The blackberry or bramble is a very common lady here in the South East of England, as I am sure it is in other parts of the U.K, in fact there are very few places where you can wander a little from the pavement, and not become tangled in a bramble, or perhaps the bramble may become entangled in you. Very quick to try and colonise any waste ground, its tenacious branches root easily wherever they can manage to find a piece of spare earth. Straddling great heights and then diving head first towards the earth in search of fresh ground on which to take root, the blackberry often manages to construct a natural arch with many uses only limited by the imagination. In its second year of growth this cane produces lateral shoots and begins to focus on flowering and producing berries. It can do this in sun or shade, come rain or shine, on rich or very poor stony soils, but appears, as with most, to be happier with adequate supplies of sun and water, and in these conditions produce the choicest berries. Its tolerance of most conditions means that once established the bramble becomes very difficult to remove. And in this image below is very happily growing inside this vehicle.
A member of the rose family, all parts of the plant, root leaves, flowers and berries can be made use of, and if you would like to use the rather prickly twigs; make yourself a ‘Witches Wisk.’ (Gemma Gary, Traditional Witchcraft, A Cornish Book Of Ways, 2008) ‘purely used to exorcise evil and negative influences.’ Gather ‘thirteen dried blackberry twigs’ bind them together at one end 'to form a handle'. ‘The ends of the twigs are set alight in a blessed fire and the smoking whisk is waved around the place with vigorous gestures to ward off all evil and harmful influences.’ I have tried to make one, but the lacerated arms I received in the process became rather a deterrent. I will try again and do the logical thing of donning a pair of gardening gloves, (not something I do very often) and will cover my arms; not with a favorite cardy, I hasten to add .
The blackberry has graced these shores with her presence for many-a year. Donald Law (1973) says of the names etymology: ‘The Anglo-Saxon word was Bremel, and most of the older herbals speak of the bramble.’ He indicates that when the Latin tongue began to influence the language of England, that ‘nothing Saxon was good enough.’ so the name was changed. Mrs Grieve on the other hand indicates that ‘the name of the bush is derived from brambel, or brymbyl, signifying prickly.’
The blackberry is said to be a plant of the planet Venus; the morning and evening star, a herald of the morning, and a bringer of light, its surface hidden in a blanket of thick cloud which provides the planet with the status of ‘ruler of occult intelligence’ and is said to be ‘strongly related to alchemy.’ (Manfred M.Junius) Junius goes onto say of Venus that ‘The planet rules the arts, harmony, proportion, affection, and the ability to integrate separate things into a whole and to mediate between opposites,’ he also points out interestingly that ‘Venus rules over the metamorphosis of the cells,’ As an extra point of interest, it appears that Venus is the only planet to turn clockwise, all others turn anti-clockwise, not sure that that is particularly relevant here, but just thought it rather interesting.
Culpeper suggests that the blackberry lies under the dominion of ‘Venus in Aries’ and goes onto prompt the question; ‘If any ask the reason why Venus is so prickly? Tell them it is because she is in the house of Mars.’ Donald Law makes this a bit clearer by suggesting that ‘The plant is under the sign of Aries but held to be subject to influence by Venus.’ According to Michael Jordan (Plants of Mystery and Magic) the ‘bramble has been associated with virtue, which again, in my opinion links it with Venus.
Associated folklore couples the blackberry with Michaelmas, a festival celebrated somewhere between 29th of September and October the 10th, around this date it is said that the Devil was expelled from heaven by the Archangel Michael. Revelation 12 v7 relates how war broke out in Heaven between Michael, his angels, and the dragon and his angels; v 9 states that the dragon was ‘that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan.’ This Devil was said to be angry about being chucked out of heaven, and v 12 goes onto state, ‘Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, and to the sea! for the devil is come down to unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth he hath but a short period of time.’ (K.J.V) It appears that not only was he angry at being chucked out of heaven, but he also landed on a bramble bush, and was caused some considerable discomfort. He thereby cursed the berries, spat on them, and deemed any fruit picked after this date as inedible, which of course it is as it starts to become covered in grey powdered mould. I have always found that after the autumn equinox, it is best to leave the blackberries to the birds, those that may not be mouldy, are no longer juicy but shrivelled and full of pips. According to Jordan, the reason the devil dislikes the bramble so much is due to its ‘virtuous nature’ and perhaps because it is said to have formed ‘the crown of thorns.’
So sticking my big toe in the sea of controversy, to me, the wrath of the devil appears as darkness, and rules on earth, from the autumn equinox, until the rebirth of the sun/son, (a short period of time) whereas the light of Michael who after all is said to be the Arch Angel of light, illuminates only the heaven at this time. The child of light is born again as with the sun and grows in strength until the vernal equinox, when once again the sceptre is handed back to the light. But as usual, I have begun to roam from the thorns; but maybe a topic to return to at a later date. Although it is interesting to consider the sheer amount of folklore here in the U.K relating to the Devil and his antics on the mortal plain or as Pepper and Wilcock suggests ‘His Satanic Majesty must have spent a good deal of time in the English countryside.’ (Magical and Mystical Sites, 1977)
Back to the Blackberry; Cunningham places it as feminine and sacred to Brigit; and it is said to aid in the attraction of wealth or healing. And according to Ellen Evert Hopman in A Druid’s Herbal the roots can be used as a ‘remedy for diarrhea’ and the ‘leaves and berries to attract wealth or healing.’ Herbs and Healing Plants places the blackberry as used for ‘diarrhoea’ (sorry about the shift of spelling, just quoting my sources) ‘Also skin rashes, eczema and mouth and throat infections.’ Its active ingredients include ‘Tannins, flavones, organic acids, vitamin C.’ And I have forgot to add, they taste rather lovely, makes excellent Jam, and of course, mustn’t forget, a flavoursome wine, and its leaves added to an incense blend add an invigorating fruity aroma, so in my opinion, a jolly useful lady, apart from the fact she likes to attack me on my walks, she is still a very nice friend to get to know.
Graves places the bramble as being sacred to the White Goddess, along with other plants that possess ‘five-pointed leaves’ such as ‘vine, bramble, fig, plane and the ivy.’ If one looks closely, one can find ivy and bramble leaves with five points, but this is the exception rather than the rule, and does need a bit of searching out. However he does indicate that ‘the bramble is both sacred to the Pentad and triad of seasonal Goddesses, the number on a single stalk varying between three and five.’ Graves; in The White Goddess gives a charm against a scald, ‘One dips nine bramble in spring water and then applies them to the scald;’ chanting the charm below three times. He states that ‘In this charm the Goddesses are clearly seasonal, the Goddesses of Summer bringing fire, her sisters bringing frost.’
Three Ladies came from the East,
One with fire and two with frost.
Out with thee fire, and in with thee, frost.
He then adds, ‘a sop to the clergy’,
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
Catherine Yronwode recommends the use of the bramble to ‘return evil to enemies’ she gives instructions which include red cloth, blackberry leaves, black salt, and either a black human-figure shaped candle or black china-ware
Culpeper, states that the leaves and the berries make an ‘exceeding good’ lotion for ‘sores in the mouth, or secret parts.’ He also submits that ‘The leaves boiled in lye, and the head washed therewith, heals the itch and running sores thereof, and makes the hair black.’ Law suggests that ‘Some legends say that witches feared the brambles but the reason for this is not clear.’ He adds that ‘the unripe berries were said to be a witch cure against snake bite.’ Which may be what Culpeper means when he states ‘’the berries of the flowers are a powerful remedy against the poison of the most venomous serpents:’ And who can live without Gerard’s recommendation (quoted in Mr Grieves) as the ‘leaves heal the eies that hang out,’ hmm, this suggestion causeth the mind, or should I say the eyes, to boggle.