 May 2011

The Foxglove

When the foxgloves flowering in the garden caught my attention, I suddenly realised I knew little about this stately plant, apart from the well documented use of digitalis for  relieving heart ailments, so I decided  to explore further, both the natural history and the folklore attached, However I had no idea how little there was to be found, apart from, as I said its well documented but relatively recent use in the treatment of heart disorders.

  The foxglove is a common biennial flower of late spring and early summer here in the UK. It is found in gardens woodlands, hedgerows and waste areas, and as Culpeper adds ‘on dry sandy ground for the most part, and as well as the higher and lower places under the hedge-sides in almost every county of the land.’ So it appears that the foxglove can grow, if needs must, almost anywhere. Although he does indicate that it ‘seldom flowers before July’.  So, me-thinks perhaps the learnéd gentleman is thinking of another plant, or times have changed so very much that the flowering times of plants and its chosen  habitat, have altered dramatically since the early 17th century.
    Known by such names as Dead Man’s Bells, Bloody Cups and Dead Man’s thimbles, which  gives one some idea of the perhaps unfriendly nature of this plant. And then there are the many names associating this plant with the fairies. One of these names, according to Mrs Grieve, is ‘Folksglove- the glove of the ‘good folk’  from  ‘a list of plants in the time of Edward III.’  She also claims that the earliest known form of the name ‘is the Anglo-Saxon foxes glofa (the glove of the fox)
  However it is the plants chemical constituents that have provided it with a notoriety amongst some. According to Michael Jordan (Plants of Mystery and Magic) ‘the plant synthesizes digitalin and other related toxic chemicals known as glycosides which have a cumulative effect on the human body.’ According to Mrs Grieve it is the foxgloves’ leaves, collected in the spring, when green and healthy, that are used to provide the drug used to regulate an irregular heartbeat. She states that ‘In ordinary conditions it takes about twelve hours or more before its effect on the heart muscles is appreciated, and it must thus always be combined with other remedies to tide the patient over this period and never prescribed in large doses at first as some patients are unable to take it, the drug being apt to cause considerable digestive disturbances, varying in different cases. This action is probably due to the Digitonin, an undesirable constituent.’
 Animals appear aware of its toxicity as no passing animal will pause to nibble its lush looking leaves. However the bees appear to love the foxglove as they can be seen vanishing into the trumpets of the flowers on a warm summer’s day. This may perhaps, as some say, make it a favourite of the medieval garden. However, there appears to be very little known of any use medicinally or otherwise pre sixteenth century. According to Mrs Grieve the earliest known descriptions of it are those given in the middle of the sixteenth century by ‘Fuchs and Tragus in their herbals.’ However she does indicate that thirteenth century Welsh physicians did make use of it in their preparations for external use only. She also adds ‘Strangely enough, the Foxglove, so handsome and striking in our landscape, is not mentioned by Shakespeare, or by any of the old English poets. Mrs Grieve tells us that it was ‘Leonhard Fuchs (the well known German herbalist of the sixteenth century,)’ who is said to have employed the ‘Latin adjective Digitalis (from Digitabulum, a thimble)’,  it appears that before that time (1542) it ‘had had no name in either Greek or Latin. 
   Mrs Grieve does indicate regarding its use by the old herbalist, that foxglove was employed in medicine, yet ‘wholly without reference to those valuable properties which render it useful as a remedy in the hands of modern physicians.’ Donald Law in The Concise Herbal Encyclopedia (1973) does say that  ‘boiled leaves in water can be safely used  as a cleansing and antiseptic lotion for washing sores, ulcers and wounds, etc.’ He continues by stating that ‘Some witches used it to produce trances,’ yet doesn’t give a reference for this piece of knowledge. I have just noticed there is not even a bibliography in this book in which I delighted in times past, although the list of books by the same author does include Textbook of Botanic Medicine (8 vols) which has always convinced me that he did know a thing or two. Culpeper that most knowledgeable gentleman,  indicates that ‘The herb is familiarly and frequently used by the Italians to heal any green or fresh wound, and he is also ‘confident that an ointment of it is one of the best remedies for  scabby head that is.’ I will bear that in mind if ever I am plagued with such a thing.

I can find very little mythology concerning the plant, but many on-line sources share a tale from Roman mythology, ‘as Flora showed Hera or Juno how to impregnate herself with no need of a man by touching a foxglove to her belly and her breasts. She either gave birth to Mars or Vulcan from this method, depending on the source,’

Culpeper places the foxglove under the ‘dominion of Venus, being  of a gentle  cleansing nature.’ Not too sure I agree, but may have been acceptable at the time penned. Cunningham also places it under Venus and the ‘Element’ water’, which I should think he probably copied from Culpeper, however Manfred M Manus (The Practical Handbook of Plant Alchemy) also places the plant under the dominion of Venus, but along with Mercury and Saturn, which makes rather more sense. As  it is the sun that is said to rule the heart,  I would perhaps place this plant to a certain extent under the suns rulership. Although perhaps because the discovery of the plants benefits to the heart is a more recent revelation, it may be worth linking present associations as well as ancient. 
   Cunningham gives its magical use as ‘Protection.’ He goes onto relate how ‘In the past housewives in Wales used the leaves of the foxglove to make a black dye, which they used to paint crossed lines on their cottage’s stone floors, this was done to keep evil from entering the house.’ Whereas Mrs Grieve relates the same tale but differently; she indicates that ‘A domestic use of Foxglove was general throughout North Wales at one time,’ she then tells how it was used to ‘darken the lines of stone floors’ but gives the reason as; ‘This gave them a mosaic-like appearance.’ and indicates that it was more the appearance that prompted this action rather than anything else.  
So all in all, I have been proved so very wrong, there may be rather a lot to be found about the foxglove if only one may find the time to dig deep enough.

Thursday, 19 May 2011


Ipomoea purpurea, or the Common Morning Glory, is not a native of the UK but is grown here for its pretty purple flowers. This   native of Mexico  and Central America (Wikipedia) is normally treated as an annual when grown from seed, and happily climbs and entwines itself round anything near enough for it to get it tendrils around. It appears, if you have ever grown a plant indoors, that it can detect a nearby object and then grows towards it; however I am sure it simply launches itself outward, so that at some point it finds a frame, whatever shape or form that may take, to wrap its tendrils around.  If the young seedlings grow near to each other they will entwine themselves around each other and thereby become very difficult to separate.
  The leaves of the morning glory are heart shaped and the twining stems hairy, unlike its near relatives the field and hedge bindweed whose stems have very little or no hairs. Ipomea’s seeds are said to have psychedelic properties, and are classified as poisonous by seed merchants. Both Ipomea purpurea and Ipomea tricolor contain LSA, (Lysergic Acid Amide) presenting an experience  said to be similar to LSD. Internet sources indicate that the seeds can be crushed, eaten or soaked and drunk, and will then provide an  intoxication lasting 4to 8 hours.   Evidently it was used by ‘Central American Indians in ceremonial and traditional ceremonies.’   Ipomea varieties also have a long history of use in  Mexico where it grows in a manner similar to the bindweed here in the UK, rapidly covering anything near enough to get its tendrils around. A full and in depth investigation of Ipomea’s narcotic use can be found at;
  According to Scott Cunningham (Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs) the morning glory or bindweed (Ipomoea spp) are  masculine plants, classified as being under the influence of the planet Saturn;   the element water, and with powers over happiness and peace. Cunningham indicates that one can  ‘Place the seeds beneath the pillow to stop all nightmares. And also that grown in the garden, blue morning glories bring peace and happiness. The root of the morning glory, according to Cunningham, may be used as a substitute for High John the Conqueror root.’ Not sure that I agree with him on some of these points although the pretty trumpet flowers are a joy to behold.
  It is the Ipomea purga also called Ipomea Jalapa or Jalap Bindweed that he is  known as High John the Conqueror root or the jalap bindweed This a native of South America, whose ‘tubers, varying in size from a walnut to an orange, are dark, umber-brown in colour, and much wrinkled.’ (Mrs Grieve) Cunningham places  this variety under the planet Mars and allocates it the element water, used for success with 'money, love, happiness' and to bring 'success'.
  According to Mrs Grieve ‘All the Convolvulus family have purgative properties.’ She goes onto explain  that convolvulus scammonia (scammony) has a beneficial function as it ‘is used in homœopathy.’ However ‘there are three kinds of Convolvulus or Bindweed in our native flora.’  These she names as the ‘Field, Hedge, and the Sea Convolvulus.’  The Bindweed (field and hedge) is named as a common invasive plant here in the UK, however Mrs Grieve   points to Anne Pratt’s very interesting observations; (Flowers and their Associations ) ‘while some twining plants follow the apparent course of the sun and turn round the supporting stems from left to right, others like the large White Bindweed or Convolvulus, twine contrary to the sun, from right to left, and never otherwise; even if the gardener turn it in another direction, the plant, if unable to disengage itself and assume its normal bias, will eventually perish.’ As a plant that lives truly in the hedge, neither in the woodland or in the field, it’s possible associations I find, appear rather intriguing. The field bindweed on the other hand, can grow along the ground, choking out crops and covering grassland.
    It is also interesting to consider that ‘C. Batasas, the tuberous-rooted Bindweed,’ or sweet potato whose roots ‘abound in starch and sugar and produce a nourishing food.’ I have always found it amazing that within a genus of largely inedible plants there will be found one or two staple foods.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

White Bryony

  My new white bryony vines are doing very well. Grown easily from seed, these herbaceous perennials are a member of the cucumber family, and like the cucumber and marrow the male and female flowers are found on the same plant. Although unlike cucumber the bryony is very poisonous, without any narcotic influences as far as I am aware. The yellowish green flowers are rather inconspicuous yet rather dainty. These flowers turn to berries  which change from red to black as they age. The birds eat the poisonous berries and disperse the seeds. However the interesting part of this plant is its tuberous yellow root. This root is given the name the‘English Mandrake’ and I am looking forward to having a look to see what is under the soil.  I may even try Scott Cunningham’s suggestion ‘Money placed near a briony root will increase, as long as it is left there.’ He goes onto say that ‘The root is also hung in houses and gardens as a protection against the effects of bad weather.’In my case, at this moment in time the bad weather is the lack of rain,although I am not sure  that  counts.
    Cunningham places the plant as masculine, its element fire, and its planet Mars, although I would have guessed at  Saturn. However Manfred M. Janus also suggests Mars (aggressive and warlike) which appears to have come from Culpepper. I was thinking  along the lines of the poisonous dark berries ‘sour tart and dead-like’ (Agrippa) However Cunningham does  give  a favourable use as’ it is used for money spells’.
    I thought I would look to see exactly what Culpeper had to say on the subject.  He says of both the black and the white bryony, ‘They are furious martial plants, The root of bryony purges the belly with great violence.’........after further words of warning he adds ‘and therefore not rashly to be taken.’ However he does add some ailments it may aid in curing, such as ‘running sores’ ‘leprosy’ ‘foul scars’ ‘and all running scabs’. He does indicate that ‘As for the former diseases where it must be taken inwardly, it purges very violently, and needs an abler hand to correct it than most country people have.’
  Mrs Grieve quotes “The roots of Bryony grow to a vast size and have been formally by imposters brought into a human shape, carried around the country and shown for Mandrakes to the common people. The method which these knaves practised was to open the earth round a young, thriving, Bryony plant, being careful not to disturb the lower fibres of the root: to fix a mould, such as is used by those who make plaster figures, close to the root, and then fill in the earth about the root, leaving it to grow to the shape of the mould which is effected in one summer.”
   An image, or shaped  root or  alraun  as it is called by some,  is said to by some to hold magic powers, and  can then be used as a talisman for protection, divination  and perhaps just a confidante to have a chat with in times of trouble. So even though the previously mentioned con-artists were intent on defrauding their fellow men, the item they created may have had a use of their own. And I know I would love to have seen one.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011


  My visit to ‘The Parthenon Gallery’ in the British Museum encouraged  me to   explore  Iris, and as the flower that is her namesake has just burst into flower in London and the South East, I thought I would turn in her direction and examine both the flower, and the goddess in greater detail.
  The figure that caught my attention stood originally on the west pediment of the Parthenon. Both Hermes and Iris appear here as messengers of the gods. Iris was stationed on the left hand side, Hermes to the right. (facing outwards) The identification panel states; ‘Both Athena and Poseidon were accompanied by divine messengers, Athena by Hermes, Poseidon by Iris. She is shown as if just alighting on the Acropolis. Her drapery is pressed flat against her body and flutters out at the edges. It was held at the waist by a bronze girdle, now missing. Her wings, also missing, were socketed in to her shoulders at the back, where the joins would not have been seen.’
 It appears on delving further that Iris was considered  not only a messenger, but she  also  had command over the winds, Michael Grant in Myths of the Greeks and Romans (1962)   relates in the  tale of ‘The Quest for the Golden Fleece, that ‘Hera bade Iris calm the winds for the Argonauts,’ and over to Rome where Ovid told a tale which to me, sounds very similar to the Biblical flood story.   Jupiter had decided to destroy the human race due to the violence of the Giants (Titans) who had previously been hurled down from Mount Olympus. And  he also needed to rid the world of the humans, who were exhibiting contemptuous behaviour towards the gods.  So he (Jupiter) ‘decided to send torrents of rain and plunge mankind beneath the waters.’ ‘Imprisoning the north wind and all other cloud scattering gales, he released the south wind, while Iris drew up water to fill the clouds, and Neptune struck the earth with his trident.’

 The link between the goddess and her namesake flower is highlighted in Michael Jordan’s  Plants of Mystery and Magic.  (1997) Here he points out that; ‘The iris is named after the Greek messenger goddess. A virgin deity, she attended the goddess Hera, and was responsible for the rainbow bridge between heaven and earth.  She also carried the souls of women to their place in the other world’.
 So it appears that like Hermes Iris moves between the land of the living, the realm of the gods and the land of the dead, as well as commanding the elements.  According to  Wikipedia , ’She travels with the speed of wind from one end of the world to the other, and into the depths of the sea and the underworld.’ This entry also indicates that she is the wife of Zephyrus, the god of the west wind.  
 Jordan, in reference to the iris states  how  in Spain  ‘the white varieties became a symbol of the Immaculate Conception, and, from an innovation of Charles V, in poetry, its typical three flowers were interpreted as faith, wisdom and courage.’ Scott Cunningham also states that ‘The three points of the flower symbolize faith, wisdom and valour, and so can be used to induce these qualities.’
 Jordan continues to relate that ‘The Iris is one of the most widely known emblems of heraldry, since it is the model for the Fleur de Lys.' The story goes that ‘Louis VII dreamed of Irises before setting out on the crusades in 1137, considered this to be an omen, and therefore adopted the flower as an emblem.’ This is said to have become the ‘Fleur de Louis’ although originally the ‘Fleur de Luce’ and  eventually ‘Fleur de Lys through corruption.’ And hence the iris stood as a symbol of power and majesty.
 Mrs Grieve enlarges on the tale of the ‘Fleur de Lys by indicating that ‘The legend is that early in the sixth century, the Frankish King Clovis, faced with defeat in battle, was induced to pray for victory to the god of his Christian wife, Clothilde. He conquered and became a Christian and thereupon replaced three toads on his banner by three Irises, the Iris being the Virgin’s flower. Six hundred years later it was adopted by Louis VII of France as his heraldic bearings in the Crusade against the Saracens,’ she goes onto say, regarding the name ‘Fleur de Lys’ it may be ‘from the river Lys, on the borders of Flanders, where it was peculiarly abundant.’
 So let's look at the flower herself. Iris Pseudacorus, (yellow flag, native to the UK) grows in damp watery places unlike Iris florentina or I germanica   who prefer dryer positions.  Pseudo, being Greek for false, as it appears, when not in flower to resemble the sweet sedge, which is known as the sweet flag (acorus calamus) . Mrs Grieve states that ‘the plant is often called “Segg” “Skeggs” or “Cegg,” all  of which come down from the Anglo-Saxon days, “Segg” being the Anglo-Saxon for a small sword, an obvious allusion to the shape of the leaves.’ However I can imagine the flower resembling the handle of a sword, rather than the leaves being sword shaped, as this ‘allusion’ could be said to be shared by many plants.
 The Iris,  (florentina etc) according to Mrs Grieve  ‘was dedicated to Juno and was the origin of the sceptre, the Egyptians placing it on the brow of the Sphinx and on the sceptre of their kings, the three leaves of its blossoms typifying faith, wisdom and valour.’  An Ancient Egyptian Herbal by Lise Manniche places the Egyptian Iris as parallel to the ‘Iris germanica, I. florentina‘ (orris)’ and names it ‘nari’ in Egyptian.
 According to Mrs Grieve; ‘In ancient Greece and Rome, Orris Root was largely used in perfumery’ It also appears  that the Iris was once thought to treat everything from snake bites, dropsy, to coughs and bruises, and as an ingredient in cosmetics, and is still famed for its use by perfumers.
  Culpepper clearly defines the two types of Iris or Flower-de-luce as he calls them, and places both the yellow water flag and the blue Flower-de-luce under the dominion of the moon. He refers to what he calls the ‘flaggy kind of Flower-de luce’  from which you can extract an oil called ‘Oleum Irinium’  as opposed to the  ‘great bulbous blue Flower-de-luce.’ 
  To Scott Cunningham the Iris (Iris Florentina)  is  of feminine gender,  its planet is Venus, of the element Water,  and deities Iris and Juno.  The Iris, he says has, powers of ‘purification and wisdom’, He has a separate entry for the ‘Blue Flag’ iris (Iris versicolor) or Fleur-de-Lys, which he places as ‘feminine’ under the influence of Venus but as possessing the power to attract money. However Manfred M Junius in A Practical Alchemy of Plant Magic places all the Iris varieties under the dominion of the moon and Saturn. He does add elsewhere that all of the plant world, in some way are ‘subject to the moon.’ According to Agrippa some turn to the sun, therefore are responding to the sun’s influence more than the moon. The Iris doesn’t, so therefore can be considered as influenced by the moon under such circumstances. The moon, according to Junius influences ‘growth, fertility, conception, the subconscious, the feelings, rhythms, instincts, reflection, passivity, motherliness, family, and heritage.’ whereas ‘Saturn is the sage and the guardian of the threshold to the supernatural.’ Now it appears that Agrippa places plants that produce fragrant flowers under Venus, those used for their roots under Saturn, and those with leaves, the moon. He also places plants that are  ‘never sown and never produce  fruit,’ under  Saturn, those that grow in water, under the moon, so this would apply to the yellow  flag, but perhaps not the blue Flower-de-luce, but who knows. Not me at this moment in time, so I will continue to work on my own correspondences, studying those who have gone before, and looking in depth at the plants themselves. 

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Solomon's Seal

  Solomon’s seal; (polygonatum) is a pretty plant of the lily family, a close relative of the smaller lily of the valley.  Found these days mainly in gardens; however it appears that it may have once been a woodland plant, of  late spring. The plant forms a thick creeping knotted rootstock, with many circular scars left by the leaf stems of previous years. These scars bear a mark, said to resemble the Seal of Solomon.
  The Latin  polygonatum means, ‘many angles’ and according to Mrs Grieve ‘is supposed to be derived either from the many knots or swellings of the roots or from the numerous nodes or joints of the stem.’
    Solomon’s Seal is placed under the authority of the planet Saturn. Saturn, it is said, governs those plants that are primarily used for their root. And it is the root of this plant that invites most attention.
 As regards Saturn,   Gustav Holst places Saturn in his  ‘ Planet Suite’ as the bringer of  old age, which  should, also, in theory,  bring with it wisdom
   Kat Yronwode indicates that Solomon’s Seal is named after King Solomon of the Bible, who, it is said, kept demons in a jar by means of a miraculous seal. Due to these associations, this seal is said to be a powerful protector used to ward off evil, increase wisdom and break jinxes
   Culpeper says ‘Of Solomon’s Seal’, ‘Stamped and boiled in wine, it speedily helps, (being drank) all broken bones, and is of incredible virtue that way; as also being stamped and applied to the place, it soon heals all wounds, and quickly takes away the black and blue marks of blows, being bruised and applied to place, and for these, I am persuaded there is no better medicine under the sun.’
He also says ‘Saturn owns the plant, for he loves his bones well. The root of Solomon’s Seal is found by experience to be available in wounds, hurts and out ward sores, to heal and close up the lips of those who are green, and to dry up and restrain the flux of humours of those that are old. It is singularly good to stay vomiting and bleeding wheresoever, as also all fluxes in man or woman; also to knit any joint, which by weakness uses to be often out of place, or will not stay when it is set:’ in fact, according to Culpeper there are very few complaints that Solomon’s seal can't be used as a remedy for. .
   Scott Cunningham indicates that Solomon Seal is; Feminine, governed by Saturn, its element being water; and is said to possess the powers of protection and exorcism. He also says that it has magical use when ‘The root is placed in the four corners of the house to guard it, it is used in exorcism and protection spells of all kinds. And an infusion of the roots sprinkled about clears the area of evil. Solomon’s Seal is also used in offertory incenses.’
  According to Mrs Grieve; ‘Gerard maintained that the name Sigillum Solomons was given to the root partly because it bears marks something like the stamp of a seal, but still more because of the virtue the root hath in sealing and healing up green wounds, broken bones and such like, being stamp't and laid thereon.' Mrs Grieve adds that ‘The name Lady's Seal was also conferred on the plant by old writers, as also St. Mary's Seal’ ‘(Sigillum Sanctae Mariae). No surprise there.
  Kat Yronwode adds Solomon’s Seal as one of the ingredients added to ‘wisdom oil’ it appears to me that I need to get to know this very pretty plant rather better, Wisdom is something I always need lots more of.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Where we are now: Part 2

Where we are now: Part 2

But the essence of what you wanted to discuss was surely how a tradition first of all crosses over from Britain to America and then returns again. What Joe learned and tried to synthesize as 1734 was largely British sources, specifically material from Robert Cochrane and from Ruth Wynn Owen, combined with whatever he learned from the person he called Sean, whoever he really was. However much Joe respected his sources, he needed to allow the whole thing to "go native" in some way and become American in order to be authentic in America. This was one of the things that we often discussed when we spoke on the phone. Think about this, you have material that discusses lapwings and roebucks, but where in the USA do you find these beasts? The answer would seem to be that you retain the material, but in practice you surely need to find animals that have the same symbolic function.

So the question for us becomes what happens when 1734 comes to Britain? In the specific case of lapwings and roebucks we can revert to the originals, but do other elements of the system need to adapt in some way? Well, thinking of Joe's late emphasis on Hoodoo as a key to the folk-magic aspect of 1734, there is what is usually described as an Afro-American folk-magic tradition and there are quite specific problems as to how to adapt this to a British usage.

Yes sorry Stuart, chasing lapwings is such fun, such lovely creatures. Tap me lightly with that ox-goad and I will get back on the trail.
So as I understand it, some things will revert to their original, but there are others, such as native folk magic, from the US that we need to work with, and find ways in which it will work here for us.

It appears to me, from reading through the Nature Religion - Natural Magic: document on the Toteg Tribe web pages at;  that Joe felt it was important to take into account, and give due reverence to one’s own ancestors as well as the ancestors of the tribe, in fact all those who have made you what you are, from wherever or whenever they appeared combined with  the influences picked up in life, however joyful or perhaps unpleasant.  When I have looked at my family tree, which luckily my parents had already sourced for me, I saw clearly how, my ancestors moved around the country, as well as leaving it, and moving to Canada and the USA. Some came from Cornwall, some from the North, and if I could go farther back, perhaps even farther afield, and then within that framework there are those who left this land, as I said, for Canada and the USA, and this was a very small section of my tree, they had so many babies in times gone by.  So taking oneself back in time, it appears that in a figurative way, we all come from Cain.

So it emerges that we, not only have our own personal heritage, which can’t be ignored; or as it may be called, the ‘spirit of our ancestors’; as well as  the ‘spirit of the tribe’ or the entire culture, traditions and wisdom we have inherited, warts and all.  Then there is the ‘spirit of the place’ or location we live in which carries a particular uniqueness, in accord with this part of the planet. However we also have that which has been called, the ‘spirit of the journey’, this must also be influenced by the people we meet and have met books we have read, these influences, in my opinion appear to be forever evolving.

I also find it important to consider what Joe felt it important to point out, in the above mentioned document, a conversation with a medicine man of the Lakhota. He states ‘This is what Longwalker told me, quoted as closely as I can. "You know, Joe, if you or other white folks are really serious about our spirituality, you won't go asking me, or us, or anyone else about what we believe, our ceremonies, our regalia, and stuff. Instead you will go out into the woods and talk to the sky, the earth, the rocks, the rivers, and the streams. And LISTEN to the answers, and listen to your ancestors. Only then will you start the long path to healing."  So it appears that we need to work with what we know, but then have a lot of work to do by working a  spirituality in unity with the area we work in, warts and all. What do you think?


Well, I think we have to be careful here and distinguish between paying our respects to, and working with, the genius loci of whatever place, and becoming more like the guardians of a place, which would limit us. Longwalker was talking about the ancestors and they are something we take with us wherever we go. Now, according to various things I have read and heard, some hereditary groups do identify with a particular site really to the exclusion of anywhere else, they are like a physical expression of the genius loci. We are more like wanderers who find the mythical landscape wherever we go. Of course we have to come to terms with the land, the locus, but in some ways one place is as good as another. Maybe we are the children of Cain and are always in exile?

Also, when we read Joe’s essay he is linking what Longwalker said to him with, for instance, Cochrane’s teachings. At one level this is a sort of simple nature mysticism, a communion with natural forces. It is simple and not at all sentimental and it brings together the forces of nature and the ancestors, whose voices can be heard in the wind. This is the basis of everything Joe taught both in 1734 and in Toteg Tribe and its predecessor, Metista. But there’s more to it than that. Cochrane is giving somewhat coded information on contacting these forces in what might be called an initiatic level (I’m immediately embarrassed by that phrase, but can think of no other at present). I mean here that beyond the fundamental contact there are more levels and there’s more than “just” nature mysticism. (I’m also a tad embarrassed by that rhetorical “just”, but it can’t be helped!) Cochrane says:
The answers to all things are in the Air - Inspiration, and the Winds will bring you news and knowledge if you ask them properly. The Trees of the Wood will give you power, and the Waters of the Sea will give you patience and omniscience, since the Sea is a womb that contains a memory of all things.”
I think it is apparent that asking properly has several dimensions to it. One is more to do with attitude and this is fundamental, but through this we develop technique and skill.

So Stuart, as ‘wanderers’ I must ask the question again, where are we now? Perhaps we are still searching for our place in this landscape that stands between the two worlds, new and old, and our forever moving compass will point us in new directions, towards a world within worlds that will be unique to us. Will have to keep working, forever onward.

Hob's Well

I was looking for something completely unrelated to sacred wells in the ‘Megalith Portal’ and I stumbled upon this.   ‘The site called Hobling Well may record a tradition of a well dedicated to fairies, Hob being another name for such elementals. The view is supported by a Robin Hole recorded on the Tithe Map of 1839 nearby. A small spring fills a pond not far off the footpath.
 As Petts Wood, the area mentioned as possessing this well is a short bus ride from my home I decided to go and investigate. It was yet another sunny dry day, as the early Sunday morning sunshine reflected brightly on every tree, shrub and groundcover plant. The hawthorns are adorned in their white cloaks of blossom, and the cow parsley beneath their feet bubble forth flowers, which covers the fields in champagne bubbles.
  Hoblingwell wood is only a small section of the greater Petts Wood area, so shouldn’t be too difficult to find the Well. I started to climb a  hill that looked a good starting point, and before long the difficulty of locating the pool became less  as I had spotted the yellow flowers of buttercups, (little frogs) and as they love damp areas I thought maybe this was a good indication of water.. Incidentally, as I have mentioned buttercups, it is said that ‘Many old ladies made a bit of money by claiming to charm the cream or butter, knowing that the cows had been feeding on buttercups and would produce a good yellow colour.’ (Donald Law, The Concise Herbal Encyclopedia, 1973)
 I have roamed off the path as usual, so back I trot.  The ground was becoming very boggy, and considering everything here in London is bone dry due to the lack of rain, this must be an indicator that an underground spring was nearby.
 It does strike me as strange that when water springs (excuse the pun) from underground, it does so on the highest point in the area. No wonder tales of magic and mystery surround these places. I wasn’t mistaken, however the pool was covered in duckweed, not what I expected, yet looking at the water running down the hill, it must be fed from a water source underneath. Springs and wells hold a certain fascination for me, and it is not hard to feel the energy of a water supply that appears from nowhere, oh happy days.

PS if anyone knows the nature of a ‘Robin Hole’ can you please let me know. Thank you, Jane

Monday, 2 May 2011

The Elder

The first flowers of my Lady Elder have just caught my attention, they have just begun to open on April 30th   very early in my experience, so I thought; time to investigate the tree herself..
  The elder is a member of the Sambucus genus which consists of some 20 species of small trees and shrubs. The common elder, Sambucus nigra, is native to Eurasia and northern Africa and has a rough rugged looking bark, and pretty white/cream fragrant flowers, which later develop into bunches of small dark fruits or elderberries. These flowers normally appear early June, however along with every other flowering plant here in the South East of England, they are rather early.
  According to Fred Hageneder in The Living Wisdom of Trees, ‘All parts of the elder can be used in medicine. Traditionally the inner bark has been used as a purgative and an emetic, while the leaves have been applied to bruises, sprains and headaches.’ However, today it is primarily the flowers and berries which are used.  Something I hadn’t noticed previously is that according to Hageneder, a tea made from the flowers ‘has an anti-inflammatory effect on the sinuses, and also helps hayfever.’  He also states that ‘Combined with yarrow, the blossoms are an excellent treatment for colds because they tone the mucous membranes, promote perspiration, and thus lower temperature.’ The berries are said to stimulate the immune system as well as possessing   ant–viral qualities, very useful if you ask me.
   It is very strange that for a small tree the elder has such a lot of folklore attached. According to Hageneder ‘The traditional personifications of the elder spirit, the Scandinavian Hyldemoer (“Elder Mother”) and the old German Frau Holle (“Mistress Elder”), are late expressions of the archaic White Goddess, a benevolent deity of light, life and wisdom.’  According to Hageneder the elder is the chosen tree of the Goddess, and therefore she bestowed abundant healing powers on her chosen one.
   I thought at his point it may be fitting to see what Robert Graves has to say on such matters: I found surprisingly little. He does say it is associated with witches, and ‘In English folklore to burn logs of elder ‘brings the Devil into the house’. ‘Its white flowers, which are best at midsummer, make the elder another aspect of the White Goddess, and the same is true of the rowan.’ (not so this year, we are not out of spring yet) He also indicates that it keeps its fruit well into December and is a waterside tree. Neither are true in my neck of the woods, elder grows on the edge of woodlands, hedgerows and in the not too manicured gardens like mine. And the birds have usually stripped the trees of the berries long before I have organised myself well enough to think it is now wine making time, when off I trundle to the hedgerow, and return rather disappointed. However he does add that ‘in Ireland elder sticks, rather than ashen ones, are used by witches as magic horses.’ Who knows?  Graves also states that; ‘So unlucky is the elder that in Langland’s Piers Ploughman, Judas is made to hang himself on an elder tree. Spencer couples the elder with funereal cypress, and T Scott writes in his Philomythie (1616)
The cursed elder and the fatal yew
With witch (rowan) and nightshade in their shadows grew.
 So I return to Hageneder, who indicates that ‘the elder has also been the traditional guardian tree of the household and farmyard. In countries as diverse as Russia, the Baltic states, Germany, Scandinavia and the British Isles, and throughout the ages, it is said that the good “house spirit” of the home resided in the elder bush, and as recently as the 19th century it was a widespread custom to bring her an offering of water, milk or beer, together with cake or bread, at least once a week and even daily,’
He goes onto say that; ‘The advance of Christianity led to changes in many such folk traditions. In some cases trees that had been most venerated in pre-Christian times were recast in a negative light once the religion became established. Thus, in the popular imagination, the physical setting of the elder as its actual character gradually became associated with evil, witches and devils.’
However we view the elder now, I still treat her with great respect and ask very nicely when in need of her wonderful, wood, with its soft pith that can be poked out so that a hollow centred stick remains, I thank you Lady Elder.